Depressed? Maybe music really is the answer. But not just ANY music.

(January 9, 2021).  Let me start this off by stating that I’m not a mental health professional, and the type of depression I’m referring to here is not the clinical or major type that requires a psychologist or psychiatrist to diagnose.  If you feel that you may be suffering symptoms of clinical depression then you should go see your doctor right away.  

But if the depression you’re feeling is the more common, transitional type that is often triggered by the recent loss of a loved one, unrelenting job stress, difficult economic issues, or the constant barrage of negative headlines that have dominated the news recently, then there may be an even simpler solution to help pull you from the doldrums, at least temporarily…

Music. 

If there’s one thing most people probably agree on in this divided nation of ours, it’s that 2020 pretty much stunk as far as years go (and so far 2021 seems to be carrying the same smelly baton to the finish line of another grueling, year-long marathon).

In the “my 2020 was worst than yours” olympics, we could all probably go toe-to-toe in determining whose year was rougher as many of us had to pile the socioeconomic effects of a deadly pandemic and a divisive political landscape on top of whatever personal issues we were already facing. 

I was not immune to this.  My 2020, while not nearly as bad as those whose lives were lost or whose livelihoods were severely upended by Covid-19, was more emotionally challenging than any year I’ve faced in recent memory. 

In the span of twelve months, I’ve attended seven funerals – some of them virtually – including those of my father, two cousins, and a lifelong family friend who was like a father.  I’ve gained a long-lost sister (the backstory of which not even the most gifted screenplay writer could’ve imagined).  I’ve been relocated by my job and moved away from the city I loved back to the east coast with Mom to help out after the loss of my Dad.

In that same span, I’ve watched as others around me have suffered losses as well, some of them overlapping with mine, others unique.  I’ve watched as young people in my close family struggle with unexpected distance from a parent or with virtual schooling (which isn’t the same as being there, trust me!). 

Still others are consumed by the depressing news of each passing day, whether it be the latest coronavirus numbers, the latest low-point reached by our political leaders, or the continuing downturn of an economy that just a year ago was thriving.

I have found that the one thing – besides perhaps faith and the love of friends and family – that gets me through it all is music. 

Somehow, when a favorite song comes on the radio – especially one I’m not expecting to hear – it puts me in a happy place.  In some instances, if I’m listening to music and cannot find a good song while I’m spanning the radio dial, then I’ll access my own playlists on a streaming service (I use Spotify) and find a suitable personal selection. 

Usually this puts me in a good mood – sometimes temporarily, but often for long periods of time – as it transports me to a fantasyland where I can imagine happier moments in life.  

But that doesn’t happen with just any music.   They say that many people tend to favor the songs that were popular beginning from when they reached puberty and going through their high school or college years. 

I’m certainly no different and, for me, that would be from around 1978 to 1989, with a lot of music just outside that span (on either side) also making the grade.

On a recent drive, for example, the 1975 pop evergreen “Magic” by Pilot (you know the one that goes “Ho, Ho, Ho, it’s magic!  You know…never believe it’s not so!) came on.  Not only did it put a smile on my face from ear to ear, but I reached down and cranked up the volume to a point where it could finally drown out my own voice while I gleefully sang the lyrics from the top of my lungs, bopping my head the whole time.

”Magic” by Pilot

For just over three minutes while this upbeat melodic tune played and I sang along, I completely forgot about the problems of the day – a stressful job, family issues, the pandemic, politics.

But I didn’t want it to end there.  When that song finished, I instantly found myself searching for the next high that “Magic” provided.  If it wasn’t on the 1970s channel, then I flipped over to the ‘80s station, whereupon I found Daryl Hall & John Oates singing “Private Eyes,” their 1981 No. 1 hit (the one I consider my favorite).

Now picture yourself, for a second, riding down the highway and passing a dude in the next lane whose head seems to be on a swivel and whose hands are off the steering wheel while he does the ‘clap…clap-clap’ that accompanies the chorus of “Private Eyes.”  

That dude would be me.

And while I’m pulling in the good vibes of Hall & Oates’ best jam, I’m right back in that happy place of my youth, when life was far more innocent and the year 2020 (or 2021) seemed like a space-age away.

”Private Eyes” by Daryl Hall & John Oates

Even during today’s more challenging moments, I have found music to be the ultimate soother.

Recently, as I drove to an appointment with my orthopedic doctor to get the latest prognosis for a shoulder that he and I both know will require surgery – and months of recovery time – before it’s even close to its peak performance, I heard a set of songs that almost had me forgetting that I even had a shoulder problem as I air-drummed my way through them.

Among these were ‘80s tunes like “Voices Carry” by ‘til tuesday and “Candy” by Cameo, the latter placing me in early 1987 and the month that I crossed into my fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.  I immediately pictured myself at the college parties where this jam was often blasting, with red cod-piece-wearing, lead-singer Larry Blackmon nasally working his way through the lyrics, and me mimicking him.

”Candy” by Cameo

Not all songs that have this positive personal effect are confined to my defined window of puberty-to-graduation.  Some extend into my younger adult life where I was still young enough to party with the best of them but old enough to have those dreaded responsibilities.

For example, I had a serious out-of-body experience recently while listening to Crystal Waters’ “100% Pure Love” one day on SiriusXM’s ’90s channel.  You’d have thought I was in a 1970s’ disco if you’d seen me in that moment.  I was at once carefree and liberated, with all of life’s problems relegated to being afterthoughts…for at least those four or five minutes while the song played and in the immediate afterglow.

Crystal Waters’ “100% Pure Love”

Of course, this really works if you happen to know all the words to a song – as I often do – and if that song happens to be a rap tune, then you can really start feeling yourself (if you’re into hip-hop, that is).

Nothing gets me quite as amped as hearing The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” come on the radio.  From its opening beats and that looped Herb Alpert “Rise” sample to Biggie’s first bars, I’m rapping along with him from start to finish.  Completing that song’s lyrics gives me a head rush and that momentary sense of achievement one gets when they’ve done something phenomenal at work.  

Yes I realize that knowing the lyrics to a Biggie Smalls tune won’t pay the bills, but the sense of satisfaction is there nonetheless.

The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize”

But music doesn’t always have to leave you with an amped-up feeling to make you feel good.  Sometimes a good cry will do just as well. 

I recently watched the Bee Gees documentary, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart,” on HBO and I was brought to tears several times.  These were tears of both joy and sadness; sadness for the circumstances that befell the Brothers Gibb throughout their too-short lives, but joy for the memories the music brought back.

As the documentary unfolded each chapter of the brothers’ career and the music became more and more familiar, it took me once again back to that happy place of my youth and how I would spend hours listening to Casey Kasem countdowns, which the Bee Gees dominated for the better part of my 12th year in 1978.

”Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees

Not every song or artist has this effect, however.  

If you’re suffering from a recent loss, then a sad song or one that reminds you of that person may not be the way to go, unless that song brings back happy memories, of course. 

Stay away from any tune that makes the loss more difficult to bear.  For instance, it’s still hard for me to hear “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin just months after we buried my father.  Even though the sad circumstances described in that classic’s lyrics are far from the many happier ones that my father and I shared, it’s the father-son relationship alone that places “Cats” squarely in the “too-soon” category. 

I did, however, get a kick out of hearing The Intruders “I’ll Always Love My Mama” as I drove with my mother during the holidays to North Carolina for what seemed like the umpteenth funeral of 2020.  The song was from my youth – I couldn’t have been more than seven at the time it was a hit – but its lyrics ring as true now as they did then (it was her album by The Intruders that had introduced me to the song, by the way).

Both Mom and I sang that and many other tunes while listening to SiriusXM’s Channel 50, The Groove, during the 3-hour-long trip to NC as we recalled pleasant memories of the past. 

Now I’m not suggesting that music is the cure for cancer, or that it will bring back a lost loved one or solve all of the world’s (and, in particular, this country’s) problems. 

Nor am I suggesting that music is a surrogate for God or any other religious deity in whom you have bestowed your faith.

But the above-mentioned tunes and hundreds more like them have certainly pulled me through some pretty tough times this past year, and it possibly could do the same for you.

If that is the case, then what are some of the songs that place you in a good mood and make you forget about the troubles of the day?  Feel free to provide them in the comment section below or in any of the social media feeds where this article is posted. 

Perhaps no tune gives me that feel-good vibe as much as this one: “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” by Tears For Fears.

DJRob

If you’re in a deep depression and see this as your way out, please call this line.

DJRob is a freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.

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16 Replies to “Depressed? Maybe music really is the answer. But not just ANY music.”

  1. Thank you for this, DJ Rob! I don’t read a lot of blogs, but yours almost always has something to capture my interest. I guess I’m a hard-core music fan, though many would say my taste is pretty mainstream, with Prince and Todd Rundgren at the top of the list.

    Here are the first picks that come to mind for getting the dopamine firing – I know I’m missing a whole whack of them. Isn’t music the gift that keeps on giving!

    Everlasting Now – Prince (Live version from One Night Alone It Ain’t Over – Live)
    Housequake – Prince
    Espresso – Todd Rundgren
    Sweet – Todd Rundgren
    More Than a Feeling – Boston
    Flashlight – Parliament
    Like Sugar – Chaka Khan
    Give It to Me Baby – Rick James
    Be Thankful for What You’ve Got – William DeVaughn (but often attributed to Curtis Mayfield)
    Move on Up – *actually* Curtis Mayfield
    Like I Love You – Justin Timberlake
    Berzerk – Eminem

    Also, bit o’ trivia: The song “Magic” by Pilot is now being used for a pharmaceutical commercial. You could swear it’s the same vocalist!

    Saddened to hear about the year you’ve been through. I can relate to how music is often the unique salve for a wound that nothing else will heal. And, I agree that there’s a whole other category of songs that are to be strictly avoided when we’re already feeling down.

    Thank you for your continued labour of love on behalf of us music devourers,
    M

    1. Thanks so much for reading, commenting, and, mostly, for sharing your selections. And, yes, I’m aware of the Ozempic commercial jingle. I find myself substituting the original song’s lyrics with the drug company’s words more often than not these days. Wonder what that’s telling me? I guess it’s that the power of advertising and jingles (and a great familiar old tune) can be amazing and addictive!

      Thanks again, and take care! DJR

  2. “Eye No” (Prince, Lovesexy), my absolute first stop as a feel-good song
    “My baby just cares for me” (Nina Simone)
    “Sir Duke” (Stevie Wonder, Songs in the key of life)
    “Happy feet” (Paolo Conte, a great italian artist)
    “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” (The Beatles, White Album)
    “Eat That Chicken” (Charles Mingus, Oh Yeah)
    “Three little birds” (Bob Marley, Exodus)

    And many more which I’m forgetting because of old age.

  3. What a beautiful piece you created and shared with all of us. No doubt you helped give hope to many, and your choices for self-soothing are awesome! I’m sorry to hear what all you’ve been through in the last year — it was a lot! I miss our friendship in the pool hall and wish you all the best with the rearranged life you now have. I ‘ll keep reading your most excellent posts. My feel better songs include Bruce’s Thunder Road, pretty much anything by Ray Wylie Hubbard, Ragged as the Road by Reckless Kelly, anything by the Ramones — I could go on but won’t. Take care my friend, and stay safe. Sorry about your Steelers last night!

    1. Thanks, Curt! Believe me, I miss our times together at the pool hall as well. And I really do appreciate all the support you’ve given me and the blog these many years. And thanks for sharing your feel-better songs as well. As for the Steelers, that was an embarrassment of monumental proportions that should go down as the worst ending to an 11-0 season ever! Lol

  4. A perfect commentary and I couldn’t agree more. Also, the gap of not having live music this year (streaming doesnt count) has been like an open wound. Music restores everything. So sorry for your multiple losses..that truly is a heavy load to bear in a NORMAL year. I have too many songs all in my head at a given moment, but a few that resonate right now are “not dark yet” written by Dylan, performed by alison moorer and sister Shelby, anything at all sung by Ryan Bingham, Grace Potter, or turnpike troubadours, and for nostalgia I love hall and Oates too, but the older stuff. (She’s gone). For the record, I also take a perverse pleasure in knowing I’m not the only one who bawled at the bee gees doc. I LOVE them and it was so well done. But then again, music does that to me in a millisecond. Who doesnt need a good cry right now??

    1. Thanks so much for the read and the comments, Ellen. The Bee Gees will always remain one of my favorite groups of all time, and I’m so glad their music soundtracked multiple eras of my life! Stay safe!

  5. This is right up my alley – literally!! I am an avid lover of great music & I just so happen to be a Social Worker so I merge those two worlds daily to keep me at peace! Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants…” always takes me to a happy place where I’m riding in that car soaking in the sunshine & fresh air! A few more staples for me: “Don’t Disturb This Groove” The System; “Optimistic” Sounds of Blackness; “Human Nature” MJ; “Fantasy” EWF; “Spread My Wings” Troop; “When I Think of You” Janet Jackson; “Never Too Much” Luther Vandross; “Alone Together” Daley ft. Marsha Ambrosius; & pretty much anything by Fred Hammond, Glenn Jones, Israel Houghton, New Edition, & Chuckii Booker! LOVE that you spoke on the topic of this article & appreciate you sharing your heart.♥️

        1. Alright, Anita…I mean, Cam! Oh, and Luther’s “Never Too Much” and Sounds of Blackness’ “Optimistic” are immediate pick-me-ups for me!!

  6. Music is great to set the mood, and it brings back so many memories. Thanks for a “memorable” blog!

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