When a really gifted songwriter writes a song about death, their music and lyrics can move you in some very incredible ways.  It's such a sensitive topic, so when they do it well, you can't help but feel connected to them.  I have compiled a list of some of my favorite songs about death, grief and remembrance.  Some songs you will know.  Others will probably be new to you.  In no particular order:

"Pretty Angry" by Blues Traveler

This is a particularly moving song about losing a bandmate and friend to a drug addiction.   After a 55 second piano introduction, singer John Popper delivers one of my most favorite lines in any song: "I wish I drank tequila/ I wish I stayed up late/ But lately when the sandman comes/ You know I just can't wait/ No lately I can't Wait/ And we packed up all your boxes/ It's all be hauled away/ I never stare at walls so bare/ Cause something always stays/ Yeah something of you stays.  

This leads to its first beautiful chorus:

"I want to shout from my guitar/ Come out come out wherever you are/ The joke is over, open your eyes/ A heart like yours, it never dies/ And I found your keys behind the chair/ I still can see you standing there/ This isn't funny; don't fool around/ You let me go/ You let me down/ And I guess I'm still pretty angry/ And I don't want to be/ I don't know which was the bigger waste of time/ Missing you or wishing instead it was me."

"Song For Adam" by Jackson Browne

Featuring a finger picked guitar, a violin,  the pathos of Jackson Browne's clear tenor and a bass guitar that complements the song more than it keeps rhythm, "Song For Adam" details the suicide of Adam, one of Browne's friends.  Though it's theorized that Adam jumped, Browne can't accept it. Rather, he's "thinking that {Adam} fell."   Browne is crushed and it makes him feel like "a candle, in a way."  It's a touching piece of music—and a gutsy inclusion on a debut album, I might add.

"Let It Be" by The Beatles

It may be the quintessential popular rock song on the subject. It probably needs no other explanation.

"Julia" by The Beatles

It would be almost unfair to compile a list like this,  include "Let It Be"—a song about the death of Paul's McCartney's mum—without also including an equally beautiful song by John Lennon about the death of his mother.  While "Let It Be" includes all The Beatles, "Julia" is simply John alone on the guitar and voice.  It wasn't a number one hit like Paul's, but it also wasn't a pop song.  It's enigmatic and strange in it's wonderful beauty.  

"Fire And Rain" by James Taylor

Second only to "Let It Be."  It's the reason his listeners first fell in love with him.  "Fire And Rain" is both poetic and frank in it's description of Taylor's relationship with Susanne, his girlfriend who died in a plane crash.   On the album  Sweet Baby James, "Fire And Rain" is ppropriately preceded by a gorgeous cover of Stephen Foster's "Oh Susannah."  I think it'd be worth your while to hear the two together.  

"Fire And Rain" also includes some wonderful James Taylor history hidden inside of it.  Listen to the line "Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces in the ground."  Sure, you can interpret it as Susanne's plane crashing.  But you can also interpret it as the breakup of "The Flying Machine" James Taylor's first band with guitarist Danny Kortchmar, which occurred only a couple years before Sweet Baby James was released.  Here's a recording of the band JT probably thought was going to be his claim to fame.


Note: Guitarist Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar played with James Taylor on most of his recordings.  What a coincidence that Taylor's best friend happened to be so talented.  Incidentally, he appears on countless hit records by a plethora of other famous artists of the 70s and 80s.  Without a doubt, Danny Kortchmar is one of the most important guitarists and producers of all time (that's why I put his name in bold.)  Seriously, ask any prominent musician of that time period.  If they don't agree with me, they probably were never all that prominent.  Or good.  Kootch is also a great songwriter.  Take this number one hit he wrote for Don Henley, for example.  

"Texas Girl For The Funeral of Her Father" by Randy Newman


One of my biggest pet peeves is when people rip on Randy Newman. If only people weren't so ignorant! Randy Newman is a genius.  He's not just a genius songwriter.  He's a genius composer, arranger, composer and conductor.  Sure, music taste is subjective, but I consider this a natural truth.  

One of Newman's most underrated compositions is "Texas Girl At The Funeral of Her Father." It's an example of everything that's great about Newman: his ability to compose and arrange string parts, his unique vocal, his totally original chord progressions and his uncanny ability to tell a detailed and moving story.

"Keg on My Coffin" by Chris Trapper

First, what a great songwriter.  He's also a real treat to see live—I highly recommend you do.  This is a wonderful—and oddly hilarious—folk song that has also been covered many times in concert by Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty.

"Ever Since The Day" by Chris Trapper

This is Chris at his serious side.  One of the reasons I love Chris Trapper is that, like Randy Newman, he has the ability to write songs with words that are more like short stories than song lyrics.  This song tells the story of a new kid, "the stranger" who "came to town."   A group of friends decide they hate him—probably because they are bored.  They decide to test his worth by having him race his car with one of their friends for "a $20 bet."  

In the end, one of the cars "drives right off a hill" ending in a fiery death for one of the drivers.  The others are left scarred, "shell shocked and immune."  Trapper explains that "ever since the day {they've} never been the same" and remain "hollow and afraid." This song is so captivating that it's easy to not even realize that Trapper is rhyming with nearly every line.  Amazing.  

"Shine on You Crazy Diamond" and "Wish You Were Here" by Pink Floyd

Former Floyd Bandleader Syd Barrett only died recently, but when he was young his mind sort of imploded and he went crazy after the band's first record.  These songs are about losing a bandmate to a mental illness.  The recordings couldn't have been more "authentic."  As the story goes, in the middle of the mixing process for "Shine On" Syd Barrett, looking like a shadow of his former self came in and sat down.  Neither Roger Waters nor David Gilmour could recognize their former bandmate.  These two recordings, and the album they appear on, are legendary.

"When Can I Kiss You Again" by Michael Brecker

Jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker, like Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar, is another one of those legendary guys who played on everything.  Here's a quick example:

"When Can I Kiss You Again" is from Brecker's last album, the Grammy award winning, Pilgrimag.  Brecker who was suffering from the final stages of leukemia.  "When Can I Kiss You Again?" is the question Brecker's son asked him after he was put into the critical care unit.  It's gorgeous and tear jerking. 

"Borrowed Tune" and "Tonight's The Night" by Neil Young

Because he was "Too wasted to write [his] own," Neil Young literally borrows the melody from The Rolling Stones' "Lady Jones" for the appropriately titled "Borrowed Tune," a song about the death of his long time roadie Bruce Berry and bandmate Danny Whitten of Crazy Horse.  This underrated song features some of Young's best lyrics and, in my opinion, the finest vocal he ever recorded.  The details of these two men are also featured on "Tonight's The Night" (both tunes are found on the album of the same name) and features future E-Street Band guitarist Nils Logren on lead guitar.  

Let's end on a high note.  In the words of Paul Simon: "Let's hope that we continue to live!"