Top 10 ‘I’m Sorry’ Songs
Apologies don’t easily cross the lips of rock stars, which means that the Top 10 “I’m Sorry” Songs aren’t as obvious as you might think. Of course, if this site was called Ultimate Emo Rock, we’d probably have to make it a Top 20. But classic rockers don’t apologize often. Paul McCartney might have been hoping ‘We Can Work it Out,’ but he really just wanted you to see it his way. Mick Jagger can ‘Miss You,’ but he’s not going to say he’s sorry. Robert Plant will take ownership on ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine,’ but apologize? I don’t think so. And yet some legendary musicians have mustered up the courage to admit in a song that they, just like Brenda Lee before them, are so sorry. Here are 10 of the best “I’m Sorry” songs.
No that’s not Ozzy Osbourne, but drummer Bill Ward singing on the album-closing cut… which is reason enough to make this a sorry song. (O.K, now we’re sorry, that was mean.) In the lead-up to ‘Never Say Die!’ – the last Ozzy/Sabbath album until 2013 – Osbourne was temporarily replaced by Dave Walker, and the other members wrote some songs with their new singer. When Ozzy returned, he refused to sing any of the Walker material, so Ward bellowed ‘Swinging the Chain.’ The sludgy boogie appears to address Sabbath’s tumultuous times. Perhaps it was an apology to fans: “We’re sad and sorry / Really sorry that it happened that way.”
On this country-friend rocker from Skynyrd’s most recent album, Johnny Van Zant ditches his woman in favor of helping out his bandmates. He returns home at the end of the night, cowboy hat in hand, and tries to make good: “Ain’t got no excuses / No alibis / I said I was sorry / She said, ‘I’ve heard it all before’.” And then, somehow, Johnny appears to be forgiven. Whether this is selective memory or just one of the perks of being in a world famous rock band is left to our imaginations.
There’s nothing more appropriate for the Top 10 I’m Sorry Songs than a single titled ‘Sorry.’ This nugget comes via Australian garage rockers the Easybeats (also known for the wonderful ‘Friday on My Mind’). The story is straight out of ‘Three’s Company.’ Our hero set two dates with two different girls for the same night. Amidst, frontman Stevie Wright remembers that he forgot to go on the one with his steady girlfriend and tells us that he’s sorry (about a dozen times). It’s no use. The mailman shows up with a breakup letter from his girl the next day – which either means that the girl saw it coming or the Australian Post Office had amazing service in the ’60s.
This bit of metallic menace from late period Cheap Trick is as snarling as apologies come. Steve Albini gets a co-writing credit (along with all four other Tricksters), which might explain its steely tone. Robin Zander growls about evil deeds on the song and seems to take the form of a homicidal maniac who drones, “Sorry boy…” as he goes about his nasty business. Is he actually sorry? Probably only that you’re in his way.
When the late, great Phil Lynott wasn’t singing about hitting the town, he was crooning about a broken heart. That’s the case on ‘Running Back’ – which to be clear, is not about an affair with Walter Payton. No, Phil’s woman has up and left him and he’s trying to figure out a way back: “If I said I was sorry / Would you still leave me?” At least he can take consolation in the inspiration. He sings earnestly, “I make my money singing songs about you.”
Just like ‘Swinging the Chain’ (see above), here’s a “sorry” song from a band’s final album that could be about the group’s breakup. By ’73, Rod Stewart’s fame had eclipsed that of his bandmates, including bassist/vocalist Ronnie Lane, who wrote this sparse, melancholy ditty. He’s certainly not apologizing to Rod (Lane would quit the Faces a few months after the release of ‘Ooh La La’ rather than continue to take a backseat to Stewart), but is sorry that his band is falling apart.
Neil Diamond wrote this hit single for the prefab four, not long after they had a smash with another one of his songs, ‘I’m a Believer.’ Davy Jones handles lead vocals and admits fault, well, at least a little bit. “I’m a little bit wrong / You’re a little bit right,” he coos. Even though he doesn’t know what he’s done wrong, he apologizes. And if you think that Davy had to apologize to any girl at the height of Monkeemania, you must be some sort of daydream believer.
Yes, it’s on the Top 10 “I’m Sorry” Songs, but this Elton John/Bernie Taupin collaboration actually stops just short of an apology. Over watery instrumentation, John mourns a broken relationship, “a sad, sad situation” in which neither party can quite bring themselves to say they’re sorry for the hurt that’s been inflicted. Sir Elton asks some hard questions, but the answer is even harder to come by.
Here’s a fair fight if there ever was one. In this corner, we have a mercurial young woman. And in this corner, we have the mercurial Bob Dylan. Good luck trying to get anything accomplished, although Dylan does actually apologize on the ‘Blonde on Blonde’ classic. Of course, he walks back just about everything he says. The song begins, “I didn’t mean to treat you so bad / You shouldn’t take it so personal / I didn’t mean to make you so sad / You just happened to be there, that’s all.” So maybe it’s not surprising that Dylan’s girl is clawing his eyes out by the end of the song.
When it comes to heartfelt “sorry” songs, it’s tough to out-do this classic Lennon ballad. The music for ‘Jealous Guy’ was inspired by the Beatles’ trip to India in 1968, but Lennon switched out the lyrics when making the ‘Imagine’ album. Although Lennon publicly stated that the song was about Yoko Ono, and making amends for his insecure nature in the past, McCartney said that Lennon told him that ‘Jealous Guy’ was about his ex-bandmate. Whether it’s an apology to his wife or a regretful eulogy for the Beatles, Lennon’s ‘Jealous Guy’ is a perfect song about imperfection.