We all find ourselves alone from time to time. Sometimes a little time to ourselves can be a positive thing, allowing us to focus on our own wellbeing, goals and priorities. But human beings are social creatures, and oftentimes being alone means feeling lonely.
This heart-breaking ballad was first penned by Eric Carmen back in 1975, and the American singer-songwriter received praise for his recording at the time. It’s Céline Dion’s cover from nearly two decades later, however, that’s hailed as one of the greatest vocal performances of all time.
The song speaks from the perspective of someone who failed to invest in relationships during their youth, and now feels isolated and lonely. Building from a subdued, mournful opening verse, the climax of the track comes in the form of a spectacular high-note from Dion, which she holds for a few seconds before the full orchestra joins her once again.
In “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, Presley asks a former lover if she’s missing him. After a mournful opening verse, he begins to perform a spoken word monologue, revealing that he’s actually the one feeling lonesome.
The track was first written in 1926 by Roy Turk and Lou Handman. Since then it’s been re-recorded many times, with Presley’s version enduring as the most famous thanks to his resonant vocals and emotive monologue.
Written by Billie Joe Armstrong about his time in New York City, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” comes across as quite a depressing track. According to Armstrong, however, the song is actually about taking power from being alone. It eventually went on to fit into the storyline of Green Day’s seventh album, American Idiot, which documents the journey of a character called Jesus of Suburbia who leaves his small town behind to head for the city.
O’Sullivan’s melancholy ballad describes a moody character who feels pessimistic about his life after being stood up at the alter and losing his father. This character is not based on O’Sullivan himself and the events are not autobiographical – O’Sullivan instead set out to tell a story that captured the complexity of loneliness. He was just 21 years old when he penned the track.
The New Zealand singer-songwriter laments her inability to sustain a relationship and curses the feeling of being “too much” for people in this piano ballad from her second album Melodrama. She discusses how isolated fame has left her, and how the only love she can count on is the love she has for herself.
Lauv and Anne-Marie give us an upbeat look at loneliness with this tongue-in-cheek duet. The song’s two protagonists are missing each other intensely after a break-up and trying to express how they’re feeling. The only words they seem to be able to find, however, are explicit.
The track came together after Lauv and Anne-Marie met at the Summertime Ball, Wembley, and was featured in the soundtrack for season three the popular Netflix show 13 Reasons Why.
“I’d rather be alone tonight,” sings Grande in the opening lyric of “NASA”. She goes on to explain that having a little alone time is a choice she’s making to take care of herself, and ultimately to strengthen her relationship with her partner. Even the most loving of relationships can benefit from a little space sometimes, and Grande demonstrates that sometimes time to yourself can be a great thing.
One of the more experimental offerings from the Beatles, “Eleanor Rigby” explores the lives of isolated, lonely members of a church congregation over a double string quartet arrangement. It focuses in particular on a woman named Eleanor Rigby who lives her life waiting for someone to love her.
When she dies, nobody comes to her funeral. The Beatles demonstrate the darker side of being alone with this track, and beg their listeners to notice these side-lined people.
The character of Eleanor Rigby is fictional, but in the 80s it was discovered that a real woman named Eleanor Rigby was buried in the churchyard of St Peter’s Parish Church in Liverpool, where Paul McCartney had attended Sunday school.
In contrast to many of the songs on this list, the protagonist of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” is in a happy, loving relationship. The problem that he’s already looking ahead to when the relationship fails and contemplating how lonely he’s going to be without the woman he loves. Even the threat of loneliness is enough to cast a shadow.
Bowie’s space epic about an astronaut named Major Tom who becomes disconnected from Ground Control is a profound reflection on total loneliness and separation from everything physical.
As Ground Control attempts to reconnect with Major Tom, the astronaut continues to float through space, unaware of the danger that he’s in.
Multiple critics and biographers have interpretated the lyrics of “Space Oddity” in many different ways, but even at surface level the psychedelic folk track is a story about a man who is as alone as anyone can be, and realises there’s nothing he can do but accept it.
Whether you like a little time to yourself or you’d rather never be alone again, music is always good company. Sometimes that feeling of being alone is lessened just by knowing that there’s someone out there feeling the same things that you are. And at least when you’re alone no one’s there to hear you sing along to these songs about being alone at the top of your voice…