This topic came up when bantering online with Music Mike a few weeks back. He had suggested there were some songs that brought a tear to his eye simply because they were so good. I'm sceptical of that: I think that for a song to act on the tear ducts there has to be some innate sadness in its content, and/or in the personal associations that it has acquired for you.
Since I am hugely prone to depression and melancholia, there are any number of songs that can have this effect on me (and only a few that can snap me out of it). I might well have to come up with one or two further posts on this topic. But these were the five that came most readily to mind. [They are also very good songs, Mike; but that's not what tears me up about them.]
Top Five Songs that bring a tear to my eye
5) Radiohead - Fake Plastic Trees
I know, I know, it's a bit of a cliché. It might seem that only people born around the beginning of the '80s, people of the generation that experienced the emergence of this song in their moody early teens, should really be entitled to get exaggeratedly emotional over it. But the lyrics speak to me powerfully of middle-aged exhaustion and disillusionment and despair. There's something about the way Thom Yorke sings "It wears him out..." that leaves me gutted every time. Here's the original video. (There's also an excellent live performance video from the 2003 Glastonbury Festival.)
4) Simon & Garfunkel - The Sound of Silence
A song of creepy intensity and an ultimate wallow in nihilistic despair and disgust with the world, the prettiness of the tune only serving to create an additional tension with the suicidal tenor of the lyrics. Moreover, of course, it has acquired further dark resonances from its use over the devastating closing shot of The Graduate - Dustin Hoffman in the back of the bus, having apparently gained his heart's desire but suddenly realising he has no idea why he wanted it or what he's going to do next. Here's a live TV performance from 1966. (The original album version can be heard here.)
3) K.D. Lang - Outside Myself
A powerful representation of alienation and despair so great that it leaves one emotionally numb. I grew dangerously attached to this song during a spell of particularly bad depressions in the later '90s, and again following the death of my mother shortly after I moved to China. This is a performance from the BBC music show Later... with Jools Holland in the 1990s; slightly dodgy sound and picture quality, unfortunately, but a great performance.
2) The Pogues - Kitty
A beautiful traditional ballad, hauntingly sung by Shane MacGowan at the end of the Pogues' marvellous debut album Red Roses For Me. That whole record has had the power to move me to tears since my student days, but it is this song that works most powerfully on my heart-strings. Songs of farewell are a particular weakness of mine; songs of failed or thwarted love, also; and outlaw songs of men wronged by a harsh government, too (yes, I know, I'm a hopeless Plastic Paddy at times). Kitty combines all three genres into three-and-a-half minutes of distilled heartache. Here's a rather nice live performance from Glasgow's Barrowlands in 1987.
But in the No. 1 spot this time we have....
1) Fleetwood Mac - Storms
This has been a late-night depression-wallow staple of mine since the early '90s. I think I'd initially been attracted to it as a poignant account of a failed love affair, but I'd been listening to it a lot just before my father died and so it has become associated for me not just with separation but bereavement. I also identify with the defiant celebration of a tempestuous temperament at the close of the song: "I have never ever been a blue cold sea; I have always been a storm." Here's the album track, accompanied by a nice montage of photos of the delectable Stevie Nicks. (There's also an interesting 'demo' version of the song here.)