May 19, 2008

All Time Best Pop Death Songs

As I have previously mentioned, even as a young child I had an affinity for dark and depressing music. I find sad themes to be strangely uplifting in the hands of a skilled composer, as though the misery of others somehow makes my own troubles seem less serious, or that the expression of the powerful emotions associated with trauma and loss touches me in a way that other genres cannot.

Color me then melancholic.

Anyways, here is a short list of some of my favorite songs of death, in no particular order. Surely no life event is as disruptive and profound as the death of a loved one, and listed below are some songs that I think capture the pain, loneliness, and desolation associated with an unexpected death.

Feel free to chime in with your own pop dirges!

"Seasons in the Sun," Terry Jacks - Yeah, I know - this song has become something of a cliché for sappy sentimentality, but I have always loved this song, and the protagonist-as-foreteller-of-impending-death still works.

"Last Kiss," J. Frank Wilson - Later covered by Pearl Jam, the original sounds like it was recorded in a graveyard under a full moon, and set the standard for all future teen death sonic dramas. The octave-higher female backup singers also added an ethereal touch that still gives me shivers.

"Tears In Heaven," Eric Clapton - This song - written by Clapton after the tragic death of his 3-year-old son Connor - is like a punch to the gut, given its origin. You have to wonder how Clapton could even choke out the lyrics the first few times he tried to sing it, though the hopeful longing of reunion keeps this song from spiralling into abject misery.

"Ohio," Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young - One of the angriest political songs in history, "Ohio" succinctly captured the collective outrage over the killings of unarmed protesters by National Guard troops at Kent State.

"Eleanor Rigby," The Beatles - Whether you view this as biting social commentary, or just a sad song about a lonely woman, "Eleanor Rigby" still digs at your soul, doesn't it? The innovative use of a double string quartet added a jarring, driving sound that sounded almost alien on the pop stations that played it in 1966.

"Alone Again (Naturally)," Gilbert O'Sullivan - In the span of 3:41, O'Sullivan sings of being jilted at the altar, the death of his parents, and of his own desire to throw himself from a tower. Yet this is a wry, somewhat understated, and highly literate examination of a bleak life that still resonates with me some 35 years after its release.

And your favorite death ditty is....


Anonymous said...

Billy Don't be a Hero, by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods!

Tim Higgins said...


Two to add to the list:

People: "Cat's in the Cradle" - Harry Chapin

...and I had to add this one, since you didn't specify species

"Critical Mass and Song for the Last Whale" - CSN

Jake said...

The Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End medley by the Beatles always strikes me as a death song of sorts. Not literally the death of a particular person, but of the Beatles as a band. It fits, since they're the last three songs on the last recorded Beatles record.

Street Spirit (Fade Out) by Radiohead is pretty good too.

Robin said...

"Beyond the Realms of Death" - Judas Priest

Mad Jack said...

In so far as I enjoy any sad, tragic or maudlin music, here are a few choices:

"The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot. Only because I've seen the ocean during a violent storm, and it's real nice if you're on land and inside looking out.
"I Wish It Would Rain Down" by Phil Collins/Eric Clapton. No reason, I just like the song.
"Can't Fight This Feeling" by REO Speedwagon. Reminds me of a friend of mine from some years back.
"Stagger Lee" by Wilson Pickett. AKA Stacker Lee, AKA Stack of Dollars. Black folk lore.
"Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet" by Mannheim Steamroller. One of my favorite plays, and the film was actually good.
"The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)" by Tom Waits. No explanation needed. Anyone who is not moved to tears by this poignant verse is an emotionally crippled sociopath.
"Your Song" by Elton John. A nice, unpretentious song.

HistoryMike, I cannot believe your taste in music. What have you been drinking? Thunderbird wine?

"Seasons in the Sun," Terry Jacks - Last time I heard this earworm it took me a week to knock it out of my head. This thing is bad bad bad!

"Last Kiss," J. Frank Wilson - No. Just plain no, not good, opposite of good.

"Tears In Heaven," Eric Clapton - No comment. I don't care for the song, but I can understand why Clapton wrote it.

"Ohio," Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young - Angry political song? How about "War" by Edwin Starr. That's angry. This isn't; this is whiny.

"Eleanor Rigby," The Beatles - Pass the pipe, bogart. This isn't a commentary on anything. This is commercial music.

"Alone Again (Naturally)," Gilbert O'Sullivan - Man, this is not all that good. This is not very good. Hearing it once was enough. Listening to it get played to death for several weeks made me want to write the author/composer and suggest he scale the Eiffel tower and try flying to the street below.

'nuff said. It's quickly approaching 7:00, and if I don't hurry I'll be more than fashionably late for happy hour. Here's how!

Andy Walpole said...

Gary Gilmore's Eyes by the Adverts - a seminal punk song from back in the day which charts the arrival of the murderers donated organs to the recipient!

microdot said...

I'm back from the grapes.....

Here's a few of my cheery faves'

Dead Finks Don't Talk
Brian Eno

Don't Fear The Reaper
Blue Oyster Cult

Last Caress
Nofx / Misfits

Death Of Me

The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carrol
Bob Dylan

I feel cheerier already!

M.. said...

Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley and I Want My Baby Back.

ObilonKenobi said...

Trent Reznor's (NIN) song "Hurt" is a depressing enough song, but when sung by the eternally black Johnny Cash it's not just sad and depressing, it's downright scary.

Also Sonic Youth's version of the Carpenters' "Superstar" brings out a profound desperation in the song that I never realized before.

"Everybody Hurts" by REM is one of my solid favorite depressing songs.

"Hold On" by Sarah MacLaughlin about a dying lover is another. It's a like a prayer in song.

"Beauty Queen/Horses" by Tori Amos is also a sparse, sad song.

"Sometimes When We Touch" by Dan Hill is a Classic Sad Song.

"The River" by Bruce Springsteen is a sad short story set to music about the frustration of life.

"Fade Into You" by Mazzy Star is a sad love song.

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Chelle said...

That's really a great list of songs, I don't know why but I like depressing music a lot too!

one i like is angel eyes by the buzz poets - it's kind of obscure & less "classic rock" as I would consider these, but a good one.