My Top Ten: Songs About Death

My Top Ten

About two years ago, I attempted to start My Top Ten as the Editor-In-Chief of Sadly, burdened by the overwhelming duties of running a site, I was unable to maintain the feature in the manner it deserved. However, in my new role as a staff writer at Under the Gun, I wanted to attempt to bring the feature new life.

The rules are simple: Pick a subject and make a top ten list out of it. This week for instance I am planning to feature my top ten songs about death. Note that the list is MY top ten. In no way am I attempting to convey these songs as the best ten songs. I’m simply pointing out that they are my favorite on the subject.

To make this feature more fun, I would love for each person reading to play along, commenting their top ten on the subject as well. I’d love for this feature to become a weekly community of discussion. For now however, I’ll get to the point.

10. Easy/Lucky/FreeBright Eyes: There was a period in my life when everything fell apart. Within a six week period, my grandfather (who was also my best friend) and mother both passed away unexpectedly. The entire world around me seemed to unravel. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t work. I didn’t really function. This song is the one thing that eased that pain. Something about the words spilling from Conor Oberst’s lips lined up flawlessly with the direction of my life. It honestly seemed like he was speaking directly to me. “Did it all get real? I guess its real enough,” he would ask.  I would relate in a way I had never experienced. He sympathized with me and my struggles of dealing with a subject that had never really crossed my mind until the moment we stood there graveside. Then, he pushed me forward, reminding me to stop listening for patterns in the sound and fixating on heaven. Then bluntly said “but don’t you weep (for them). There is nothing as Lucky, as easy or free.”

It just clicked.

(Spotify Link: Bright Eyes – Easy/Lucky/Free)

9.  Whiskey Lullaby Brad Paisley (Featuring Alison Krauss): Honestly, what would a top ten list about death be without a country song or two? This list will have two. The first of those two features one of my favorite storytellers, Alison Krauss. Her beautiful beautiful bluegrass vocals are as Americana as it comes. This number, featuring a plot of two lovers, separated by a life changing mistake, discusses the lives they spend as they drink themselves to death to cope with regret. Brad Paisley’s guitar is haunting and Krauss provides perfect strings to compliment. This song is for anyone, not just fans of country.

(Spotify Link: Brad Paisley – Whiskey Lullaby (Featuring Alison Krauss))

8.  It Just IsRilo Kiley: Jenny Lewis has a way about her doesn’t she? She can take the saddest songs and make them seem somewhat charming. “It Just Is” falls into this category. If you’re not paying complete attention to the words she’s using, you’ll quickly overlook her sadness. But lyrically she states:

“And this loss isn’t good enough
For sorrow or inspiration
It’s such a loss for the good guys
Afraid of this life That it just is
Cause everybody Dies.”

(Spotify Link Rilo Kiley – It Just Is)

7. He Stopped Loving Her TodayGeorge Jones: This is the saddest song ever written, period.

(Spotify Link: George Jones – He Stopped Loving Her Today – Single Version)

6. Ocean Breathes SaltyModest Mouse: These lyrics speak for themselves:

“Your body may be gone, I’m gonna carry you in.
In my head, in my heart, in my soul.
And maybe we’ll get lucky and we’ll both live again.
Well I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. Don’t think so.”

(Spotify Link: Modest Mouse – Ocean Breathes Salty)

5. Jesus ChristBrand New: “Jesus Christ” approaches the concept of the fear of death and the anxiety of not knowing what exactly the afterlife has to offer. It is an extremely beautiful approach to the concept of our own mortality and the struggle with the belief (or lack there of) of God.

(Spotify Link: Brand New – Jesus Christ)

4. What Sarah SaidDeath Cab For Cutie: I’ve long thought that Death Cab for Cutie and frontman Ben Gibbard were lyrical geniuses. “What Sarah Said” however, sealed this deal for me. Line for line, Gibbard captures death and the experiences of sitting in a hospital, waiting for bad news, without flaw. The storytelling builds to a point where Gibbard whispers, “love is watching someone die.” Bam. If that doesn’t punch you in the heartstrings, very little will.

(Spotify Link: Death Cab for Cutie – What Sarah Said)

3. Thank-You NoteButch Walker: There is a simplicity to this song that makes it work. With the chorus told from a parent perspective, writing thank you notes to those who attended a daughter’s funeral, Butch sings the content of his: “And as I’m writing these thank you notes, there’s just one thing she wanted you to know, just before she had to go, she said that she liked you.”

On the final chorus, Walker released the most unnerving sigh revealing a sincerity that few artists ever manage to approach. This single, unplanned, moment sets the song apart from everything else in his already strong catalog.

It could bring the toughest fan to tears.

(Spotify Link: Butch Walker – Thank-You Note)

2. Hear You MeJimmy Eat World: While I have no foundation or resources for this belief, I often associate this song with a heartbreaking story that plays like a movie in my head. I picture Jimmy Eat World selling merch at one of their shows, when a girl offers to put them up for the night. The band leaves in the morning after a late night of talking and hanging out. They don’t wake the girl to say goodbye, trying to be polite. However, prior to being able to return to the city with thankfulness and excitement to see their new friend, they receive the news that she has died. The pain and regret of this experience can be heard clearly in the voice of Jim Adkins as he belts out “may angels lead you in.”

I’ve probably listened to this song five thousand times in the decade since Bleed America dropped. To date, this song has never once left me without goosebumps. In terms of raw honesty, it is second to none.

(Spotify Link: Jimmy Eat World – Hear You Me)

1. Dead Of WinterThe Eels: In my opinion, no song has ever gathered a more creative and complete description of watching someone you love die of cancer. As the song’s cello tugs at your heartstrings, E humbly states in a heartbreaking voice:

“So I know you’re going pretty soon
Radiation Sore throat has got your tongue
Magic Markers tattoo you to show it where to aim
While strangers break their promises
That you won’t feel any
Won’t feel any pain…”

I can think of few things more powerful than that.

(Spotify Link: Eels – Dead Of Winter)

Spotify Playlist: My Top Ten: Songs About Death

So what about you? What are your ten?

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3 Responses to “My Top Ten: Songs About Death”

  1. All good ones. Also, “Kettering” by the Antlers. Really the whole album.

  2. All the songs are really heart touching.Nice collection. I like it.

  3. Grace says:

    The only one I was going to suggest was “Hear You Me” but that’s in here already.
    A fine list.
    I’d recommend you look up a track called “Say My Name” by Within Temptation – not, strictly speaking, about death, but rather about losing someone through Alzheimer’s. It’s very beautiful and very moving.