The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Tracks Of Our Tears: 50 Songs That Make Quietus Writers & Artists Cry
Rory Gibb , March 7th, 2014 07:35

Following this week's Quietus Essay exploring why music makes people cry, the Quietus writers and several artists select and discuss the songs that make them well up

We've all been there: a particular song catches you off guard at the wrong (or right) time - at a gig or club, on a bus, walking along the street - triggers off a massive emotional reaction, and leaves you crying in public. Sometimes it's an old favourite or a piece carrying particular personal resonance, and others an otherwise innocuous track that just happens to chime with your environment or particular headstate at the time. As Robert Barry explored in our Quietus Essay this week on why music makes people cry, it's a tough phenomenon to ascribe a definitive root biological cause to, being strongly connected to individual learned experience and the society and culture (musical and otherwise) you grew up within.

So in the spirit of considering the many reasons why music might make people cry, we asked the Quietus writers along with several several artists to select and talk about the particular songs that retain the power to make them well up. As ever, do let us know what you'd have picked in the comments below.

Contributions: David McKenna, Joe Clay, Emma Johnston, Chris Watson, Dale Berning, Matt Berry, Tristan Bath, Nick Talbot, April Welsh, Maddy Sparham, Luke Turner, Rory Gibb, Joseph Burnett, Matt Evans, Aidan Moffat, Nick Reed, Kevin McCaighy, Barnaby Smith, Wyndham Wallace, Dawn Richard, Nick Hutchings, Kate Hennessy, JR Moores, Josh Saco, Kjetil Nernes, Julian Marszalek, Neil Hannon, Phil Harrison, Aug Stone, Valerie Siebert, Ned Raggett, Chilly Gonzales, Angel Haze, Helen King, Patrick Wolf.

Mina – 'Se Telefonando'

Lyrics-wise there's little in 'Se Telefonando' to leave you sobbing. A brief description of a nocturnal seaside encounter, before fickle Mina - considered the Italian pop voice of the 20th century - ponders the many ways she might dump her new beau if she had the guts. So the line "our love grew too quickly" might make you wonder whether she's more scared of his feelings or hers, but what counts here is the sheer dynamic intensity of both song and voice. The best 60s big ballads can be terrifyingly intense, vertiginous (take also The Righteous Brothers' hair-raising rendition of 'Ebb Tide') - they bring you to the precipice and leave you with tears streaming down your cheeks and your stomach turned over, awestruck and fearful before the sublime. I'm terrible on rollercoasters, to be honest, but a sick ride like 'Se Telefonando' is one I'm happy to take repeatedly. A pretty intro, one verse, brief bridging section and then WHAM! BIG CHORUS! ONLY CHORUS IN FACT! FOR THE REST OF THE SONG! It's Ennio Morricone who's responsible for the music, who designed it as a platform for Mina to demonstrate her prowess; the melody line, which anticipates his theme for 'The Mission', yanks you up and down the scale and through hugely dramatic key changes. It throws you around like a rag-doll, you're a puppet on a string. That chorus could last an eternity but, before you know it, 'Se Telefonando' is through with you. Maybe just one more time round... David McKenna

The Undertones – 'Teenage Kicks'

I wasn't alone in being devastated when John Peel died. I don't think the death of somebody that I didn't know in real life has hit me so hard. 'Teenage Kicks' was, famously, Peelie's favourite song, but I'm not such an emotional fish that just hearing the record alone can make me cry. What really turns it into a song that makes me weep is recalling the moment I heard it played for the first time after his death. I went to a club night at a pub in New Cross where Zongamin did a corking live set and DJs played great music; drinks were drunk and capsules were consumed. It was already, as Mike Skinner put it, a "These people are for life" kind of a night… But then the DJ the dropped the last record of the night – 'Teenage Kicks' – and something incredible happened. I've been off my face in many places and felt that collective consciousness, 'we are all one' feeling, but this was another level entirely. Everyone went fucking mental, climbing on tables, hugging each other, jumping up and down and singing along, and when the song finished, the entire pub chanted, "JOHN PEEL! JOHN PEEL! JOHN PEEL!" over and over again, for what seemed like forever. Just typing this is making the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. People were crying and laughing and it was just an amazing communal outpouring of grief and celebration for a man that had touched the lives of so many. Even the grumpy old git himself would have been moved. Joe Clay

Glen Campbell - 'Wichita Lineman'

For a fairly short song, there’s a hell of a lot going on in 'Wichita Lineman', all of it utterly heartbreaking. In Jimmy Webb’s finest moment, beautifully interpreted by Glen Campbell, one single line, "And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time", delivers a killer blow it’s impossible to come back from, laying bare the longing, loneliness and existential angst of its protagonist. The character of the Wichita lineman himself is crucial to the soul of the song. As far from the emasculated chocolates-and-flowers Hallmark romance of convention, this is a tough, Marlboro-scented, callous-handed cowboy of a man putting his heart on the line, purely because of his isolation. It’s hard to imagine him talking to the object of his affections this candidly, or his friends in the bar, but entirely alone, working up a telegraph pole with the flat, straight, deserted American road stretching out endlessly in front of him, he only has his own thoughts for company. The emotion of the lyrics is echoed beautifully in the music itself, Campbell’s tremulous guitar solo transformed into the singing telephone wires, the Western strings stirring up visions of the uninhabited landscape. This is true grit with a soft centre, and it’ll get right in your eye every time. Emma Johnston

Artist's Choice from: Chris Watson, sound recordist

"I've got a few that I react emotionally to, depending on the circumstances. I've got a recording of my children laughing when they were much younger, which I used to use as an alarm when I was away, and often, if I was the other side of the world, I was woken up by the sound of my children laughing, that was a very powerful, emotive sound. I've got a recording of a blackbird, a very common bird, which I think is one of the most beautiful birdsongs in the world, and I recorded it in my mother's garden not long before she died, and I played that at her funeral, so that again is a very personal, emotive sound, which affects me when I hear it. And the people singing at Hillsborough, that is a very powerful sound for me as well." (as told to Laurie Tuffrey)

Marnie Stern - 'For Ash'

A friend once sat across a table from me describing how her grandfather had recently passed away. The loss she was battling inked her eyes wild with incomprehension. This is not ok. He was beautiful. The elation at his being and outrage at his death bound so tightly as to make it impossible to tell them apart. "I cannot bear / No one compares / I miss your smile / Sadness all the while" sung in vocals more closely resembling a shout than any lament – to me this song sounds like how my friend felt. There is something incandescent in the music Stern makes with Zach Hill on drums, and here it is at its brightest and its most moving. Dale Berning

Artist's Choice from: Matt Berry

It's weird, because Beach House seems to do that. There's a certain chord change thing that they do and a certain atmosphere they create which is the most heartbreaking thing I've ever heard. I wish it wasn't them, but it is; I wish I could say it was Beethoven's Seventh, but it isn't, it's Beach House, they have this power over me. (As told to Laurie Tuffrey)

Marty Robbins - 'The Master's Call'

While the gritty reality of country music's beguiling down-to-earth ability to tell a story has always captured the ready ears of the States' central millions, the assumption of a loving and benevolent God is often addressed by the same social groups with little more than a mildly thankful upwards nod. True passion for, and fear of, the man up on high has never been as ably captured than by Marty Robbins on this self-penned cut from his Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs, released in 1959. The seemingly bog standard story song turns divine, as Robbins' narrator tells of feeling God's benevolent touch after a near-death experience. His vocal performance is simply one of the greatest ever put to tape, breaking from his tenor in the chorus to reach boldly upwards, seemingly falling to his knees in praise for a forgiving creator. It's not about having a soft spot for Americana's overly romantic golden age epics - one could easily make a case for Roy Orbison's 'Crying' or Sam Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come' as bigger weepies. But those guys needed orchestras to get it done, while Robbins relies almost solely on his incredible voice, save a few unintrusive backing singers and guitars, and achieves an even grander effect. For all my areligious humanism, Marty Robbins' sheer, heartbreaking belief in a higher being who loves him is something of which I'm not too proud to be envious. Tristan Bath

Judee Sill - 'The Kiss'

Suffering from chronic pain following a car accident, Judee Sill was refused pain medication due to her criminal record. Stigmatised and rejected, she responded like anyone else to this one of America's many social cruelties, taking to the streets to find opiate painkillers, and inevitably back to the heroin which gave her the criminal record. The years after her two Geffen-released albums saw her adrift in the netherworld of addiction and isolation; prostitution to feed the drug habit, a drug habit to block out the prostitution; a punishingly vicious circle.

Her masterpiece 'The Kiss' is not a depressing song - it is not even melancholic. A work of profound spiritual awakening, it brims with optimism, empowerment and mystical insight. It moves me to tears because it demonstrates that Sill already possessed in abundance precisely the kind of willingness and faith in transcendance which a person can use to free themselves from addiction. The element that people most struggle with in traditional recovery - faith in a higher power - was already in her grasp. Had she been supported by an enlightened social policy, one that benefits the sick instead of brutalising them, one that offers a hand out of the mire instead of a boot in the face, she may have lived. 'The Kiss' is a beautiful work of art, but when framed within Sill's story, what should be a joyful testament to religious awe becomes an angering testament to a wasted life. The song's beauty contrasts so strongly with the inhumanity of her treatment that it cannot be enjoyed without compromise. But it never stops drawing you back in. Nick Talbot

The Magnetic Fields – 'Take Ecstasy With Me' (Album Version)

Stephin Merritt sketches a fragment of childhood merriment: "You used to slide down the carpeted stairs / or down the banister / … You used to make gingerbread houses / We used to have taffy pulls," but, typical of his fondness for juxtaposition, jumps quickly to a hot-blooded summer in later life. It's a moment ripe with hedonistic potential, a time for narcotic experimentation, carefree abandon - and I don't think drug pushing has ever sounded so innocent - but it's one defiled by hideous homophobia. "We got beat up / just for holding hands." Rarely has a song lyric cut so deep; it's like a knife to the stomach. It makes my throat close up. A painful recollection of the violence or self-destruction suffered at the hands of bigotry, the line "a vodka bottle gave you those raccoon eyes," just makes my blood run cold. And when I switch on my laptop and see yet another disempowered victim of hate crime, I turn to this song and the tears run free. April Welsh

Roy Harper - 'Another Day'

In my mid-teens I was at a party with friends, the air thick with emerging hormones, at the house of a girl whose family had conveniently absented themselves for the weekend. The parental bar was ransacked, her older brother's clutch of vinyl lay scattered and plundered for unknown treasure. Amongst the latter was This Mortal Coil's first collection, 1984's It'll End In Tears. One track mingled unnervingly with the fear, desire and awakening of adolescence. Instinctively I discerned the harrowing complexity of adult 'love' and all its possibilities: of erotic intimacy, of passions, of loss and regret; of the possibility of children, of the possibility of none. That I was able to intuit this much speaks volumes for 'Another Day''s emotional properties, as the lyrics themselves seemed somehow obscured by an eerie shimmer. To mournful strains of a string quartet, Liz Fraser sings them as almost cetacean pulsations, sounding through the depths of an unrequited yearning (elsewhere on the album she interprets Tim Buckley's 'Song To the Siren'.)

The next time I came across 'Another Day' was on a VHS bootleg of a Kate Bush 1979 Xmas Special. Against a flimsy set, she and Peter Gabriel play out the glum kitchen sink drama implicit behind the high flown poetic whimsy. Character, time and place are etched by lines like "she offers me Tibetan tea on a flower tray", but it's the past "where the wind's own forget-me-nots blow" that stalks this stage. The imagination pictures another day, long gone now, his high blood railing across the table at her fortification against a consummation that could end... in tears.

Finally I discovered the original, on Roy Harper's Flat, Baroque And Berserk (1970). In a quietly strummed arrangement, dramatic overtones muted, the forlorn melody carries the mood of pastoral English melancholia. Hats off to Harper, truly, for the description of his blighted couple "sat here with ourselves in between us": an aphorism worthy of all heroically estranged lovers lamenting an ideal of love seldom, if ever, achieved. "She's at the door..." Maddy Sparham

Thine Be The Glory

This is where it all began for me, in a thunder of organ, a triumphal peal of brass, a few hundred West Yorkshire voices raised in rolling, powerful melody - more Wesleyan than even a Wesleyan blaster, it's probably the easiest hymn in the non-conformist praise book to sing. I was brought up in a Methodist household, at church every Sunday. I must have heard it ten times a year from the age of zero, and probably before that, booming through the womb. It became part of my emotional response to music. It became part of me. 'Thine Be The Glory' works not just because of the fiery pomp, but also because its words, by the Swiss writer Edmond Budry, are so gloriously valiant and triumphant, without being religio-triumphalist - "for the Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting." I'm fairly sure that there's a direct link between 'Thine Be The Glory' and my enthusiasm for pompous, emotive, dramatic music of many hues - it was the song on which everything since rests.

Why does it make me cry? Well, partly all the above, and I suppose as time goes on relationships with religion change, and hearing this recalls youthful certainties. It makes me think of my father too, and how as a Methodist minister he has changed many lives. I must confess I can't abide the vogue for the kind of atheism that harrumphs and hoots its superior, patronising disdain for religious belief while being one, and offers nothing but misanthropy and cynicism as an alternative. In my life religion has been a purely positive influence, though I do have intractable issues with mainstream church teaching on sexuality and the exclusion of other faiths. When I hear 'Thine Be The Glory', though (especially contrasted with the trite, badly written pap that unfortunately counts for most praise music), and especially when sung by a large congregation, it crackles with a strangely visceral power. I think it's a universal power, too - hymns were always supposed to connect people to the Great Intangible, and I think this is one that can spark a sense of the universal (religious or not) among even a secular congregation. I plan to have this, alongside Coil's 'A Cold Cell', at my funeral. Hankies at the ready, dears. Luke Turner

William Basinski - The Disintegration Loops

William Basinski's four-part masterpiece The Disintegration Loops is a work of pure, unfettered emotion. Of course, its origin story has been regularly told - how Basinski was playing back the recordings to friends in New York, as the horror of 9/11 unfolded within view of their windows - but The Disintegration Loops is an overwhelming oeuvre regardless of context. Basinski used old tape loops he'd found lying forgotten in his storage room, allowing their natural degradation to become a core part of the compositional process, as the drop outs, fuzz and crackles blend with the melancholic nature of the loops to enhance their core emotional impact. Even bereft of words, the loops become haunting evocations of loss and despair. The five pieces stretch time, the loops repeating and revolving over themselves, drifting across lengths ranging from twelve minutes to over an hour, swallowing the listener in their immovable emotional grasp. Somehow, The Disintegration Loops taps into deep-seated feelings with the simplest of means, so regardless of the context with which you approach them - be it channeling the mass pain of a cataclysm such as 9/11, or personal solemnity and memories - you can't help but be moved. These aren't just songs to make you cry, they are mournfulness and melancholia incarnate in sound. Joseph Burnett

Idina Menzel – 'Let It Go' (from Walt Disney's Frozen)

I'm a beardy man soon to embrace 40. My main musical pleasure buttons are labelled 'massive ugly riffs', 'ridiculous complexity' and 'Eastern modes'. I'm not the key Disney demographic. But I'm also the dad of a six-year-old girl – and when we watch a film together, I see it through her eyes, only magnified. For the Disney-averse, some context: in Frozen, Princess Elsa of Arandelle is born with ice powers she cannot control. Isolated until reaching adulthood, she's forced to flee into the mountains once her secret is revealed. This is where we find her at the start of 'Let It Go'. At first despondent, she soon recognises the upside to her exile. The song's emotional power lies in catharsis and relief, in breaking shackles and the heady rush of new potential. By the song's end, Elsa has raised a big, icy metaphor for a middle finger to a repressive world. Yes, it's wildly bombastic and extremely Broadwayish, but Idina Menzel's performance is utterly convincing. The transition from despair to exultation is as immaculately constructed as Elsa's crystalline palace, and invariably leads to a veritable frosty fountain cascading from my face. Aside from my questionable empathy with a bushbaby-eyed cartoon monarch, I hear an irrepressible and distinctly female sense of strength, confidence and self-realisation. I hear a moment in which my daughter embraces her gifts, forges her own path, finds her joy, regardless of what a stultifying patriarchal society or her boring ageing-hipster parents may say. I hear a glimpse of what I hope is her future. Matt Evans

Artist's Choice from: Aidan Moffat

There are innumerable songs that make me cry. The Honey Cone's 'My Mind's On Leaving But My Heart Won't Let Me Go' made me burst into tears as I walked through Madrid airport once, not long after I split up with my last serious girlfriend. Tom Waits' 'Day After Tomorrow', the song about a soldier at the end of Real Gone, reduced me to a blubbering mess the first time I heard it. And I'm not sure why, but if I've had enough to drink, there's something about Linda Ronstadt / The Stone Poneys' version of 'Different Drum' that can set me off, and there's countless soul songs too. I cry all the time these days, I think it comes with age – although I've always been susceptible to emotional music and movies, but it seems really heightened now. Must be the male menopause. (as told to Luke Turner)

Cornelius - 'Tone Twilight Zone'

In 2007 I turned 21, and was lucky enough to be able to go to Chicago to see Cornelius the day after my birthday. With me was a woman I'd been seeing for two months; she didn't know anything about Cornelius beforehand, but she was clearly digging this song, and we danced a bit and realised that we were kinda sorta getting attached; it really is a gorgeous, show stopping number. The only issue was that she was an exchange student who would be flying back to Mexico in a couple of weeks, and that would be that. From then on I couldn't hear it without thinking of that exact moment, and having the realisation that someone very important to you was about to leave your life before you really got the chance to know them. But we kept in touch through MSN Messenger, and would sometimes listen to this song "together" (the video is really cool, by the way).

In 2010, we got married, and of course we insisted that it absolutely had to be on the playlist. The cool thing about instrumentals is that there are no lyrics to interpret; they can mean anything to anyone. Nowadays when I listen to Point (still quite often, by the way), I still feel a little restless when 'Tone Twilight Zone' comes on – but mostly it's a reminder of how lucky I've been in life. Nick Reed

Victor Jara - 'Cuando Voy Al Trabajo' ('On My Way To Work')

This song is so heartbreakingly simple: a man thinks of his love as he journeys to work. This universal sentiment is honed by Chilean songwriter Victor Jara to something so personal and acute that even its ballad-like calm and the reverbed warmth of Jara's delivery cannot help but feel drowned in anguish. Its delicacy belies the power of its underlying theme. The version I am most familiar with, on 2001's Manifiesto CD compilation, contains a reading of its heartbreaking lyrics by Victor's widow Joan Jara (it starts at 21:52 in this recording). These lines induce such terrible tears - "On my way to work, I think of you … compañero of my life, and of the future, of the bitter hours, and the happiness of being able to live, working at the beginning of a story, without knowing the end". That Jara wasn't able to live out this life with Joan is totally unbearable; he was one of the first casualties of the repressive Pinochet regime, following the coup that toppled Salvador Allende in 1973. The passion contained in this short song is a true memorial to their love. Kevin McCaighy

Rufus Wainwright - 'The Consort'

This song resonates for no particularly personal reason, its emotion coming from the simple power of its melody and arrangement. Other songs are more heralded from Wainwright's second album Poses, yet this remains, for me, his greatest ever composition. Lyrically, the rather inaccessible story is told of a subordinate's admiration and love for her queen, yet many lines, sung by a 26-year-old Wainwright in the flush of his exuberant and hedonistic period, do overwhelm, such as "No more to hide with I your faithful consort by your side" or "Together we'll wreak havoc, you and me". It is naturally difficult to explain why certain songs possess you the way they do, but these lines seem charged with all the passion and purpose that made young Rufus so compelling. 'The Consort''s instrumental passage, too, is staggeringly beautiful, with trumpets and a string arrangement from producer Pierre Marchand elevating the 'regal' theme of the song. The track has added resonance thirteen years after Poses was released, given how vanilla and, frankly, comfortable, Wainwright's artistry appears today. Barnaby Smith

Red Guitars - 'National Avenue (Sunday Afternoon)'

The highpoint of long forgotten Hull band Red Guitars' second album, 1986's Tales Of The Expected, 'National Avenue (Sunday Afternoon)' is the story of a man who returns to visit old friends in the dying town where he left behind his dead-end life: "How's Paul?" singer Robert Holmes asks in a keening voice. 'Is he working? No? Who works these days?" As guitars that make Johnny Marr's seem thrifty spin intricate, sparkling webs, the band paints a picture of a life rendered almost futile by Thatcherite policies, with even the most modest ambitions thwarted: "I remember when you used to want to buy the used car of your dreams," Holmes continues, before enquiring, "How's Marianne? Is she married? No? No one gets married these days."

Why did this touch me – a young teenager from a comfortable, middle class, Thatcher-voting background – so much? Most likely it was the depiction of our universal, hopeless struggle against forces beyond our control. That and the realisation that, even if we leave our own suffering behind, we never stop caring about those who once helped make it bearable. As Holmes wails despairingly of the people he carries within his heart – subverting pop music's entire "you're my baby, now" trope by referring to both male and female friends, and adding "you're inside me now" – 'National Avenue' confirms that we can leave our baggage behind, but it always catches up with us, and constantly insists upon shaping who we are. "I'm going to miss this place, I'm going to miss your face," Holmes concludes, his resigned sadness palpable. The smallest things in life have never seemed more complicated, or indeed more comforting. Wyndham Wallace

Robert Glasper - 'Y'Outta Praise Him (Intro')

It's the gentle perfection here that gets me every time. Hymnal chords straight and true, with little flourish and such restraint you can hear the padded footfall of Glasper's sustain pedal lifted then pressed again, near-silent depth of echo beneath quiet note after quiet note. It's not too slow, it's not too deliberate, it doesn't try too hard. Come 2:51-2:59 and the unadorned chord progression, the beauty of the phrasing, make me close my eyes and hold my breath. Those nine seconds could withstand a thousand listens. Dale Berning

Artist's Choice from: Dawn Richard

I don't know if it's the music, but [Claude Debussy's] 'Clair De Lune' is my favourite piece of work, and I use it in my album. It is the most beautiful piece and it will still, to this day, probably make me cry, make me think, and it's the most uncomfortable piece to me. The reason why is that it sits in silence and even though it's musical, it's eerie, it's peaceful but it's edgy. It always has me at the edge of my seat, it keeps me in my thoughts and it makes me cry every time. It tugs on the heartstrings, but in a good way. I've first heard it when I was ten and my father played it for me on his piano and I told my mum and dad, "I want to dance to that", and she said, "yeah, we can do that". She had her little babies dance to that at a recital, and I never really understood how powerful that piece was until maybe high school, and I wanted to revisit it again. (As told to Laurie Tuffrey)

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – 'Let The Bells Ring'

Nick Cave is the master of two kinds of songs, rollicking, murderous rock & roll tales, and desperately sad stories of guilt-laden sorrow. On Abattoir Blues, an album that mostly did the former, 'Let The Bells Ring' is a miserable masterpiece. The titular bells are funereal, and this is a paean to one of Cave's fallen heroes Johnny Cash. Originally singing Cash's song 'The Singer' on Kicking Against The Pricks, Johnny apparently returned the favour by covering Cave's 'The Mercy Seat'. The pair then duetted in a cover of a Hank Williams song, 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry', for Cash's American IV: The Man Comes Around, so the admiration was clearly mutual. When Cash died in 2003, one of music's greatest ever voices was lost and inspired this wassailing wake, from a man with a similarly thunderous timbre. There is hushed reverence in carefully crafted lines like "There are those of us not fit to tie the laces of your shoes" and "So let's walk outside, the hour is late through your crumbs and shattered shells". It's clear Cave doesn't feel worthy of his hero, yet with the emotional heft of his lyrical lament, when the bells ring for him he'll surely be judged an equal. It's a song sung from the heart, and it hits me squarely there every time. Nick Hutchings

Spiritualized – 'Stay With Me'

It might begin as a bit of casual noodling and a waltz you could slow dance to, but it's coming for you man, layer on layer. Cross yourself as a churchy harpsichord starts to rain down, then: a pause, a power socket found, and a spear of feedback that opens into a deluge of amplified guitar, as thick and warm and irrefutable as blood. 'Stay With Me' isn't the post-coital pillow talk it seems on the surface. Oh no. It's the sound of loved-up but smacked-out self-delusion and its bliss. In my mind, there's no women being addressed here, or if there is, she's long gone, leaving her ex-lover moaning "Oh babe … stay with me" to her lingering scent or perhaps to himself, in a plea not to nod off for good. Actutally, fuck it, I'm hazarding she died and he did too, and the song comes to us from the afterlife, a place full of angels and free of consequence, which would explain why all I want to do, every time I hear it, is to droop into the arms of the closest available disastrous decision just to remember how good it feels to surrender to the siren song of something wrong. "Make it all so fine." Kate Hennessy

Soft Cell – 'Say Hello Wave Goodbye'

"A ballad about a prostitute rejected by a lover who thinks he's too good for her, the song's atmosphere drenched in pink neon and tears," is how Marc Almond described this song in his autobiography. I first heard it on a tape made by a schoolfriend's older brother, a sort of primer for New Romantic/synth-pop from within my lifetime but that I was too young to have been more than dimly aware of when it was released. That warped, muffled cassette sound suited the song, those massive snares booming through the mist. It's obviously soapy, deliberately so, but the tragicomic touches work - "I tried to make it work, you in a cocktail skirt and me in a suit, well it just wasn't me" - because Almond delivers it with absolute conviction. The real crux, the unresolvable problem, is there in those lines. "A nice little housewife will give me a steady life, and won't keep going off the rails." Can you get by just being comfortable? What do you have to surrender in order to maintain that comfort, that "steady life"? Musically, of course, I'm back in 60s ballad territory again, except Dave Ball's orchestration is all synths which, together with Almond's wonderfully, passionately awry vocals, only enhance the feeling of having tried and fallen short of the real deal, so close, but so far. It also boasts one of synth-pop's immortal keyboard lines (also: OMD's 'Souvenir'). The warm, bassy swell in the choruses and the coda is enough to set me off, to be honest. David McKenna

Ane Brun - 'Undertow'

I'd previously dismissed Ane Brun as a sappy singer of overly sentimental fluff, but 2011's 'It All Starts With One' revealed a sophisticated, ambitious craftswoman exploring emotionally complex territory, and never more so than on its sumptuous closing track. 'Undertow' charts a path through the only experience that's worse than breaking up with someone you love: being in love with someone who doesn't want anything to do with you. Navigating the ebb and flow of contradictory urges – a doomed compulsion to pursue fulfilment and a despairing need to protect oneself from disappointment – its deceptively simple metaphor is set within a musical landscape both bleak and lavish, its arrangement matching the movement of the ocean it describes, its understated piano motif sometimes swallowed up by roiling kettle drums and sublime choral voices which then subside to reveal Brun's delicate, at times almost brittle, vocals. "I must follow these movements wherever they go," she insists, acknowledging her romantic instincts, but concedes that she's exhausted from her efforts, pleading that she be taken "out to sea / Away from you and me". 'Undertow' is therefore as intricate a depiction of conflicting impulses as we could ever hear, at once tragic and liberating, inspiring and acquiescent, mature and ingenuous. Wyndham Wallace

Broadcast – 'Black Cat'

Up to this point, my life has been relatively tragedy free, but that doesn't mean that I can't empathise when tragedy strikes others. I can remember being affected when reading a heartbreaking interview with Trish Keenan of Broadcast around the time of the release of the band's third album, Tender Buttons, in which she revealed that the song 'Black Cat' was about her alcoholic father, who died of lung cancer during the recording. "The black cat is a metaphor for psychological hang ups," she explained in 2005. "I watched my father have the black cat all my life. He tried to chase it off with alcohol, but it purred around him until he died." That last line stayed with me, as did the image she cast of her and her dad doing the Sun crossword together. "Awkwardness happening to someone you love," she sang in that beguiling and elegant voice, moving me to tears on occasion. Broadcast are a special band for me and my wife, so when Trish died in 2011, it was 'Black Cat' that we went to – an already melancholic and tragic song is now shot through with an extra layer of resonance by her passing. Joe Clay

Bruce Springsteen - 'Bobby Jean'

There are many who gawp upon the formidable critical and commercial success of The Boss with bemused incomprehension. Bombastic. Sanctimonious. Cheesy. Wears headbands, FFS. Well for some of us, I am (un)ashamed to say, he is the closest we will ever have to a worship-worthy holy Jesus figure. We know it's absurd, but that's faith for you. It hardly needs reiterating that the anthemic facade of 'Born In The USA' distracts casual listeners like President Reagan from its darker subject matter. This also applies to the entire album. Beneath its slick stadium rock surface, that LP is all about loss. Desperately, if not despairingly, about loss. Loss of innocence. Loss of youth. Loss of faith (particularly in the hollow promise of the American Dream). Loss of freedom. Loss of the juvenile belief that you can just hop in a Cadillac and flee all your woes.

It's the track about lost friendship that hits me the hardest. The character's name in 'Bobby Jean' is deliberately non-gender-specific, but the song is said to be inspired by Steve Van Zandt's departure from the E Street Band. From the opening two chords of that narrative so poignant that the inclusion of a chorus would only cheapen it, I'm fighting to hold it together. I am English and male after all, indoctrinated by society before walking age that "boys don't cry" (and for goodness' sake, not in public!) But that final verse always has me blubbering. When the forlorn Bruce hopes that Bobby Jean, wherever s/he may be, might tune into the radio and hear him singing, "I miss you baby, good luck, goodbye", and on cue Clarence Clemons launches into one of his heartrending sax solos. When I see it played live, I feel a mess, hurriedly wiping away those embarrassing tears. Through my blurry eyes, I see I'm surrounded by other men doing the very same thing. That's the thing about Bruce. He makes us feel less alone. JR Moores

Coil - 'A Cold Cell'

At the time still only briefly acquainted with the work of Throbbing Gristle, I only came to Coil's music after hearing of Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson's death at the end of 2010. If that news was saddening at the time, it's come to feel ever more resonant as I've become more deeply immersed in their peerless recorded back catalogue; Sleazy and Jhonn Balance's sonic deep dives into the beautiful and terrible aspects of human behaviour and lived experience are so inextricably entwined with the lives, senses and preoccupations of its creators that playing a Coil record feels eerily like a summoning of spirits, something of which the duo would doubtless approve. With the final version of 'A Cold Cell' released on 2005's The Ape Of Naples a year after Balance's passing, the song can't help but be spiked with death; Balance's voice is high in the mix amid near-transparent music, his presence as tangible yet unreal as a fever mirage. Not having been aware of Coil at the time, I can only imagine how the intimacy of this recording must have felt for friends and long-term fans of the band listening to this just after Balance's death.

On a more personal taste level, it distills the characteristics I'm most drawn to in music: synthesised sound, space, spirituality. Having been raised in the church, while now comfortably a non-believer I'm hyper-sensitive to music that invokes religious sensations of awe at the invisible machinations of the universe, be they ascribed to some Godlike force or otherwise; late period Coil were almost unique in modern music in their uniting of the sublime and profane through the rhythms of nature. 'A Cold Cell''s lyrics, apparently inspired by Russian prison camps (see Sleazy's video to accompany the song above), beg the Lord's mercy in the face of forces beyond our control: "the tall fence", "the severe prosecutor", "small rations", "dirty water". They speak to the inescapable primacy and realness of our lived reality, but also - turning full circle back to TG's caustic reflections upon the 20th century's industrialisation of murder and oppression - to the terrifying fragility of individual existence in a vast, violent world, and the swiftness with which the traces we leave behind can crumble to dust. Thankfully, Sleazy and Balance's personalities remain exquisitely preserved in Coil's recordings, and I can't imagine a more powerful memorial. Rory Gibb

The Beltones - 'Let The Bombs Fall'

My grandmother almost adopted me when I was younger, at the time, I wouldn't have understood what that meant or what difference that would have made. Today, I still don't.
But she was always a mother to me, even when she was disgusted by my teenage rage, green mohawk, tattoos, thieving, and porn videos.
"He walked the halls of that wretched place".
Eventually, time got the better of her and she left me.
I distinctly remember the last time I saw her, tiny, she was a sweet, four foot ten, petite, proud Italian woman, she slid a twenty into my hand as she kissed my cheek goodbye for her winter retreat to Florida. I wiped my cheek after the kiss for fear of lipstick. Years earlier she'd starting using kiss proof lipstick so I wouldn't have to worry, decades later I still get paranoid about lipstick.
"No one knew a fragile life / Like the woman that his Father used to call his Wife / And for what it's worth no one was as kind."
I remember when I was told she was in hospital and I ought to go visit her. I couldn't be bothered, I was doing something useless like getting drunk in Tompkins Square or going to another forgettable gig.
But that call came through, as it always will, you can ignore the rings, but you know.
"So let the bombs fall, cause buddy I don't care."
After the funeral I collapsed on her bed refusing, clinging to pillows, love, and perfume.
Back home, I dropped a needle on a record I already loved for it's anger, despair, and honesty.
"I'll meet you at the liquor store / We'll drink and drink until we can't fucking breathe anymore."
Bill's story killed me.
Even now, fifteen years later, it's the song I listen to when I need a gentle hand on my shoulder. Josh Saco

Artist's Choice from: Kjetil Nernes, Årabrot

I'd say when Lee Hazlewood starts to sing on 'Down From Dover', that affects me in a very non-sentimental way, both of joy and of sorrow. I heard it many years ago, probably on the radio. It's a Dolly Parton song and is from the second album that he did with Nancy Sinatra, and I've been a fan of his for a really long time. I guess I could say some of the pieces from Cowboy In Sweden are more appropriate for crying, but it's a little more fun, is 'Down From Dover'. (As told to Laurie Tuffrey)

The Flaming Lips – 'Do You Realize??'

It's been written elsewhere that this high water mark by The Flaming Lips is a paean to atheism, but there's so much more to it than that. To these ears – and to steal from Robert Plant – 'Do You Realize??' is a song of hope. Devoid of cynicism and brimming with humanity, 'Do You Realize??' does much to strip away the illusions that garnish existence and replace them with the realities of life that, in Wayne Coyne's vision, are no less – indeed, more - beautiful than the romantic notions that we're force-fed through the institutions that surround us. Just because the sun doesn't set, just because the earth is spinning through space on its axis and that life as we know it is essentially random doesn't take away from the sense of wonder that those facts engender. And crucially, that our individual time on earth has a sell-by date isn't a cause for sadness, but a catalyst to make that limited period as meaningful as possible to ourselves and to those around us. These are all incredible things, and the song asks us to take pause, consider this and to act upon it. Life is a beautiful thing, and though it gets marred from time to time, this is something worth fighting for. Without hope there can be no happiness and yes, happiness really does make you cry. Julian Marszalek

Artist's Choice from: Neil Hannon, The Divine Comedy

Several pieces do, but the only one I can think of right now is 'Nimrod', the Elgar. It just speaks of heroism, really, and it doesn't have to be soldierly heroism or anything like that. It's just the heroism of people doing what they do. And animals - because Elgar loved his dog as well, one of the variations is all about his dog. Heroism and loyalty, loyalty seemed to be very important to him and I think that comes out in the music. (As told to Laurie Tuffrey)

Pulp – 'Common People'

It never used to make me cry. And in fact, it only has once.

Back in 1995, 'Common People' arrived like a celebration; righteous, funny and timely. Uniquely, amongst the insurgent but conservative chart-bothering indie pop of the time, it sounded new. Musically it clearly understood the dynamics of the rave; the build, the drop and the crescendo. And lyrically, 'Common People' nailed the moment too. But just because a writer's struck a chord, there's no guarantee that either they, or the people they're singing for and about, are having the last laugh. In fact, the opposite often applies.

In 2011, as I waited for Pulp in Hyde Park I was acutely aware of the different world, different London and different pop cultural landscape that surrounded me. I was different too; older and distinctly less invincible. Inevitably, Pulp finished with 'Common People'. And simultaneously, I realised two things. Firstly, that I still adored great pop music; for its wit, its purity, even, in the right hands, its truth-telling, subversive potential. And secondly, that for all of 'Common People's' galloping dynamism and still-startling rage, its most potent inbuilt prophecy was a sense of defeat. And something about the confluence of my own advancing years and - for all of its pin-sharp acuity and power to exhilarate - the heartbreaking impotence of the song, was too much to take. At that point, I put a little distance between myself and my friends. Because who wants to shove their emotion in everyone's face? We're too old for that, right? Phil Harrison

Mina – 'Se Telefonando'

Tears are twofold with this one. Along with Siouxsie's 'The Last Beat Of My Heart', I consider 'Se Telefonando' to be the most gorgeous song ever written. This is emotion on a grand scale. Exquisite longing and reluctant acceptance soar together, whilst the singer maintains composure. I have little idea what Mina's lyrics mean (I'm guessing the chorus is something like 'If only you would call...') but it doesn't matter. The sheer feeling in her voice, that delivery, conveys more than words ever could. As of course does the music, which sways its way through a wide tonal centre. I still marvel at the fact that Morricone wrote this for a television show.

The three note musical theme was inspired by a police car siren heard in Marseilles. And it was driving myself that I first ever heard this song. Autumn of 2005, my UK visa had run out and I was back in suburban America, far from the London I'd come to love and consider home. I had tracked down Christy's sultry 'Deep Down' from the Danger: Diabolik film to a compilation entitled Canto Morricone Vol. 1. And on my way home one night from picking up dinner in the pouring rain, the opening notes of 'Se Telefonando' flowed over the car stereo and I was instantly transported to that magical place that the best pop music is a portal to. Chills down the spine and that expansive feeling in the chest. I'll never forget that moment, though it's happened with dozens of songs, offering a glimpse of the wonder of the world and all the life, love, and joy, even sadness, it has to offer. Aug Stone

Elliott Smith - 'A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free'

The last song on the last album he made before he died, but that is not the only reason this song is so powerful. It concludes a record, From A Basement On A Hill, that is so cacophonous in its misery that if you can get through to the final track, the weight of the whole thing cannot help but make one grieve. It's not just Smith's personal demons that go into this track; this is arguably one of his most heartfelt protest songs, with him mourning "God knows why my country don't give a fuck," amongst other things. Some Smith fans were turned off by the relatively bombastic production and arrangements of his later albums, yet on this song the instrumental ambition serves only to heighten the angst, through a sense of frenzy and abandon. The song ends with "Shine on me baby, 'cos it's raining in my heart", a bleak summation of the 'beautiful pain' that Smith's music invokes in its listeners. Barnaby Smith

Keiji Haino / Fushitsusha - 'ここに' ('Koko'; Japanese for 'Here')

Of the several epiphanies Keiji Haino has given me - twice in concert and countless times on record - that first time listening to Fushitsusha's version of this song on their infamous PSF debut from 1989 was the most life-changing. The song has subsequently appeared in two wildly different solo iterations - one a raw, no frills in studio take, the other a lengthy, loop pedal-driven live document - but they pale in comparison to the acid-soaked full band reading. After some seven minutes of amorphous yelling, slogging guitar riffage and arhythmic clatter, a single ringing chord from the second guitarist silences the group, bringing the quartet right down to near silence, while Haino lets out that wordless Marlene Dietrich falsetto of his for a heart-stopping aria. The piece moves through a tragic series of chord progressions, taking on the form of a legitimate song, atypical for Haino, but utterly compelling in light of the double album of freeform rock it sits at the end of. Ultimately, the piece's tension breaks into an utterly gorgeous lamenting lullaby, with Haino switching between vocals and high end guitar noodling for a series of spiralling, luminescent crescendoes. His voice quivers almost to breaking point over the lengthy performance, and finally the sheer beauty of the piece's climactic middle section descends back down from the celestial to something of the ambiguous menace it was birthed from. It's as if, for the briefest of moments, the dark prince of the underground has let the weakest part of his very deepest inner core loose for a brief moment. Just to be sure he's not alone. Just to be sure, we know he's here. Tristan Bath

Carolyn Crawford - 'My Smile Is Just A Frown (Turned Upside Down)'

'My Smile Is Just A Frown (Turned Upside Down)' may be a lesser-known Motown hit, but merely through its inclusion in a powerfully tragic film it never fails to bring a lump to my throat. Dreams Of A Life is a haunting 2011 documentary by Carol Morley that explores the fate of Joyce Vincent, who died aged 40 in her North London flat but was only discovered a shocking three years later, her Christmas presents unopened and the TV still on. From this tragedy, Morley spins an aching study of human nature and the alienated times we live in. Because Vincent wasn't an anonymous, friendless non-entity: she had met Nelson Mandela and Gil Scott-Heron, moved in musical circles, had once worked for a major accounting firm, and still had living family members. How she could end up dying alone and forgotten remains a mystery the film tries to solve, ending with a profound sense of regret and frustration. In one reconstructed scene, Vincent (played by Zawe Ashton) dances alone in the flat she would end up dying in, singing along to Carolyn Crawford's bittersweet ballad. Somehow, the sequence encapsulates the entire emotional impact of the film, and the tragedy that befell Vincent. It's a song full of regret, the singer narrating how she hides her sadness from a former lover under a false smile. Joyce Vincent had isolated herself from people she knew and loved, clearly masking her pain from the world, and this isolation in some ways led to her lonely fate. It's a perfectly, painfully haunting marriage of film and song. Joseph Burnett

The Band – 'Tears Of Rage'

With lyrics by Bob Dylan and mournful, stately melody by Richard Manuel, 'Tears Of Rage' is the first song off the first album by The Band, and is certainly among their best. Its mix of anger and overwhelming anguish perfectly represents a parent's grief for the time before an underdeveloped frontal lobe turned a loving child into a teenage asshole. Dylan was the only father at this point, but I just don't think his voice was the right vehicle. Manuel once admitted he "wasn't sure" what the lyrics meant and he "couldn't run upstairs and say, 'What's this mean Bob?'", yet his vocal fits sublimely in their sentiments of rejection and sorrow; of unconditional love slipping away for reasons not quite understood. For me, any other version pales in comparison – including Dylan's. In true Bob form, the lyric can be taken other ways – with references to King Lear and other interpretations suggesting it's a metaphor for America's rubbishing of its founder's ideals – but heard on this more widely-relatable level, it's just devastating.

Manuel's voice often embodies crushing heartbreak, but this is the performance of his life. Soaring, strained, breathless at times, as if between sobs as he calls for the daughter to put aside their differences and return to the empty nest, citing "life is brief". The disappointment and frustration he evokes is enough to tear down any parent who is made to feel the thief of their child's time, or anyone who as an adult has realised just how much of an ungrateful menace they were to their doting parents as a self-involved teen. Valerie Siebert

Artist's Choice from: Brett Anderson, Suede

The song that makes me cry is Vincent by Don Maclean. I think it's possibly the greatest song ever written. I'm always listening to it and playing it, trying to work out why it's so good. The lyrics are so so… just poetry, the subject matter, it's just perfect. My dad didn't really like much pop music, but he had this one tape and it had this, and A Day In The Life by The Beatles, so they're very important songs for me. (as told to Luke Turner)

Swans - 'The Sound Of Freedom'

The legendary reputation of Swans established itself before I ever heard a single note of their music. Their records were all but impossible to find in the early to mid 90s. I had yet to hear their most infamous and extreme works. However, in coming across a cassette version of Love Of Life, I began to realise that there was much more to this fearsome group than sheer terror. Of all that album's garlanded treasures, 'The Sound Of Freedom' made the greatest impression, striking me as if an anvil had landed on my chest. Its weight I felt wasn't that of their heaviest or excoriating work; it had such an emotional impact that I could barely breathe beneath the song's grandiose waves of chiming guitars and crashing percussion. Michael Gira's calm, authorial voice resonated just as strongly with me. That voice, stark yet reassuring, delivers the pulverising poetry of the lyrics as a sublime incantation, perfectly in sync with the surging sonic tide. 'The Sound Of Freedom' remains for me an exultant anthem for a country that only exists in my imagination: every listen, if only briefly, evokes that sovereign territory. Kevin McCaighy

VNV Nation - 'Radio'

VNV Nation mean a lot to me. Really, if you want to read about it, go nuts. The reason why I chose the song linked at the start of that personal piece, 'Radio', is because it had to have been the second or third time listening to it when it was first released when I realised that I was tearing up completely, and I can never hear it without feeling a twinge. Why, out of all their songs, that one, I'm still not entirely sure. Perhaps because it's valedictory, even more so than so many of their songs, but maybe also because it digs in just a little deeper, plays with the band's established tropes. VNV could have just done a quick, punchy take on things, but their ballads are their secret weapons, especially the ones that aren't entirely ballads per se, and this is definitely something that combines the propulsive with the contemplative. Radio signals quietly emerge in the mix, the big surge in the center ramps it up and out, it ends almost where it began, a signal beyond isolation looking for something more. Ronan Harris continues his uncanny knack of making what could be so much empty rhetoric sound like a reason to keep going in the face of humanity's follies and miseries, and even the echo on his voice causes me to gulp slightly as a result. When I finished that long piece I linked, and played the song again just to underscore that I was done, I found myself completely breaking down at my desk for about ten minutes. Ned Raggett

Artist's Choice from: Chilly Gonzales

Well, generally, it's classical stuff that would make me cry for the sheer power of it. I think instrumental music, in the end, is always going to represent emotion better than music with words. The reason I love rap is that rap is intimate in its own way, but it's usually intimate with ideas and it's intimate with communication and it represents how we talk to each other, so it's full of boasting and projection and the fantasy and wish fulfilment. That stretches back to Morrissey, it's wish fulfilment. Whereas Beethoven's idea is what would be most powerful emotionally is instrumental music - any words at all, no matter how you set them to music, will still be too weak; true emotion transcends even words. For me it would have to be orchestral music, so it's probably Prokofiev's Piano Concertos 2 & 3 or some Berlioz or some expressive Romantic music, that's the stuff that overwhelms me and gets me closest to tears. (as told to Laurie Tuffrey)

Cardiacs - 'Foundling'

I can't even pretend to be objective about Cardiacs. Sing To God is my favorite album of all time, and to me they are the only group that really does sound like "every band you love mashed into one". But they never found the right ears - Cardiacs were a band you had to be told about, and luckily enough I knew someone who thought I'd like them. Since then, they've felt like less of a "secret handshake" every month, as more and more people were discovering them thanks to the internet. They were racking up a lot of YouTube views at least, and after a long period of inactivity they released a single in 2007 as a teaser for what was supposedly an upcoming double album. But shortly thereafter, Tim Smith suffered several strokes and a heart attack, from which he's still recovering today. It's heartwarming to see all the support he's gotten, but it's difficult for me to listen to their music without getting overwhelmed sometimes; to think that perhaps the greatest musical genius of our time is unable to express himself any longer, and that so many fanatics (such as myself) will never get the chance to see them. I chose 'Foundling', as it's the last song on my favorite album; a gorgeous ballad with this absolutely wrenching noise that I can't even describe. Get well soon, Tim. Nick Reed

Artist's Choice from: Angel Haze

Piano music by Yiruma. I have this classical album that I just sit and sob to, whenever I cry. I don't really cry, I cry like once a year, so I have to lead up to it - it has to be a huge climax and then I break down and I'm like, "ah!" and I'm listening to Yiruma and shit. (As told to Laurie Tuffrey)

Galaxie 500 – 'Blue Thunder'

'Blue Thunder' is majestic, sublime, liberating but to me, oh so desolate. Dean Wareham – one of the most melancholy tenors ever to have graced the indie canon - is a solitary poet on the open road, but it's like there's a massive rain cloud hanging over his Great American Journey. He sings like he's drowning and coming up for air at the same time, delivering the line "I drive so far away," before plunging into a widescreen guitar solo which sounds as if he's unravelling from inside out. It's a song for loneliness, a song for running away to, a song for packing your bags and disappearing off the face of the earth to. And yes, a song for crying to. April Welsh

Jonathan Richman - 'Hospital'

Jonathan Richman's 'Hospital' is always a wrenching listen; so much so that I have to consciously avoid it when not feeling as robust (emotionally speaking) as I could be. The song's story takes the well-worn template of an address to a lover defined by absence, both physical and emotional, and is imbued with a faintly harrowing sense of loss and dread. Its narrative framing is deftly understated: "when you get out of the hospital, let me back into your life', Richman intones in his inimitable heartbreak of a voice, so that the ostensibly sugary content is darkened by its frighteningly sad context.

Richman has always been a fine lyricist; like Bill Callahan, he manages time and time again to serrate his default mode of self-deprecation and awkwardness with the bloodied canines of sexual jealousy and unmanageable obsession - and nowhere does he do it so potently as in 'Hospital'. Its considerable emotional clout derives from the tension between the almost uncomfortable intimacy of the address, and the distances (of time, of space, of feeling) his intimate tone describes. 'Hospital' is a song fraught with all the corrosive things which attend upon love; its vile, inevitable transience, the impossibility of ever really inhabiting the emotion, because the past is an immoveable beast: "now as a little girl, you must have been magic; I still get jealous of your old boyfriends in the suburbs sometimes'. The conflicting desires to be free of someone, and yet inextricably bound to them, the paradoxical drives of narcissism and self-obliteration which structure both: "Oh, I can't stand what you do / sometimes I can't stand you / and it makes me think about me / that I'm involved with you / but I'm in love with this power that shows through in your eyes'. Suckerpunch to the heart. Helen King

The Ronettes – 'Baby, I Love You'

Just what is it about The Ronettes' 'Baby, I Love You' that can switch on waterworks enough to equal the deluge that flooded many parts of the country last month? Could it be the dramatic piano intro that, in such a short space of time, commands attention and urgency? Perhaps it's those drum rolls, the beat propelled by sleigh bells and the handclaps on top of the snare creating a shot that's traveled over 50 years to hit my heart with a continued accuracy? Maybe it's Ronnie Spector's plaintive 'Whoah-oh!' that hangs in isolation before Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound comes crashing in like a mighty tsunami? Of course, it's all of those things that contribute to the song's ability to tug at the tear ducts, but what does it, what really does it, is the sense of innocence that beats at this song's heart. Delivered in just two simple verses and choruses, 'Baby, I Love You' is an almost inarticulate attempt to sum up the joy of love that actually manages to say a huge amount about the emotion in just two minutes and 50 seconds. The real sucker punch is delivered when Ronnie sings, "It isn't easy to explain/ And though I'm really trying, I think I may start crying". That, in a nut, is the key; that inability to define that glorious feeling, that sense of wonder that can alter the course of life is, in its own naive way, captured, distilled and bottled. Coupled with Phil Spector's symphonic production that takes hold of the emotions and lifts them beyond the realms of the humdrum and the mundane, the result is a giddy rush of all that's good in life. If there is a heaven, this is what I expect to hear at the pearly gates. Right before I get signed off to the other place. Julian Marszalek

Iron & Wine - 'Faded From The Winter'

"Needlework and seedlings / In the way you're walking / To me from the timbers / Faded from the winter." Could there be a more beautiful way to articulate the very particular delicacy of a woman as she approaches, perhaps for the first time, but probably for the last? The phrasing is careful, as fine-boned as she is. Any other way to describe her shape or depict her walk would blot her out; snap her in two. The song is from Iron & Wine's first album, The Creek Drank The Cradle, a masterpiece of morose folk and the only Iron & Wine album for me. An ever-present hiss mutes its already smudged edges, finger-picked guitar nestles wearily into its campfire-warm strum and Sam Beam's voice rarely lifts above a murmur; all of it sounding old enough to have existed, exhausted, before the Appalachians rose. What news does the woman bring? Will she say anything at all? I imagine them sitting in silence on a broad verandah somewhere in America's south with a love expressed not in words but in nature's unfolding exposition as the afternoon sighs into evening. 'Faded From The Winter' doesn't make me cry for any love I've ever lost, but for one I'll never know - an inchoate ache for a silent, southern-style love and for the enduring romance of something strongly felt yet never spoken. "You're the poem of mystery / You're the prayer inside me." Kate Hennessy

Artist's Choice from: Patrick Wolf

So much, really, but I couldn't really put it down to one song or an album. I think it would be 'Down To You' by Joni Mitchell - that song just constantly reminds me of things I could do better with myself. (As told to Laurie Tuffrey)

The Woodentops - 'Good Thing'

It's sometimes been said that I'm an overly sentimental animal, and my love of The Woodentops' 'Good Thing' seems to confirm that. It isn't, however, a song about love, which one might expect to be the cause of most tear-jerking. It is instead about friendship, and the deep debt we owe those whom we allow most close. The kind of song that justifies early Smiths comparisons – rather than the Balearic references bandied about so often around the group – 'Good Thing' is so warm, so kind-hearted, that one wonders why it's not played at half the speed rather than the rattling canter it is. But really: how can you heart not melt when faced with a song so full of tenderness, whatever speed it's performed?

Rolo McGinty's lyrics are a tribute to the kind of companionship, intimacy and understanding that love itself might complicate. They find him sitting down with a bottle of wine, admitting to his confidante – who I've always envisioned as female, though in reality there's no real reason to think so – that "You've always been at the back of my mind", and "I always read those letters… even if I've read them before, before, again and again". The killer moments, however, are surely the lines "Sometimes you try harder for me/ Than I try for myself," delivered with such shy sincerity that, like Philip Seymour Hoffman's smile, they fill any room you're in with sunlight, and a key change at the end that represents the kind of breath-taking, irrepressible surge of affection one sometimes, but all too rarely, experiences. If anyone has ever given you a copy of this song, then it says they care about you more than they can ever say. "You're such a good thing…" Wyndham Wallace

The full list of songs that make the Quietus' writers and artists cry runs as follows:

Glen Campbell - 'Wichita Lineman'
Mina - 'Se Telefonando'
Marnie Stern - 'For Ash'
The Undertones - 'Teenage Kicks'
Marty Robbins - 'The Master's Call'
Judee Sill - 'The Kiss'
The Magnetic Fields - 'Take Ecstasy With Me (Album Version)'
Roy Harper - 'Another Day'
'Thine Be The Glory'
William Basinski - 'Disintegration Loops'
Idina Menzel – 'Let it Go' (from Walt Disney's Frozen)
The Honey Cone - 'My Mind's On Leaving But My Heart Won't Let Me Go'
Tom Waits - 'Day After Tomorrow'
Linda Ronstadt - 'Different Drum'
Cornelius - 'Tone Twilight Zone'
Victor Jara - 'Cuando Voy Al Trabajo'
Rufus Wainwright - 'The Consort'
Robert Glasper - 'Y'Outta Praise Him Intro'
Red Guitars - 'National Avenue (Sunday Afternoon)'
Claude Debussy - 'Clair De Lune'
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - 'Let The Bells Ring'
Spiritualized - 'Stay With Me'
Soft Cell - 'Say Hello Wave Goodbye'
Ane Brun - 'Undertow'
Broadcast - 'Black Cat'
Bruce Springsteen - 'Bobby Jean'
The Beltones - 'Let The Bombs Fall'
Coil - 'A Cold Cell'
Lee Hazlewood - 'Down From Dover'
Flaming Lips - 'Do You Realise??'
Elgar - 'Nimrod'
Pulp - 'Common People'
Elliott Smith - 'A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free'
Fushitsusha - 'Koko'
Carolyn Crawford - 'My Smile Is Just A Frown (Turned Upside Down)'
The Band - 'Tears Of Rage'
Don Maclean - 'Vincent'
Swans - 'The Sound Of Freedom'
VNV Nation - 'Radio'
Cardiacs - 'Foundling'
Galaxie 500 - 'Blue Thunder'
Jonathan Richman - 'Hospital'
The Ronettes - 'Baby I Love You'
Iron & Wine - 'Faded From The Winter'
Joni Mitchell - 'Down To You'
The Woodentops - 'Good Thing'