1. Third Eye Blind, “Jumper”
The old saying goes, “Why should the devil have all the good music?” There’s no good answer, but it’s pretty true that he does. The anti-suicide angels have been mostly left with ridiculously unsubtle songs like Third Eye Blind’s “Jumper,” whose chorus—“I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend”—doesn’t even sound all that convincing. In fact, the whole song seems to make the singer more important than the potential victim. The only positive to remaining in this life is that the singer essentially promises that he’ll leave you alone forever if you decide not to jump.
2. Queen, “Don’t Try Suicide”
Queen’s 1980 album The Game was the band’s big smash transition from rock to pop, and Freddie Mercury was apparently in such a good mood that he included this ludicrous, handclapping honky-funk message-song right next to classics like “Another One Bites The Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Whooping out lyrics about prick-teases who get on his tits, Mercury recites the lines “Don’t try suicide / you’re just gonna hate it” as if he’s Rip Taylor urging someone not to order the veal. If this ridiculous number saved anyone from self-murder, it was because they couldn’t leave the planet without figuring out what Mercury was on when he wrote this, and trying it themselves.
3. Billy Joel, “You’re Only Human (Second Wind)”
In all probability, the last thing deeply depressed people wants to hear is Billy Joel telling them to cheer up, accompanied by über-cheesy ’80s synths. And the last thing they likely want to see is Joel giving a ghostly tour of how great life is—à la It’s A Wonderful Life—in an accompanying video. But Joel’s God complex was apparently in full swing in 1985, when he released this jaunty number aimed at fixing all of your problems. The solution? “Wait in that corner until that breeze blows in.” Well, duh!
4. AFI, “Narrative Of Soul Against Soul”
AFI was making big, largely positive changes to its sound when Black Sails In The Sunset dropped in 1999, but you wouldn’t know it from this goofy hardcore chanter. The only difference between this and a million other latter-day punk anthems is its pretentious title and its well-meaning but flatulent lyrics, which veer between high-minded nonsense and recycled clichés like “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” The big finish: “I’d throw away everything to live.”
5. Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush, “Don’t Give Up”
Peter Gabriel’s much-covered 1986 chart-fixture “Don’t Give Up” tells an entire story about a broken-down man moving from place to place looking for work, and finally returning home to find it changed and devastated. Kate Bush answers each new setback with a whispery, sweet chorus, offering him affirmation: “Don’t give up, you’re not beaten yet / don’t give up, I know you can make it good… Rest your head, you worry too much / It’s gonna to be all right.” While the two of them seem to be singing to each other more than to any imagined audience, it’s clearly an open message to the masses, with Bush sounding exactly like the little metaphorical angel sitting on listeners’ shoulders, trying to drown out the little devil on the other shoulder with little messages of hope like “You’re not the only one” and “No reason to be ashamed.”
6. Good Charlotte, “Hold On”
Joel and Benji Madden’s rocky upbringing is no big secret; as the co-leaders of Good Charlotte, the twin brothers have mined that childhood hardship in many songs. But they took their angst to a less navel-gazing level with 2002’s “Hold On.” Bearing a PSA-style video complete with testimonials from those who have lost loved ones to suicide, the group plainly, openly begs anyone contemplating taking their own life to reconsider: “Hold on if you feel like letting go / hold on, it gets better than you know.” That isn’t the most eloquent statement ever made on the subject, but its heart (and hook) is undeniably in the right place—especially considering that the Maddens have no shortage of depressed teenage fans. The band explored suicide again in its 2004 song “S.O.S.,” but “Hold On” remains that most unique of creatures: a Good Charlotte song that’s kind of hard to hate.
7. Guster, “Hang On”
A similar sentiment emerges in Guster’s laid-back “Hang On,” which—like many anti-despair songs—isn’t so much about putting down the pills and razor blades in moments of extreme emotion as about enduring ongoing depression and clinging to life through night after long, lonely night, while waiting for things to get better. The lyrics don’t even offer any solid reasons to endure; apparently there’s a dawn after the twilight, but apart from that, the song just explains that things suck—“Stuck without a captain or a chart / No one seems to know just who to follow anymore”—but urges listeners to hang on anyway, over and over and over. It sets out to be a fuzzy security blanket in song form, but it’s more like a hypnotic mantra: just hang on, just hang on, just hang on.
8. Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”
There’s nothing wrong with the basic message of Bobby McFerrin’s signature song: Lightening up every once in a while is good for the soul. But “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”’s laid-back breeziness manages to wear out its welcome after a minute or so, and the song’s ubiquitous radio presence in the late ’80s turned it from charming pick-me-up to maddening earworm nearly overnight. No depressed person wants to get told to suck it up and smile; “Don’t Worry”’s sap-happy lyrics (“The landlord say your rent is late / he may have to litigate / don’t worry, be happy”) and whistle-ready tune don’t lift bad moods so much as confirm them, like an annoying friend who won’t stop forwarding pictures of kittens and bubble baths. Holding on to your crummy mood becomes a matter of self-defense. It’s unlikely that anyone would kill themselves after listening to “Don’t Worry,” though, if only because it’s really hard to change the radio station when you’re dead. Quoth Public Enemy: “’Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ was a number-one jam / damn, if I say it you can slap me right here.”
9. My Morning Jacket, “Death Is The Easy Way”
Those getting up the nerve to end it all should make sure they stay until the end of My Morning Jacket’s “Death Is The Easy Way,” as most of the lyrics seem hopelessly defeatist (“some say death is the easy way, and I think they’re right”). “Trying gets nothing done,” Jim James sings, only increasing the futile frustration. “Nothing gets you high,” he continues, dwelling on the constant lows of depression. “Alcohol, it only makes you tired”—just in case you were looking for temporary respite in a bottle. But just before you punch your own timecard, the song suggests the simple remedy of spending time with others (“but seeing you feels good”). In other words, go see a friend and turn that frown upside down.
10. Dr. Dog, “Ain’t It Strange”
An earnest pop rumination on unshakable fondness, Dr. Dog’s “Ain’t It Strange” wears its tipsy heart on its sleeve, starting off with a wry, self-deprecating nod: “Ain’t it strange / how everybody says ‘I love you’?” Waves of reverb and honeyed harmonies wash over the lyrics, lending a consoling touch to Scott McMicken’s uncomplicated offerings of encouragement and support, beckoning any dispirited stragglers to crawl back up the mountain and join him where the sky’s a little bit clearer. It ends, “So go on and work it out.”
11. Lucinda Williams, “Sweet Old World”
The title track to Lucinda Williams’ 1992 album offers gentle-but-insistent chiding to someone who did decide to end it all. Williams offers a catalog of regrets and missed opportunities to whomever she’s addressing, from “the sound of a midnight train” to “the pounding of your heart’s drum together with another one,” as if every bit of life’s darkness could be offset by an even more powerful light. “See what you lost when you left this world?” Williams sings with a conviction strong enough to turn even the most self-destructive heart. It doesn’t preach. It illustrates. And unlike a lot songs on this list, it makes a pretty good case for sticking around. (And if Williams’ version doesn’t do the trick, try Emmylou Harris’ cover.)
12. Jason Collett, “Through The Night These Days”
Those at the bottom of the depression well may have all their friends and family (and a series of bestselling books) telling them not to sweat the small stuff, but it’s that small stuff that counts in this jangly alt-country number by Broken Social Scenester Jason Collett. “Every little bit of light,” Collett suggests, “helps us get through the night.” And this night is dark; hell, the stars and sky fell, so you know things are rough. Befitting the song’s laid-back vibe, there’s no pressure to seek out these bright spots, only Collett imploring the song’s subject to stop giving up (On what? Life? Love? A lesser-known member of a massive musical collective?) and start saying “Yes.” So long as they’re not saying “yes” to withering away under the cover of night.
[pagebreak]13. Cursive, “Staying Alive”
From the sound of things, Cursive’s Tim Kasher knows that things won’t necessarily be pleasant, but he’s making the hard choice. After a few minutes of ambient noise, “Staying Alive” builds to a low rumble, complete with melancholy cello. Then, out of the hum, quietly: “I’ve decided tonight / I’m staying alive / kicking and screaming.” Just a minute later, he’s screaming the song’s title, and is eventually joined by a choir of angels singing “the worst is over.” It’s a little direct, to be sure, but not as annoyingly blatant as most anti-suicide jams.
14. The Kinks, “Better Things”
Ray Davies sounds a bit ragged on this 1981 single, but that seems kind of appropriate for a song that’s part breezy pop, part world-weary wish. “I know you’ve got a lot of good things happening up ahead,” Davies sings. Read between the lines, and it sounds like whoever he’s singing about has had a lot of not-so-good things happen in the past, and might be moving out of the singer’s reach. But subtext aside, this late-career kiss-off to bad times could fit nicely alongside past Kinks classics: It’s catchy enough to stop any pop fan from thinking everything good remains in the past, a distinctly un-Kinksian sentiment.
15. Brother Ali, “Rain Water”
On its face, “Rain Water” reads like a cautionary tale of pyrrhic egomania, about someone who disappointed himself and everyone around him, losing friends and family to depression and bad decisions. In spite of its grit and aggrandizement, though, it remains a stark reminder that willpower and resolve can ultimately deliver enough strength to let a determined man make it through the fire. The chorus offers a remember that every storm starts in the sky, so look up: “God’s rain water flows through the same gutter that we walk today / gotta stay brave, brother… / At times you gotta kick your way through this bitch.” Each verse slowly chips away Ali’s tough-guy façade, with the last stanza expressing a desire to finally make things right, inspired by a powerful realization: “When I get my last nod of approval from my family, this is the man that I have to be.”
16. Wilson Phillips, “Hold On”
Armed with a handful of vague signifiers—lyrics about pain, chains, saying goodbye, and crying—and a knack for harmonizing passed down from its members’ Beach Boys/Mamas And The Papas parentage, Wilson Phillips took “Hold On” to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in June of 1990. The song it replaced at #1? Madonna’s “Vogue,” whose own spin on optimism must have grown too elitist and nostalgic for a nation of music fans caught between the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the lead-up to the first Gulf War. The people didn’t want a dance hit devoted to Hollywood’s golden age—they wanted to be told that things would be better tomorrow, just as long as they held on long enough to see that tomorrow. And they wanted to be told so in the cheesiest way possible, complete with faux-Phil Collins drum fills and the forced uplift of a climactic a cappella chorus. Had an enterprising printer mass-produced the image of Chynna Phillips, Wendy Wilson, and Carnie Wilson singing on a beach, it could’ve taken the “Hang In There” cat’s place as the cubicle-dweller’s go-to motivational poster.
17. Tokio Hotel, “Don’t Jump”
And the Grammy for Least Subtle Anti-Suicide Song goes to… Tokio Hotel for “Don’t Jump.” The lyrics—“The lights will not guide you through / they’re deceiving you / don’t jump”—could have been cribbed from a Suicide Prevention Handbook, or rejected by Dashboard Confessional for being too obvious. The equally straightforward video shows German girlie-man lead singer Bill Kaulitz gazing up at a potential ledge-leaper who turns out to be… him! (But with different hair.) The oft-repeated chorus “Please don’t jump” is slightly balanced by the bridge (“I don’t know how long I can hold you so strong”), which could represent the frustrations of a close friend reaching the end of her emotional tether. Or perhaps, like so many songs, it sounds better in the original German. Or maybe it just sucks.
18. Kix, “Don’t Close Your Eyes”
What possessed D-list hair-metal act Kix to try its hand at an anti-suicide song is anyone’s guess—maybe they heard having a conscience might get them laid. In all fairness, though, the band’s 1988 hit “Don’t Close Your Eyes” is one of the better power ballads of the ’80s—a keyboard-led mix of shrieks and sensitivity almost on par with Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” only with a smear of melodramatic sound effects evocative of a windswept cliff, or some such shit. And there’s no denying the screech-along cheesiness of the song’s Zippo-launching chorus: “Don’t close your eyes / don’t sing your last lullaby.” Then again, when singer Steve Whiteman hits those high notes, not even the suicides will be able to keep sleeping.
19. Three Days Grace, “Never Too Late”
Three Days Grace’s ode to self-preservation marked a startling turnaround from its 2003 hit, “I Hate Everything About You.” That song conveyed love by way of misogyny, but “Never Too Late” avoids metaphor entirely in favor of a heartfelt plea to a beaten-down friend. Unfortunately, it’s an incoherent one: “I will not leave alone everything that I own to make you feel like it’s not too late.” That line makes no sense, and neither does listening to a bunch of moody, Nickelback-obsessed Canadians while in the throes of depression.
20. Steely Dan, “Any Major Dude Will Tell You”
Some tunes take an anti-suicide tone without being explicit or unlistenable. The best jazz-rock band named after a dildo from a William S. Burroughs novel provided a straightforward “choose life” message with “Any Major Dude Will Tell You,” the B-side to the top-10 single “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” Donald Fagen and Walter Becker didn’t proclaim “everybody hurts sometimes,” but “when the demon is at your door / in the morning, it won’t be there no more” is the poetic ’70s equivalent. Potential self-harmers might also be distracted from harm by trying to figure out what a “squonk” is, and what his tears have to do with anything.
21. A Perfect Circle, “Gravity”
There’s no better way to telegraph the fact that you’ve written a REALLY IMPORTANT SONG than by naming it “Gravity.” And sure enough, A Perfect Circle’s “Gravity” is plenty heavy, both sonically and thematically. Built around Billy Howerdel’s hypnotic arpeggio and Paz Lenchantin’s oblique bass, the sparse song is anchored by Maynard James Keenan’s chanted mantra “I choose to live.” For such a prosaic sentiment, it’s played pretty poetically—even though the tune itself is far from uplifting.
22. Jamestown Story, “Goodbye (I’m Sorry)”
It’s tough to know which list to put this song on. One-man über-emo outfit Jamestown Story (a.k.a. a Minneapolis dude named Dane) aims his acoustic tearjerker squarely at suicidal teens, basically writing a death note and then singing it like some sort of sub-par Blink-182. The awful, awful lyrics (“I’m in a fleshy tomb, buried up above the ground,” “So here’s my goodbye, no one will cry over me”) whine about the singer’s poor, pitiful life (like, no one understands him, man!), but there’s a huge copout toward the end of the song, when a voiceover intrudes to offer the phone number of a suicide-prevention hotline. So like, do it, but don’t do it? Almost do it, then call some number and you’ll feel good enough to write a crappy song? Mixed messages, pal!
23. Eels, “P.S. You Rock My World”
As the performer of probably the deepest, darkest song on this Inventory’s companion list of suicide-soundtrack songs, Eels frontman Mark Everett has a big, depressing hole to dig himself out of. But to end his bleakest album, Electro-Shock Blues (it’s the one that also features the horrifying “Elizabeth On The Bathroom Floor”), Everett climbs out of the misery with “P.S. You Rock My World.” “I was thinking about how everyone was dying,” he sings. “And maybe it’s time to live.”
24. The Monkees, “Goin’ Down”
Flip over to the B-side of the “Daydream Believer” 45, and you'll hear Mickey Dolenz singing from the perspective of someone who needs even more cheering up than Sleepy Jean. Drunk and suicidal, he’s jumped in a river, hoping the woman who broke his heart will be overwhelmed with guilt when his body washes up. Then, with speed that might have inspired Twista (but probably didn’t), Dolenz lists all the reasons he wishes he’d never tried to kill himself. “This river scene is getting old,” he laments. But no worries: By the end of the track, he’s decided just to keep floating down to New Orleans, where presumably better times await.
25. R.E.M., “Everybody Hurts”
The ultimate “angst happens” song of the ’90s came courtesy of R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People, which featured Michael Stipe wailing about how even in aloneness, you aren’t alone, ’cause we all occasionally feel like that too. Like a number of other songs on this list, “Everybody Hurts” devolves into a hypnotic, numbing chant—hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on—as if trying to drill the anti-suicide impulse into people’s heads by sheer force of will and repetition. But first, it urges would-be suicides “don’t throw your hand” (huh?) even “when you're sure you’ve had enough of this life.” It’s kind of a whiny, obvious, cloying song, though it gets points for Jake Scott’s memorable video, which wanders morosely through a traffic jam, picking up on the melancholy, stressed thoughts of the people waiting in their cars. It’d be a beautiful little stand-alone film, if not for Stipe, wearing a ridiculous wee hat and doing ridiculous, fey almost-gonna-dance-but-changed-his-mind arm movements. Maybe the idea was that the urge to sneak up behind him and shove him off that highway partition was what got all those mopes out of their cars to unite in one grand, reaffirming group gesture.