(3) Sinead O'Connor, "Three Babies"
The selection committee found that certain types of sadness—heartbreak, existential doubt, suicidal ideation—are fairly common in popular music, while other types of despair rarely rear their heads. Sinead O’Connor’s “Three Babies,” generally regarded as a personal song about her miscarriages, is interesting in part because it takes on a much less charted portion of life’s grief (let this also serve as an oblique answer to anyone wondering why we didn’t choose “Nothing Compares 2 U”). O’Connor’s astonishing singing voice wrings every last bit of pathos from lyrics like “In my soul / My blood and my bones / I have wrapped your cold bodies around me.” It’s a wrenching song, but one that also contains a sense of peace.
(14) Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, "If You Leave"
This song has the reputation of being one of the big teen romance tracks, recorded as it was for Pretty in Pink or whatever John Hughes movie it tracked. But listening to it, it’s romantic, sure, but the song's weirder, we think, than usually billed. It’s in the position of knowing this relationship, whatever it was or is, is over, and asks only for one more night, knowing that it’s over but not wanting it to be. “If you leave / don’t leave now” sets up the situation well. So it yearns for it to go on even as it seems to know it won’t. I suppose it does say “if,” but seems resigned to the knowledge that the you will leave: “promise me just one more night / then we’ll go our separate ways.” Does that make it less romantic? I think not, but it’s the kind of romantic that’s also doomed. The selection committee had to consider the intersection of romance and sadness, and chose songs that come at the question in a number of ways. Can a song indefinitely extend a love affair or a night? Andy McCluskey, OMD’s singer, has an incredibly evocative voice, and while purists might point out that this particular song choice doesn’t represent OMD well (it seems to be the point at which OMD changed from weirdo sort of historical technophiles into full-on romantics (and later dance poppers, see Sugar Tax etc.), it’s hard not to admire the way the song turns at the end: “if you leave / don’t look back / don’t look back,” as if to suggest that the speaker can’t bear the idea of the beloved leaving and has chosen to remain here in the song and in the moment forever preserved and still visible in its sadness and its last-ditch proposition as if in amber.