Start Your Weekend Right With 5 Great Musical Laments

Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File

Yes, yes, the holiday technically started on Wednesday evening this week, but it's still Friday, and Friday is still a great day to listen to some cool music. It may seem odd to choose the idea of musical laments for a holiday weekend as well, but some great musical performances are those that evoke emotion, and a good lament can certainly do that.

Laments or elegies don't always prompt sadness or regret. Sometimes, they are wistful; sometimes, they speak to memories of times long gone and people we have known who are no longer with us; other times, they can open the doors to happy memories of times gone by. In any case, here are five great laments/elegies from a great variety of musical talents — enjoy!

Wagakki Band - Yoshiwara Lament. Don't let the quick rock tempo combined with traditional Japanese instruments and the lead singer's vibrant vocals fool you. The Yoshiwara Lament is an old traditional Japanese song of a woman who has been forced into prostitution. She looks back on the freedom she has been denied and cries out for someone to please buy her out, to set her back on the path to a normal life, knowing that it's almost certain to be denied. I could have found a more traditional version, but I really like this one, so here we are. (There are subtitles if you, like me, don't savvy Japanese.)


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Jethro Tull - Elegy. This comes to us from the most famous of Scottish bands, from the great 1979 album "Stormwatch." That album contained some great tunes, like the haunting "Dun Ringill" and "Old Ghosts," but "Elegy" is a purely instrumental song that somehow conjures images of small villages, houses of stone, the high moors, deep glens, the mountains and forests of Scotland — or at least, what Scotland once was. I have always been a fan of Jethro Tull, and this is one of my favorites.


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The Beatles - Eleanor Rigby. Most of the Fab Four's earlier work was pretty upbeat, but the 1966 album "Revolver" contained the story of a bunch of lonely people, including the sad and lonesome Eleanor Rigby, who spent her life cleaning the local church and died there, to be buried alone and forgotten. It's a sad song that aptly describes all of those lost people on the fringes of society, who toil unnoticed at their tasks and die unmourned and unlamented — except, perhaps, in music.

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Fleetwood Mac - Landslide. Years ago I watched an interview with Stevie Nicks, where she described her father listening to this song for the first time and being very touched, assuming Stevie had written the song for him. Stevie was reportedly very close to her musician father, and she said that while she had not actually written the song with him in mind, she let him believe she had, and even after her father passed, Stevie has always introduced the song in concert as she does in this live 1997 performance, by saying, "This one's for you, Daddy."

Not only is this a lovely song, but it speaks volumes to all of us who look in the mirror each morning and see more gray hair, more lines on our faces, and who in our hearts have never been more than 18. It's a story of love and lifetimes, and it's even more apt today when we consider that the song was first released by Fleetwood Mac almost 50 years ago.

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The Band - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. We wrap up with a classical lament featuring The Band as filmed for Martin Scorscese's wonderful documentary film "The Last Waltz," which, if you haven't seen, you must. "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" isn't about slavery or the rightness or wrongness of secession; this song, suitably vocalized by Arkansas native Levon Helm, is the sad story of an ordinary man — a farmer by trade — who took up arms in defense of his home. Virgil Caine fought and lost; he lost his brother to a Yankee bullet, and the side he chose lost the war. It's the song for every common man who ever fought with courage for a lost cause and who may have been defeated in the contest of arms but never lost his courage.

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Music, like any art form, should elicit an emotional response in the viewer, reader, or listener. Any song that doesn't evoke such a response, whether the emotion is pride, courage, happiness, laughter, joy, love, or sadness, just doesn't work. These five songs do that; they evoke feelings of loss, of reflection, of times long gone, and finally, one of the greatest kinds of courage — courage in the face of defeat.

Have you any suggestions for similar laments, elegies or tributes? The comments are yours!


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