5 Upbeat Songs You Didn't Realize Are Depressing (Part 2)

'We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue/And then we'll take it higher.' And by higher, they apparently mean extraordinarily depressing.
5 Upbeat Songs You Didn't Realize Are Depressing (Part 2)

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article called "6 Popular Upbeat Songs You Didn't Realize Are Depressing." The article went over pretty well, but as always, there was a chorus of comments from people asking why this song or that song didn't make the list.

It's a common complaint with the list-based format. For those writers who do read their comments, the temptation is to reply with arguments about how there are only so many words people are willing to read at one time so some stuff just won't make the list. You may also be inclined to point out that your failure to include that one song by their favorite band in no way means that you are 14 years old and still sleep in the same bed with your mother.

5 Upbeat Songs You Didn't Realize Are Depressing (Part 2)

"Not sure I believe you."

Nor does it mean you're a member of the Illuminati. That's not to say you're not interested in hearing a pitch from one of their representatives. Just that your failure to include "Pumped Up Kicks" on that one list doesn't indicate any active involvement with the organization at this time. You'd probably read an email if they sent it, though.

5 Upbeat Songs You Didn't Realize Are Depressing (Part 2)

"Of course you would."

But as usual, nothing I've just said matters in the least. Because defending yourself against people who catalog the plethora of items you've left off of a list are worthy of but one reply ...

Thanks for writing this article for me, chumps.

Here are five more popular upbeat songs you didn't realize are depressing ...

Eddy Grant -- "Electric Avenue"

5 Upbeat Songs You Didn't Realize Are Depressing (Part 2)

Most Deceptively Fun Lyric:

"We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue/And then we'll take it higher."

Why It Makes People Happy:

"Electric Avenue" is one of those songs that people just seem to universally agree is wonderful. It has that perfect combination of dance-worthy beats and an instantly memorable chorus that makes a song stick in a person's brain for hours once they hear it. Check it out:

Pretty catchy, right? On top of that, did you get a load of Eddy Grant's voice? How fun is that guy to imitate? Just singing that opening line in that Jamaican (probably?) accent is enough provocation to start an impromptu party in most areas. Go ahead, stand up in the middle of your office or living room or public library right now and belt out this line in your best Cool Runnings voice:

"Down in the street there is violence!"

Whoa. I hope you didn't really do that. If you did, just show this article to security when they show up. And hey, why the hell is this guy singing about violence when we're trying to start the party anyway?

Why It's Secretly Depressing:

"Electric Avenue" is much like Bruce Springsteen's "Born In the U.S.A.," in that they're both songs that people get totally wrong, thanks to an overwhelmingly catchy chorus that completely overshadows the verses that are just waiting to ruin your day if only you'd listen close enough.


Looking at this album cover for too long will also ruin your day.

When you break the chorus of "Electric Avenue" down to its barest elements, you're left with three words: "rock," "avenue," "higher." Add in the fact that the guy singing it has dreadlocks, and "Holy shit, this song is totally about weed, bro!"

Great guess, but you're wrong, not only about the meaning of this song, but also about me being your bro. For one thing, I don't even know you. On top of that, this song isn't about weed at all, it's about violent rioting that broke out in the Brixton area of England in 1981, an incident that people have for some reason taken to calling the 1981 Brixton riot.

England was in bad shape in 1981. For starters, no Chicken McNuggets. Those didn't break big until 1983, so there was still a general malaise over the entire world that kids today will just never understand. Also, England was in the midst of a massive recession. And as history has taught us time and again, something about literally watching your children starve tends to dampen a person's mood.

5 Upbeat Songs You Didn't Realize Are Depressing (Part 2)

Would it kill them to not look so sad about it?

Things between police and residents of Brixton were already tense, but an incident in which police officers were accused of ignoring a black youth as he lay bleeding in the street from a stab wound proved to be the tipping point for a day of violence that came to be known as Bloody Saturday. A slightly less flashy name than "The 1981 Brixton riots," for sure, but it should still give you at least some insight into how bad things got.

As for "Electric Avenue," that's the name of a famous market street in Brixton. There wasn't much rioting there, but it makes for a snappier song title than "Coldharbour Lane" or some shit. But a quick scan of the lyrics makes it pretty clear what the song is about. If you're looking for one standout line that really proves that Eddy Grant doesn't want to party with you, let it be this one:

"Workin' so hard like a soldier/Can't afford a thing on TV/
Deep in my heart I abhor ya/Can't get food for them kid/Good God!"

Kids, man. Always needing to be fed. It's enough to drive a person to riot.

The Clash -- "Train in Vain"

5 Upbeat Songs You Didn't Realize Are Depressing (Part 2)

Most Deceptively Fun Lyric:

"All the times/When we were close/I'll remember these things the most."

Why It Makes People Happy:

The Clash was a punk band. That's not a genre that leaves much room for songs that don't make people want to stab each other in the neck with broken beer bottles.

So imagine the music-buying public's surprise when this song popped up as a seemingly hidden track at the end of the the landmark London Calling album:

Who even has time to listen to the lyrics when a feel-good tune like that is playing? The Clash had never sounded more upbeat. So what's got the band in such a chipper mood? Was there a sale on Reggae Music for White People at the local bookstore the day this song was written?

Just a quick side note for any aspiring writers out there: What I just did at the end of the preceding paragraph was make a joke that will only be understood by the same people who will hate me for making the joke in the first place. Try to avoid this in your own writing.

Anyway, why so fucking happy, Clash?

Why It's Secretly Depressing:

If we're talking in the strictest terms, the Clash really don't sound all that happy here. Sure, the tune is pretty upbeat and is more than capable of putting a smile on your otherwise sad and weather-beaten face. But give the lyrics a really good listen and you'll note that nothing fun is happening in this song:

"Did you stand by me/No not at all/Did you stand by me/No way."

What we have here is a classic "Somebody done somebody wrong" song. But who is this song about? Well, I hope you're in the mood for some speculation, because I've got some coming right up.

It's rumored that "Train in Vain" is a response to a song called "Typical Girls" by punk band the Slits.

the slits Typical girls

Slits. Get it? Because you have to squint to see which one is a dude.

That song mentions girls who stand by their man. Clash guitarist Mick Jones wrote this song shortly after breaking up with a woman named Viv Albertine. She just happened to be a guitarist for, you guessed it, the Slits. With that back story, lyrics like these make perfect sense:

"Now I got a job/But it don't pay/I need new clothes/I need somewhere to stay/
But without all of these things I can do/But without your love I won't make it through/
But you don't understand my point of view/I suppose there's nothing I can do."

Honestly, I'd expect a chick in a band called the Slits to be a little bit nicer.

The Monkees -- "Last Train to Clarksville"

5 Upbeat Songs You Didn't Realize Are Depressing (Part 2)

Most Deceptively Fun Lyric:

"Take the last train to Clarksville/I'll be waiting at the station/
We'll have time for coffee-flavored kisses/And a bit of conversation."

Why It Makes People Happy:

In the big scheme of things, the Monkees really don't have much to be sad about. In their "prime," they were basically a more talented version of Milli Vanilli. Sure, they eventually tried to become a real band and stuff, but on that first album, the one that made them superstars, they didn't even play any instruments. They basically got to become one of the biggest bands in the world by looking the part and letting people like Neil Diamond write their songs.

You can't really blame them for any of this, of course. They were a band built around a television show. This stuff was completely out of their hands. And they didn't look like they were particularly sad about anything that was happening around them. Why, just check out the video for "Last Train to Clarksville" for proof of that:

Do my eyes deceive me, or were they playing that song on a merry-go-round? I'm pretty sure they were. Let's take a look at what sunshine-filled topic got them so giddy.

Why It's Secretly Depressing:

The problem with being a band built for television is that you have to tread carefully when it comes to delivering any sort of message. That's why you never saw Will Smith break into any "Fuck tha Police" type of rhymes on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The fact that he's Will Smith probably had a hand in preventing those types of outbursts as well.

5 Upbeat Songs You Didn't Realize Are Depressing (Part 2)

"Will Smith don't have to curse in his raps to sell records ..."

For the Monkees, the joyful antics of the "Last Train to Clarksville" video are hiding something pretty damn dark. Like Vietnam War dark. "Last Train to Clarksville" is actually a song written in protest of the war in Vietnam. It tells the story of a man who's taking a train to an Army base in the morning and wants to see the love of his life one last time. You know, in case you ever wondered why, in a song so seemingly filled with happiness, this line pops up:

"And I don't know if I'm ever coming home."

Vietnam is never specifically mentioned in "Last Train to Clarksville," but Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, the duo who wrote the song, have a pretty solid excuse for that, saying in an interview, "We couldn't be too direct with the Monkees. We couldn't really make a protest song out of it -- we kind of snuck it in."

It's exactly that kind of subversiveness that gets you applauded in a Cracked article, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Here's hoping the rest of the songwriting world follows your lead. I have to come up with this shit like every week, you know?

Beck -- "Girl"

5 Upbeat Songs You Didn't Realize Are Depressing (Part 2)

Most Deceptively Fun Lyric:

"Hey/My sun-eyed girl/Heyyyyy/My sun-eyed girl."

Why It Makes People Happy:

Beck is an enigmatic guy. He's a Scientologist, which is creepy and should make him pretty easy to make fun of. But he also makes some pretty great music and seems like he'd be just the most adorable person ever to hang out with, provided Xenu would allow it. So it's hard to muster up the same kind of joke power for him as it is for, say, John Travolta. Maybe Beck will ask a male masseuse for a handy at some point and that will all change, but for now, he's frustratingly enjoyable to have around.

He's also pretty mysterious when it comes to his music. Take the song "Girl," for example. Forget trying to figure out what the lyrics are about; most people can't even settle on what the song is called. One popular choice is "Summer Girl," likely because it sounds like he's saying "summer girl" during the chorus. But he's not. On the record, it sounds more like "sun-eyed girl," but people who've heard the song performed live swear he's saying "cyanide girl." It doesn't help matters much that Beck censors the lyrics in the liner notes of the album that "Girl" is featured on. They simply read "my ________ girl." Here, see if you can figure it out:

Whatever the case, one thing we can all agree on is that, as far as Beck songs go, this one is ridiculously upbeat. It's the kind of song you listen to when the sun is out, the wind is in your hair and you're relaxing with a drink in your hand, preferably paying little to no attention to the fact that Beck is clearly singing about killing a little girl.

Why It's Secretly Depressing:

Don't let the electronic bleepity-bloops from the intro and the irresistibly catchy chorus fool you, "Girl" is an absurdly dark song. It's hard to pinpoint the most disturbing line because it's just all kinds of harrowing. Here's an especially troubling bit:

"With her hands tied back/Her rags are burnin'/
Calling out from a landfilled life/Scrawling her name up on the ceiling/
Throw a coin in the fountain of dust/White noise, her ears are ringing/
Got a ticket for my midnight hanging."

I'm just going to level with you here. I'm not 100 percent sure what all those words mean. But someone has their hands tied behind their back, and there's a landfill, and since when has anyone ever "scrawled" their name while something good was happening? Oh, and sounds like someone's going to be hanged. So that, too. And he's probably talking about a kid, judging from this line:

"A fist pounding on a vending machine/Toy diamond ring stuck on her finger."

Sounds like Beck was in an odd mood the day this tune was penned. Probably nothing that an old-fashioned thetan cleanse wasn't able to nip in the bud.

Hanson -- "MMMBop"

5 Upbeat Songs You Didn't Realize Are Depressing (Part 2)

Most Deceptively Fun Lyric:

"Mmmbop, ba duba dop/Ba du bop, ba duba dop/Ba du bop, ba duba dop/Ba du, yeah."

Why It Makes People Happy:

This song is about absolutely nothing, right? It must be, 80 percent of the lyrics aren't even actual words. What kind of meaning can we be expected to glean from that? And you know, that's exactly the kind of intellectual investment you want in a feel-good song like this:

Besides, everyone in the band was like 8 years old when this song was written (except for the "older" one, who has always been the exact same age he is right now, 31). What could they possibly have to teach us about anything?

Why It's Secretly Depressing:

Kids can be a bummer sometimes, and not just because having them means you'll never have any fun ever again. Apparently, Hanson had some pretty grown-up thoughts about life way back when they were just getting teased for looking like girls instead of tapping tons of groupies for looking like girls.

Once you sift through all of the nonsensical parts, "MMMBop" is a fairly sobering look at the fragile nature of relationships and the importance of keeping the people you love close to you, because they'll be gone before you know it.

"You have so many relationships in this life/Only one or two will last/
You go through all the pain and strife/Then you turn your back and they're gone so fast."

There are also a bunch of lines about how we'll all get old and lose our hair:

"In the end they'll be the only ones there/And when you get old and start losing your hair/
Tell me who will still care."

Hey, you know what? Fuck you, kids. You think you're so damn special with your luxurious 1970s-era Farrah Fawcett hair. Talk to me when you hit your late 20s and things start getting a bit thinner up top for you, too.

5 Upbeat Songs You Didn't Realize Are Depressing (Part 2)


Fine, I guess they've held up nicely. So, whatever. This song is about your friends stabbing you in the back and your pets and parents dying. And Hanson thinks your thinning hairline makes you a total dipshit. Keep that in mind next time you reach for "MMMBop" to put a little pep in your step on some gloomy morning. It's a far more perfect choice than you've likely ever realized.

Adam hosts a podcast called Unpopular Opinion that you should check out right here. You should also be his friend on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.

For more from ATB, check out 6 Awful Hip Hop Slang Terms (That Are Way Older Than Rap) and The 12 Most God Awful Tribute Albums Ever Recorded.

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