The year is 1979, punk’s first wave has come to an end and the new wave has already begun. Though early punk brought rebellion and a lot of progressive ideas for its time, for the most part it still upheld traditional gender ideas. Women were groupies, men were angry and playing with the idea of gender was nothing more than a shock tactic.
The year is 1979 and what would become one of the most prolific bands in rock history, The Cure, release one of their early classics ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. The single was released as a standalone track from their debut album, and it dates back a year or so before the beginning of their infamous goth period and well before their pop period. It is as close to classic punk as they ever got. Guitar, bass and vocals – nothing fancy. Yet in a lot of ways, it was telling of what would come later and make them so successful across styles: vulnerable lyrics, catchy melodies and a knack for the bitter-sweet.
The song chugs along with a simple three chord progression, a bouncy ‘The Clash’-esk bass line, some intricate and fun lead guitar work all paired along with a wonderfully innocent but constantly moving drum part. The song seems like a run of the mill breakup classic-punk track but the chorus, like most of Robert Smith’s best work, possesses a vulnerability that catches your ear and forces you to listen. When the rest of punk was angry and new wave were either angry or intentionally cold/emotionless, Robert Smith rebled with a deep sadness. And his music would become a method for many men to experience and deal with their own emotions. “I try to laugh about it, cover it all up with lies, I try to laugh about it, hiding the tears in my eyes, because boys don’t cry” – if reading that doesn’t cut deep for you then the song (and this piece) probably isn’t for you.
But if you’re like me — male, small, brown, emotional, genetically predisposed to neuroticism – you might have been told ‘boys don’t cry’ quite a few times while growing up. That phrase might have sunk deep and put your tear ducts out of business except for the one day a year where you undergo a complete meltdown. That phrase might be the reason why when you have a bad day you feel trapped inside your emotions without a method of release. If that’s you, then The Cure’s ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ is probably for you… And so is all the music I’m about to recommend. Will this fix the years of emotional stunting society has caused you? No, that’s what a therapist is for. But it might give you some music to help get those tears going and emotions out of your body.
Close To Me – The Cure
If you’re looking for some more music by The Cure, then I can’t recommend ‘Close To Me’ enough. Through a beautiful balance of a deeply sad vocal performance, upbeat instrumental and lyrics about relief the song embodies catharsis. I truly believe its one of the greatest three minutes in music history. if you need to get some emotions out of your body, I don’t think you can go wrong with this track.
I Get Along Without You Very Well – Chet Baker
For the more Jazz inclined denialists, Chet Baker’s rendition of this standard should cut deep. Like all of Baker’s vocal work the key to this track’s greatness is in its delicateness. Simple piano lines, soft drums and Baker’s classic whisper sing come together to tear you open.
Ghost Town – Kanye West
Kanye probably isn’t a good person. In fact, he’s probably barely a functional person. But to deny his ability to create musical ecstasy would be unfair to ourselves. If you’re feeling down about yourself and you just need a way to release those emotions this might be the track for you. The beat is impeccable, Cudi’s verse is heart-breaking and PARTYNEXTDOOR’s verse is nothing short of a religious experience.
A Change Is Gonna Come – Otis Redding
Originally a track by Sam Cooke about a man who feels so crushed by the world that he needs to believe a change is gonna come. The track certainly has an undertone of being about the black experience in America, but its lyrics are still generic enough where it could be about anyone who feels pushed aside by the world around them. Otis Redding does a mostly faithful but, in my opinion, superior cover that’s absolutely soul crushing. If this can’t get those water works going, I’m not sure what will.
The New – Interpol
In our life there are some relationships that bring us so close together we become tied to them. When those relationships end, it can feel as though a part of ourselves was given to the other person and lost permanently in the abyss of a breakup. Nowhere is this feeling better captured than the penultimate track of Interpol’s incredible debut All The Bright Lights. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best straightforward breakup track in existence.
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
This is another track with a political tint, but a much stronger one than A Change Is Gonna Come. In the title track off Gaye’s magnum opus he laments the death of young black men to police and in protests. He then stakes the claim that “we’ve got to find a way to bring some loving here today” and that “war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate”. The political message might not be agreeable to everyone. It’s certainly a reference back to an increasingly less prominent form of activism often associated with the 60s and hippies, but ultimately the song isn’t about political strategy. Its about mourning the trauma of a community. Either way, if Gaye’s musically divine pleas for an end to brutality doesn’t at least pull on your heartstrings, I’m afraid to say you may be dead on the inside.