There is nothing simple about grief. It heightens difficult emotions, dulls the joy of the things you love, and creates a gap in your life that you are left trying to fill. Listening to various songs about grief can help ease the pain a bit, so in this article, I’m going to provide you with ten songs that I think tackle the touchy subject of grief, loss, and sadness extremely well.
Songs About Grief to Help Ease the Hurt
Let’s begin with a Green Day song.
Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day
Filling the role of the heartfelt ballad on Green Day’s iconic album American Idiot, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is a welcome moment of vulnerability on an album filled with outrage. While the song is stylistically congruent to the other tracks on American Idiot, it tells a more personal tale than the rest of the concept album.
Lead singer and songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong wrote the song about his father who passed in September 1982 when Armstrong was only 10 years old. Written over 20 years after his father’s death, the song tells of the ongoing grief and lasting impacts of the loss.
Despite the song’s inspiration, the grief that was so personal to Armstrong transcended to a much larger audience. Many listeners cannot help but be reminded of 9/11, especially considering that the song was released only 3 years after the attacks.
When the song was released as a single in 2005, it once again hit close to home for those impacted by Hurricane Katrina at the end of August. While the lyrics are specific to Armstrong’s circumstances, they touch on the universal pain that is felt after a profound loss.
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Fire and Rain by James Taylor
While widely known as the song that launched James Taylor’s career, “Fire and Rain” isn’t just a hit that put the folk-rock legend on the map. While the sweet melody and gentle guitar are both irresistible in their charms, the lyrics bring the substance and depth that have made the song a lasting standout.
The song is about the loss of Taylor’s friend Suzanne, who died by suicide while Taylor was recording overseas in London. “Fire and Rain” reflects on the shock of losing someone you care about during a time when you need a “helping hand” the most.
For those seeking comfort and reassurance during a period of loss, look no further than Carole King’s response to the song. Taylor has stated that King was inspired to write her own classic, “You’ve Got A Friend,” after hearing the lyrics “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend.”
He went on to record a version of the song himself, singing out the words of comfort King wrote: “All you have to do is call / and I’ll be there / you’ve got a friend.”
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I’ll Be Missing You by Diddy, 112, Faith Evans
Dedicated in the intro “to everyone that has lost someone that they truly loved”, “I’ll Be Missing You” explores and celebrates the legacies of those who have departed this life. Released less than 3 months after The Notorious B.I.G.’s death, this song was a collaborative effort between Diddy, R&B group 112, and B.I.G.’s widow, Faith Evans.
Diddy, who has revealed he feels “some sort of responsibility” for the death of his great friend and artist, spends the song reflecting on what their friendship meant to him and how his legacy will carry on. The lyrics “I know you still livin’ your life after death” reference B.I.G.’s hauntingly titled final album, Life After Death, which was released two weeks after he was killed.
An interesting layer added to the song was the use of The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” for both the beat and the chorus melody. While “Every Breath You Take” was written through the lens of a possessive lover, the lyrics have the potential to evoke a much more genuine, bittersweet emotion if taken out of the original song’s context.
An unexpected glimpse into a new interpretation of The Police’s biggest hit came from the 21st season of Dancing With The Stars, when Bindi Irwin danced to an acoustic cover of the song as a tribute to her late father, wildlife expert Steve Irwin. This dance showed that the song could serve as comforting reminder that the ones you love will always be with you.
With that interpretation in mind, you can find new dialogue in Diddy’s tribute. While B.I.G.’s loved ones sing out their grief in “I’ll Be Missing You,” you can hear the silent response in the breaks between the words: “Every breath you take – I’ll be watching you.”
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Dance With My Father by Luther Vandross
The touching ballad “Dance With My Father” was a bittersweet close to R&B great Luther Vandross’ career. Released in 2003, this autobiographical track tells of Vandross’ desire to have one final dance with his father, who passed when he was a child.
Although written almost 50 years after his father’s death, the song paints a vivid picture of the memories they did share, unfaded by the time that has passed. He recounts the toll the loss took on his mother, pleading to God towards the end of the song to make an exception and just this once, to “send her the only man she loved.”
Released only two years before his own death, Vandross’ parting gift was a touching tribute to both the people we have loved and lost and words of comfort for the grieving themselves.
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Funeral by Phoebe Bridgers
A pensive ballad signature to Phoebe Bridgers’ sound, “Funeral” doesn’t just feel grief, it examines it. The song centers around Bridgers performing at her friend’s funeral and depicts the shock felt after an untimely death.
Bridgers’ confessional lyrics detail the helplessness of grief and the guilt of feeling despair when others are struggling with an unimaginable loss. In addition to reflecting on the impact of her friend’s death, she describes some of her struggles with her own mental health.
After getting caught up in a whirlwind of her own emotions, the weight of grief floods back to her with the line “wishing I was someone else and feeling sorry for myself / when I remembered someone’s kid is dead.”
In a moment of the song where Bridgers’ sardonic wit is able to peak through, she criticizes the pressure put on people to find significance or meaning in every experience surrounding loss. After describing a dream where she is drowning, she quips to the listener “I don’t need you to tell me what that means / I don’t believe in that stuff anymore.”
The song offers no comfort or false promises and does not fill you with hope or optimism. There is no sugarcoating, only an honest representation of the aftermath of loss. “Funeral” explores the despair of not only feeling grief but being surrounded by it.
What They’ll Say About Us by FINNEAS
A painful juxtaposition between hope and devastation, “What They’ll Say About Us” serves as an anthem for the grieving. The track was inspired by both the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, and the death of Broadway actor Nick Cordero, who died at age 41 due to COVID-19 complications.
Cordero spent 95 days in the hospital before his death, leaving behind his wife Amanda Kloots, and their 1-year-old son Elvis. FINNEAS had followed his story through Kloots’ Instagram account, where she posted updates about her husband’s condition and shared her experience navigating the world both as a widow and a single mother.
Meanwhile, the Black Lives Matter movement had taken the world by storm, capturing attention at a time when the only other focal point was the pandemic. But despite the feelings of hope and unity he felt while protesting, FINNEAS realized that there was “no distraction” from COVID-19 for people with sick loved ones.
He wrote “What They’ll Say About Us” as a song of recognition and comfort for the grieving, saying that “some will overcome and wake up again, [o]thers, tragically may not. This song is dedicated to all who have had to endure this year.”
In only 3 minutes, FINNEAS captured the whirlwind of emotions the whole world was feeling while telling a story that many were living. The song is written as though it is a lullaby being sung to a dying loved one in the hospital.
The narrator offers assurance to the loved one that they will keep going, and the lyrics encourage the listener to do the same. The chorus is a beautiful crescendo that uplifts and offers a moment of hope and courage before floating back to reality. From denial to acceptance, wonder to heartbreak, and loss to hope, “What They’ll Say About Us” captures months of grief all at once.
What Would I Do? by Falsettos
The closing song of the heart wrenching Broadway musical Falsettos, “What Would I Do?” reflects on one of the biggest questions surrounding loss. Set in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Falsettos tells the story of an unlikely family: Marvin, his ex-wife Trina, his son Jason, and his new lover Whizzer.
The musical unfolds as the cast of characters learn not just how to coexist, but how to love each other. Beyond tackling themes of identity, family and gender roles, and sexuality, Falsettos portrayed LGBTQ+ life during the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the United Sates.
In the second act, Whizzer is diagnosed with a terminal case of HIV/AIDS, and it is heavily implied that Marvin will become ill as well. “What Would I Do” brings the story to a close with one final conversation between Marvin and Whizzer, and asks one simple question: “Who would I be if I had not loved you?”
Don’t Cry Daddy by Elvis Presley
This charming but devastating song explores the struggle of grieving while having to put on a brave face to protect the most vulnerable. The song centers around a grieving father whose wife is absent, and whose child who is trying to console him.
The child pleads “don’t cry daddy,” and naively suggests that they will work together to find a “brand new mommy.” The song disarms you with the child’s words and asks you to look at loss through a more innocent, curious lens.
For the 20th anniversary of Elvis’ death, his daughter Lisa Marie Presley recorded a version of the song performed as a duet between the two of them. While the song was neither autobiographical nor written by Elvis, this touching tribute captured the heartbreak of a child and the unconditional love of a parent.
Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton
Garnering a legacy as one of the most heartbreaking songs of all time, “Tears in Heaven” shares the tragedy of a parent’s worst nightmare. The delicate ballad was written about the death of Eric Clapton’s 4-year-old son Conor, who accidentally fell from the 53rd floor of a New York City apartment.
After a hiatus from performing and writing music, Clapton penned the track with songwriter Will Jennings, who was also known for writing the lyrics to “My Heart Will Go On.”
For most listeners, “Tears in Heaven” is a devastating song that confronts an unimaginable loss. But it brought comfort to Clapton, who described it as a “a song of optimism, of reunion.”
For him, the song was a turning point in his grieving journey, with music serving as a “healing agent.” But he didn’t stop at writing a song about his loss. He turned to advocacy work, recording public service announcements for child safety and re-recording versions of the song to benefit charities. Through his words, both spoken and sung, Clapton aimed to bring light out of the darkness.
Here Today by Paul McCartney
The death of John Lennon sent off shock waves that are still reverberating over 40 years later. For Beatles fans, the sudden loss was jarring. For Lennon’s family and friends, it was a devastating tragedy. For some, including fellow Beatle George Harrison, it was an uncomfortable reminder of their own mortality.
But for Paul McCartney, the grief centered around a regret that can never be resolved. While Lennon and McCartney had made efforts to repair their relationship post-Beatles, it was far from the bond they once shared. For McCartney, a lot had been left unsaid, that is until the release of “Here Today” in 1982.
Composed as an imaginary conversation between the fab friends, the song is a confession of all the things McCartney wishes he could have said to Lennon. The lyrics reminisce on happy moments the two shared, Lennon’s sarcastic sense of humor, and why they both struggled to share their emotions.
The most impactful moment of the song comes when McCartney sings “I love you,” something he wished he had gotten the chance to tell Lennon before his death, but despite all of the years they spent together, never did.
“Here Today” serves as not only a beautiful tribute to a dear friend, but as a sobering reminder to tell the people in your life that you love them, even when it may be uncomfortable.
A song will never end your pain, nor will it erase the mental or physical obstacle causing you anguish. But a great song can provide better insight in how to deal with your problems, and occasionally offer up some pretty profound solutions. Hopefully, one of two of these aforementioned songs about grief will spark some semblance of inspiration, so you will feel less alone and ignite a fire to help you fight through any personal battles you’re waging.
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