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The Stories Behind These 7 Classic “Happy” Songs Are Actually Quite Sad

4) Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees

The disco anthem is the opening scene from Saturday Night Fever, it’s the basis for many a nightclub mashup, and the song that generally just makes you feel good. Something about the lyrics and the beat together creates an irresistible dance song. But, the song is actually about life in New York City and literally just trying to survive each day.

There’s more sadness to the story because the drummer, Dennis Byron, lost his mother right before recording was scheduled and had to drop out. Unable to find a last-minute replacement where they were recording in France, they made some changes and used a looped sample for the rhythm, taken from another song. They named the fictional drummer “Bernard Lupe” when asked who did the drumming on the track.

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5) Ring Around the Rosy

Some of us have heard that “Ring Around the Rosy” is really about the plague, but there is little evidence for that. Instead the sad fact is that in order to be able to dance under the strict Protestant laws of the 18th and 19th centuries, children would perform party games masking their intent. The “ashes to ashes/ we all fall down” lines are theorized to have been a coded way to end the game suddenly if adults suspected there was illicit dancing going on.

6) Waltzing Matilda

This Australian classic has been getting stuck in people’s heads for around 125 years. But, the heart of this upbeat song is the tale of an itinerant worker “waltzing” (walking) with his “Matilda” (an Australian slang for the pack that traveling sheep hands carried with them and slept with) who through dire circumstance is drowned after being caught stealing a stray sheep for his dinner. What at first seems like a love song is a story of a wondering man- alone and poor.

There has been speculation that the song may have also had pro-union socialist message for many Australians in the tumultuous period right before they gained independence since the song discusses the life of the lowly sheep hand.

7) Bye Bye Love

With a title like that it seems crazy that we could forget how sad this song is. But, when the music comes on we tap our feet and generally find ourselves in a better mood. But why? The lyrics so clearly describe a broken-hearted man longing for his sweetheart. But, the melody is just too pleasing and the hook so enticing. Even live acoustic versions of this Everly Brothers hit make us happy rather than sad.

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If you enjoyed this then click “Next Page” for our very favorite songs from the ’60s!

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