These songs might sound like sunshine, lollipops and rainbows but their lyrics could not be more devastating. Here is my top 10 songs whose instrumentals sound catchy and upbeat but in comparison, feature lyrics that are no more than dark and sombre.
You might want to think twice about getting up and dancing to these tracks the next time they get played at a party.
1. Foster and The People – ‘Pumped Up Kicks’
With a catchy bassline and its falsetto chorus anyone would think that this track is nothing other than a pretty cheerful pop delight. WRONG. Its lyrics are actually beyond sinister depicting the thoughts of a disturbed young man who has fantasies about murdering people.
2. Lily Allen – ‘LDN’
What could be more pleasant to the ears than a rhythm deriving from a Columbian Caribbean dance style?
It would be far from unreasonable to expect that this song reflects on all things light, sunny and about the good times. WRONG.
On this track Allen actually takes us through the impoverished areas of London taking things that might seem lovely but in fact are very much the opposite. The video also heavily features on taking us through an idealistic version of the city of London however the lyrics contrast this with a much greyer more depressing depiction.
3. FUN – ‘Some Nights’
By this point I know what you are thinking, please stop wasting these songs for me. I know, I’m having a hard time staying in character but alas, I must go on.
At times this next track sounds like Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Cecilia’ which is also a happy but depressing song in its own right so I guess it came as a bit less of a surprise when I saw myself adding this song to be featured on this list.
More power than pop, this song’s Afro beat and layered harmonies as well as front man Nate Ruess’ soaring Freddie Mercury-esque vocals would make you think that this song is happier than it actually is.
In truth it’s about a young man being far away from his home and family, which as a result leads to the individual suffering an existential crisis as a result.
Yup…I might think twice about getting up to dance to this one the next time I hear it played at a party.
4. Eddie Grant – ‘Electric Avenue’
With an upbeat feel it’s no surprise that this next track became one of the most popular songs in America in 1983 as it fuses together elements of early ’80s new wave with reggae influences in a way that makes you just want to get up and dance but you guessed it…there’s a deeper underlying message to the track.
This track references the Brixton riots in London which took place a year prior to the songs original release in its native UK with the title itself referencing a market street in the Brixton area. As well as this the lyrics lament poverty more generally expressing frustration towards food shortages and low income existence.
5. The Clash – ‘Rock The Casbah’
This slice of dancey new wave is one of the most radio friendly tracks the band ever recorded so who would expect a much deeper underlying secret meaning?
The track was actually inspired by the ban on Western music in Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution. It’s almost like a myth like tale of a king banning music and that ban being flooded by the people.
Under the tracks buoyant rhythm also exists lyrics that are overly political. Calling out the hypocrisy of Middle Eastern leaders enjoyed Western luxury as they keep the eastern populations poor and ignorant.
6. Paul Simon – ‘You Can Call Me Out’
Let me just get straight into this one. The lead single from Simon’s album Graceland talks about going through a mid-life crisis all the while sung over a joyous Afro inspired instrumental.
Despite the happy backing track the lyrics talk about a man who seems to question his existence at times. Depressing.
7. Kiss – ‘Detroit Rock City’
Compared to what the song is actually talking about, the chorus can be incredibly misleading after a first listen. The songs tells the tale of a real life Kiss fan who died on route to one of the band’s concerts in Detroit.
The band’s front man talks about how the fan excessively drinks and smokes before setting off on his journey at lightning speed which is cut short after he hits a truck and died.
A real fan favourite apparently.
8. Van Halen – ‘Jump’
The synth riff that defines this entire track is so fist-pumpingly happy it was a real shock to me personally to uncover that the chorus hides a dark secret. According to the band the song’s lyrics were actually inspired by a news story on TV featuring a man ready to jump from the top of a building and commit suicide.
The peppy synth line was probably what helped this track become the bands only number one single throughout their career however this new meaning changes everything for me.
9. Third Eye Blind –‘Semi Charmed Life’
In a textbook of dark lyrics over a happy instrumental track this song opens with one of the most joyous guitar riffs you will ever hear but what you might not realise is that the songs lyrics actually take us through a detailed account of getting high on crystal meth and the sexcapades that follow.
10. Nena – ‘99 Luftballoons’
You might be screaming for me to not ruin this next track but I’m going to do it anyway. With its typical ’80s keyboard riff and upbeat tempo who would expect anything bad to come from this cheery pop track?
One of the most successful non-English sung tracks in UK history, this track tells a frightening tale of balloons being mistaken for missiles which lead to an all-out nuclear war. Oops.
Since its initial release in German it has been re-recorded, covered and parodied so many times that it’s now lodged firmly in our collective memory…and now it’s real meaning as well with it.
I am sorry.