77 People Ruin These Popular Songs By Revealing The Heartbreaking Stories Behind Them

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Musicians find inspiration everywhere; not just in happy moments, but also in uncertainty and pain, turning even the darkest experiences into a tune that resonates with the human soul.

So Reddit user Tangre79 decided to broaden their understanding of this complex art form and asked everyone on the platform to list some songs with devastating origin stories.

From popular rock ballads to reggae-pop hits, people immediately started sharing the tracks they can not listen to without getting emotional.


Zombie by The Cranberries is about a bombing that [unalived] children during "The Troubles."

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All of My Love by Led Zeppelin is about his 5-year-old son's unexpected death from a virus.

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It’s not exactly tragic, but the wedding staple “At Last” by Etta James is actually about a widow who dies and meets her late husband in the afterlife. “My heart was wrapped up in clover the night I looked at you,” cause she was buried.

Still a great love story that can be used for weddings but a touch darker.

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Definitely "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton. Found out he wrote it after his 4-year-old son tragically passed away. Hit me differently ever since.

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Wake me up when September Ends. It’s not just a meme. It’s literally all Billy Joe Armstrong said after his dad died when he was a teenager.

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Dancing in the Moonlight. One of my favorite songs, very sad, unexpected origin. The songwriter and his girlfriend were on vacation at the beach when he was brutally beaten and his gf r*ped by gang members. He wrote the song afterwards, envisioning an idyllic world where everyone is happy and just dances all the time.

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Gypsy by Fleetwood Mac.

Recently found out Stevie wrote it when her childhood friend was dying of leukemia. I have incurable leukemia so the lyrics hit harder now for me.

“Faces freedom with a little fear, I have no fear and have only love”.

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I always loved (and still do) The Show Must Go On, but once Freddie Mercury revealed he was dying of AIDS, those words suddenly made horrible sense.
He recorded it after his diagnosis. Reportedly he could barely stand in the studio when they recorded it and the band offered to do it another time, but he just said “I’ll sing it darling” and belted it out in one take.
Amazing and tragic.

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When I Lost You by Irving Berlin. Irving Berlin was 24 years old and an early success. He married singer Dorothy Goetz who was in her early twenties. Five months after the wedding she died of typhoid fever. It's the first sad song he wrote. It was a year before he could bring himself to perform it. He didn't marry again for 14 years.

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Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People, it sounds like a happy song but it’s about school shootings.

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How to save a life, The Fray, it’s about d**g addiction and how he couldn’t save his friend.

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Glenn Campbell — I'm not gonna to miss you — A song to his wife while he has Alzheimer's, saying goodbye while he can because he knows he's not going to say goodbye later
Ashley Campbell — Remembering– A song from his daughter to him in response.

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You are my Sunshine.
For the longest time I thought it was about a miscarriage or a the death of child.
I was a little relieved when I dug a bit and realized its just any old person. Could just be breakup. That's much easier to live with.

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Electric Avenue by Eddie Grant is about the Brixton riots and living in poverty, not being able to feed your kids despite working full time.

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Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. It was in theory about a family planning to move. But it was written and recorded during WWII. Some of the lyrics were later changed. It originally had: >Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow. So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

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"Jeremy" by Pearl Jam is inspired by the real-life s*icide of Jeremy Wade Delle, a 15-year-old student from Richardson, Texas who shot himself in front of his English class on January 8, 1991.

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Everytime by Britney Spears.
It’s an ode to the baby she would have had with Justin Timberlake. He wasn’t ready to be a father yet, so she had to undergo an abortion at home. They were both very young, and she mentions in her memoir that even though she doesn’t hold it against him, if it were completely up to her, she would’ve wanted to have the baby.

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I Don’t Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats. I heard the song just a few years ago and recently learned the backstory. It’s about the Cleveland school shooting from 1979. When the shooter was asked why she did it, she said it was simply that she didn’t like Mondays.

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Did you ever sing Ring Around a Rosie as a kid? It’s about the bubonic plague and everyone dies at the end of the song.

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“Take Me To Church”, by Hozier. On first listen, sounds like a love song. Music video with more visual details? OOF.
My whole life I thought it was just some Christian rock song. All the Jesus freaks would play and sing it nonstop.
Had no idea it's about a gay couple explicitly hiding from the church.

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Definitely “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman. found out it’s about escaping a life of poverty and unfulfilled dreams. hits way harder now.

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All That I've Got by The Used I was like 13 years old and I came home from school, turned on Fuse TV, and they were playing some music videos, which was their usual content back in 2003. Saw this video of this dude with long hair in this trippy video that ended with some cool animation. Got hooked on the song and the band. Learned later that the song is about how shortly after their first album, the lead singer was dating a fan and they were having a baby together. She overdosed [unaliving] both herself and the baby. The lead singer felt like he had absolutely nothing left because of that moment, but then a month after their deaths, his dog escaped from his yard and was then hit and [unalived] by a car. The song is about him begging for at least his dogs life back because it was all that he had left.

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"Gone Away" is a favorite song by The Offspring, but it can be rough to listen to after reading about it. I can't imagine performing it.
[the story behind it]
His girlfriend who was killed in a car accident.
Leaving flowers on your grave
To show that I still care
Black roses and Hail Mary's
Can't bring back what's taken from me
I reach to the sky
And call out your name
And if I could trade, I would

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Blasphemous Rumors by Depeche Mode. His sister had just completed successful cancer treatment when leaving the hospital got hit by a car and died.

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Okay, not heartbreaking, but definitely more serious than I ever thought:

The dogs in Who Let the Dogs Out are men who harass women in the clubs. The song is basically “who let in these a******s who don’t know how to act?”.


Before You Go by Lewis Capaldi. He wrote it for his aunt that took her own life.

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American Pie – I already knew it was heartbreaking, I just didn't know what it was about.
[it's about] the plane crash that [unalived] Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper among others.

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Limousine by Brand New. It’s about the death of 7-year-old Katie Flynn, who was [unalived] by a drunk driver. She was riding in a limousine with her family after a wedding in which she was the flower girl.

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Pink Floyds song dedicated to their former bandmate Syd Barrett who tragically lost his mind/mental state.
Shine on
You crazy

"On 5 June 1975, Barrett, now heavyset, with a completely shaved head and eyebrows, wandered into the studio where the band were recording. They did not recognize him for some time because of his drastically changed appearance, but when they eventually realized who the withdrawn man in the corner was, Roger Waters became so distressed about Barrett's appearance that he was reduced to tears." Wikipedia.


I just started listened to a podcast called “60 songs that explain the 90s” and Hey Jealousy is way sadder now than it already was.
When I learned the story, it was the first time I felt I had any real understanding of the depths of alcoholism and depression like that.


Fiddler’s Green by The Tragically Hip. Gord Downie wrote it after his 5 year old nephew died of a heart condition, to help his sister overcome the pain of releasing her little boy into the afterlife.

Montreal, also by The Tragically Hip. Its about the massacre at the École Polytechnique in Montréal on Dec 6, 1989. I am old enough to remember the news coverage of the event and the line “don’t you worry…..her mother’s gonna make her look good” refers to a mother trying to make her murdered daughter look decent for her funeral. Heartbreaking.


Janet Jackson’s ‘Together Again’ was written for her friend that died of AIDS, gets me every time.


I thought the song Wonder by Natalie Merchant was a whimsical song about a supremely gifted child, but it’s actually about a child born with a rare congenital disease. The lyrics fit both ways. It’s brilliant.  


“Keep Me In Your Heart” by Warren Zevon. He knew he was dying.


The best selling song in history, White Christmas, was written by Irving Berlin because his son Irving died on Christmas at 8 days old. Irving married an Irish Catholic girl, Ellin Mackay, whose family disowned her for marrying a Jew. Irving and Ellin would visit their son’s grave on Christmas. The song is about the Christmases he never saw.


The Way by Fastball is about the tragic and mysterious disappearance of an elderly couple never to be seen alive again.


My darlin’, Clementine is about a man who watches his lover drown in a river because he can’t swim.

Final verse goes “Ruby lips above the water blowing bubbles sweet and fine. Alas for me, I was no swimmer so I lost my Clementine.”.


Don’t think this is unknown, but 3 AM by matchbox 20. About Rob Thomas’s mom having cancer when he was younger. Just really rips at me with my dad being sick now. Probably one of my favorite songs ever.


Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again” is inherently sentimental but it became synonymous with WW2 and the reality that many people were not going to see their friends and loved ones before the war ended. It’s implied that “some sunny day” won’t be a homecoming but rather a reunion in the afterlife.


Back to Black by Amy Winehouse. I had never really listened to her before, but I came across a video of one of her performances in which she was clearly struggling mentally. This made me dive into her life, and it was heartbreaking to see how she continued performing even while struggling, with no help from anyone. Knowing her past and hearing the song after that really hits me :/.


12/17/12 by the Decemberists. I don’t usually look at titles so I didn’t know until my husband pointed it out to me. It’s about Sandy Hook.


Brick by Ben folds five. I thought it was a catchy tune till a friend told me to really listen to the lyrics.

This is such a devastating song. I thought it was just about loving someone with depression who is dragging you down, I didn’t know the abortion reference.

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Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA. I thought it was a happy song.. about being born in the USA, I guess? 

And of course it’s not. According to Wikipedia: “The song addresses the economic hardships of Vietnam veterans upon their return home, juxtaposed ironically against patriotic glorification of the nation’s fighting forces.”

Yeah, not a happy song.

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Drops of Jupiter. He wrote it for his mother who died of cancer.


“Save the Last Dance for Me” was written by a wheelchair-using groom watching his new bride dance with their wedding guests.

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Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton.

Wondering if his son that died will recognize him in Heaven.


Of Monster’s and Men have Little talks. Which is actually about a grieving wife talking to her deceased husband and her sanity is slipping.

King and Lionheart is another one. The story behind that one is the singer Nanna was forced to be separated from her brother when her father left for Canada and took her brother with him, leaving their mother and Nanna behind.


Here's one, 'Year of the Cat' by Al Stewart, it's about the s*icide of a comedian, but you'd never know that from just the lyrics. Al has been pretty upfront about the meaning in interviews.


Edge of Glory by Lady Gaga, it’s about her grandpa dying and saying goodbye to him in the hospital with her grandma.


Death of a Martian by Red Hot Chili Peppers. Anthony wrote it for Flea and his dog, Martian, who passed away. I believe Martian was a band dog, there for the recording of many songs.


Heatwaves – Glass Animals

It’s about his dead friend.


Morning Grace by Ritsuko Okazaki, which was the opening title for Princess Tutu.

She recorded it while battling stomach cancer and died not long after

I know may not be quite what you asked, but it became even sadder to me whenever I listen to it.


Possession by Sarah McLachlan, based partly on disturbing lyrics that a stalker sent her, who eventually killed himself.


“Me and a Gun” by Tori Amos. It’s about her being r*ped earlier in life. It was one way she chose to cope, by writing a song about it.


Blackbird by The Beatles is often said to be a tribute to the Little Rock Nine.


“Cowgirl in the Sand”, by Neil Young. A song from the perspective of her murderer, who repeatedly visits her decayed body. The guitar solo re-enacts her desperate struggle as he kills her.

I have trouble listening to it since I learned that.

He wrote the song the same fevered weekend as “Down By The River, I Shot My Lady.”

ETA: I did not mean to imply that this interpretation is established fact. There are other competing theories.


Jagged Little Pill: The ending of the relationship between Alanis Morissette and Dave Coulier.


An Innocent Warrior from the Moana soundtrack. It was written about 19 girls who died in a boarding school fire. .


The d***s don't work, by The Verve, about Richard Ashcroft's mother dying of cancer.


One More Light became a depressing listen after Chester's s*icide.


Hey Ya by Outkast is really a sad song about a failing relationship.


Sittin' On The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding. The final verse where he whistles the melody was a placeholder. He died (I think in a plane crash?) before he could record the lyrics to the end of the song. Hell of a voice in that man.


What a Catch–FallOut Boy. It was years before I learned that Pete Wentz wrote it following his s*icide attempt.


Cat's In The Craddle.
I remember my Dad explaining the meaning of the song to me at probably age 13 or so as he was driving.
He was crying and I told him we’d never be like that not realizing that he was already an alcoholic who wasn’t there much already.
30 years later he hasn’t met his grandkids because the beer is still more important than family.
The self torment he puts himself through doesn’t make sense to me to this very day.
Maybe we’ll meet in the afterlife.


If You Could Read My Mind by Gordon Lightfoot. It was about him falling out of love with his wife. He promised his daughter he would never sing it in concert.


“House of the Rising Sun.” Most people know it from the Animals’ version, sung by a man. But it is written from the perspective of a young woman, forced into prostitution in the House of the Rising Sun. “It’s been the ruin of many a poor girl, and God I know I’m one.”.


POD – Youth of The Nation Listening to it as a kid you're like this kicks a*s. Listen as an adult…. "Johnny Boy always played fool, he broke are the rules so you would think he was cool, he was never really one of the guys, now matter how hard he tried of the thought of s*icide" **It was inspired in part by the school shootings at Santana High School and Columbine High School**. :(.


I Wish It Would Rain by The Temptations

Here is the background from Wikipedia:

“The lyrics of this mournful song about a heartbroken man whose woman had just left him were penned by Motown staff writer Roger Penzabene. The lyricist had just learned that his wife was cheating on him and in his sorrow and pain, Penzabene penned both this and its follow-up “I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You).” Tragically the distraught Penzabene committed suicide barely a week after the single’s release.”.


Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce. It’s about not having enough time to spend with your loved ones. Not long after he was planning on winding down his career to be a father to his newborn child but died in a plane crash.


My favorite are songs that sound happy, but aren’t when you look at the lyrics.

Semi-Charmed Life (by Third Eye Blind) sounds like a happy song, but it’s actually about how a d**g user feels when he’s high but lamenting nothing else can make him feel that way.

Hey Ya (by Outkast) is about falling out of love with someone, but no one around you wanting to hear about it.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (by Deep Blue Something) is about grasping at straws to find any reason not to break up when you know the relationship isn’t working.


Luka by Suzanne Vega it’s a song about physical and mental abuse by her step father.

Another is hell is for children by Pat Benatar.


U2 – Pride (In the Name of Love). Did you guys know that it's about Dr. Martin Luther King? Listen to it again. *Early morning, April 4th, A shot rings out in the Memphis sky. Free at last, they took your life They could not take your pride.*.


Don’t Fear the Reaper. By Blue Oyster Cult. All these decades I didnt realize it was about committing su*icide.


There's a song by Spanish group Mecano called Cruz y Navaja. It tells the story of a young bartender in Madrid who, while trying to make ends meet, is working as much as he can. He arrives to his wife, who keeps wanting to be intimate with him. Because he is so tired, he always turns her down. One day, in the wee hours of the morning, he is walking to his house when he catches a glimpse of a couple being extra affectionate with each other. As he gets closer, he notices it's his wife. In a moment of anger and shock, he approaches the couple. His shock is further intensified when he sees that his wife has been kissing another woman. As he is about to break apart the two women, the wife's lover takes out a knife and stabs him to death. The group confirmed that the story was true. It had been taken from the police reports where the only thing that was changed for the song were the names.


Sara by Stevie Nicks. Don Henley claimed it was about a child he conceived with Nicks, who she wanted to name Sara. I don’t remember if it was a miscarriage or a termination, but no child was born and the lyrics lament the loss.


That Year – Brandi Carlisle.   This is a bit of a cheat on my part because I was at the same school as the person mentioned along with Brandi when it happened. He was one of her best friends and I knew him in a casual manner. When she released the song I was absolutely floored at how much strength she showed approaching the  “what ifs.” Heartbreaking song about such a gentle soul. Brandi treated it with a very delicate hand. Beautifully written song Brandi…RIP BB.


La Mer – Nine Inch Nails It was pretty much Reznor’s s*icide note. So glad he made it through.

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