I’m not sure if the video for “Henry Lee” actually makes the song sadder, but it does carry some baggage. PJ Harvey and Nick Cave barely knew each other when it was filmed, but became a couple soon after. This relationship was much obsessed over by indie nerds, and most agree that they fell in love while filming the video. However, the video itself isn’t romantic, it’s...sort of uncomfortable. They’re all over each other, they look unwashed, and she’s singing about killing him because he loves someone else (spoiler: that someone else turns out to be heroin). It’s not exactly sad, but it does contribute a creepy, amorous aura to what I think is a genuinely sad song. The titular Henry Lee is killed on a whim, his body hidden, and his loved ones ignorant of his fate. Murder ballads are meant to be more titillating than sad, but Harvey sings in a hushed way that emphasizes regret over bloodlust.
The sadness of “Forever Young,” on the other hand, seems to depend a bit on the listener’s mood. It can feel silly and over the top, in that classic 80s way, or it can be truly touching: “So many adventures couldn’t happen today / So many songs we forgot to play.” If you’re in the right frame of mind, the song is a killer, hitting right at that nostalgia/regret sweet spot.
So...which is sadder? Neither is a classic sad song, which makes any attempt to compare them a bit slippery. Plus, I actually really like both. This committee member remains undecided...
Perhaps consult our previous coverage of "Henry Lee" and "Forever Young" if you need more guidance?
(4) Alphaville, "Forever Young"
(5) PJ Harvey & Nick Cave, "Henry Lee"
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