Sad Songs Say So Much

Nokia UK commissioned music and physiology “expert” Dr. Harry Witchel to scientifically determine the world’s saddest, happiest, and most exhilarating songs. (This shouldn’t piss people off.) So, Dr. Smarty Pants, how did you “scientifically” measure sadness? Witchel determined listeners’ “‘tune trigger quotient,’ measuring heart rate, respiratory response and skin temperature to find the saddest, happiest and most exhilarating tracks” (via). To measure “happy,” Witchel wanted a high number of sighs and a low level of boredom. “Sad” tunes were identified by decreased heart rate, and “exhilarating” by a spike in breaths per minute. And the good doctor let us in on the recipe for an emotional tune:

Music is undeniably powerful at triggering different emotional states. Changes in tempo and frequencies induce profoundly different emotional states.

Here are his laboratory results:

1. “LDN” – Lily Allen
2. “Dancing Queen” – ABBA
3. “Shiny Happy People” – R.E.M.

1. “Song 2″ – Blur
2. “Love Machine” – Girls Aloud
3. “Somebody Told Me” – The Killers

The findings on the sad songs were more thoroughly reported. Said Witchel:

A slow tempo song like the Verve’s The Drugs Don’t Work slows down the heart compared to most of the other songs and compared to white noise – in other words, it works like the emotional state of sadness.

Here’s the Top 10 (via RS):

1. The Verve – “The Drugs Don?t Work”
2. Robbie Williams – “Angels”
3. Elton John – “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”
4. Whitney Houston – “I Will Always Love You”
5. Sinead O?Connor – “Nothing Compares 2 U”
6. Will Young – “Leave Right Now”
7. Elvis Presley – “Are You Lonesome Tonight”
8. Christina Aguilera – “Beautiful”
9. James Blunt – “Goodbye My Lover”
10. Radiohead – “Fake Plastic Trees”

We vote James Blunt for the top of that list, but our criteria for “sad” — and it’s resultant effects on our physiological state — are entirely different. But we’ve never been good at science. All time saddest tunes? Go.