Sad pop songs don't have to be based in real tragedy. Even Tragedy by the Bee Gees is more craft than confession. But some chart hits speak the truth about the worst things life has to offer - heartbreak, trauma and bereavement - because they are drawn from harrowing real events.
1. Supermarket Flowers by Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran wrote Supermarket Flowers for his mum, because her mother - his grandmother - was ill in hospital while he was recording the album that would become Divide. Ed later explained that he wanted to write a song from her perspective, a song which would not only encapsulate how his mother would be feeling, but also reveal a lot about his own feelings for both women.
Speaking to former Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe, he described the songwriting process as very straightforward: "She was one of the nicest women you'd ever meet and she was my mum's mum. It was written from my mum's point of view; it was choosing loads of specific things and then just finishing it as a song."
He then played it to his dad, who insisted he play it at the service, which was only attended by five people - just the closest family members - and was approached afterwards by his grandfather: "My grandfather just turned to me, he was like, 'you have to put that out, that has to go on the record'. It's such a good memory, that's why it’s ended up on there."
2. Circus by Eric Clapton
The songs Eric Clapton wrote in 1991 had one purpose, to help him express the anguish of losing his four-year-old son Conor, who had died in a tragic accident in New York. Tears in Heaven - recorded for MTV Unplugged and then released as a single - addresses the relationship between father and son, and the hope that they will meet again someday, while Circus is a rueful look back on the last night Eric and Conor spent together.
In a 1998 BBC interview, Eric explained: "The last night I spent with Conor, we went to the circus. We went to see one of those huge things that they do in America where they have three rings going on at the same time. You've got clowns and tigers and everything. They don't do anything in half measures. They just pile it all in.
"After the show, we were driving back to New York City and all he could remember, all he could talk about was this clown. He'd seen a clown with a knife, which I didn't see at all. Some clown was running around brandishing a knife, which was something quite frightening but he liked it - I mean, it excited him. And so that is in the lyrics. But, and I suppose what I was doing, I was paying tribute to this night with him and also seeing him as being the circus of my life. You know - that particular part of my life has now left town."
3. Save The Last Dance For Me by The Drifters
Save the Last Dance For Me is a story of dignity amid thwarted expectations. Lyric writer Doc Pomus, inspired by the lilting melody his partner Mort Shuman had given him for The Drifters, and a wedding invite he had just found, wrote the song about his own wedding day, a beautiful occasion which was marred only by the fact that he could not dance with his bride, as convention demands. He had contracted polio as a child, and as a result, had to rely on crutches or a wheelchair for mobility.
Doc write his lyric of quiet jealousy on the back of that wedding invite, remembering the reception, and how he felt as he was forced to sit and watch as his new wife danced with his brother Raoul. And while the suggestion that she might be tempted to be unfaithful was added to heighten the drama, he made sure that his lyric trod the fine line between possessive and pleading, gently reminding his lover to save her best affections for the wedding bed.
4. Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus
While the song has long since become overshadowed by its video, Wrecking Ball, as a composition, remains a potent summary of the devastated mindset of the person who wrote it. MoZella, then a jobbing songwriter, was scheduled to attend a getting-to-know-you session with Stephan Moccio and Sacha Skarbek, who had gathered around a white piano in a school, trying to come up with a song for Beyoncé.
But her personal life was in turmoil, she had just called off her engagement, breaking up with someone she felt had treated her poorly, and as soon as the song's title had been agreed upon, all of the hurt came pouring out. Stephan later recalled: "Within 5 or 10 minutes of meeting each other, things became highly charged. MoZella was extremely emotional that day... She almost didn't end up making the session. Wrecking Ball in every way is about MoZella's toxic relationship and then the courage to say, 'I can't go through with this'. So here we are, Sacha and I holding this girl together who was just very emotional, trying to comfort her."
Realising the song wasn't Beyoncé's style, MoZella suggested her friend Miley Cyrus, who was having her own romantic trouble with Liam Hemsworth at the time. She jumped at it, recorded it, and released it with remarkable speed. In a filmed interview for ASCAP, MoZella recalled: "I went from the crappiest, worst thing ever. Within one year of writing it, to the week, it went to No.1"
5. Cloudbusting by Kate Bush
Psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich was a controversial figure, whose work, including the 1936 book The Sexual Revolution, was at loggerheads with the morality of his time, whether in 1930s Germany or 1950s America. In some ways one of the guiding figures of the 1960s sexual revolution, he was castigated by US authorities, his work seized and destroyed, and he was eventually sent to prison, where he died in 1957.
His son Peter wrote a book devoted to his life and research called A Book of Dreams, detailing his own relationship with the father whose books he had been ordered to chop up by police officers. It also includes reference to a machine Wilhelm invented called a Cloudbuster, designed to make it rain. Kate Bush read the book, and was moved enough by Peter's account to create the song Cloudbusting. She explained her inspiration to her fan club: "His father is everything to him; he is the magic in his life, and he teaches him everything... But there’s nothing he can do about his father being taken away, he is completely helpless. But it’s very much more to do with how the son does begin to cope with the whole loneliness and pain of being without his father. It is the magic moments of a relationship through a child's eyes, but told by a sad adult."
She also made a video illustrating this moment of lost innocence, and sent it to Peter Reich, who gave his wholehearted approval, telling Dazed: "Quite magically, this British musician had tapped precisely into a unique and magical fulfilment of father-son devotion, emotion and understanding. They had captured it all."
6. More Love by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
One of a run of impeccable 1960s pop hits to come from the pen of Smokey Robinson, More Love sounds like a warm cloud of affection, and with good reason. It was written for Smokey's wife Claudette, who had been a touring member of his group The Miracles from 1957 until 1964. She had to come off the road after a series of miscarriages, and naturally this had a devastating impact on the young couple, particularly Claudette.
Smokey later told the writer Nelson George: "After she had a miscarriage she would always tell me she was sorry she had let me down. I would explain that she had not let me down because she was there, she was alive; I wanted the babies, but I didn't know them. I wrote More Love to let her know how I felt about her... I wanted to reassure her that I was cool no matter what happened, because I still had her."
Smokey and Claudette Robinson eventually had two children, a boy named Berry (after Berry Gordy, founder of the Motown empire) and a girl, Tamla, after the Miracles' record label.
7. Without You by Badfinger
In fact, Without You is the product of two songwriters writing two songs about two rows with their respective partners. Pete Ham wrote the verses after a conversation with his girlfriend Beverly in which she suggested he go into the studio to work on a song with the band, and forgo their date night, because he might regret not doing it later. He noticed the sadness in her eyes as she offered this gesture of support, and, touched, wrote what became the warm-hearted verses. Meanwhile his partner Tom Evans wrote a song with a yearning chorus about his stormy relationship with his future wife Marianne, who was about to move out. Fusing the best elements of the two songs together, they created Without You.