The wisdom of pop songs – Tearjerkers vol. 2

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts


Tearjerkers vol. 2: the serious stuff

If Leader of the Pack was the one that started the tearjerker trend in pop music, the most blatant bandwagon-jumper was a British girl called Twinkle (aka Lynn Ripley), who had a huge hit with Terry, another song about a boy who dies in a motorbike accident. “Please wait at the gate of heaven for me, Terry,” she wails, waving to him with one hand while collecting her royalty cheque with the other.

But there is a more serious side to the tearjerker: the one based on a real life event rather than a melodramatic piece of cynicism.

tears in heaven

You can’t poke fun at Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven when it tells the story of how his young son plunged to his death from an apartment block. The issue for Clapton, a private man by nature, must have been whether, once he had written it as part of his grieving, he should release it. But he did, and in a commendable instance of public decency, most people sympathized with him and, while enjoying the tune, silently prayed that such a thing would never happen to them.


Another that must have troubled its author on the grounds of taste was Elton John’s reworking of Candle in the Wind for the funeral of Princess Diana. Anyone who has ever chosen the music for a loved one’s funeral will know that the instant that music kicks in, you’re flooded with tears, and it happened to a worldwide TV audience on that occasion.

There have been objections to the new version, some from fans of Marilyn Monroe, about whom the original version was written, while others question the motives of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. The latter, Elton’s long-term lyricist, maintains that the singer asked him to do it, and both remain puzzled that something meant as a sincere tribute – and which raised millions for charity – should come in for criticism.

dance with my father

Also based on fact, but without being a direct view of a particular tragedy, is Luther Vandross’s Dance with my Father, in which he prays not so much on his own behalf but more for his mother, who is even more bereft at her husband’s passing than Vandross himself. He longs to see them dancing together one last time. It’s profoundly touching and a perfect example of how such a sensitive subject can be handled with raw emotion but without gooey sentimentality.

Mime nd the Mechanics

Along the same lines is Mike and the Mechanics’ The Living Years, which deals with the death of a father before he and his son have had a chance to settle their differences. Composer Mike Rutherford and lyricist B. A. Robertson, both of whose fathers had recently died, benefited hugely from the work of vocalist Paul Carrack, whose beautifully understated soul voice goes nowhere near the dangerous border of over-the-top emotion that many would have brought to it. Instead, Carrack delivers the sentiment to us simple and unadorned.





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