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'Cause I've never seen so much, never seen so much
Never seen so much blooooood!
Nada Surf's song "Popular" sounds kind of angsty, like it should be a song about being dumped or cheated on or something like that. The lyrics in the verses are extracts from an advice book to teenagers like 'keep your hair clean' and 'don't prolong breaking up with someone' that start off being recited in a sarcastic tone and end up being screamed, and the chorus is all about how popular the protagonist is.
"Everlong" by Foo Fighters sounds dark and gloomy, but it is actually a love song.
REM's first U.S hit, "Losing My Religion" from Automatic For The People fits this trope. The smog is bouncy and cheery, played with a mandolin and acoustic guitar. Then you listen to the lyrics...
of every waking hour
I'm choosing my confessions
trying to keep an eye on you
like a hurt, lost, and blinded fool
Pretty much every Throwing Muses song works on this. 'Hate My Way' is a case in point; it's in several sections, but most of it is a relatively gentle waltz, in the course of which the singer sings a couplet like 'A boy he was tangled in his bike forever / A girl was missing two fingers' in a sad, muted voice, but then there's also moments of alarming weirdness of which this is just one of the least disturbing:
"Terminus El Dorado", a funk-ish (for Ted Nugent) song about a girl taking Daddy's car out for a spin. Car takes her for a spin. The vocal delivery is downright celebratory, gloating over lines such as "Crows be picking at your flesh!".
Simple law about The Cure: if it sounds cheery, it will almost definitively have some depressive lyrics.
In an example of inversion, Rasputina makes Creedence Clearwater Revival's peppy song about impending doom "Bad Moon Rising" appropriately dark and foreboding.
Danielle Dax made a living off this trope. "Jehovah's Precious Stone", a bouncy dance number, had a chorus which included: "Cast aspersions, terrorize the weak/Race relations on a losing streak/Ply the bloated ego of a white supreme".
While none of Evanescence's music could be called happy, their song "Anywhere" from their Origin album has a distinctly hopeful (if melancholy) sound. At first blush, it's a sweet song about starting a new life with a loved one. And then... That One Line kind of ruins it.
Unlock your heart
Drop your guard
No one's left to stop you
The song itself isn't happy, but that Ominous Latin Chanting at the end of "Whisper" sounds really, really, um.F..ominous. Especially the one word most likely to be recognized, "maleficum". But the actual translation? "Deliver us from danger, deliver us from evil."
Amy Lee is the queen of this trope. "Imaginary" is about a dreamworld filled with "paper flowers" and not wanting to be part of the scary real world. Not that you would know that from the minor key and 'epic' guitar riffs on the Fallen album version of the song
They've recently topped themselves again with "The Other Side", which is your classic Grief Song / Obsession Song where the narrator is left devastated and possibly suicidal by the loss a loved one... except she's gone psycho and determinedly waiting for their loved one to come back/to bring them back/join them in death. To reflect the narrator's morbid point of view, the music is, save for a brief piano interlude, catchy, almost upbeat, if not downright seductive. "Awaken and release my loooooove...."
"The Change" a music as weapon contrast with it's rather I'm not as strong as you think/I'm disappointed in myself tone of the lyrics..
"Never Go Back" is one of their hardest songs ever, also one of their most desperate and grief filled.
Pretty much every song off their latest selft-titled albumn. All the songs are despressing. A lot of them have very fast paced beats.
Jack Off Jill's "Horrible". Keeps this catchy, upbeat tune while singing about a cannibal.
Pretty much anything by Jack Off Jill qualifies.
Just about everything by Rufus Rex, a side project of Creature Feature. "Rise Lazarus Rise" is an electronic waltz about death and reanimation. "Personal Demons" is an upbeat number about descending into madness. "Dead Air" could easily be a radio hit - if it weren't about the end of the world. "Ingenious Forms of Torture" is probably the biggest offender. Although the music is an almost bouncy, catchy rock melody, just guess what the lyrics are about.
And it doesn't even let up. "You'll Never Guess," the last song on the first Rufus Rex album, sounds like a cheery, acoustic road song. A cheery, acoustic road song about finding bodies hidden in various places. The opening lines are "You'll never guess / What I found beneath the floorboards in the basement."
"Shooting Star" by Bad Company is an up-tempo rock song that tells a story about a rock star's fame, loneliness, and, eventually, suicide. The song may be a tribute to all the real rock musicians who died too young—which doesn't make the tune any less cheerful and does make the lyrics even more tragic.
Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" from Paranoid is pretty hard rock, but the lyrics are... about a depressed man after a breakup. Never has a lovesick, heartbroken man telling you to not make fun of him been so rockin'.
The slowed-down, acoustic cover version by Hellsongs really brings out the poigniancy.
Shark Punch's "Dinocore" is a heavy, screaming, guttural straight-edge rock screamer... about the singer desperately trying to look cool, failing to get a club to dance to his immature lyrics (I BETTER SEE SOME TWO-STEPPIN' ON THIS ONE!), trying to keep up with his band ("HEY, THIS ISN'T THE BREAKDOWN!"), and being told hardcore dancing is not allowed in the club. (FUCK THAT!)
Bon Jovi's "Someday I'll Be Saturday Night": all the characters mentioned within are either desperate, suicidal, abused, or all three, but eventually they will be like a Saturday Night. This could either mean they they will be jubilant and free of oppression (indicated by the bouncy and joyous tune and vocals), or it could mean that they'll be like Saturday Night in terms of it being at the end of the week, all the bad stuff having happened and no more is going to come. These people are essentially looking forward to the sweet release of death!
"Always" is a love song with the singer declaring his ever lasting dedication to his one true love. The release video, along with the correct interpretation of the lyrics, makes it perfectly clear that he has been abandoned and is pining for someone he can never have again.
"One Wild Night" seems like a description of a great night out partying. Listen carefully, and it turns out that the singer is actually some kind of lecherous predator slipping into a crowd with the express intent of fleecing rubes for their money ("Take 'im for a coupla weeks pay") suggesting sexual favours from their victims' girlfriend in lieu of an unaffordable monetary debt ("If ya lose this roll/ I'll take ya girlfriend home/ Well, alright!"). One could even go so far as to make a link between the lines "Blinded by the moonlight/ Twenty-four hours of midnight/ I stepped into the Twilight Zone" and being rendered blind and mindless by a drug or alcohol induced fugue...
The Def Leppard album-only song "Gravity" is a great example of this, with rather sinister-sounding lyrics ("I can't sleep at night / The darkness enslaves me")...and it's an upbeat song in a spritely major key. This may be more understandable with the knowledge that the song was originally performed as a rather formulaic and forgettable pop-rock piece called "Perfect Girl," as revealed by bootleg recordings of the demo.
AC/DC aren't entirely safe from this. Most of their songs fit the music just fine. "Riff Raff", though, is a heavy song about someone who's wrongfully accused of having murdered someone. "Whole Lotta Rosie", on the other hand, is a typical hard-rock song that doesn't sound much like a love song but actually is one.
"She Hates Me" from Puddle Of Mudd, a pretty upbeat song about disillusionment in a relationship.
Stone Sour's "Through Glass" provides the listener with a light acoustic rock song with a good vocal melody and little aggression. The song is actually a scathing lashout on the plastic nature of the world of pop music.
Serj Tankian uses this trope a bit, notably in the song "Lie Lie Lie," which sounds like something you'd hear from a busker at a carnival, but portrays a broken suicide pact between lovers.
"Castles Made of Sand" by Jimi Hendrix from Axis Bold As Love has a lively rock backing for lyrics that are a collection of separate stories about failures — an abusive boyfriend, a promising young man who dies in a war and a crippled girl who commits suicide by drowning.
Similarly, his cover of "Hey Joe", a nice psychedelic song about a guy who kills his cheating girlfriend and flees to Mexico.
Van Halen's radio-friendly, almost Pop-like song, "Jump", is basically the singer, David Lee Roth, encouraging someone to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of a tall building.
Wasn't it about his naggy mother and how he killed her, only to hear her continue to complain?
During one of their concerts, and on Live Era CD 1, Axl says "...but this is the only song we've ever written out of fantasy, as a kinda joke, since it's a sick subject. But sometimes, you can feel this way, when your girlfriend or boyfriend is a pain in the f*cking ass and you just wish you could cut their f*cking head off and stuff it in a bag and put it in the backyard. This is called "I Used To Love Her But I Had To Kill Her". Thus, it's about someone who killed his girlfriend. Or actually, the lyrics mention he can still hear her complain, suggesting that he only buried her alive... which doesn't make it any better.
Another Guns N' Roses example is "Don't Cry (Alt. Lyrics)". While the original "Don't Cry" was pretty dark in itself, being about someone who was leaving someone else in tears, the Alt. Lyrics version is even darker, especially since the narrator implies at least once that the person he's talking to might not have a future. The problem only gets bigger when you reach the second chorus, at which point it becomes obvious that they simply recorded the new lyrics on top of the original ones, since you can easily hear the "times we've had now, baby!" from the original...
Other songs in the same vein by Guns N' Roses are "Street of Dreams" and "Catcher in the Rye". The former is a up-tempo piano and guitar melody talking about how much he now hates the person he once loved, and the latter is about his insanity in the eyes of others. Shit, a lot of Chinese Democracy can be seen as being way too cheerful and bright for the lyrics they spew.
"There Was A Time" is a slightly up-beat song that talks about someone who's ended up sleeping with other people and the narrator thinking back on the time they had together. It just sounds strangely cheerful despite the sad nature of the whole song.
The more recent live-performances of "November Rain" have been sped up a bit, cutting the song from the original 9 minutes down to 8 (in some cases even less)! The result? A happy-sounding song with lyrics about how a couple are slowly starting to break apart. What's even more jarring is the fact that the solos that originally sounded sad sound extremely happy. It's still the same song. It just shouldn't be sped up!
Use Your Illusion had a few good examples of this. "Dead Horse" is an upbeat tune, about someone who feels like giving up on saving his relationship. "14 Years" is essentially a happy song about Izzy and Axl having grown to hate eachother. Couple that with "Double-Talkin' Jive", which Izzy wrote for Axl, and it's no wonder the band broke up. Then there's "Breakdown", which is about Axl's mental breakdown that eventually led to everyone but Dizzy leaving the band.
Then there's the "Ballad Trio", which consists of "November Rain", "Don't Cry" and "Estranged". Funny thing is how the music videos are connected. In fact, trying to make sense of how they're connected would take longer time than just reading the book they're based on.
Also, during the Use Your Illusion Tour (or Get In The Ring Tour), Estranged is introduced as "a nice, happy song, kinda like a walk in the park, the sun coming through your window in the morning and you've got nothing better to do than commit hara-kiri, so..." (Hara-Kiri is, by the way, a Japanese Suicide-Ritual)...
Of all GNR-songs, Paradise City is probably the last song you would expect to fit this trope. It has an upbeat melody, cheerful vocals and less than positive lyrics. The entire backstory behind the song only helps make it darker. And they've been using it to finish shows for the last 25 years because it sounds happy!
Slash, the former lead guitarist for Guns N' Roses isn't innocent in this respect either. Both Velvet Revolver and his solo project has some instances.
Anastasia, Slash's newest hit has some pretty dark lyrics despite sounding just as cheerful as "Sweet Child O Mine". It starts off with "Blood-red sky on a desert road/gotta make my way down to Mexico/for what I did/I know that it/was wrong" and just gets darker from there. The chorus: "Oh my love/Anastasia/Anastasia/this will be our last goodbye/you can't save me/I am fading/blood is on my hands tonight". The last chorus even adds "Throw your heart/I took your life". And it still sounds happy despite the lyrics!
Apocalyptic Love itself is pretty dark too. It's about someone who just wants to have sex, even though the world is ending!
I got a real bad feeling
There'll be nothing to say
Whole world's going crazy
Now the end is on the way
But we've got one hot minute
To do anything you like
The band Story Of The Year have made a few songs like this too. "Message to the World" is just one example of this. A nicely up-beat tune with lyrics like "When you kill me/do it slowly/when we've come undone/When you kill me/please do it slowly/send a message to the world".
Another example from the same band is "Cannonball", which opens with the lines "Yeah, the clock is counting down/To our final resignation". The chorus "We've never seen this kind of world/as a warning to us all" only helps bring their point through. But they could at least not have put warnings about global warming to an up-beat metal-like melody...
"We're not gonna make it" also has this. A slightly more up-beat and almost happy tune, with lyrics about a couple whose relationship is doomed.
Their album, "The Constant" also qualifies, both most individual songs and the entire album altogether. "The Children Sing" is just one example, which features a somewhat up-beat, albeit occasionally dark, melody, with children chanting "Don't take this world away from me." The next song on that album is about someone who's trying to revive an old relationship. Juxtapositioned, it seems a bit dissonant...
The album "The Black Swan" is a pretty good over-all example too. The song "The Black Swan" sounds quite up-beat, but when you realize that the eponymous Black Swan is a sign of impending catastrophe, it seems less lovely. The last song on that album, "Welcome to our new War", is another up-beat tune, which features lyrics like "Welcome to our new war/Let's add your bags to the floor/Dying but we don't know what for/So welcome to our new war". Note that the "bags" mentioned in those lines are also implied to be bodybags. Happy tune, ain't it? In fact, when you hear the entire album, the only part that doesn't qualify as lyrical dissonance is "Terrified", which is a less happy tune with less happy lyrics. Although at the end, there's some chanting of part of the next track, which is a shortened, edited version of Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot", which in the context of this album, makes even "Terrified", the least lyrically dissonant tune on the album, pretty dark.
Hell, all their albums, when heard as albums and not just as a bunch of songs, are lyrically dissonant. "Dive Right In" from their first album is a pretty up-beat, yet somehow still slow tune, which is basically about a man who's planning to drown himself. "Burning Years" is also a happy tune, which has some dark lyrics that need some analyzing, though. "Nothing can fly with this broken wing" doesn't sound that pessimistic at first, but juxtapositioned against the two songs before it which are both about suicide, it's highly unlikely that this would be the only outright happy song on the album. If you think about their later songs, it could easily suggest that the narrator's relationship is in ruins.
"Love Is Only A Feeling" by The Darkness. It sounds like an upbeat song, but it's really the cynical inverse of "I Believe In A Thing Called Love".
Except for the fact it sounds like a power ballad, and not upbeat at all.
"Growing On Me" is a very upbeat song about love, right? Nope...actually about having an STD.
"Holding My Own" is a downbeat song about a break up, right? Nope. Masturbation.
Andrew WK's song "Get Ready To Die" is an upbeat song about how somebody's going to get murdered. Granted, it's upbeat in a pretty rockin' way, but it's still not what you'd expect given the lyrics.
A lot of Andrew W.K. songs use this trope. He often sings like he's annoyed about something, but the lyrics are about fairly mundane things - partying, hot girls, enjoying yourself in various ways.
"The Hill" by the Legendary Pink Dots is a wonderfully cheerful little murder ballad.
"Detroit Rock City" by Kiss is an upbeat rock anthem about a fan who was killed in an auto wreck while driving to a concert.
"Blockbuster" by The Sweet is an extremely cheery song about a young criminal who is proving difficult or impossible to catch. The Lyrical Dissonance is underlined further by the fact that the title is a pun - the thug's name is Buster, so the people are striving to "block Buster".
The Norwegian hard rock group TNT's song "Desperate Night" is a heavily epic sounding song that's pretty upbeat...about a soldier who basically is suffering from shell shock and is waiting to die "He'll wait for the light". It's considered one of the group's greatest songs ever.
A 2000s example "Satellite", one of TNT's more mainstream songs, with a power pop feel to it. The lyrics talk about how material and shallow some people seem to be when rich and famous. Here's the song performed in playback in 2003 Enjoy.
Alter Bridge's Watch Over You, a softer tune that is frequently played acoustically, has a love ballad feel to most of it while the lyrics essentially boil down to "I'm sick of your crap and leaving you out in the cold".
There's still no mention of Alice Cooper? Really? His first solo album alone, Welcome to My Nightmare, is built on this trope. A lot of the songs are either rocking ("Devil's Food", "Department of Youth", "Cold Ethyl", "Escape"), swinging ("Welcome to My Nightmare", "Some Folks"), there's a soulful ballad in the form of "Only Women Bleed", and the rest are the dark and creepy songs you expect from Cooper ("Black Widow", "Years Ago", "Steven", "The Awakening"). Other than those last four songs? Yeah, they're rather upbeat. The entire album is about nightmares. Once you realize how the songs are interwoven together, not even "Only Women Bleed" is safe from becoming really creepy. Here's a hint: "Only Women Bleed" and "The Awakening" are related. Yeah.
How about "School's Out"? Pretty much every kid and young adult who's ever heard it will joyfully sing it when the school year is over. And yet, I doubt that their schools were blown to pieces like the one in the song (which explains why school's out forever...
A number of Rob Zombie and White Zombie songs have pretty upbeat and catchy danceable tunes while the lyrics are of course invariably about vampires, demons, mutants, and other grotesque horror-movie themes. In fact, "More Human Than Human" is so catchy that it was used in the official trailer of the animated film ''Planes''. Yes, you heard that right. A direct-to-DVD Disney/Pixar film for kids used a freaking Rob Zombie song, of all things, as its trailer music.
Europe came back after over a decade to record their sixth album, 'Start From The Dark'. The music was dark, hard and moody, not out of place in a Soundgarden album. The lyrics, however, were very upbeat and motivational, throughout the album. This continued once more for 'Secret Society', and then toned down a little for the following albums.
One Step at a Time by Four Year Strong sounds like a typical hard rock song, but the song's about getting through the death of a loved one, and the lyrics are oddly uplifting.
Mötley Crüe's "You're All I Need" sounds like a romantic ballad, yet it's about a man who's murdered his girlfriend.
Sixx:A.M. has a couple of examples of this. Their first album, "The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack", was fairly safe from this, since the entire album is about a book written by a man who was out of his mind most of the time. Their second album was mostly safe as well. "Stars" from "Modern Vintage", however... Right from the first line, it sounds like someone asking their love interest if they want to die!
Do you wanna go to Heaven tonight?
Leave the evidence far behind
and say alright, alright.
Do you wanna be my lover tonight?
We can leave everybody else behind
and say alright, alright.
The Killers have the Murder Trilogy: the first song, called "Leave the Bourbon on the Shelf", sounds fairly cheerful at the beginning, but as you get closer and closer to the end, the lyrics become a bit more eerie. The next song, "Midnight Show", sounds like a basic club song, until you listen to the lyrics—they describe how he kills his girlfriend and then drives around looking for a place to dump her body. Whether the third song, "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine", is an aversion or is played straight depends on your perspective, and possibly which version you're listening to ("She couldn't scream when I held her close" sounds way more innocent than "She couldn't scream when I held her throat", which is how the band plays it live occasionally. The first one's the album lyrics). But neither version sounds all that innocent when the narrator is a suspect in a murder investigation.
Dynamite Hack covered Eazy-E's "Boyz N The Hood" in folk-rock fashion.
The Hush Sound is in love with this concept.
"Crawling Towards the Sun" is one of the cutest, most upbeat music songs you'll ever hear before reading the surprisingly pessimistic lyrics.
"Like Vines" similarly starts out sounding like a cute and upbeat song about lovers, but the chorus proves otherwise.
I wake up, and I feel alone
I was just asleep
Right where I belong
Inside this sad, sad song
"Molasses" is another love song that sounds slightly vague in its subject matter, but the lyrics are certainly darker than the music behind it. And then the bridge of the song gets eerie.
Ed Sheeran's "The A Team" is light, easy, and relaxing. However, the lyrics are about a broke drug user turning to prostitution to get her fix.
Rilo Kiley's "Silver Lining" is an upbeat, cheerful song. The lyrics are about the singer leaving her boyfriend because she decided that she'll end up happier that way. And according to the music video, this happens during the wedding and the groom drowns himself.
The Protomen have the song "Light Up the Night", an upbeat ditty that sounds like the kind of music you'd set one of those 80's training montages to. It's about planning a bombing.
I've got this burning like my veins are filled with nothing but gasoline
And with a spark it's gonna be the biggest fire they've ever seen
Cut me down or let me run
Either way it's all gonna burn
The only way that they'll ever learn
The Pogues are occasionally fond of this. "Rake at the Gates of Hell" is an energetic Irish jig featuring a very nasty narrator, and "Fairytale of New York" is a sweet-sounding Christmas song about a bitter couple whose dreams are all dead.
Marillion rather liked doing this. See, for instance, "Cannibal Surf Babe," a happy, upbeat song about a cannibal woman apparently eating her lover, the protagonist. No, really.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Karn Evil 9: First Impression" has a melancholy beginning, but later becomes a cheerful upbeat song about the "greatest show on Earth" — ie, human evil and cruelty.
"Legend of a Mind" by The Moody Blues is an upbeat soft-rock track — about the infamous psychologist and LSD guru Timothy Leary.
Kansas' "Song for America" is about how humans have completely destroyed the beauty of America. You wouldn't know by the quick, jolly sound and peppily sung lyrics:
Cross the sea there came a multitude, sailing ships upon the wave
Filled with visions of Utopia, and the freedom that they crave
Ravage, plunder, see no wonder, rape and kill and tear asunder
Chop the forest, plow it under.....
Highways scar the mountainsides, buildings to the sky, people all around
Houses stand in endless rows, sea to shining sea, people all around
So we rule this land, and here we stand upon our paradise,
Dreaming of a place, our weary race is ready to arise.
Jethro Tull's famous song "Aqualung" from the eponymous album has a catchy, upbeat tune, after a catchy introduction. It's about a pedophilic hobo with creepy, raspy breath that sounds like scuba gear. It also happens to be probably their most famous song of all time. Everyone is horrified when they first hear what the lyrics actually are.
Sitting on a park bench Eying little girls with bad intent [lecherous snickering]
This song provides an example of Fridge Brilliance when you realize that the harder parts at the beginning and end of the song show how other people see Aqualung but the more upbeat part in the middle of the song is how Aqualung sees himself. So while other people think Aqualung is a creepy, disgusting hobo, Aqualung thinks he's just a lonely old man who ran out of luck and is surviving the only way he can.
The song directly after it on the same album, "Cross-Eyed Mary", is about a little girl who actively seeks out pedophiles like Aqualung. After a minute-long flute introduction, slides rockily into a growling, proto-metal tune that is possibly the most rock-out-inducing tune in the band's repertoire.
Laughing in the playground Gets no kicks from little boys Would rather make it with a leching grey Or maybe her attention Is drawn by Aqualung Who watches through the railings as they play
And then on side two, there's "Hymn 43", which attacks those who live vicariously and use Jesus' name for instant forgiveness, set to a melody you could drink and be jolly to. (Indeed, on recent tours, the beginning is played in the style of an Irish jig before it goes back to its hard rock arrangement.)
If Jesus saves, well He'd better save himself From the gory glory seekers who use His name in death Oh Jesus, save me!
A lot of Pink Floyd's early songs, especially those penned by SydBarrett, exhibit this trope. Some examples include "Arnold Layne", pretty much all of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, "Corporal Clegg", "Scream Thy Last Scream", "Jugband Blues", "Point Me At The Sky", "Crying Song", "If", "Burning Bridges", "Free Four"...
"Free Four" is musically one of the most upbeat (post-Barrett) songs Pink Floyd has ever written, with lyrics about the horrors of dying in war.
Songwriter Rupert Holmes has stated that the Timothy of the lyrics — the one who gets eaten — is indeed a human being, not a mule.
Porcupine Tree's catalog consists almost entirely of dark depressing-sounding songs with dark lyrics, and happy or at least pleasant-sounding songs with dark lyrics (such that when one of the occasional songs with actual happy lyrics comes around, like "Rest Will Flow" it's hard not to look for some dark subtext). There are too many examples of happy or pretty sounding music with depressing lyrics to name them all, but "Mellotron Scratch", "Trains," "Lips of Ashes", "Stranger by the Minute", "Piano Lessons" are all good examples.
Bonus points are definitely included for Lips of Ashes. A gentle acoustic song featuring an amazing guitar solo... which is about necrophilia, judging by the lyrics.
And also Blackest Eyes, which is a bouncy rock song, about serial killers.
A particularly egregious example is "Meantime", a folksy upbeat song which rather predictably has depressive (albeit stoic) lyrics. However, it contains the line "a poison spreads through * key change to major* fresh air". Lyrical Dissonance at its most subtle?
"South Side of the Sky" by Yes sounds fairly upbeat at first, until you listen to the lyrics - it's about a group of explorers who freeze to death in Antarctica.
"Illuminati" by Malice Mizer is a catchy industrial/pop/rock/electronica/hybrid thing that sounds perfectly radio friendly- but if you look at the lyrics (or even watch the video) you will see that the song is about sex, orgasms and possibly cults. It's a great song, but Jesus, it's strange.
"Breakdown" by The Alan Parsons Project. One of the most upbeat tunes on that album, but the lyric is Exactly What It Says on the Tin - the protagonist is suffering a mental breakdown.
"Sooner or Later" is nice and upbeat too, but the lyrics are about breaking off and getting over a dishonest relationship with the person the singer is singing it to.
Dream Theater's "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence" does this in multiple movements, particularly the two parts of "About to Crash" and "Solitary Shell" (written about bipolar disorder and autism, respectively).
"The Knife" by Genesis is a powerful punkish uprising song. Which graciously describes severed heads being on display and blood flowing in the street:
I'll give you the names of those you must kill, All must die with their children! Carry their heads to the palace of old, Hang 'em all high and let blood flow NOW!
The live version is only slightly less graphic:
I'll give you the names of those you must kill, Hang 'em and burn 'em quickly! Cover them up in Trafalgar Square, How easy to see them dead! In this ugly world, get ready to fight for your freedom NOW! When I give the word, hang 'em all high and let blood flow NOW!
They had this in their deepest roots - a demo track from 1968 called "The Mystery of the Flannan Isle Lighthouse" is an upbeat ditty, complete with harmonious "ahh"s that might make you puke rainbows. But the "charm" comes in the lyrics, which tell the legend of a trio of lighthouse keepers that went missing. It gets pretty grim...
(Ohh-ho)/On the finest day the sea is black/(Ohh-ho)/And they say no one has ever come back from there...
The island's rocks have many caves that smell of dying flesh... (Ohh-ho)/The empty cave is filled with sound/ (Ohh-ho)/A man is lying on the ground below
"The Battle of Epping Forest" is an upbeat eleven-minute song that sounds like a Robin Hood tale in both musical feel and title, but is lyrically about gang turf wars in northeast London.
And then there's "Snowbound", a gorgeously orchestrated song about hiding a dismembered body in a snowman.
Here, in a ball that they made, From the snow on the ground See it rolling away, wild eyes to the sky. They'll never, never know...
"Eleventh Earl of Mar" is another example, sad lyrics set to some very upbeat music.
'"Number City" by Coheed and Cambria is a catchy, upbeat, almost ska-like ditty about how the singer's wife is bleeding to death after a car crash.
(Defibrillate! Defibrillate!) A radio transmission sent to get the heart to listen (Defibrillate! Defibrillate!) A radio transmission sent to get the heart to listen Oh, oh, this is love from a gurney Oh, this is love from a gurney Oh, this is love from a gurney
Country Joe and the Fish have the "Feel-like-I'm-fixing-to-die rag" which is an upbeat carnival-style pitch... about the Vietnam War with satirical lyrics to boot. It's considered one of the greatest satirical songs of the '60's.
And it's one, two, three, What are we fighting for? Don't ask me, I don't give a damn, Next stop is Vietnam; And it's five, six, seven, Open up the pearly gates, Well there ain't no time to wonder why Whoopee! we're all gonna die.
"Tracy Took A Trip" by The Executive is a joyous sounding 60's psychedelic pop song about a failed actress committing suicide by drowning herself. The Beatles inspired horn section and harmony vocals add a lot to the dissonance.
"Bad Kids" by the Black Lips is an upbeat, catchy song about exactly what it sounds like. Did we mention the lyrics casually mention parental abandonment, dropping out of school, underage drinking, and is set to clips of riot footage?
The MGMT song "Time to Pretend". If you visit the YouTube page, the comments tend to fall along the lines of "yay drugs!" because the song has lyrics like "I'll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars", all while using a harmonic, upbeat melody. However, if you read the rest of the lyrics, you'll notice that the entire song is really a sarcastic, tragic tribute to people who live their lives as if there was nothing more important than feeling good, for example: "There's really nothing, nothing we can do / Love must be forgotten, life can always start up anew" and "We'll choke on our vomit and that will be the end / We were fated to pretend".
Memories fade like looking through a fogged mirror.
Decisions to decisions are made and not bought.
But I thought this wouldn't hurt a lot.
I guess not.
And don't forget how the chorus points out how pointless childhood is in the end:
Take only what you need from it.
A family of trees wanted
To be haunted.
There's also "Congratulations", a breezy, vaguely tropical-sounding ballad that seems to be about how alienated the band's sudden success has made them feel.
Also, see the 60s-70s psychedelic band THE MOPS, whose melodies sound groovy, if you don't know what "Goiken muyou" or "Orewo koroshitekure" really mean.
Virtually any song written or sung by Elvis Costello, either solo or with The Attractions, qualifies here. Certainly, all of his big hits include some form of lyrical dissonance, from "Alison" and "Radio, Radio" to "Veronica", "Everyday I Write the Book", "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", and his cover of the Burt Bacharach single, "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." Elvis is the master of lyrical dissonance!
Some would argue that both the melody and lyrics of "Alison" are melancholy, though other examples would include "Goon Squad", "Two Little Hitlers", Oliver's Army", "I'm Not Angry" (one of the more obvious examples), and about 75% of the other songs not mentioned thus far on his first five albums.
"Khe Sahn" is regarded by many Australians as one of our many unofficial anthems. Many blast it at nightclubs and have generally happy connotations associated with it. The lyrics themselves are about a soldier suffering from PTSD. 'How there were no V-Day hero's, in 1973.' All in all it's really not a happy song. ... Though you are unaustralian if you don't know and love it.
"Table Top Joe" starts out with a relaxed, jazzy piano line. Once the words start, you learn that the eponymous Joe is a circus freak with no body below the waist. Even stranger is the fact that he was a real guy. Although, with a voice like Tom Waits', it may be difficult to trick people into thinking you're just being happy.
"Cygnet Committee" sounds just like any 1960 hippie song...but here's some lyrics.
And I open my eyes to look around
And I see a child laid slain on the ground
As a love machine lumbers through desolation rows
Ploughing down man, woman, listening to its command
But not hearing anymore
Not hearing anymore
Just the shrieks from the old rich
A rather nightmarish one is "Running Gun Blues", an upbeat hard rock tune about a former soldier who likes to alleviate his boredom by committing random acts of violence:
It seems the peacefuls stopped the war
Left generals squashed and stifled
But I'll slip out again tonight
'Cause they haven't taken back my rifle
For I promote oblivion
And I'll plug a few civilians
Tonight from Lust For Life sounds like any other trippy pop song... but only because the opening dialogue from Iggy Pop's 1977 original - spoken to a lover dying of a drug overdose - was deliberately cut out from Bowie's version. Depending on who you ask, Bowie didn't want to upset Tina Turner - who duetted with him on the song - with the dialogue, or it was simply made more radio-friendly.
Several songs from The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album are beautifully composed Anti Love Songs, particularly "Here Today" ("Well you know I hate to be a downer / But I'm the guy she left before you found her"). Additionally, "I Just Wasn't Made For These Times" is a rather upbeat tune about not fitting in with the rest of the world. Outside that album, there's the song "Help Me Rhonda" which, in a chirpy, catchy style, tells Rhonda that the singer is really wrapped up with this girl who dumped him, but would she like to be his rebound?
And don't forget their cover of "Sloop John B" on that album, possibly the most upbeat music on the whole album (and from the Beach Boys, that's saying something), with lyrics about a really bad boat trip ("This is the worst trip I've ever been on.")
The Beatles did this with "Maxwell's Silver Hammer", about a nice young man who, halfway through the first stanza, turns out to be a serial killer who clubs people to death with the titular hammer. It's a fun song.
The opening line of "Run For Your Life" ("I'd rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man") is taken verbatim from Elvis Presley's "Baby Let's Play House" (which like other Elvis songs is a cover song). Not only is that song also a peppy rockabilly number, but the rest of the lyrics just focus on the narrator wanting the girl to get back together with him, with no other implied threats, so that one line kind of comes from out of nowhere.
Similar in spirit is "You Can't Do That." Although the singer threatens only to dump the girl, his reasoning makes it creepy—"That's the second time I caught you talking to him." That's a reason to end a relationship?
The opening lines of the boisterous, horn-driven "Good Morning, Good Morning" are:
"Nothing to do to save his life
Call his wife in"
The original "Day Tripper" (try listening to the Type O Negative cover, and you'll see).note It's the only song the Beatles ever publicly admitted to being a drug song, in case you were getting a little too morbid about it.
"Got a good reason For taking the easy way out Got a good reason For taking the easy way out now..."
"Eleanor Rigby" from Revolver — this song has been done in so many musical moods that some of them must be technically wrong.
The original, however, is NOT an example of this trope as it's a depressing song with equally downbeat music to go with it.
"Misery" is a cheerful, bouncy song about a guy who's deeply depressed because his girlfriend dumped him.
"I'll Follow the Sun" is a break-up song set to a sweet, upbeat melody. "Someday you'll know I was the one..."
"I Don't Want to Spoil the Party" is another one about a guy who's just been dumped, but this one has been drinking and is now out looking for his ex to tell her that he still loves her.
"Help!" was written by John Lennon as a genuine cry for help, but was performed as a jaunty, up-tempo number for the group's film of the same title. Deep Purple later covered the song in a more somber style, which Lennon described as being exactly how it should have been done.
The song "I'm a Loser" from Beatles For Sale (with a similar subject matter but dealing more with lost love) can also fall under this category. ("I'm a loser / And I've lost someone that's near to me / I'm a loser / And I'm not what I appear to be.)
The third verse of "Getting Better" from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a cheery pop-rock tune, is about being "cruel to my woman". Also, in the chorus, the line "I have to admit, it's getting better" is followed by "Can't get no worse".
The full line is actually "I used to be cruel to my woman," and the song seems to be about how at one point the narrator was an awful person, but lately he's transitioning into a better person.
It was stated in an interview that this was just a classic Lennon cynicism; he was too contrarian to resist inserting that into an otherwise-optimistic lyric. One of 10cc's Beatlesque tendencies was to use this kind of couplet.
Cheap Trick as well, with the opening lines of "Surrender" being only one example of many: "Mother told me...I'd meet girls like you" sounds sweet, but is followed by "She also told me stay away, you never know what you'll catch".
The Ringo songs "What Goes On" from Rubber Soul and "Don't Pass Me By" from The White Album are written in his preferred peppy, almost country style. The former is about a man who goes completely unnoticed by the woman he loves. The latter includes the line "You were in a car crash, and you lost your hair."
Since he thought she had stood him up (passed him by) and was worrying about what had happened to her, and that he was happy to discover that she was on her way, virtually unharmed (it says she "would be late, about an hour or two"). Having seen someone who had been through similar circumstances, the tune is very appropriate.
"Piggies" seems to imply that the smaller piggies get slaughtered and eaten by the bigger piggies.
It's worse than that. She led him on and then didn't put out. That's it.
Word of God has it as an attempt to write about an extramarital affair without his wife figuring it out. Not that authors don't lie, of course, but that's what he said.
"I'm Looking Through You," a poppy upbeat little number about basically writing off an ex's existence. "You're thinking of me / The same old way / You were above me / But not today / The only difference is you're down there / I'm looking through you, and you're nowhere"
"Helter Skelter". Who'd guess that what is arguably the first proper heavy metal song would be about a CARNIVAL SLIDE?
"Ticket to Ride": According to Lennon, Rhyde is the location of a home for unwed mothers.
Blacktop Manhattan's "Hollywise". The first verse is about a heroin addict whose "kids have all turned their backs", the second is about an alcoholic man Driven to Suicide after losing his money in a market crash and his wife walking out on him.
Crowded House: most obviously in "She Called Up". A tribute to Paul Hester, it's upbeat and bouncy like the sort of music he liked, complete with falsetto la-la-las like a children's choir - and it's about his suicide.
"She called up
and gave me the news
It made me so sad, sad, sad
There was nothing I could do
The Fine Print has one of these, "1995 Penny", which is, in the lead singer's words: "a bouncy, poppy song with lyrics that concern blind acceptance of abuse, sexual harassment, and complicity in one's own annihilation."
George Harrison's "All Those Years Ago" is happy and poppy, but its lyrics are bittersweet, nostalgic lyrics about how much the world will miss the recently-murdered John Lennon.
Another song of his, the slightly-less-well-known "When We Was Fab," done several years later, is very similar in nature.
Most Billy Joel songs are happy, with the words being horrible. A good example would be "Moving Out (Anthony's Song)", about wasting life working hard to obtain things they cannot enjoy. "You can pay Uncle Sam with the overtime/ Is that all you get for your money?"
"Miami 2017" is an upbeat, exciting rock song about, apparently, some kind of apocalyptic event destroying New York City.
"All for Leyna" is another upbeat, exuberant track about a teenager pining away for a girl he hooked up with who never wants to see him again.
And then there's "Allentown", a rather peppy little number in which the narrator talks about how the place is full of crushed dreams and dying factories. Depending on your interpretation of the lyrics, the last verse possibly ends with the narrator either dying or killing himself.
Well, I'm living here in Allentown
And it's hard to keep a good man down
But I won't be getting up today.
This, for the record, is not that accurate.
"The Entertainer", about the frustrations of being an artist and having to sell out in order to have any sort of success.
It was a beautiful song, but it ran too long If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit So they cut it down to 3:05
"She's Always A Woman" has a pleasant, lilting melody. It seems to be about a type-A tsundere.
"Moonlight Drive" by The Doors from The Doors sounds like a nice, upbeat love song - and most of the lines are indeed in the Intercourse with You category - until you get to the very end, where it turns out the song is about drowning your lover.
Elton John has written a few of these by putting dissonant music with the lyrics given him. "Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting," for instance, has an upbeat melody that dares you to sing along, but is about someone who is in a dead-end life and knows it.
And Goodbye Yellow Brick Road has lyrics of defiance, of choosing to walk out on a Svengali. But musically, it's one of the saddest songs on record. And the video includes a clip of the song being performed in The Muppet Show... Wordof God says it has to do with Bernie being tired of the rock star lifestyle, the rich people he and Elton encountered who made their lives miserable (including the rich publishers who wanted bubblegum hits from them in their early years, and pickle heiress portrayed in "Someone Saved My Life Tonight") and the big city, and preferring the simpler life in the country, where he grew up. "Mongrels who ain't got a penny, sniffing for tidbits like you on the ground" refers to the droppings the heiress' dogs left behind constantly.
Bernie Taupin wrote the lyrics to "Since God Invented Girls" expecting it to be an upbeat rock song full of macho swagger; instead the song ended up being an ethereal ballad.
"I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself" has a tap-dance solo in it. The title alone is enough to count as Lyrical Dissonance, but as the song goes on you realize that, more than just suicide, it's about teenage suicide.
"Crocodile Rock", set to an organ-driven upbeat bubblegum rock tune with "la la la la la" refrain, is about a man reminiscing about his happy teenage life, dancing to rock 'n' roll with his beautiful girlfriend, driving an "old gold Chevy" and "having a place of (his) own". Suddenly, the girl dumps him for "some foreign guy", "rock just died" on him, he gets older and all he has to cling to are his memories.
"Elderberry Wine" involves a loser alcoholic, poor and heavy in debt, who pines for the days his wife got him drunk so he can blow off his responsibilities. The couple would appear to be divorced or separated a year ago. The song is set to a very upbeat, happy-go-lucky soul-rock song with punchy horns.
"Who Can It Be Now" by Men at Work. A rather bouncy, jazzy number with surprisingly dark lyrics about a person so paranoid he views any attempt at social contact as stalking:
''Who can it be knocking at my door?
Make no sound, tip-toe across the floor
If he hears, he'll knock all day. I'll be trapped, and here I'll have to stay
Ok Go's song "Don't Ask Me" is another up-beat pop rock song about a break-up. "Don't be so damn begine/and don't waste my fucking time."
"Every Breath You Take" written by Sting, performed by The Police, is often taken as a love song, but the lyrics are about a scorned man's stalker-like obsession with his ex. It's truly disturbing how many couples dance to this song at their wedding receptions.
Which has not gone unnoticed by its author. "People tell me 'Oh, we got married to "Every Breath You Take"'. Good luck."
Heck, it ended up in Wii Music.
P-Diddy's "I'll Be Missing You" is a lyrically dissonant tribute to the late Notorious BIG that samples EBYT's bassline. Sunny upbeat melody, dark lyrics.
Likewise, "Don't Stand So Close to Me" is about an affair between a teacher and his student. Most people get that one, however, due to a LolitaShout-Out in one verse. ("Just like the/Old man in/That book by Nabokov".) This one's even more disturbing when you recall that songwriter Sting was a kindergarten teacher before hitting it big with the Police.
Also if its a kindergartner then the teacher is 10 as it is stated that the girl is half his age.
"Can't Stand Losing You" is catchy and cheerful— and about a guy who's planning to commit spiteful suicide after a breakup. The Subdued Section near the middle drops the dissonance for a bit, and makes the verse that much more powerful.
Gee, the fun little ditty "De Do Do Do De Da Da Da" contains the lyrics "Their logic ties you up and rapes you." Crikey.
"Message in a Bottle" is another song that sounds catchy, but is about a castaway who fears the prospect of being alone.
Queen's "'39" : The music is filk (a modern piece in folk style) — a genre closely related to and occasionally overlapping with jug band music — where the lyrics are, upon closer inspection, about astronauts going on what is to them a year-long trip only to return home to discover that thanks to the Time Dilation effect one hundred years have passed on Earth. The use of such an intentionally low tech genre of music with space travel is probably part of why many people miss the clues in the lyrics.
Speaking of Queen, there's "Somebody to Love". The music is an upbeat, sweeping rock opera...about a man so lonely that he can barely get through his day without suffering and is begging for someone to love him.
There's more... like "Tie Your Mother Down": frustrated lyrics advocating extreme measures to avoid family interference with a date, sung in big massed choruses to an incredibly upbeat guitar riff.
Then there's "Who Needs You" which is about breaking up with someone who is a 'spoilt thing", with a catchy, upbeat tune.
And yet even more from Queen: "Don't Try Suicide". It's a swinging jazz tune with a cheery refrain all about the pointlessness of suicide.
"Keep Yourself Alive". Same theme in hard rock guise.
"Put Out The Fire", a cheery pop-rock tune... and the lyrics are told from the perspective of a man who used his gun against everyone he had a problem with, including his unfaithful lover and his neighbor she was having an affair with.
"Bohemian Rhapsody". Mama, I have killed a man... ...with an incredibly beautiful melody.
"Under Pressure" is an incredibly upbeat and cheery song with lyrics such as "It's the terror of knowing what this world is about/Watching some good friends scream 'let me out'".
The structure of Skunk Anansie's "Glorious Pop Song" sounds like just what the title suggets — Complete with clapping parts and "nanana"'s... And the chorus goes "You're still a fucker/ You're still a fucker/ You're still a fucker/ To me". And that's not even indicating half the anger and bitterness of the rest of the lyrics.* Several songs by Sparks fall into this category, notably "Here in Heaven", which is sung from the point of view of the successful half of a broken suicide pact.
Also of note is their 1974 single "Something For The Girl With Everything", a deceptively frothy and upbeat glam rock song which is actually about being blackmailed.
Patti Smith performed an upbeat reggae-themed track on her Horses album, called Redondo Beach. On the face of it a summery light number about a California beach paradise, colonized by lesbian women. Listen more closely. It's a lament to Smith's younger sister Kimberley. She and Patti had a fight and Kimberley went off to sulk, and Patti later heard that a woman had been washed up on Redondo Beach, which was near where she was living at the time, and she freaked out that it might be Kimberley (because Patti Smith is a bit of a Drama Queen), but it wasn't, and when Kimberley returned home, Patti was so grateful to see her that the fight was completely forgotten.
Bruce Springsteen often employs this. Many of his songs have an upbeat sing-along chorus, and it's only while listening to the lyrics in the verses that you discover what the song is actually about:
Born In The USA" sounds like it should be about how great being a U.S. citizen is... but it's about a man who's been beat down all his life, gets sent off to Vietnam, loses his brother (whose death also crushes a Vietnamese woman he was seeing), and ends up unemployable when he gets back. Some people who should have known better (George Will and Ronald Reagan among them) apparently didn't bother to listen to the rest of the song before talking about it.
Similarly, "Born to Run" is all about how horrible New Jersey is and how badly Springsteen wanted to get out of there as a kid. Naturally, it's been nominated as New Jersey's official state song by politicians who haven't listened too closely to it.
Then there's "Glory Days", an energetic, high-tempo rocker about.. getting older and realizing the best part of life has passed you by, leaving you nothing to do but reminisce while you wait to die.
There's also "Lonesome Day," which sounds anthemic and badass, but the lyrics are more a Survival Mantra for 9/11 widows and widowers.
An even more extreme case was the title track from the same album, "The Rising". It sounds like a triumphal song about a community effort equivalent to a barn raising or something, but once you realize that the album was a 9/11 tribute, you realize the part where it slows down for the bridge is the life of a fireman in one of the Twin Towers flashing before his eyes as he realizes the building is coming down on top of him.
Don't forget "Hungry Heart". It sounds like a nice, upbeat 50s-style tune, but the lyrics are about a guy who got married, had kids, and then ran away from his family because he stopped being in love with his wife.
"Youngstown". Sweet Jenny, of which the protagonist sings, is not his wife or girlfriend. It is the Youngstown Steel and Tube Co blast furnace named Jeannette, which was taken out of blast in 1979 and demolished soon after the song was released.
"Working On a Highway". It is not about a dream summer job outdoors, but of forced labour as a prisoner.
"Livin' In The Future." Quite up-tempo and the saxophone solo has a lot of swing to it, but the song is about the government's abuse of Americans' civil liberties.
"Death To My Hometown" sounds like an upbeat folk song but, as the title suggests, the lyrics describe the destruction of a small town by rapacious corporate activity.
"We Take Care of Our Own" appears to be a raucously upbeat song about how much Americans care for one another, but is actually about how, despite our good intentions and chest-pounding about how great it is to be American, we really don't take care of our own.
"Easy Money" sounds awfully cheerful for a song about armed robbery.
"Without You" is about a bad breakup, but you wouldn't know this from the raucous, cheerful music and the background laughter.
"Photograph," as sung by Ringo Starr, has lyrics about losing a loved one forever, but is performed almost cheerfully and in such a way as to encourage singing along, complete with dramatic string crescendo at the end.
Stereophonics do this a lot — most effectively in "Local Boy In The Photograph" — an uptempo rock song... about the anniversary of a friend's death, who committed suicide by standing in the path of a train. Ouch.
Also with "Innocent", an upbeat, happy sounding song about how a girl called Jenny gets drunk and high one night and possibly accidentally kills herself.
Sting's "Brand New Day" is a bright, shiny, upbeat song about getting caught up in memories of an ex from years ago, bumping into them in the street that same day, and trying (possibly succeeding) to rekindle that romance. Naturally, it's the current title song of The Early Show and is constantly used in commercials for The Next Big Thing.
It was also used in a promotional video for Compaq not long before the HP merger. "I'll sell the stock, we'll spend all the money" indeed.
Sting's "Love is Stronger than Justice" sounds like it's about The Power of Love, and the chorus leans that way too - but in the verses you're treated to vigilantism, polygamy, and fratricide. (Specifically, the seven brothers fight some bandits in return for brides, but there's only one girl for them to marry; they all marry her, then the narrator murders the other six)
Of course, the fact that the song is firmly in Sarcasm Mode is made clear in the chorus. Sting has some odd lyrics, but "love is a big fat river?" Seriously, Gordon?
"La Belle Dame Sans Regret" (The Beautiful Woman with No Regrets, a reference to "La belle dame sans merci," a poem by John Keats) sounds like Caribbean-flavored bossa nova, the kind of stuff you'd hear at a poolside bar in Key West. Translate the lyrics, though, and it's about a woman who basically gets off on abusing the men who are entranced by her beauty, as sung by her current victim.
The origin of that song is explained here. (Ctrl+ F is your friend.) It's based in mythology.
Coincidentally, La Belle Dame Sans Merci is a well-known trope of dark romantic (mostly french, thus the name) literature. Strong sadomasochistic and mystical overtones included.
Venerable English songwriter Richard Thompson has done this on occasion. The best example is probably "Read About Love," an innocent-seeming upbeat dance tune with lyrics about a little boy who learns what "making love" is from magazines because his father won't talk to him about it; he ends up raping a girl because he thinks it's "supposed to feel nice" and doesn't know any better.
His song "Bad Monkey" on his Sweet Warrior album is a ridiculously catchy song about drug addiction.
And there's "Shane and Dixie", a peppy, dancable tune about the (unsuccessful) murder/suicide of the eponymous bank-robbing couple.
"Feel So Good". An upbeat song that starts with the line "I feel so good I'm gonna break somebody's heart tonight"....
"Jenny (867-5309)" by Tommy Tutone is a catchy tune about a guy who gets a (presumed to be loose) girl's phone number off the wall of a public toilet and plans on calling (or stalking) her. Subverted in Zayra Alvarez's cover on Rockstar: Supernova, where she made the creepiness explicit, bringing the performance into the headspace of the lyrics.
"Band On The Run" from Band On The Run by Wings is a perky, cheerful song... about a rock band who were imprisoned for some unstated reason (though one verse implies that the reason might be robbery) and have escaped. It's thus also an example of Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
Warren Zevon liked to use this. Examples are "Excitable Boy", an upbeat song with electric guitar solos that tells the story of a mad killer who is apparently "just an excitable boy", and "Werewolves of London", a bright little tune about, well, werewolves. Not to mention "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner", which about...Roland...the...you get the idea.
And Mr. Bad example, a bouncy almost carnival tune about a man who "opened up an agency somewhere down the line/To hire aboriginals to work the opal mines/But I attached their wages and took a whopping cut/And whisked away their workman's comp and pauperized the lot" This is not the only horrible thing the main character does.
"Detox Mansion" cleverly inverts the usual kind of Lyrical Dissonance, in that it's a storming rock song with an epic riff which is about the pallid boredom of being in rehab.
U2 usually avoids this, but their song "A Day Without Me" is a rather cheery song about someone contemplating suicide.
The The Grateful Dead's "Touch of Grey" is about how we have to deal with all the depressing crap in our lives, but is set to a cheery, light tune.
Actually, the song is about celebrity life and the hell it turns into. So, pretty dark. Joe Walsh seems to have liked this - "Life's Been Good" sounds cheerful and peppy, but is about the same thing as Hotel California, except MORE sardonic and bitter.
Uncle Kracker's "Follow Me" doesn't seem to have any meaning at first, but it's actually about the singer having an affair with a married woman.
"Swim through your veins/like a fish in the sea"? It's about heroin.
"I'm not worried 'bout the ring you wear, as long as no one knows, then nobody can care. I'm not the reason that you go astray..." Yeah, it's an affair.
Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life" — a bouncy, happy tune about Iggy's life as a hard-living heroin addict. And going on the occasional Royal Caribbean Cruise, apparently.
10cc's "Rubber Bullets" is a happy, peppy, upbeat tune about a prison riot.
10cc are extremely fond of this trope; "The Things We Do for Love" is a bouncy song about breakups, "You've Got a Cold" is set to what is possibly the happiest music of any of their songs and "Dreadlock Holiday" is a catchy tune about a British tourist attempting to convince a group of Jamaican thugs not to mug him.
They also like self-subverting couplets, as in "I'm Not In Love":
"I keep your picture on the wall,
It hides a nasty stain that's lying there"
Hell, the entire song is a sort of example; the whole lyric is about how the singer is absolutely, positively not in love with the person he's singing to, but his anguished delivery tells a different story.
Bob Dylan uses this from time to time. The most famous instance, however, is "Like a Rolling Stone," in which happy (or at least happy-ish) and bright music contrasts with Dylan's incredibly cynical tirade against a girl who finds herself on the street after living a life of privilege. Please note that this is often considered the best rock song of all time.
And there is also "Tangled Up in Blue" from Desolation Row, which is one of his happiest, catchiest tunes, although the lyrics tell the story of a breakup.
Part of the reason for this might be that people often have a difficult time understanding a damn thing Dylan says.
Meat Loaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" seems at first to be a love story (slightly drawn out and oddly described, but never mind) but changes fairly suddenly from the singer promising to "love you to the end of time" to regretting that promise ("so now I'm praying for the end of time...").
Specifically, it's about a teenage boy cajoling his girl to have sex with him, with her only promising to do so if he stays with her forever. The last verse, quite upbeat and high tempo, is the two some time later realizing what a mistake that was.
Paul McCartney and Wings' "Live and Let Die" (covered byGuns N' Roses) is pretty happy, if aggressive, and to be fair, it's sparse on the lyrics, but what is there is chastising a naive listener for caring about other people.
"Sympathy For The Devil" from Beggars Banquet is an erudite, brooding meditation of the dark side of human nature, using 2,000 years of human history as a backdrop...set to a fun uptempo samba beat, complete with an infectious "woo woo" chant.
"Brown Sugar" from Exile On Main St is a rousing rocker about sexual exploitation of slaves in the pre-Civil War South.
"Jumping Jack Flash" is about how the singer's life was terrible, such as losing his parents and instead being raised by "a toothless bearded hag", but that it's "all right now". Now listen to it inElite Beat Agents.
"Even Flow" is a very intense-sounding song...about life through the eyes of a homeless person, who sleeps on the streets ("Freezing / Rests his head on a pillow made of concrete"), is illiterate (Even / Looking through the paper though he doesn't know how to read) and possibly mentally ill, as he "looks insane" when he smiles and struggles to keep coherent thoughts (Even Flow / Thoughts arrive like butterflies / He don't know / So he chases them away)
"Alive" from Ten sounds like a rousing anthem about life but is about a mother falling in love with her son, who looks just like his dead father, and sexually abusing him.
"Jeremy" comes off as a fairly upbeat song but is about a kid who killed himself in front of his high school English class (made even more disturbing by the video for it).
"Better Man", another song grievously misinterpreted by its listeners (as a love song), is actually a song about abusive relationships from the woman's point of view, and Eddie Vedder himself said it's "dedicated to the bastard that married my Momma".
And, in an inversion, "Spin the Black Circle" sounds very dark and the vocals in it border on screaming at parts, but it's actually about vinyl records.
The first few lines of that song also seem specifically written to mislead the listener into thinking it's going to be about heroin ("See this needle, see my hand, drop-drop-droppin' it down, oh so gently")
"Glorified G", one of their peppiest sounding songs, sung from the point of view of a gun nut.
"Crash Into Me" by Dave Matthews Band. It sounds like a beautiful, southern-style acoustic love song, but according to Dave Matthews the narrator is either a peeping Tom, a fifteen-year old boy having a sexual fantasy, or both.
There's also "So Damn Lucky", an upbeat song about a car crash after getting drunk at the bar.
Many of Jack White's songs use this, but of special note is the song off of the Raconteur's second album, "Carolina Drama". A relatively upbeat bluegrassy tune about parental abandonment, murder (specifically patricide). Of course this is in keeping with the majority of bluegrass and old timey tunes, with upbeat fiddles and bangos about horrible, horrible things.
The White Stripes song "Apple Blossom" is a subtle example. The narrator figure sounds like a Dogged Nice Guy assuring his beloved that while other guys don't really care for her, he's different and will always take care of her. Uh-huh.
Electric Light Orchestra, especially in the eighties, has several of songs with upbeat music and depressing lyrics. Some examples include:
"Calling America", about a guy whose girlfriend has gone to America and gave him a fake number, but he calls it anyway, hoping that she'll pick up.
"Four Little Diamonds", which is about a man hunting down his ex because she scammed him out of money and jewelry.
"White Punks On Dope" by The Tubes. Probably the most upbeat song to contain the line "I'll hang myself when I get enough rope".
There's also "Mr. Hate", which has a neurotic guy kill his family and then go on the run from the cops.
Frank Zappa's "Bobby Brown Goes Down" from Sheik Yerbouti is a good example of this. Basically a cheerful song... about a preppy kinda jerk guy's descent into gay sexual activities. "With a spindle up my butt till it makes me scream!"
Canadian musician Matthew Good has a few songs like this: "Moon Over Marin" (a cover of a Dead Kennedy's song) is a slow, somewhat dreamy kind of song about a guy who can't walk on the beach outside his house without a gasmask and hazard suit because it's so polluted. "Silent Army in the Trees" is a driving rock song about a military man holding his friends and watching them bleed, then getting home and still being haunted by the horrors of war. "Vancouver National Anthem" is, contrary to the title and upbeat music, is about how Vancouver is segregated between the rich and the poor, and everyone dies downtown.
The Misfits' "Skulls" is already a very poppy song considering the subject matter, but The Lemonheads recorded a slowed down, acoustic cover, where Evan Dando delivers lines like "Demon I am and face I peel / To see your skin turned inside out" like he's singing a romantic ballad.
Avenged Sevenfold's "A Little Piece of Heaven" is a jazzy, upbeat song with a vaguely "cicusy"/ska feel, which is about a man brutally murdering his girlfriend (like Cannibal Corpse brutal)because he's worried about losing her, and having sex with her corpse. Apparently, she's a better lay dead than alive. Then it gets worse.
Their biggest hit "The Boys Are Back In Town" certainly qualifies. It might sound like a wistful celebration of summer and youth, but lyrics such as "drinks will flow and blood will spill/and if the boys want to fight you better let em'" makes "The boys" look like violent psychos.
Upbeat songs with dark lyrics is one of the hallmarks of Steely Dan's music:
"Everyone's Gone to the Movies" is a peppy, upbeat song with marimba-percussion. The lyrics are about a guy who shows porn movies to kids he lures into his house.
"Turn That Heartbeat Over Again" is about a botched bank heist.
And the best part? The end makes it look like the singer has decided to drug his younger lover with tequila and cocaine for...uh....nefarious ends.
The Cuervo Gold
The fine Colombian
Make tonight a wonderful thing
"My Old School" is about how much Donald Fagen and Walter Becker hate their alma mater Bard College for being complicit in a drug raid by sheriff's deputies of the college's dorms in 1969, which resulted in 50 students (including Fagen and Becker) being arrested with little to no evidence.
Donald Fagen's solo work is definitely not immune to this trope. His crowning solo achievement has to be "I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)", in which he marvels, "Here at home we'll play in the city / Powered by the sun / Perfect weather for a streamlined world / There'll be spandex jackets one for everyone," followed by the chorus of, "What a beautiful world this will be / What a glorious time to be free." Then you look up what "I.G.Y." stands for: the International Geophysical Year, when over 60 countries collaborated scientifically in 1957-58. Probably the stealthiest uses of Nostalgia Filter and I Want My Jetpack on record.
Don Henley's "Not Enough Love in the World" qualifies. The tune is that of a breezy, jazz- or soul-influenced love song. The lyrical content concerns a relationship fizzling because neither partner knows how to make the other happy (which, by the standards of most other songs on this page, seems relatively mild).
Modern English's "Melt With You" is about a couple having sex during a nuclear war. When the protagonist says to his girlfriend, "melt with you", he means it LITERALLY.
I call Urban Myth on that. It's about the feeling of oneness during sex.
"The Enemies" by Everything Else is one of their more upbeat sounding songs. It features the line "...And we murder each other..."
This represents a very large part of Carly Simon's career — her first single, "That's The Way I've Always Heard It Should Be", has seemingly happy lyrics about getting married to a dark, dirge-like tune indicative of extreme ambivalence. "Anticipation" is a severe case of pre-date jitters to a triumphal backing track. "You Belong To Me" appears to be about trying to convince herself that a cheater is not a cheater over a jazzy, almost raunchy sax riff, while "Better Not Tell Her" from over a decade later seems to refer to the same or a similar relationship years down the road, after it collapsed and the other has moved on; the tune is angry and bitter, but it becomes clear by the end of the song as the music begins to match the lyrics that the singer's actually not so much angry as having a jealous breakdown over the whole thing. And — possibly the most emblematic of Simon's entire career — "Jesse" is a gushy song about looking forward to seeing a guy who she knows is really bad news but who she can never say no to. (Averted, however, in her big 80s hit "Coming Around Again" — the slow, spacy synthpop melody pretty much exactly matches the lyrics of a frustrated woman wandering through her life in a fog. It does however render the reprise (actually a cover of "Itsy Bitsy Spider" to the same tune on side 2, featuring the voices of her kids singing backup) a very, very strange experience.)
The J. Geils Band's Centerfold. The music is uplifting and fun... except you realize the lyrics are about a man finding out his high school crush is now on the centerfold of a nudie magazine and he's not too happy about it.
From their first album they have Headfirst For Halos; an upbeat song about committing suicide. ("And I think I'll blow my brains against the ceiling/And as the fragments of my skull begin to fall/Fall on your tongue like pixie dust just think happy thoughts")
Dont forget the line about prescription drug addiction (And now the red ones make me fly/And the blue ones help me fall)
Cryoshell, a Danish rock-band created originally to write songs for Lego-advertisements, have released an album. This album is anything but child-friendly, though. "Creeping in my Soul", one of their "Lego-songs", got a major overhaul for the album, making it sound a bit more rock-like than the pop-version Lego used in their ads. The lyrics didn't change, making it slightly unnerving.
Another example from that album: The Room. If you disregard the chorus, it's a happy love-song and all. If you don't disregard the chorus, it's a happy love-song about someone who secretly wants their partner dead.
There's a room that I can't find.
A place I can't de-mystify.
I cry sometimes.
But the stains won't wash away.
There's a place that I can't find.
'Cause my weary heart won't fortify.
Where are you now?
Won't you... Won't you just die?
Generally, the entire freaking album can qualify, as only one or two songs actually have lyrics that fit the melody. Way to set a standard for your first album!
Your Friend And Mine - Neil's Song" by Love, a Take That to a recently deceased friend of Arthur Lee's, set to a happy country tune.
Phil Collins has "Take Me Home". A very upbeat song, with one of the most catchy choruses of the decade (which is saying something, since the 80's was a time of catchy choruses), which was allegedly inspired by the book "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" and was written from the point of view of a mental patient. The line "They can turn off my feeling, like they're turning off a light" is downright sinister, if you have read the book.
"Thru' These Walls" is like "In the Air Tonight", but at a much peppier tempo ... and if it were about a schizophrenic pervert.
I can see through my windows; I can see the girls and the boys. I can see through my windows, and I can imagine the noise. I can see through my windows... I can see them playing with toys
With Phillip Bailey, "Easy Lover". The most cheerful warning about a maneater ever.
Sixx:A.M. uses this in a bunch of songs. Especially freaky is "Help Is On The Way". The song is a happy, upbeat rock-song, then the bridge comes along, played slowly and sounding almost melancholic, with the words: "Sometimes I'd wish you were dead, and I'm not even joking. I'll put a gun to your head."
Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal's "Glad To Be Here" is a great example of this. It sounds like a nice and happy song when you just see the title and hear the upbeat intro. Then Bumblefoot starts singing, and it kinda gets darker... and darker. The verses are especially bad in this aspect:
Well, I'm so glad to be here I could slit my fucking wrist!
This chaos is just what I need to keep me nice and pissed!
My chest fills up with acid till the veins pop in my head!
I wake up every morning wishing God would strike me dead!
I'm so glad to be here I could jump of every bridge!
But everybody's got a rope around one of my limbs!
They're trying to get their piece, that's why they're tearing me apart!
They wanna get inside me, so they can kick around my heart!
I'm so glad I could just hang myself from the highest tree!
I'm longing for the rush of crushing trains over me!
I haven't had a good night's sleep since 1995!
And I'm too tired to ask why I keep myself alive!
Muse's "Guiding Light" sounds uplifting, but the lyrics talk about being "lost, crushed, cold and confused with no guiding light left inside."
The Iron City Houserockers' "Junior's Bar" is an uptempo bar-band rocker about a barfly so desperate to score a date that he hits on an underage girl ... and even then, he leaves the bar alone.
Rock and Roll
An accidental (and possibly apocryphal) example involving Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog." The scores delivered to the musicians of the Ed Sullivan Show were instrumental, and somehow, the conductor thought the song was a romantic ballad. There wasn't enough time to correct the error, so Elvis performed it as a romantic ballad...sung to a stuffed basset hound.
Chris Isaak's "I Believe" is about a guy who broke up with his girl, and is now kind of sad about it. (So what else is new.) The tune, however, is only one step removed from "I'm Walkin' on Sunshine".
"Car Crash/Dead Lover" was practically a genre of its own in the 50s and 60s, many examples of which are set to melodies that are actually quite cheerful. "Last Kiss", "Tell Laura I Love Her", "Dead Man's Curve"...
"Runaway" by Del Shannon; a bright, upbeat song (featuring an early synthesizer, no less), but the lyrics are about the protagonist's girlfriend dumping him.
"I Fought The Law" by Sonny Curtis (later popularized by Bobby Fuller) is a pretty lively and catchy song, considering that the lyrics are being told from the point of view of a criminal who's in jail after a crime spree.
"It's My Party (and I'll Cry if I Want To)" has music that's typical bouncy 60s pop, but you may be able to guess from the alterna-title what it's about: the singer's crush (or possibly boyfriend, which would make it even worse) is hooking up with some other girl at the singer's birthday party.
John Fogerty seems to like the whole thing as "Vanz Kant Danz" off "Centerfield" has an upbeat backing to lyrics that are rather unflattering to Saul Zaentz, owner of Fantasy Records, who sued John Fogerty for plagarising himelf. The title was originally "Zanz Kant Danz," but Zaentz's lawsuit forced Fogerty to recut it.
A hallmark of Randy Newman's songs. "Sail Away" for example, is a rousing paean to America, meant to be sung by a slave trader. And then there's "Political Science", which lists the benefits of solving all America's problems with mass nuclear genocide.
There's also a song from Peter Schilling (famous for his One-Hit Wonder "Major Tom") called "(Let's Play) USA" that is a peppy, upbeat rock song about Eagleland Type 2, and lodged firmly in Sarcasm Mode.
How I love the life I lead
Cannot think and cannot read
Watch our values slip away
Play the game of USA!
He also came up with a somg called "Lifetime Guarantee," that sounds like a breezy vacation tune...but is about a Crapsaccharine World so synthetic and false, it makes The Truman Show look genuine.
"Sunny Came Home" by Shawn Colvin tells the story of Sunny, who makes a few "repairs" to her gas stove before lighting a match* If one listens carefully at the song's end, the sound of a striking match being blown out can be heard, suggesting that Sunny chose not to go through with it.:
"Looking Glass", which is a cheery and upbeat song about being betrayed by someone you love.
Similarly, their song "Happy Birthday" is a bright number about - you guessed it - a birthday massacre, containing lyrics like: I think my friend said, "Stick it in the back of her head"/I think my friend said, "Two of them are sisters"/"I'm a murder tramp, birthday boy," I think I said/"I'm gonna bash them in, bash them in," I think he said.
"Blue" swings wildly around, music-wise- it begins with heavy bass and some strange high notes, before turning into a bright song with Chibi singing sweetly about how she appears to have been stood up by someone... until the song moves into the chorus and she starts the demonic growling.
"Video Kid" sounds sweet, but it appears to be sung by a woman who uses men, breaks their hearts and ditches them.
And "Nevermind", which is a catchy dance song about an intoxicated party girl being raped.
"To Die For" is an epic song that is about a relationship that's falling apart.
And "Under The Stairs", a sweet song which is about someone who has been abused and is planning to get revenge on their tormentor, possibly by committing suicide.
The song "Goodnight" may also fall under this trope. It sounds fairly upbeat while having negative-sounding lyrics.
"Play Dead" sounds like the narrator is attempting to convince someone to run away with her. All good and fine, until she gets to the line 'I'll cast you a spell/a magic where everyone plays dead forever/ and after tonight/ they'll never remind you.' Which doesn't sound so good.
"Falling Down" appears to be about an abusive ex partner/ ex friend and their various faults.
"Red Stars" sounds quite rockish, and is about stealing someone else's work and passing it off as your own (the chorus) while the verses are a lament about how education today is going to hell.
"Horror Show" sounds vaguely peppy, but it's about self-absorbed teenagers who "have everything" but still insist on being miserable, stating that "they're sick and all alone," with the singer lamenting that "they will never look the same."
Similarly, "Violet" turns out to be about dysfunctional, codependent relationships. Needless to say, the music is a catchy dance tune.
"Always" is a bright little tune that also happens to be a breakup song.
"Shallow Grave" is a happy, poppy song, which may possibly be about a group of friends killing or attempting to kill a girl who's annoyed them.
"Two Hearts" is a catchy rock song about an abusive relationship ("Two hearts beating, one beats the other/while the other just looks away").