Sadly, loneliness never goes out of style, musically speaking. The website songfacts.com lists 208 songs about social isolation (many, predictably, the result of romantic break-ups). Herewith a random selection of 10 “lonely” songs, in no particular order, that provide a backdrop for the emerging research on loneliness. The factoids are from the website.
1) “All by Myself” Eric Carmen (1975)
Carmen has said about the song: "There's not nearly as much fuel in being happy as there is in being miserable. Being miserable is a great catalyst for songwriting…” The song was covered by Celine in 1996 and has appeared in a variety of films, including Clueless, Dawn of the Dead, Shrek and Bridget Jones’s Diary, when Bridget (Renee Zellweger) was alone and drunk on New Year’s.
2) "I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” Hank Williams (1949)
Rolling Stone ranked the song #111 on its list of 500 greatest songs of all time, making “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” not only the second-oldest song on the list, but one of only two from the 1940s. Kris Kristofferson sang this in the 1974 film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and Chris Isaak performed it in the 1996 film Mr. Wrong.
3) “You are Alone” The Flaming Lips (2013)
Wayne Coyne explained the song's meaning to MusicRadar.com: "We think of this song as if you're in church, and you're just peering up," he said. "Not that any of us goes to church, but we understand the concept of screaming up to the universe and going, 'Am I alone? What's going on here?' And the universe talks back and says, 'You are alone.'
4) “Only the Lonely (Know the Way I Feel)” Roy Orbison (1960)
This was one of the first songs Roy Orbison and Joe Melson wrote together and was one of Orbison’s biggest hits. The inspiration for the lyrics came from Melson, who as a teenager fell in love with a girl who left him brokenhearted. Melson says that she took off in a Cadillac and the words to this song came to him naturally.
5) “Are You Lonesome Tonight” Elvis Presley (1960)
The song was originally written by Tin Pan Alley songwriters Roy Turk and Lou Handman in 1926. It was a hit the following year for a handful of singers. In 1950 it was revived by the bandleader Blue Barron with his vocalist Bobby Beers, and Al Jolson cut a version in 1953. Elvis' manager Colonel Parker asked him to try the song because it was a favorite of Parker's wife, Marie.
6) “Lonely Avenue” Ray Charles (1956)
The song’s writer, Doc Pomus, was no stranger to loneliness: he suffered from polio which limited his mobility, and often found himself isolated. Heartbreak is often a common theme in his work. According to Pomus, John Lennon told him that “Lonely Avenue” was one of the first songs The Beatles rehearsed when they started the group.
7) “So Lonely” The Police (1978)
Some listeners didn't hear the words "So Lonely," and thought Sting was singing "Sue Lawley," the name of a popular BBC TV presenter. "It was played on national television as an homage to Sue, but we didn't complain. Blessings are often unexpected," Sting recalled.
8) “Alone Again (Naturally)” Gilbert O’Sullivan (1972)
It sold 2 million copies, spent 6 weeks at the top of the U.S. charts, and was featured in the 1999 film The Virgin Suicides.
9) “Eleanor Rigby” The Beatles (1966)
Paul McCartney wrote the song and told Observer Music Monthly in 2008: “When I was a kid I was very lucky to have a real cool dad, a working-class gent, who always encouraged us to give up our seat on the bus for old people. This led me into going round to pensioners’ houses. It sounds a bit goody-goody, so I don’t normally tell too many people. There were a couple of old ladies and I used to go round and day, ‘Do you need any shopping done?’ These lonely old ladies were something I knew about growing up, and that was what ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was about – the fact that she died and nobody really noticed.”
10) “The Outside” Taylor Swift (2006)
One of the first songs Taylor Swift wrote, soon after receiving her first guitar. She talked to Entertainment Weekly about what prompted her to write it: "It was when I was twelve years old, and a complete outcast at school. … I was taller, and sang country music at karaoke bars and festivals on weekends while other girls went to sleepovers. Some days I woke up not knowing if anyone was going to talk to me that day."