I’m the kind of person who only recently learned to accept conversations from others as a means of cheering up (because the right people will be able to make you feel better and not worse, ever, about anything!). But instinctually, a bad day or a dark time has me gravitating to the wisdom and comfort of the music I love. Headphones, my iPod, and a long walk are also remedies when a good hug isn’t around.
Here are ten of my favourite ‘cheer up’ songs. They don’t take away the pain, but they ease it a little bit.
1. Carole King – You’ve Got a Friend.
I’ve always silently maintained that Carole King is one of the best ‘music bffs’. When your friends aren’t around in the flesh, there she is, reminding you that you can call her and she’ll come running, running… it’s not the same as a warm hug, but honestly, it’s close enough in a pinch!
Key line: “They’ll hurt you and desert you/And take your soul if you let them/Oh, but don’t you let them”
2. Oasis – Stop Crying Your Heart Out.
Oasis isn’t really a ‘warm fuzzies’ type of band but in this case, they’ve created a strong that asks you to draw on your inner strength and dry up your tears. Melodically, there is something deeply uplifting here that is lovely to listen to and also empowering.
Key line: “Hold on/Don’t be scared/You’ll never change what’s been and gone”
3. Ryan Adams – Words.
Ryan Adams doles out life advice sometimes (see: Note to Self: Don’t Die and Life is Beautiful, just as a couple of very overt examples). With this song, he is offering you his protection, and a reminder to not pay attention to people whose words are beneath them, and you. Sometimes you just need to be reminded not to worry, not to pay any mind, and recall that ‘words’ aren’t that powerful.
Key line: “If everything you want is something you couldn’t have/Go outside a while, look up and count the clouds”
4. Beth Orton – Ooh Child.
Orton’s cover of The Five Stairsteps’ biggest hit adds something sombre and reflective to the original, much sunnier version of the song. Her voice breaks as if she herself is overcome with emotion but yet, she somehow knows it’s going to be okay and things will be brighter.
Key line: “Some day, we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun/Some day, when the world is much brighter”
5. The Beatles – Let It Be.
When I find myself in times of trouble, this is one of the first songs I always, always put on. It’s like a prayer that McCartney is saying on your behalf, because you can’t quite find the words. When everything is the worst and you feel yourself entrenched in darkness, Mother Mary is here to help you see the light. Religious or not the message is as powerful as it is deeply comforting.
Key line: “And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light that shines on me/Shine on until tomorrow, let it be”
6. Wilco – War on War.
Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is one of the greatest albums of the last twenty-five years because it has everything; lyrically, production-wise and musically, Wilco created perfection with this record. Among the solid gems on this record is War on War, a song that lets you know in a world of conflict, there is only one option and it is to move forward and remember it’s darkest before the dawn. The melody itself is cheery but behind the distinctly Wilco -esque up-tempo alt-pop is something that has resonated with me since the day I heard it.
Key line: “You have to learn how to die/if you want to want to be alive, okay?”
7. Elliott Smith – Happiness.
Elliott Smith isn’t exactly known for ‘cheery’ songs, but he mostly had a sardonic-but-cheery demeanor, and among his stellar catalogue is Happiness, which isn’t really an ‘optimistic’ song, but is still comforting. Things are going to be bad. Things are going to be finite. But what do you need to wish upon yourself and others in order to forgive and gain the closure you deserve?
Key line: “…[Her] memory worked in reverse/To keep her safe from herself”
8. Damien Rice – Trusty and True.
Another artist who isn’t exactly known for his sunny and uplifting songs, here is a song that is yes, far from sunny, but also extraordinarily uplifting. I very recently saw Damien Rice before singing this song he talked about how it’s a song about recognizing and understanding that sometimes we fuck up and we should forgive ourselves. And sometimes when we’re sad, it’s just that message that needs to be heard. We’re not mad at anyone except us.
Key line: “And we can’t take back/What is done, what is past/So fellas, lay down your fears/’Cause we can’t take back/What is done, what is past/So let us start from here”
9. Josh Rouse – Sad Eyes.
Rouse has been making music for eons, and is one of the cheeriest artists on this list, despite his own struggles and his own ex-pat blues. He wrote one of the most incredibly beautiful cheering-up ballads ever with that powerful swell between the bridge and final chours that makes your heart soar up into your throat and gives you lyrically and melodically, just a few more ounces of strength that you can use to save the day.
Key line: “Sad eyes/You are the only one whose blue skies are grey/So don’t cry/You’ll be the only one to make them go away”
10. Conor Oberst – You Are Your Mother’s Child.
There’s something wistful about recalling simpler times and going back through the Rolodex of your life remembering each phase and good or bad, what it meant to your personal and vocational growth. Oberst does that so poignantly here it induces chills. I think this song is a ‘cheer up’ song for the same reasons it makes you very sad: lost innocence. Innocence and remembering what you had and how it became the foundation to being on your own now. It calls to action without making any calls at all. It’s also comforting to know that the universality of growing up is shared among so many people. You’re not alone, in feeling alone.
Key line: “Tears will dry if you give them time/Life’s a roller coaster, keep your arms inside/Fear, that’s a big emotion”