Is “Danny Boy” a depressing song?
That was the claim of the owner of an Irish pub in New York when he banned the tune from his premises for St. Patrick’s Day and the rest of March.
“It’s overplayed, it’s been ranked among the 25 most depressing songs of all time and it’s more appropriate for a funeral than for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration,” said Shaun Clancy, who owns Foley’s Pub and Restaurant, across the street from the Empire State Building.
The 38-year-old Clancy, who started bartending when he was 12 at his father’s pub in County Cavan, Ireland, promised a free Guinness to patrons who sing any other traditional Irish song at the pub’s pre-St. Patrick’s Day karaoke party on Tuesday.
The lyrics for “Danny Boy,” published in 1913, were written by English lawyer Frederick Edward Weatherly, who never even visited Ireland, according to Malachy McCourt, author of the book “Danny Boy: The Legend of the Beloved Irish Ballad.”
He said Weatherly’s sister-in-law had sent him the music to an old Irish song called “The Derry Air,” and the new version became a hit when opera singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink recorded it in 1915.
Some say the song is symbolic of the great Irish diaspora, with generations of Irish fleeing the famine and poor economic conditions starting around 1850. Others speculate it’s sung by a mother grieving for her son or by a desolate lover. Lyrics include: “The summer’s gone, and all the flowers are dying/ ‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.”
I’ve always considered “Danny Boy” kind of sweet and sad rather than depressing. In fact I once listened to an hour-long program on an Israeli radio station consisting of one version after another of “Danny Boy.” It reminded me a little of a classic episode of the early 1960s TV sitcom “Car 54, Where Are You?”
Trying to verify Mr. Clancy’s claim, I entered the phrase “25 most depressing songs of all time” in Google. The first entry was this 2005 piece by Tom Reynolds in The Guardian. It comprises his personal list of 25 depressing songs– none of which, as it happens, is “Danny Boy.” The article is apparently based on Mr. Reynolds’s book “I Hate Myself and Want to Die: the 52 Most Depressing Songs You’ve Ever Heard.”
As it turns out, I’ve knowingly heard about half of the songs on his list. They are a pretty depressing lot– as much for being bad songs as for their subject matter. I have no wish to hear the other half.
So: are there any songs that invariably make you feel crappy, but are missing from the list?