Songs to Make You Cry in the Grocery Store, as Ranked Compared to “Fast Car”

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, you have cried to “Fast Car,” by queer musician Tracy Chapman. There’s a strong chance you have even cried to it in a public place, given that for some reason it’s often on rotation in the pre-packaged playlists of grocery stores and CVSs, a weird choice given that it is one of the most emotionally devastating pieces of art in recorded history. It’s like playing “My Girl” on repeat on the TV in the dentist waiting room. Better to engage with in the privacy of your own home! I am reminded of this deeply resonant tweet:

It is a sentiment apparently so widely shared, this unique terror of having to emotionally process “Fast Car” unexpectedly and in public, that it was actually almost impossible to find that above tweet because this is such a widely shared sentiment.

i did not even include ‘crying’ as a search term to find this, literally just ‘fast car’ and ‘store.’

While clearly “Fast Car” in particular has struck a chord with us as a species, for reasons that I feel we all intuitively understand without having to articulate them, it is not alone in this genre; I’ve been noticing more often recently how I think of some songs in the specific context of “wow I really hope I never have to hear this while I’m around other people, like say while I’m trying to pick out toilet paper on sale,” and yet also seem superficially benign and mainstream enough that they might plausibly get played inside a Walgreens or Cub Foods, like when I listened to Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Let Her Cry” while buying moisturizer last week. I live in fear of that moment. Here are some of them!


“Fast Car”

What is there to say about the power of Fast Car that hasn’t already been said by everyone and also your own heart? When we talked about our favorite songs by LGBT artists for LGBT History Month, “Fast Car” was prominently featured, and for good reason. I would accept arguments that a number of other Tracy Chapman songs could also take this slot, perhaps most notably “Give Me One Reason” or “Baby Can I Hold You” if I’m voting personally, and I am. Regardless, as the foundational example of this genre, “Fast Car” gets:

5/5 Fast Cars


“Party of One”

Full disclosure, this song is the entire reason I am writing this list. I put this album on unthinkingly while puttering about the house because I was dimly aware she had a new record out and all of the sudden this song is playing and once the lyrics actually penetrate my brain I’m like, sobbing into a sink full of dishes? There should be an FCC rating for this song specifically. Let’s not even talk about the video, I can’t deal with it. If anyplace I was patronizing played this song, I would not only have to leave immediately and never come back but cross the street when I walked by it for the rest of my life. I’m distraught just thinking about this. I just listened to this song again to write this and I feel like I was hit by a train.

4.5/5 Fast Cars


“Landslide”

Although not gay in conception or original execution by Fleetwood Mac (although writing an emotionally manipulative album about heartbreak while the entire band, composed entirely of couples, was breaking up was a very culturally gay thing to do) it became gay when Brittney and Santana performed it, obviously. Whichever iteration of this song and corresponding emotional landscape you are brought back to when hearing it (for me it’s actually the Dixie Chicks cover I find most devastating), we can agree it is not an appropriate choice for public spaces!

3/5 Fast Cars


“Hallelujah”

This song as an entire concept is like a reverberating hall of mirrors of upsetting emotions. The Leonard Cohen original is very sad; the Jeff Buckley cover, obviously extremely depressing; the Rufus Wainwright cover really tugs at the heartstrings; obviously for the purposes of our audience the kd lang version will really fuck you up. Regardless, again, of our unique and personal relationship we have with the secret chord that David played to please the Lord, it is not one that we should be navigating while trying to purchase tampons or a bag of Tostitos™ hint of lime chips.

4/5 Fast Cars


“River”

Although this seems, again, to me like a choice obviously ill-suited to a breezy afternoon shopping or buying toothpaste, I feel like it gets some play around Christmas because it’s a ‘winter’ song that doesn’t specifically reference any religious holidays. While the Joni original is, of course, heartrending in its quiet way, something about hearing it sung by lesbians is uniquely emotionally paralyzing. Something about the kind of self-loathing and self-reproach embedded in looking back at a failed relationship is very gay and something that it’s just almost effortless to spiral into while spending 20 minutes in a Target trying to pick out a Christmas card for your parents who still call your girlfriend your roommate.

3.5/5 Fast Cars


“Breathe”

I was torn about which Melissa track to highlight here but Riese correctly indicated that the answer was “Breathe” — “the one that goes ‘it’s alright it’s alright, it only hurts when i breathe'”. Strong point made!

3/5 Fast Cars


Obviously this is a limited and highly subjective list; please feel free to add to it by sharing the songs that you feel personally there should be a ban on playing in public. This is a safe space etc.

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1091 articles for us.

171 Comments

  1. rachel you must’ve read my mind i have an entire fuckin spotify playlist of ‘songs that you can only listen to when you’re either top of the world or need to cry because either way you’re gonna cry while you sing them’ and number one is the dixie chicks’ landslide. number two is meryl streep’s ‘the winner takes it all’ from mamma mia because hot DAMN is it full of pining

    while technically there’s nothing inherently queer about meryl streep, my car, who is queer, is named meryl streep and thus it counts

    • GOD one time I’d decided I was totally over my crush on someone who I 98.5% knew was not into me and she made me slowdance with her to this. (She was still not into me, I have no idea what brought this on?) I fled the dancefloor after, to cry.

  2. You forgot the gayest and most emotionally devastating version of Hallelujah – it’s obviously Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton on SNL the week after the 2016 election.

    Okay, now I’m crying again just thinking about that…

    Another song that always gets me is Snow Patrol’s How To Save A Life. Not particularly gay, but it was played on Grey’s Anatomy so I think it counts.

  3. I read somewhere that guys who like heavy metal have an easier time controlling their anger, something about having an acceptable outlet for those emotions.
    I can only hope there’s something to that, cause I’m sobbing in my living room and maybe later I can say to me “No, wait remember we were already sad earlier? Like, earmarked a whole hour to be sad, sit down”

    Also, nobody’s told the grocery store about San Junipero, you can’t just play “Heaven is a Place on Earth” anymore!

  4. DAMMIT. In November 1998, Angel was released as a single. In December 1998 my friend Bob died of bone cancer. She was 20, just a kid. The timing, oh GOTTDAMMIT the timing! You gang mostly know the tune from that ‘Save The Animals’ advert, but back in ’99 you COULD. NOT. ESCAPE IT. It was borderline psychologically abusive to our little crew of survivors, we were barely holding on as it was… I only able to buy the album “Surfacing” last year, I’ve wanted it but just couldn’t.

    Five out of Five, me thinks.

    Sorry if this incoherent.

  5. Hard same on Landslide. Not specifically gay, but Miranda Lambert’s “House that Built Me” and Chris Stapleton’s “Broken Halos” are also like punch to the heart. (Obviously a country music lovin’ queer here).

  6. One time when I was a newly heartbroken baby lesbian in a TJ Maxx, they somehow played The Con and I found myself fully sobbing in the midst of their reasonably priced home goods.

  7. party of one once came on during make up sex between myself and a partner at the time, and we got so choked up we had to stop having sex turn the song off and make sure that the playlist had no more ballads on it

  8. What is the rating for any song off of the Sarah McLaughlin Surfacing album when you are in seventh grade and steal your dad’s good headphones to lie in the living room near the stereo and CONTEMPLATE LIFE and listen to her sing Angel

  9. I literally was driving with my mom on vacation yesterday listening to Joni Mitchell and I was like oh we can’t listen to river or we’ll both cry. For me the you’ve got mail scene where she’s thinking about her mom is what elevates it to truly unacceptable content.

    Which is to say: great and relatable content!!!!

  10. Oh boy. I’m not even gonna go near that Brandi Carlisle song right now. I do need to cheer for the Mary Oliver reference at the top of the article – to a poem that I might give 5/5 Fast Cars. Thank goodness they don’t play those in the grocery store!

  11. My Dad passed about six weeks ago. I was recently in a store, trying to figure out how one makes a wreath for a grave, when the most devastating song ever written came on over the store sound system. I had to scoot myself right to the restroom and wait it out. You’ve been warned. Seasons In the Sun by Terry Jacks.

  12. Iron & Wine’s “Naked As We Came” always makes me cry. “Power of Two” by the Indigo Girls is not quite as reliable for that, but it’s up there thanks to associations with an ex.

  13. Most of the times Tracy Chapman’s songs don’t make cry because her lyrics always sent me to a kinda fighting spirit, but there’s one great exception: Behind the Wall.

    Another song that’s tear-inducing, in ocean’s amount, is Elton John’s The Last Song.

    Thanks Jebus these were never played in the supermarket because I don’t think the place has enough tissues or even toilet paper to help me.

  14. Upvoting the comments for “Luka,” by Suzanne Vega, and “Nothing Compares to You,” as covered by Sinead O’Conner – both frequent offenders in this genre.

    Add to it “Someone Like You,” by Adele. Or, really any Adele. Adele is never suitable for public consumption and should be banned from breezy listening playlists.

  15. Perfect Places by Lorde and tbh the whole Melodrama album. I cried in a supermarket long after the actual melodrama was over and just googling the song title now was enough to make me tear up.

  16. Pretty much the entire Little Earthquakes album by Tori Amos. I got introduced to it around the first time my first boyfriend and I were miserable (should have broken up with him WELL BEFORE MARRYING HIM and if I ever get to send a message to my past self boy howdy is that going to be it) and I spent way too much time listening to it. The songs are beautiful but I will not listen to them anymore because they will either start or worsen a depression for sure. Ugh pardon me while I go listen to something else to not let any of them get started in my head.

    • I binged on “Little Earthquakes” during a … complicated period more than ten years ago and haven’t ever played it since. ‘Silent all these years’, ‘Winter’, ‘Me and a gun’ … are exquisite but still too dangerous…

  17. For me it’s “The Bluest Eyes in Texas” from the Boys Don’t Cry soundtrack. It makes me think of the movie, and that it’s based on a true story and so it makes me double devastated. Also, “This Woman’s Work” the Maxwell version because I first heard it when I was in 7th grade before I knew it was a cover and it just brings back my overly emotional adolescent feelings.

  18. some monster added Pet Shop Boys’ “Numb” to the rotation at my grocer and the first time I heard it I suddenly had HORRIBLE PUBLIC FEELINGS in the damn coffee aisle

    (my *second* coffee-adjacent thought was “….THIS was a fucking single off Fundamental?? whaaaat neil”)

  19. Was completely unaware that “Fast Car” was that much of a tear jerker. I was aware it was kind of sad but I can’t really notice much of anything while luxuriating in Tracy Chapman’s voice.

    So uh I don’t cry in public but I’d nominate “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt for those you that do and wish to avoid it.
    Never have I heard the grief of a break up the singers voice like I do in that song.
    Gwen just sounds so gutted, it gives me the urge to try to comfort her even tho I know it’s been like 15+ years since.

  20. I don’t hear these often in grocery stores, thank goodness.

    I became VERY acquainted with The Midnight Organ Fight by Frightened Rabbit during my first big breakup. It is even sadder now, after Scott Hutchinson’s death.

    I think Hope There’s Someone is probably the saddest song ever though, if you want to bask in the desperation of aloneness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8b5HHRT8xvw

    And yes, I have *bolted* out of grocery stores due to Someone Like You coming on.

  21. I would have chosen the Brandi Carlisle song about her daughter, that definitely happened to me in my workplace’s waiting room recently, not long after I had watched the video on repeat, sobbing (I was also pregnant). I was like, wait we’re all just going to sit here while this song plays like nothing’s happening?

  22. “Iowa” by Dar Williams!!!! always conjures up an image of me at 17, absolutely SOBBING the lyrics “what is love ? Where did it get me ? Whoever thought of love is no friend of mine” while driving away from dropping my high school girlfriend off at college

  23. one time I cried in a thrift store because Alessia Cara’s “Scars To Your Beautiful” came on and a little 5 or 6 y/o girl in the store started dancing and singing to her reflection in the mirror 😭 I popped into a dressing room real quick to cryyyyyy

  24. This is a masterpiece and so is that My Girl analogy. Hard agree on “Baby Can I Hold You Tonight,” which is my personal favorite cooking and crying song because you can do air drums and a microphone with whatever utensils you’re cooking with. My devestating shopping choices are all country music due to spending most of my time in lines at CVS in Georgia, most notably the saddest fucking song ever recorded: Where’ve You Been, by Kathy Mattea. (Do NOT look up this song if you don’t know it; it will destroy your life.)

    • Related/Not Realted: I was at a cousin’s birthday party recently and the live band was playing My Girl. Instead of dancing, I hung out with my dad at our table and entertained him by air drumming to the song. Little did I know EVERYONE at the party was watching me and now I’m known to a small community of people in Nevada as the air drumming girl. (Hey – no one has ever complained about a bad air drummer). But yeah also on the “Baby Can I Hold You Tonight”. The FEEEELZ!

  25. Hard same on the Dixie Chicks version of Landslide.

    My top three are Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) by Green Day, Fire and Rain by James Taylor, and for SOME reason, Starbucks thought it was a GREAT idea to play “For Good” from Wicked in BROAD DAYLIGHT last week and I cried into my iced caramel macchiato. (Then they went straight into Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” and it was like emotional whiplash.)

    Wow, I’m literally crying right now just thinking about each of these songs 😭

  26. going through my first real breakup with a girl and omg this was a good list for finding catharsis crying songs. also would add Mitski’s Nobody, it’s not exactly supermarket music but our local indie station plays it constantly

  27. In the arms of an Angel far away from here
    From this dark, cold hotel room, and the endlessness that you fear
    You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie
    In the arms of an Angel; may you find some comfort here
    You’re in the arms of an Angel; may you find some comfort here

  28. Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton occasionally comes on in various stores, which is literally about the tragic death of his 4 year old son! WHAT BUSINESS DOES A PUBLIC PLACE HAVE PLAYING THIS SONG WILLY NILLY? And some country downers: The Dance by Garth Brooks and Whiskey Lullaby by Alison Krauss & Brad Paisley – both instacries.

  29. I came here from the “Hallelujah” quote and I just wanted to announce that “Hallelujah” and “Jolene” can be sung to each other’s melodies (with some adjustment/repetition for the choruses).

    • Mary Lambert, “Lay your head down” …relevant on so many levels to this conversation. (“Fuck you, Sarah McLaughlin”) I can only hear this in the car driving by myself because it makes me laugh hysterically AND cry, which make people call security. Also, “She Keeps Me Warm” is pretty devastating.

  30. Oh yes, and add to these nightswimming – REM
    Silent all these years – tori
    I am not my hair – India arie
    And oddly ‘closer to fine’ although that’s maybe more of a happy cry?

  31. my contribution is “stars” by grace potter and the nocturnals – always makes me think of my childhood friend who died my senior year of high school. the lyrics are so terribly sad and her voice is so terribly beautiful.

    BUT this one time i was buying coffee in chelsea and for some ungodly reason they were playing the hamilton soundtrack and i was just trying to get my espresso but “who lives, who dies, who tells your story” was on. just as i was taking my cup from the barista we got to “the orphanage” which is ALWAYS the moment that i completely break apart and the poor queer with my coffee met my gaze and we both just had this utterly resigned look of people who know they are about to weep unapologetically in public. it was very upsetting.

  32. Unbreak My Heart by Toni Braxton, When You’re Gone by Avril Lavigne, Alone by Heart, Broken by Lifehouse… catch me wandering around the frozen foods section looking dramatically around like I’m in the world’s lowest budget music video

    Truly the WORST song to play in public though is Martina McBride’s “Concrete Angel” which is literally about a child being abused and dying??? WHY would anyone think someone wants to listen to that while chilling in a coffee shop????

  33. Moments of Pleasure by Kate Bush. This song renders me insensible as soon as it hits the chorus. Not often found in the wild, but good god it’ll kill me if I ever run into it unprepared. If you’ve ever lost someone important, or several important people, and can relate to cataloging your memories, this’ll get you too. Plus she has the Kate voice, so.

  34. Natalie Merchant – Kind and Generous

    Every. Single. Time.

    I want to thank you for your generosity, the love
    And the honesty that you gave me
    I want to thank you show my gratitude
    My love, and my respect for you, I want to thank you
    Oh, I want to thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you
    I want to thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you

    Makes me think of my grandmother. Oh, god there’s many things in my eyes.

  35. Shocked no one has mentioned Tracy Chapman’s The Promise?

    The first girl I ever had feelings for and I broke up while listening to Khalid’s album American Teen on loop. Specifically cannot listen to the song Saved without losing it no matter how hard I try. It particularly roils me that she was obsessed with that song because it reminder her of *her* ex whom she was not over, eventually leading to our demise. One of my favorite yoga teachers played this song during class (brutal) and I still haven’t forgiven him.

    Also my dad put the song Still Fighting It by Ben Folds on a playlist that I discovered on my iPod after I moved across the country for college. I don’t remember any of the other songs on the playlist but that one will wrench my heart from the first three words.

  36. I had two conference papers to write this week, so I spent a lot of time in my local Costa, and I was getting really pissed off by the weirdly anodyne, unreal music they were playing. It sounded like it had been written for a corporate promotional video, full of blandly positive lyrics and just in general offensively inoffensive. After reading this thread, I think I have more understanding and respect for their choices.

  37. I have straight up plugged my ears in a frozen food aisle to avoid the Dixie Chicks cover of Landslide.

    I full heartedly agree with every previous mention of Oasis.

    I would also like to nominate Long Ride Home by Patty Griffin (3 out of 5 fast cars)

  38. No joke, yesterday “Fast Car” came up on my Spotify shuffle While.I.Was.At.My.Work.Place and then I saw this article for the first time right after. The universe is mysterious.

    As a gloomy teen who grew into a less-gloomy adult, a lot of The Smith’s discography was/is an emotional danger zone for me- “I Know It’s Over” specifically is one of the most depressing songs I’ve ever encountered, and as much as I still love that song and that band it’s not one I can listen to willy-nilly.

  39. I can’t even remember in what public place I heard Sometime Around Midnight by
    The Airborne Toxic Event for the first time because I obviously blacked right on out.

    Rachel, thank you for this work of genius, I have never felt so seen and understood.

  40. I think that even worse than “Fast Car” is the peppy, upbeat cover of “Fast Car.” Because at first you don’t recognize it, just a generic pop song. And then you hear the lyrics and realize what it is and suddenly you’re emotionally wrecked in the snack aisle.

  41. I know that this whole post was basically a big trigger warning and I’ve heard Brandi Carlisle songs before, but I was still unprepared for midday sobbing when I hit play on that video.

  42. While not as much a heartbreak bomb as Party of One (heard once, am in bits), I’d like to add Robyn with “Dancing on my Own”. It’s not specifically about a lesbian romance going bad, but I’m all over the imagery about a girl I fancy getting it on with another while… well while I dance over here, in the corner badly, on my own wishing and all that.

  43. Hi. I logged in for the first time in a year to say that I, too, was hit with surprise sobbing re: party of one, and I respectfully disagree with your rating. party of one snuck up on me in the car with my students and earned at least 6/5 fast cars, making it, possibly, the new fast car.

  44. Any version of Romeo and Juliet. Obviously, the Indigo Girls cover comes first on foremost in terms of Gay Melancholy™, but the Dire Straits original, the The Killers cover, the Matt Nathanson cover– any version of that song seriously debilitates me.

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