Music makes me cry my eyes out – here’s a guide to the tracks of my tears | Simon Hattenstone

Songs that induce weeping do you good, a study suggests. As a man who knows all there is to know about the crying game, I could have told you that

Researchers have just discovered that crying to sad music is mood enhancing. Now, I’m no Bert Einstein, but I could have told them that a lifetime ago. There is a simple reason that we call it a good weep – because it’s good for us. (OK, I just made that up, but it could – or should – be true.)

The Japanese study surveyed how 154 participants responded to music, and how often they experienced goose bumps, shivers, crying or a lump in their throat. They concluded that songs that induced tears resulted in pleasure and participants feeling calmer

I’m not boasting, but I reckon I might just be one of the world’s top weepers. I can cry anywhere, at any time, without warning – quietly, desperately, uncontrollably. This might sound terribly bleak, but it isn’t, because invariably I feel better for it at the end. In fact, the only people who suffer are those who witness it or have to comfort me.

For a long time I used to cry every Saturday when my partner and I went to Sainsbury’s for our weekly shop. After a while, she decided to go shopping by herself. These days I cry at bad news, good news and occasionally even indifferent news, often ably assisted by a suitably heart-tugging soundtrack.

Music, of course, is moving in itself. But it has the added punch of being a shortcut to, and shorthand for, our past. All we’ve achieved, loved and lost is often represented in song. And whether it’s the potency of cheap music, the ethereal genius of Mozart, or simply the period it evokes, makes no odds.

As the way we have consumed music has changed, so has my addiction to music that makes me cry. Back in the day, I’d listen patiently to a whole album knowing that track seven would do it for me, but now I need the instant hit. It’s a habit I indulge privately, often when the house is still and everybody is asleep. That’s when I’ll get on to the web desperately searching for songs to make me cry. Why? Because it makes me feel good.

Some of them will be good old guilty pleasures – Chicago’s If You Leave Me Now does the job beautifully, while Immortality by the Bee Gees with Céline Dion goes straight to the heart (particularly Barry’s introduction: “Now we come to a magical moment in the whole proceedings. We’d like to bring on our guest star ladies and gentlemen, Miss Céline Dion”). For a classical weepy nothing does it for me quite like Kathleen Ferrier singing Gluck’s What is Life?

One song that reduces me to a quivering wreck is Somewhere from West Side Story, but it has to be this Barbra Streisand version, and if we’re going right to the heart of it, three minutes 15 seconds in, when Babs just soars. Trust me you will feel on top of the world after you’ve cried yourself a river for Tony and Maria.

Blowin’ in the Wind is a wonderful song, but Bob Dylan’s original doesn’t do anything for me emotionally. However, give it to Little Stevie Wonder and Clarence Paul and I cry like a baby. Why? Maybe because there’s something unbearably poignant about him singing “How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man” when he is still a boy. (Clarence Paul is just in the background on this version)

Aretha Franklin’s A Natural Woman performed at the Kennedy Center in 2015 in front of the Obamas at a tribute to Carole King has given me many a good weep. It’s not simply the brilliance of Aretha’s singing or Carole’s song. It’s certainly not the song’s innate sadness – this is one of the great songs about the transcendent power of love. It’s the triple emotional whammy in the video – Aretha sitting at the piano to perform then standing up, mic in hand, and throwing her fur coat to the floor, King watching with joyous disbelief, and Michelle and Barack weeping along, proving even politicians can be properly human.

My passion for crying goes back to when I was ill as a young boy and was bed-bound for a long time. I had all this horribly constipated emotion and anger lodged deep within me. After a while I realised I had to cry at least once a day, and if I didn’t the buildup was such that it became physically painful. Eventually I began to think crying was like an orgasm – liberating, joyous and a relief. And if those tears didn’t come, boy you were left frustrated.

Over the past year, as the world has gone tits up, I’ve become desperate in my search for music to make me cry. I suppose it’s like any addiction – the more you indulge, the more you need. Sometimes I search the internet hoping to find songs I’ve never heard of that will give me a bigger, better weep than anything before. This is how I came across Jeff Buckley’s gorgeous version of We All Fall in Love Sometimes. I defy you not to cry.

Recently, there have been two songs I’ve returned to time and again for a satisfying sob. Strangely, they are not sad songs, but idealistic ones, and both are performed by Pete Seeger. This Land is Your Land, sung by Seeger with Bruce Springsteen at the Obama inauguration, breaks my heart. There is no more moving reminder of what is possible.

But my ultimate weepy is We Shall Overcome. I adore the scratchy black-and-white recording of We Shall Overcome Seeger performed with members of the civil rights movement in 1963. The only version that makes me blub more is this one sung last year by a group of asylum-seeker friends. Watch, weep, and agitate.


Simon Hattenstone

The GuardianTramp

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