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The Songs That Make Us Cry

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The Songs That Make Us Cry

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The Songs That Make Us Cry

The Songs That Make Us Cry

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The music that makes one of us emotional doesn't always make sense to others. William Lovelace/Getty Images hide caption

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William Lovelace/Getty Images

The music that makes one of us emotional doesn't always make sense to others.

William Lovelace/Getty Images

What song makes you cry? It could be "Adagio for Strings," but it could also be "Highway to Hell." As you'll learn on this week's All Songs Considered, the music that gets us weeping can have as much, or more, to do with association than with composition.

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Last week we sent out a request for songs that make our listeners cry. After reading (and sniffling) through more than 7,000 responses, we've pulled ourselves together and are ready to share a few. As if that weren't enough crumpled tissues, we also asked musician Christopher Paul Stelling to jump into the studio moments after performing a Tiny Desk Concert to talk to us about his pick. The anecdotes we share range from humorous to heartbreaking: You'll hear about magic mushrooms, a funeral dead-set on not being typical, a sequel to one of the songs featured on our first show on this theme, back in 2011 and a pact between brothers and their best friend that gets devastatingly tested, and then, sooner than anyone could imagine, tested again.

Reading and listening to your stories, we learned that what makes us all cry is sometimes in the DNA of a song. Some music is clearly written as an avenue for expressing overwhelming emotion. But other picks surprised us — AC/DC? Really? — until we heard how they fit in the contexts of listeners' lives. Our biggest takeaway was this: Part of the magic of art is that we stitch meaning into everything we see and hear, whether artists leave us a needle and thread or not.

We could only pick a few of the stories we heard, of course. Check back on the ASC blog and our social media over the next week to hear more.

Songs Featured On This Episode

Cover for BARBER: ADAGIO FOR STRINGS, VIOLIN CONCERTO, ETC.

Adagio for Strings

  • from BARBER: ADAGIO FOR STRINGS, VIOLIN CONCERTO, ETC.
  • by Leonard Bernstein

"Adagio for Strings," composed by Samuel Barber in 1936, has been widely used in popular culture to convey sadness and sweeping emotions.

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Song
BARBER: ADAGIO FOR STRINGS, VIOLIN CONCERTO, ETC.
Album
BARBER: ADAGIO FOR STRINGS, VIOLIN CONCERTO, ETC.
Artist
Leonard Bernstein
Label
Sony Music
Released
2003

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Cover for Highway to Hell

Highway to Hell

  • from Highway to Hell
  • by AC/DC

Submitted by John Thomas Rose:

"My dad never liked how sad funerals are. Prior to his death, my father requested I play "Highway To Hell" at his funeral. In 2007 he died at age 63 and that's exactly what I did. Now every time I hear the song I get misty-eyed thinking of him. I caught AC/DC at Coachella this year and couldn't hold tears back from the first chord on when they started to play their big hit as an encore. That day I wore a pair of his old jeans and one of his work shirts. It was a magical moment."

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Song
Highway to Hell
Album
Highway to Hell
Artist
AC/DC
Label
Atlantic
Released
1979

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Cover for (Pronounced 'leh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd)

Freebird

  • from (Pronounced 'leh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd)
  • by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Brianna Monks submitted her story about her two brothers, Brandon and Chase, and the promise they made with their best friend about playing Lynyrd Skynyrd's classic "Freebird" at each others' funerals. The trio were forced to make good on their pact long before they expected to, and then had to face the seemingly-impossible task of returning to it a second time.

" 'Freebird' resurfaces so many difficult emotions, but I am so thankful for that song because without it, I would ultimately feel lost."

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Song
(Pronounced 'leh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd)
Album
(Pronounced 'leh-'nérd 'skin-'nérd)
Artist
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Label
MCA Records
Released
1973

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Cover for Living With Ghosts

Moses

  • from Living With Ghosts
  • by Patty Griffin

Katie Presley's pick is "a wound and a gift" from the singer-songwriter Patty Griffin. The song "Moses," about isolation and the hope for salvation, kept Katie company during a year filled with loss and illness.

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Song
Living With Ghosts
Album
Living With Ghosts
Artist
Patty Griffin
Label
A&M Records
Released
1996

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Cover for Mule Variations
Courtesy of artist

Take It With Me

  • from Mule Variations
  • by Tom Waits

After performing a Tiny Desk Concert for us, Christopher Paul Stelling sat down in the studio with Bob Boilen to talk about Tom Waits's longing-filled "Take It With Me," which has carried Christopher through many a long, lonely drive through the night.

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Song
Mule Variations
Album
Mule Variations
Artist
Tom Waits
Label
Epitaph Records
Released
1999

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Cover for Carrie & Lowell

Fourth of July

  • from Carrie & Lowell
  • by Sufjan Stevens

Robin Hilton's pick is a conversation between mother and son as imagined by Sufjan Stevens, whose unstable relationship with his own mother is the guiding light on his overwhelmingly emotional latest record, Carrie & Lowell. For Robin, "it's the little names" Sufjan invents for himself and his mother, and the way they both hope, in the end, that the other "got enough love."

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Song
Carrie & Lowell
Album
Carrie & Lowell
Artist
Sufjan Stevens
Label
Asthmatic Kitty Records
Released
2015

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Cover for Reunion Tour

Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure

  • from Reunion Tour
  • by The Weakerthans

Submitted by Parker, who referenced Robin's pick, "Plea From A Cat Named Virtute" by the Weakerthans, from the 2011 show:

" 'Plea...' is about a cat trying to encourage and motivate her depressed owner. On the next album four years later, John K. Samson returned to those same characters to reveal that Virtute gave up on her owner and left him to face depression alone. Samson's final lines are among the most devastating ever recorded, as he starts to erase the only thing both Virtute and her erstwhile owner have left to hold on to — the memory of their relationship."

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Song
Reunion Tour
Album
Reunion Tour
Artist
The Weakerthans
Label
Epitaph
Released
2007

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Cover for X&Y

Fix You

  • from X&Y
  • by Coldplay

We got two very different stories about Coldplay's massive hit "Fix You." The first came from Evan:

"I heard it for the first time when I tried magic mushrooms at age 19. It came on while I was sitting in the car with a friend in his driveway, and I remember just feeling how powerful it was. I could feel it and see it even. So I put the song on replay on the way to breakup with my boyfriend at the time so I would look sadder than I was. It worked."

We also got this powerful explanation from Holly:

"I have two sons who have been diagnosed with severe autism, and are both non-verbal. That was not always the case, they both suffered a major regression and lost their speech among numerous other skills. It was devastating to watch my children regress right before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do to stop it from happening. [This song] reminds me of how hard I have tried to help my children over come their diagnoses of "autism of the regress kind" I know my children are in there, and I will never give up helping them find their voice."

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Song
X&Y
Album
X&Y
Artist
Coldplay
Label
Capitol

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Cover for Ain't That Good News

A Change Is Gonna Come

  • from Ain't That Good News
  • by Sam Cooke

Submitted by Kylie:

"I was waiting for the F train in Manhattan recently when a busker started playing this on the opposite platform, and I remembered why it never leaves me dry-eyed. It taps into what so many of us feel as the U.S. burns from Ferguson to Baltimore: exhaustion, grief and anger that we are still living in a world where the statement 'Black Lives Matter' is not self-evident. But then there's that little sliver of hope that swells into a crescendo, a prophecy and an affirmation. I was raised by '60s-era leftists who might dispute this, but I think Sam Cooke knocked Dylan out of the ring with this one."

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Song
Ain't That Good News
Album
Ain't That Good News
Artist
Sam Cooke
Label
Universal Distribution
Released
1964

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Cover for First Take

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

  • from First Take
  • by Roberta Flack

Margaret, in Dallas, Texas, had this brief but potent story about Roberta Flack's "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face":

"I was pregnant, going to give up my child in adoption, was grieving for him and the father who was not available. Found my son 40 years later, still weep at the song."

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Song
First Take
Album
First Take
Artist
Roberta Flack
Label
Atlantic
Released
1969

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Cover for The Beatles [White Album]

Good Night

  • from The Beatles [White Album]
  • by The Beatles

Bob's pick, the Ringo-led "Good Night" from The Beatles' White Album, came to him one night as he rocked his son to sleep. The day of recording our show, he also discovered that John Lennon wrote the track for his son Julian, who shares a name with Bob's son.

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Song
The Beatles [White Album]
Album
The Beatles [White Album]
Artist
The Beatles
Label
Capitol

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