5 Songs That Will Move You to Tears

Have you seen A Star Is Born?

Did it make you cry?

I watched it for the first time on a recent cross-country flight. My buddy was sound asleep next to me, and there I was doing everything I could to prevent myself from breaking down during the final scene. I even removed my earbuds because I couldn’t bear to listen. It was as moving a story as any I’ve watched, read, or listened to in a long time.

When my friend finally woke up, I asked him, “Did you see that movie?”

“Yup, it’s a tough one.”

To say I was fascinated by this movie would be an understatement. I thought about it all night. I couldn’t let it go. And everyone I talked to had the same reaction. This movie has moved everyone.

Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman once said, “If you want to move people, you have to tell stories, not numbers...you need to convince them by telling them stories about individuals, because numbers just don’t capture the imagination of people.”

A Star is Born shows us the story behind the music. It shows the story of the human, not the artist. It takes us behind the scenes of “celebrity.” It reminds us that there is a story behind art. When we know and feel the story, the art becomes so much more meaningful. This is powerful.

Music alone has a certain moving quality about it. Many people like songs because they can recall those songs during specific moments in their life. They know their story behind the music. Music taps into their true feelings. When you listen to Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga sing the song Shallow, you’re thinking about their love story because you’ve just seen it. You think about the angry, raw, alcoholic (yet endearing) Cooper. You think about the talented, unsure, girl-next-door (yet captivating) Gaga. You think about their relationships with their family members, friends, and colleagues. You consider every dimension that makes Shallow, Shallow. That makes for a powerful experience. You don’t have to put yourself in their shoes; you just get put in their shoes. It becomes very real for you. You see, feel, and experience the story. This quality has moved millions of people around the world. It’s what almost had me in tears on the plane.

There’s something I do quite often. Something I’d like to share with you. You might already do it. If not, let’s just call it a new form of entertainment. It combines reading and listening, and I think I might be able to recreate this moving feeling for you (if you let me.)

So, I sit on my couch, listening to songs while reading the lyrics. It’s not a major motion picture or bestselling novel, but it definitely moves me, perhaps more than either. Sometimes to tears. It’s kind of like meditating on the music. You insert yourself into the story the artist is trying to share with you. I’d love for you try it.

Here are five songs about love and life. Five of my favorites. Maybe you’ve heard of some of them, maybe not. Either way, I’ve provided the lyrics and links to the songs below. It’s about eighteen minutes of moving entertainment. All you have to do is find a quiet place, just like you were going to watch a movie, and then listen and read along. Sit back and let the rest just happen.

1. If We Were Vampires—Jason Isbell (4:31)

Isbell was tapped to write Cooper’s “Maybe It’s Time” from A Star Is Born, and for good reason. In my opinion, he is one of the best storytellers of our generation. His ability to go deep using such an economy of words is amazing to me. There’s probably not been a more impactful musician to me on a personal and professional level than Isbell.

Vampires might be the best written love song I’ve ever heard. Seriously. The reality we all face is that one day, we will be gone. Isbell uses this inevitability to point toward love at its best. It’s the finality that makes us squeeze tighter, kiss softer, and cherish seemingly inconsequential moments. He said when he first wrote it that it took him six times to even get through it without crying.

It's not the long, flowing dress that you're in

Or the light coming off of your skin

The fragile heart you protected for so long

Or the mercy in your sense of right and wrong

It's not your hands searching slow in the dark

Or your nails leaving love's watermark

It's not the way you talk me off the roof

Your questions like directions to the truth

It's knowing that this can't go on forever

Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone

Maybe we'll get forty years together

But one day I'll be gone

Or one day you'll be gone

If we were vampires and death was a joke

We'd go out on the sidewalk and smoke

And laugh at all the lovers and their plans

I wouldn't feel the need to hold your hand

Maybe time running out is a gift

I'll work hard 'til the end of my shift

And give you every second I can find

And hope it isn't me who's left behind

It's knowing that this can't go on forever

Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone

Maybe we'll get forty years together

But one day I'll be gone

Or one day you'll be gone

It's knowing that this can't go on forever

Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone

Maybe we'll get forty years together

But one day I'll be gone

One day you'll be gone

Songwriters: Michael Jason Isbell

If We Were Vampires lyrics © Downtown Music Publishing

2. If You See Her, Say Hello—Bob Dylan (3:51)

Dylan is Dylan. He’s confusing, alluring, and raw. If you don’t appreciate Dylan, you’re probably not human. But we don’t have to debate that now. This song is one of my favorites. I prefer the version from his newly released More Blood More Tracks album. It just sounds like the story has been marinating for last forty-five years because, well, it has. It’s just a touch more raw. It goes there. Sure, it’s the story of a break-up, but it’s more about understanding why the break-up had to happen. It’s a song about acceptance. It’s about the realization that all we have is the hope that person still thinks of us and the hope they think of us the way we think of them. It’s about coming to grips with heartbreak, being bitter, and being okay with all of that. Maybe you don’t want the person “back,” but you do wish you could say hello one more time. It’s a heart-melter for sure. A song I really just love.

If you see her, say hello

She might be in Tangier

She left here last early spring

Is livin' there, I hear

Say for me that I'm all right

Though ‘new’ things get kind of slow come and go

She might think that I've forgotten her

Don't tell her it isn't so

We had a falling out

Like lovers often will

And But to think of how she left that night

It still brings me a chill

And though our separation

It pierced me to the heart

She still lives inside of me

We've never been apart

If you get close to her you’re making love to her

Kiss her once for me for the kid

I Who always have has respected her

For doin' what she did and gettin' free

Oh, whatever makes her happy I know it had to be that way

I won't stand in the way It wasn’t written in the cards

Though Still the bitter taste still lingers on

From the night I tried to make her stay It all came down so hard

I see a lot of people

As I make the rounds

And I hear her name here and there

As I go from town to town

And I've never gotten used to it

I've just learned to turn it off

Either I'm too sensitive

Or else I'm gettin' soft

Sundown, yellow moon

I replay the past

I know every scene by heart

They all went by so fast

If she's passin' back this way

I'm not that hard to find

Tell her she can look me up

If she's got the time

Songwriters: Bob Dylan

If You See Her, Say Hello lyrics © Audiam, Inc

3. Souvenirs—John Prine (3:33)

My dad introduced me to this song, so I always think of him when I listen to it. It reminds me of the importance of memories. We place high value on memories, and we should because in the end, that’s all we’re left with. Even if those memories are inaccurate or embellished, they’re still all we’ve got. I often think that we never realize the uniqueness of any one moment. The appreciation is fleeting as it gets washed up in the hustle and bustle, but it’s those very same moments that we end up cherishing forever. It’s a weird dichotomy. Every kiss, hug, smile, and frown. It’s all real. The moments spent with long-time partners and moments spent with people you might never see again. Those face-to-face moments that seem insignificant. In the end, it’s those “souvenirs” we’re left with to think about forever. They might fade, but they’ll never be gone. They happened. They were real.

All the snow has turned to water

Christmas days have come and gone

Broken toys and faded colors

Are all that's left to linger on

I hate graveyards and old pawn shops

For they always bring me tears

I can't forgive the way they rob me

Of my childhood souvenirs

Memories they can't be boughten

They can't be won at carnivals for free

Well it took me years

To get those souvenirs

And I don't know how they slipped away from me

Broken hearts and dirty windows

Make life difficult to see

That's why last night and this mornin'

Always look the same to me

I hate reading old love letters

For they always bring me tears

I can't forgive the way they rob me

Of my sweetheart's souvenirs

Memories they can't be boughten

They can't be won at carnivals for free

Well it took me years

To get those souvenirs

And I don't know how they slipped away from me

Songwriters: John Prine

Souvenirs lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

4. Question—Old 97’s (2:15)

This is such a delicate little song. It’s about vulnerability and serendipity. It’s about that person who has always run away in fear. The person afraid of commitment. More importantly, it’s about being open to the idea that one day, someone might ask you a question that you should say yes to. And maybe that day will be today, tomorrow, or the next day. I love listening to this song because it’s kind of like your favorite romantic comedy bundled up in a song.

She woke from a dream

Her head was on fire

Why was he so nervous?

He took her to the park

She crossed her arms

And lowered her eyelids

Someday somebody's gonna ask you

A question that

You should say "yes" to

Once in your life

Maybe tonight

I've got a question for you

She'd had no idea

Started to cry,

She said in a good way

He took her by the hand

Walked her back home

They took the long way

Someday somebody's gonna ask you

A question that

You should say "yes" to

Once in your life

Maybe tonight

I've got a question for you

Songwriters: Kendall Bethea / Murry Hammond / Philip Peeples / Simon Ford / Stewart Miller

Question lyrics © BMG Rights Management

5. Bella Donna—Avett Brothers (3:06)

The question Have you ever really seen me? is about as deep as it gets. There’s something a “look” tells you that words can’t. It’s more pure. The “looker” cannot sanitize their feelings, and the look tells you more than words ever will. The lyrics in this song are the epitome of what we want in a relationship. It gets taken to the next level, though, and says, Okay you see me, but do you see me how I want you to see me? We all have a little person inside of us just wishing, wanting, and waiting to be seen the way we want to be seen. Every time I hear this song, I get a chill from limb to limb. It’s also a testament to how less can often be more.


Baby, I asked you not to keep me waiting

I told you not to keep me waiting

Now the afternoon is fading on

Donna, Bella Donna, have you seen me

And have you ever really seen me

Like I want for you to see me now

Lonesome, like you were when you were sixteen

When maybe even if I weren't listening

Did I help when I was kissing you

Donna, Bella Donna, are you listening

And were you ever really listening

Like I want for you to listen now

Songwriters: Scott Yancey Avett / Timothy Seth Avett

Bella Donna lyrics © Nemoivmusic, Ramseur Family Fold Music, First Big Snow Publishing

Am I too sappy? Sure, sometimes. But I want to keep it real with you. I’m human. Humans are emotional. We do things for the way they make us feel.

Or as Bradley Cooper says in A Star is Born, “Unless you get out there and try to do it, you'll never know. That's just the truth. If there's one reason we're supposed to be here, it’s to say somethin' so people wanna hear it. So you gotta grab it and you don't apologize, don't worry about why they're listenin' or how long they're gonna be listening for. You just tell em what you wanna say.”

So go listen to these songs. Think about them. Or create your own list of songs. Share them with other people and try to move them, too.

If you liked any of these songs, please tell me about it. I’d love to know which song impacted you the most.

I have plenty more for you.