The Best Songs for Crying (6 of My Favorites)

Crying is good. Crying is healthy. Crying is therapeutic. In a world where there are so many things to be sad or mad or anxious or frustrated about, it’s beneficial to give ourselves some time to let it out. Music is particularly helpful to me when I sense that pre-crying-tightness-in-the-throat feeling.

It’s more convenient (and more immediate) than putting on an emotional movie or episode. Although, I’ll admit that these songs are  often related to larger mediums. For example—when I hear Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi on “I See the Light” from Tangled, I’m an absolute wreck. The song is just a snippet of the film, but it’s enough to recall the emotions I felt when I was watching it.

Yeah, it’s sappy, and yeah, it’s Disney, but there’s just something about it that tastes bittersweet. Besides associating it with the movie’s storyline, I’ve come to appreciate the song as its own entity as well. It’s the build of the strings, the harmony, and the lyrics in the chorus: “and at last I see the light.”

When I hear it, something swells inside me that looks like a mix of nostalgia, hope, and absolute surrender. It’s one of those songs that could be called optimistic, but the emotion stems from the sense that something has been overcome. Maybe there is even a sense that there is more to endure, but, for now, it is relishing in present happiness.

Another song that conveys a more optimistic sentiment is “No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods. I grew up listening to the songs from this musical, but it wasn’t until the recent Disney film adaptation that I felt myself actually growing emotionally attached to this song. The weight of the lyrics hit me in a more personal way.

It’s a song about growing up (“Mother cannot guide you, now you’re on your own.”), but it’s also a song about learning how to deal with feelings of despair. It’s a reminder that, “Someone is on your side. No one is alone.” The lyrics are directed at children in the musical, but the message just as easily speaks to anyone who has ever struggled with anxiety or depression. The simplistic language used in the lyrics paired with a rising and falling melody is comforting—almost like a lullaby.

So, I confess, a lot of the songs on my “songs for crying” playlist are from musicals, but I won’t go through them all (hint: lots of Hamilton). However, I do  feel like I have to mention one from The Sound of Music. Anything with Julie Andrews makes me cry because she’s the delightful voice of my childhood.

If you don’t know The Sound of Music, the song “Edelweiss” may not resonate as strongly, but I think that you can feel the surging emotion behind the scene. The song’s title is a nod to a white flower found in Austria. In the scene, the von Trapp family is about to flee the country due to certain political pressures. The song invokes the flower as a sign of Austrian pride; it is both a statement of resistance to the Nazi forces and a kind of nostalgic farewell: “bless my homeland forever.”

It’s another song that thrives in its simplicity, as it repeats the same eight lines. What’s so compelling about this particular composition is the gradual addition of voices, which implies a beautiful national unity. Of course, this song is only a moment in time, a flash of optimism in what is otherwise an ominous context. That’s where the song lives and breathes—in its slice of temporary time. It’s sweet and fleeting—which makes me want to grab on to it all the more.

The last three songs I have to mention are tied to memories of riding in the backseat of my dad’s Jeep, scrolling through his iPod classic. If you find yourself sentimental about certain periods in your life, like me, then think back to the music that colors those memories. Those are the ones that will most likely stir intense feeling. Anytime I hear “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, I’m transported back to my adolescence.

There’s something about the narrative quality of this song that prompts a sort of melancholy stillness. Tracy Chapman’s voice cracks and croons in such beautifully expressive ways that it almost feels wrong to sing along. Each verse progresses the story and illustrates a specific portion of human experience.

The chorus reaffirms the song’s external and internal depiction of life: “City lights lay out before us and your arms felt nice wrapped around my shoulders and I had a feeling that I belonged and I had a feeling I could be someone.” It’s the visual narration and honest language that makes this track authentic. Besides bringing tears to my eyes, this song is brilliant in its own right. It’s one of my all time favorites—regardless of mood.

Another song I prize for its narrative lyrics is “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor. It’s one of those songs that has been covered so many times by various artists. The cover that I grew up listening to is from an acoustic session with Dido, which I actually prefer over the original.

This version is set at a lower chord progression than the original, and Dido’s voice is a lot moodier compared to James Taylor’s folksy croon. She also explores a higher range in the chorus, adding her own breathy pitches that make for an interesting contrast to other parts of the song. The song is beautifully sentimental, almost mournful, in its invocation of nature.

The lyrics flow poetically from one line to the next: “Well, there’s hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come. Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.” I think the emotion comes from one’s own interpretation of the song—nothing about the sadness of the lyrics is straightforward. I appreciate the openness that the song presents because it allows one to inscribe a deeper, more personal meaning.  

I suppose all of these songs have taken on deeply personal connotations for me, not only from my first memories of listening to them but also through a series of associations that come after. Elton John is one of those artists that I have a long-standing sentimental opinion of. One of his songs in particular that always gets me is “Tiny Dancer”; it is just so intensely familiar to me that I’m not sure I can accurately communicate its emotional affect. I think part of it has to do with its permeating nature—how it is recognized and revoiced in certain spaces. There is a scene from the film Almost Famous  that perfectly reflects this:

What I love about the song is its absolute infectiousness that unites voices, even if just briefly. It’s a feel-good track about living in L.A. that speaks to my Southern California roots. The song was released in 1971, but Elton John put out a music video for it just last year.

There’s a lot of things I like about this video—the fact that it’s not pretty, doesn’t necessarily focus on one person or one type of emotion, and reflects the sense of omnipresence of city life, of music, and of human experience. The song is not necessarily sad, but I think, as you see in the video, that there is a kind of awareness that extends beyond the 6 minutes and 17 seconds of the track.

What I love about this song is its alive-ness—not only its expression of life, but its reminder that the inherent enjoyment of it, and music itself, is an act of living. It’s a celebration of being fully present in everything we experience as well as allowing ourselves to be honest with what we’re feeling.

For me, listening to music creates a comfortable space for processing my thoughts. It can be a helpful distraction or a means of soothing difficult feelings. The strong associations that I have with certain songs allow me to tap into past emotions as well as reconcile current ones.

In this way, music acts as a vessel for each individual listener. Within each song, we inscribe particular connotations, recollections, and interpretations from our own unique perspectives. These are the elements that shape every listening experience. And sometimes they manifest in a good cry.

You can check out my full “Song for Crying” playlist on Spotify.

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I am a student at UC Davis, currently working toward a B.A. in English (with an emphasis in creative writing) and a minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies. I especially enjoy the works of Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, and William Shakespeare. My affinity for the arts is evident in my support of local bookstores, museums, and theaters. Besides reading and writing, I live for discovering new music and revisiting classic jams from the 70's, 80's, and 90's.

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The Best Songs for Crying (6 of My Favorites)

Crying is good. Crying is healthy. Crying is therapeutic. In a world where there are so many things to be sad or mad or anxious or frustrated about, it’s beneficial to give ourselves some time to let it out. Music is particularly helpful to me when I sense that pre-crying-tightness-in-the-throat feeling.

It’s more convenient (and more immediate) than putting on an emotional movie or episode. Although, I’ll admit that these songs are  often related to larger mediums. For example—when I hear Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi on “I See the Light” from Tangled, I’m an absolute wreck. The song is just a snippet of the film, but it’s enough to recall the emotions I felt when I was watching it.

Yeah, it’s sappy, and yeah, it’s Disney, but there’s just something about it that tastes bittersweet. Besides associating it with the movie’s storyline, I’ve come to appreciate the song as its own entity as well. It’s the build of the strings, the harmony, and the lyrics in the chorus: “and at last I see the light.”

When I hear it, something swells inside me that looks like a mix of nostalgia, hope, and absolute surrender. It’s one of those songs that could be called optimistic, but the emotion stems from the sense that something has been overcome. Maybe there is even a sense that there is more to endure, but, for now, it is relishing in present happiness.

Another song that conveys a more optimistic sentiment is “No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods. I grew up listening to the songs from this musical, but it wasn’t until the recent Disney film adaptation that I felt myself actually growing emotionally attached to this song. The weight of the lyrics hit me in a more personal way.

It’s a song about growing up (“Mother cannot guide you, now you’re on your own.”), but it’s also a song about learning how to deal with feelings of despair. It’s a reminder that, “Someone is on your side. No one is alone.” The lyrics are directed at children in the musical, but the message just as easily speaks to anyone who has ever struggled with anxiety or depression. The simplistic language used in the lyrics paired with a rising and falling melody is comforting—almost like a lullaby.

So, I confess, a lot of the songs on my “songs for crying” playlist are from musicals, but I won’t go through them all (hint: lots of Hamilton). However, I do  feel like I have to mention one from The Sound of Music. Anything with Julie Andrews makes me cry because she’s the delightful voice of my childhood.

If you don’t know The Sound of Music, the song “Edelweiss” may not resonate as strongly, but I think that you can feel the surging emotion behind the scene. The song’s title is a nod to a white flower found in Austria. In the scene, the von Trapp family is about to flee the country due to certain political pressures. The song invokes the flower as a sign of Austrian pride; it is both a statement of resistance to the Nazi forces and a kind of nostalgic farewell: “bless my homeland forever.”

It’s another song that thrives in its simplicity, as it repeats the same eight lines. What’s so compelling about this particular composition is the gradual addition of voices, which implies a beautiful national unity. Of course, this song is only a moment in time, a flash of optimism in what is otherwise an ominous context. That’s where the song lives and breathes—in its slice of temporary time. It’s sweet and fleeting—which makes me want to grab on to it all the more.

The last three songs I have to mention are tied to memories of riding in the backseat of my dad’s Jeep, scrolling through his iPod classic. If you find yourself sentimental about certain periods in your life, like me, then think back to the music that colors those memories. Those are the ones that will most likely stir intense feeling. Anytime I hear “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman, I’m transported back to my adolescence.

There’s something about the narrative quality of this song that prompts a sort of melancholy stillness. Tracy Chapman’s voice cracks and croons in such beautifully expressive ways that it almost feels wrong to sing along. Each verse progresses the story and illustrates a specific portion of human experience.

The chorus reaffirms the song’s external and internal depiction of life: “City lights lay out before us and your arms felt nice wrapped around my shoulders and I had a feeling that I belonged and I had a feeling I could be someone.” It’s the visual narration and honest language that makes this track authentic. Besides bringing tears to my eyes, this song is brilliant in its own right. It’s one of my all time favorites—regardless of mood.

Another song I prize for its narrative lyrics is “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor. It’s one of those songs that has been covered so many times by various artists. The cover that I grew up listening to is from an acoustic session with Dido, which I actually prefer over the original.

This version is set at a lower chord progression than the original, and Dido’s voice is a lot moodier compared to James Taylor’s folksy croon. She also explores a higher range in the chorus, adding her own breathy pitches that make for an interesting contrast to other parts of the song. The song is beautifully sentimental, almost mournful, in its invocation of nature.

The lyrics flow poetically from one line to the next: “Well, there’s hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come. Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.” I think the emotion comes from one’s own interpretation of the song—nothing about the sadness of the lyrics is straightforward. I appreciate the openness that the song presents because it allows one to inscribe a deeper, more personal meaning.  

I suppose all of these songs have taken on deeply personal connotations for me, not only from my first memories of listening to them but also through a series of associations that come after. Elton John is one of those artists that I have a long-standing sentimental opinion of. One of his songs in particular that always gets me is “Tiny Dancer”; it is just so intensely familiar to me that I’m not sure I can accurately communicate its emotional affect. I think part of it has to do with its permeating nature—how it is recognized and revoiced in certain spaces. There is a scene from the film Almost Famous  that perfectly reflects this:

What I love about the song is its absolute infectiousness that unites voices, even if just briefly. It’s a feel-good track about living in L.A. that speaks to my Southern California roots. The song was released in 1971, but Elton John put out a music video for it just last year.

There’s a lot of things I like about this video—the fact that it’s not pretty, doesn’t necessarily focus on one person or one type of emotion, and reflects the sense of omnipresence of city life, of music, and of human experience. The song is not necessarily sad, but I think, as you see in the video, that there is a kind of awareness that extends beyond the 6 minutes and 17 seconds of the track.

What I love about this song is its alive-ness—not only its expression of life, but its reminder that the inherent enjoyment of it, and music itself, is an act of living. It’s a celebration of being fully present in everything we experience as well as allowing ourselves to be honest with what we’re feeling.

For me, listening to music creates a comfortable space for processing my thoughts. It can be a helpful distraction or a means of soothing difficult feelings. The strong associations that I have with certain songs allow me to tap into past emotions as well as reconcile current ones.

In this way, music acts as a vessel for each individual listener. Within each song, we inscribe particular connotations, recollections, and interpretations from our own unique perspectives. These are the elements that shape every listening experience. And sometimes they manifest in a good cry.

You can check out my full “Song for Crying” playlist on Spotify.

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