Death is an unavoidable topic that musicians also come back to again and again. Many artists sing about their own eternal sleep or their experience of the end of life of someone close or far away. The passing is a theme that spans all genres and eras of popular music.
Many pop stars have released songs about death. Perhaps it is not so surprising. It’s a wide-ranging topic that lends itself to all kinds of songs: from ballads about death to heartbreak songs, or lighthearted songs about dying, to songs that pay tribute to the sleep of death, there are countless ways to sing or rap about the end of life.
Love or fear the grim reaper, but he will come, therefore you might as well sing about him. In our two playlists, you can find the most popular songs about death and a list of German songs that deal with the topic of death and dying.
(You can find a Spotify playlist at the end of the article.)
Songs about death:
01. Eric Clapton – Tears in Heaven
Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven” is probably one of the most touching songs that deal with the subject of death. Eric Clapton penned the song after his 4-year-old son died in March 1991 from the 53.
Clapton fell from the first floor of a skyscraper in New York. Shortly before, Clapton had already lost his manager, two event technicians, and a friend in a helicopter accident. In 1991 Clapton began to work on the soundtrack for the movie “Rush”.
Together with the songwriter, Will Jennings Clapton wrote “Tears In Heaven”, in which he processed among other things the death of his son. The song is about a possible reunion in heaven and the hope that one can find peace there.
02. The Beatles – Let It Be
Paul McCartney and his bandmates went through difficult times in the 1960s, often pondering the meaning of life. Paul McCartney gave as the reason for this loss of thought the use of Drugs. The unhappiness of the band members caused more frequent quarrels and so in 1970 McCartney composed the song “Let It Be”.
The first line of the song reads “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me”. McCartney refers to his late mother Mary, who appeared to him in a dream, which gave him new strength. He wanted to put aside the quarrels with his bandmates and concentrate on the essentials again.
03. Puff Daddy, Faith Evans & 112 – I’ll Be Missing You
In May of the same year, his friend Sean John Combs, whose stage name was then Puff Daddy, dedicated a song to him. Together with Faith Evans, the wife of the late Notorious B.I.G., and the R’n’B group 112 released the song “I’ll Be Missing You”. The song is about mourning, missing a good friend, and the hope that you will meet again in heaven.
04. Metallica – Fade To Black
The band Metallica has taken a lot of criticism for their song “Fade to Black”. For a long time, it was said that the song could tempt some fans to commit suicide.
However, Metallica actually received numerous letters from fans who were grateful for the powerful ballad. “Fade To Black” was the first power ballad of the Metal Band. The lyrics are about the protagonist not finding the strength to go on in life and wanting to put an end to it all. Many fans could be helped and given new strength by this honest lyric.
Lars Ulrich stated in an interview that he and James Hetfield often dealt with the topic of death at the time of the recording.
05. Bob Dylan – Knockin’ On Heavens Door
In 1973 the movie “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid” was released, for whose soundtrack Bob Dylan wrote a song. The lyrics of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” refer to the feelings of the dying sheriff Colin Baker.
The sheriff has been shot and is knocking on the gates of heaven, so to speak, awaiting death. His wife does not leave his side in this difficult situation. The song was covered several times.
Among them are Cover versions by Eric Clapton, Guns N’ Roses, and a version in memory of the victims of the shooting at a school in Dunblane, Scotland.
06. Death Cab for Cutie – I Will Follow You Into the Dark
At the age of 28, Ben Gibbard was intensely concerned with life and death. The lead singer of the band Death Cab For Cutie wrote the ballad “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” at this time. Gibbard stated that he wrote the song in about 20 minutes. “I Will Follow You Into The Dark” is a love song about following your partner wherever they may go after death, be it heaven, hell, or the great dark unknown.
With the song, Gibbard also wanted to make it clear that we should cherish our younger years when we don’t yet lose a loved one “every week”.
07. The Smiths – There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
Dark lyrics are nothing out of the ordinary for the songs of The Smiths. “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” is no exception, but the song is not just somber. The lyrical I seems to be hopeful. The song is about two people driving around together in a car.
The protagonist sings about what it would be like to be forever connected by a car accident. In the protagonist, this idea triggers a joyful feeling. “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” is a love song that focuses on death together as a symbol of being together forever.
08. Queen – The Show Must Go On
If there is one singer who internalized the saying “The Show Must Go On” more than any other, it was Freddie Mercury. The singer recorded the song in the last days of his life. The song was mostly written by lead guitarist Brian May.
For May and the rest of the band, the song was a way to talk about the difficult situation the band was in due to Freddie Mercury’s progressing AIDS disease. May was worried at the beginning that Freddie would not be able to sing the song as intended due to his illness, but Freddie convinced him otherwise.
09. The Shangri-Las – Leader Of The Pack
Shangri-Las’ “Leader Of The Pack” is about a forbidden love that ends sadly. The protagonist of the song is in love with the leader of a motorcycle gang. Her parents, however, are against the liaison of the two and force the girl to break up with her lover.
He is not good enough for her daughter. After the relationship ends, the leader of the gang makes off on his motorcycle. On a rainy night, he gets killed on his bike.
Although the song conveys a rather sad message, the singer of the Shangri-Las performs it as if it were a happy song.
10. Local Natives – Airplanes
“Airplanes” by US indie band Local Natives is about the death of a grandfather. To be more specific, it’s about the grandfather of keyboardist Kelcey Ayer. This one lost his grandpa when he was two years old, so he knows it mostly from his father’s stories. The song is about the many little things we remember when someone passes away.
It’s also about the hope of being reunited in death.
11. Modest Mouse – Ocean Breathes Salty
“Ocean Breathes Salty” by the band Modest Mouse is about remembering someone who has passed away. It’s about the promise to carry on the memory of the person and always carry it in your heart and soul.
The accompanying music video also deals with the topic of death. A young boy finds an injured bird, played in part by lead singer Isaac Brock, and tries to nurse it back to health. The boy dreams that he will be able to play with the bird when he is well again.
Unfortunately, the bird does not survive.
12. Blue Öyster Cult – Don’t Fear The Reaper
Because of the line “Romeo and Juliet are together in eternity”, the song “Don’t Fear The Reaper” is often misunderstood as a suicide song. However, guitarist Buck Dharma has spoken about it personally. The song is about eternal love and what role death plays in it.
The title of the song means that you should not be afraid of the reaper. Death is inevitable and for that reason, it makes little sense to be afraid of it. The idea for the song came to Dharma when he thought about what it would be like if an early death befell him.
13. Nick Cave feat. PJ Harvey – Henry Lee
The song “Henry Lee” by Nick Cave and PJ Harvey is based on a Scottish folk song called “Young Hunting”. The several hundred-year-old folk songs is about a man who tells a woman that he loves someone else.
After that, the events overtake each other. The young woman persuades the man to drink with her one more time. However, the evening ends with the man’s death, as the woman stabs him and dumps his body in the river.
The version by Nick Cave and PJ Harvey is a little different lyrically and most closely resembles a version by Dick Justice from 1929.
14. Elton John – Candle in the Wind
In 1962, the acting legend Marilyn Monroe committed suicide, after a long period of anxiety and Depression succumbed. 11 years later, Elton John wrote a song with his colleague Bernie Taupin in memory of the actress beloved by many. “Candle in the Wind” is more about Marilyn Monroe’s difficult life than the death itself. Elton John sings about how the actress never found a firm footing in her life and how many people in her life didn’t mean her any good.
In a later version from 1997, Elton John sings about Princess Diana, who died in a car accident at that time.
15. Radiohead – Videotape
“Videotape” is one of the most difficult songs by the band Radiohead, although it sounds rather plain at first listen. Due to its complexity, the song is rarely performed live in front of an audience. The song is about a dying person who does not manage to say goodbye to his loved ones in person.
That is why he recorded his parting on video. In the lyrics, it says “Mephistopheles is just beneath, and he’s reaching up to grab me”, which indicates that the lyrical I will die soon. In the end, the relatives should be encouraged.
More songs about dying:
Each song is linked to the corresponding music video via the title.
|16.||November Rain||Guns N’ Roses|
|18.||Funeral for a Friend||Elton John|
|19.||Ode to Billie Joe||Bobbie Gentry|
|20.||At Your Funeral||Saves The Day|
|22.||I Seen a Man Die||Scarface|
|23.||Dust in the Wind||Kansas|
|25.||Ready to Die||The Notorious B.I.G.|
|26.||The Last Song||Elton John|
|27.||Life Goes On||2Pac|
|28.||We Are the Dead||David Bowie|
|29.||Long Live The Queen||Frank Turner|
|30.||In My Time of Dying||Led Zeppelin|
|31.||Someone Great||LCD Soundsystem|
|32.||The Last Carnival||Bruce Springsteen|
|33.||Only One||Kanye West|
|34.||Like a Stone||Audioslave|
|35.||I Shot the Sheriff||Bob Marley|
|36.||Do You Realize?||The Flaming Lips|
|37.||Tonight’s the Night||Neil Young|
|38.||Empty Garden||Elton John|
|39.||Hallowed Be Thy Name||Iron Maiden|
|40.||Keep Me In Your Heart||Warren Zevon|
|41.||The Needle and the Damage Done||Neil Young|
|42.||Somebody Got Murdered||The Clash|
|43.||The Great Gig In The Sky||Pink Floyd|
|44.||Gallows Pole||Led Zeppelin|
|45.||Many Men (Wish Death)||50 Cent|
|46.||I Wish||R. Kelly|
|47.||Sex, Death, and Money||Alice Cooper|
|48.||Last Kiss||Pearl Jam|
|49.||Dead Man’s Curve||Jan & Dean|
|50.||I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight||Cutting Crew|
|51.||King’s Crossing||Elliott Smith|
|52.||If I Die Young||The Band Perry|
|53.||Going, Going, Gone||Bob Dylan|
|54.||American Pie||Don McLean|
|55.||The Killing of Georgie||Rod Stewart|
|56.||Coldest Winter||Kanye West|
|57.||The Black Angel’s Death Song||The Velvet Underground|
|59.||Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst||Kendrick Lamar|
|60.||The Show Must Go On||Queen|
|61.||One Sweet Day||Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men|
|62.||The Spirit Carries On||Dream Theater|
|63.||Live and Die||The Avett Brothers|
|64.||Dancing with Mr. D||Rolling Stones|
|66.||Hey Joe||Jimi Hendrix|
|67.||Seasons in the Sun||Terry Jacks|
|68.||Memphis Skyline||Rufus Wainwright|
|69.||Only The Good Die Young||Billy Joel|
|70.||Death Sound Blues||Country Joe and The Fish|
|71.||Blaze of Glory||Jon Bon Jovi|
|72.||People Who Died||Jim Carroll Band|
|73.||(I Just) Died in Your Arms||Cutting Crew|
|74.||Brick||Ben Folds Five|
|75.||Another One Bites The Dust||Queen|
|76.||Song for Guy||Elton John|
Music is known to help in all kinds of situations. Music can ease all kinds of pain. And even though what you’re going through seems so insurmountable, it’s possible to find some comfort in music.
Self sad songs Can provide its own kind of company and remind us of the good times.
Many songs deal with death, but not all deal with it in the same way. While Elton John wrote memorial songs with “Candle in the Wind” and Puff Daddy and Faith Evans with “I’ll be missing you,” Metallica dealt with suicide with “Fade to Black”. Other songs deal with the fatal end of a tragic love (“Leader oft he Pack,” “Henry Lee”).
But hope is also a common theme addressed in songs about death.