The 8 Ball 10.12.13: Top 8 Songs About Grief
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 10.12.2013
From Bruce Springsteen's "You're Missing" and Pear Jam's "Man of the Hour" to Bone Thugz-N-Harmony's "Tha Crossroads," Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 songs about grief and mourning!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Ladies and gentlemen, I have a confession to make. Well, it's not a confession, because that implies sin and I don't feel any guilt about this. I am a Gleek. I have been a fan of Glee since the show's first season and, despite the fact that it is nowhere near where it once was, I am still a fan. So, as you can imagine, I was one of many people who were crushed when Cory Monteith passed away this summer from a heroin overdose. Monteith was an incredibly talented individual who lost a battle with his own addictions and it was a tragic loss of a person too soon. Of course, Monteith was a core part of the show and when FOX and Ryan Murphy decided to address his passing by having Finn die on the show, that drew a lot of curious eyeballs to see how they would do. The answer was: they did an amazingly tasteful, beautiful and poignant goodbye to the character that had me, a person who never gets THAT kind of emotional over TV, rather touched.
So that brings us to this week's topic, which is songs about grief. For many people, music is a therapeutic way to work through emotional trauma and there are few traumas worse than losing a loved one. This week we're going to look at the best songs to handle grief and mourning.
Caveat: No caveats. These are songs that have helped people get through grief in their life. I think that's about all that needs to be said; keeping it simple this time.
Just Missing The Cut
• James Taylor - "Fire and Rain" (1970)
• Jimmy Eat World - "Hear You Me" (2001)
• Warren Zevon - "Keep Me in Your Heart" (2003)
• Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men - "One Sweet Day" (1995)
• Puff Daddy (feat. Faith Evans & 112) - "I'll Be Missing You" (1997)
#8: P!nk - "Who Knew" (2006)
First on our list is an artist that I don't think gets nearly enough respect. P!nk is without question one of the most talented mainstream pop stars out there; she straddles that line between commercial viability and creative success very well. And this song absolutely devastated me when it was released as part of her 2006 LP, ironically titled I'm Not Dead. (Well, ironic for the purposes of this column, anyway.) The song fits in with some of the darker lyrical themes on the album and was written based on the pop singer's experiences with several friends from her youth who died from drug overdoses. I love the song structure on this; it reflects back on a more innocent time when life seemed immeasurable and the idea of losing someone was impossible, but through the sorrowful tint of having lost those people (or, for the narrative purposes of the song, that person). The song builds slowly toward the climax of the song, when you can absolutely hear the pained longing in P!nk's voice as she sings "But I keep your memory/you visit me in my sleep" before the denouement. It's a newer song compared to some of the others on this list but it's no less powerful for that and it absolutely captures that feeling of stunned lose when someone is taken unexpectedly and too soon.
#7: Kansas - "Dust in the Wind" (1978)
Now to be fair with this one, "Dust in the Wind" is not specifically about someone dying. But then, that's not what this list is about; it's about songs that deal with the grieving process and the reflective nature of mortality that Kansas' biggest hit invokes certainly qualifies. It's hard to believe that this is Kansas' only song to ever hit the top 10 on the Billboard Charts, but it just goes to show that chart success isn't the determining factor for a band's influence and impact on popular music. The song was written by Kerry Livgren, who was one of the band's founding members, after his wife heard him playing the melody as a fingerpicking exercise and encouraged him to write some lyrics for it. The end result was one of the band's first acoustic songs and one of the all-time great rock ballads to boot. The song's introspective, almost Biblical nature regarding the inevitability of death strikes a chord with just about anyone who has ever lost someone. The only thing that keeps this from being higher is the fact that it is more philosophical than it is personal (though it is no less intimate for that), and to me death is an extremely personal thing. Still, everyone gets philosophical at some point in the mourning process and this is one of those songs that immediately come to mind regarding that mindset.
#6: Mike + The Mechanics - "The Living Years" (1989)
This is a personal one to me; it spoke to me very deeply after the passing of my grandmother several years ago. I didn't have the conflict that is presented in this song between the singer and his father, but everyone has regrets and the generational gap resonated strongly as well. Mike Rutherford is best known as one of the founding members of Genesis, but as that group began to take hiatuses Rutherford began working on a solo career. When the process of recording solo didn't seem the right fit for him he formed this group with Paul Carrack, Paul Young, Adrian Lee and Peter Van Hooke. "The Living Years" was their best-known hit and for a very good reason: it takes a narrative approach to making the experience of losing a loved one and having regrets over your relationship with them, and it does so very well. This is a song that can easily strike anyone when they reach a certain age where the elder figures in their lives are getting up there. There's even a more general sense where it resonates when someone is taken unexpectedly, because it can still leave you with those things you meant to say but couldn't. It's sentimental but not sappy; there's a real "Cat's in the Cradle" sense to this one and that's very much a good thing.
#5: Elton John - "Candle In The Wind" (1974)
This is one that I don't perhaps love as much as everyone else, but you cannot deny its iconic nature and status. For the record, I'm obviously going with the original version of the song and not the more popular rewritten version from 1997. This one was written, recorded and released as part of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and is a reflection on the life and death of Marilyn Monroe. Co-writer Bernie Taupin said that the song is more about the idea of someone young and famous having their life cut short than it is specifically about Monroe; as Taupin said, "The song could have been about James Dean, it could have been about Montgomery Clift, it could have been about Jim Morrison ... how we glamorize death, how we immortalize people." In fact, the term "candle in the wind" was taken from a phrase John had heard in reference to Janis Joplin. Whoever the song could have been about, it ultimately became about Monroe and it both celebrates and mourns the high and low points of the famous actress' life. It's the first song that most people think of when a famous person dies (short of a song from that famous person, obviously) and it still works as a statement and observation on the pitfalls of fame, not to mention the way that the media destroys and then sensationalizes death ("all the papers had to say/was that Marilyn was found nude"). This song would launch to new heights with the Princess Diana version, which is more personal but yet somehow lacks just a bit of the poignancy that this one has in my book.
#4: Bone Thugz-N-Harmony - "Tha Crossroads" (1996)
Rap music has no shortage of great songs reflecting on death. That is due, unfortunately, to the amount of great rappers lost in their prime. My personal favorite though comes in the form of Bone Thugz-N-Harmony's 1996 track in tribute to their fallen mentor Eazy-E. Eazy died from AIDS-related complications in March of 1995 and the group took their track "Crossroad" (itself a tribute to Bone's late friend Wally Laird) and refashioned it to the song that would become their biggest hit. With a moody production track steering the way, the group delivered incredibly skillful rapid-fire flow in a soft (but not lazy or garbled) tone and a memorable hook that etched the group's legacy in stone. So many rap attempts at tackling death come off as too kitschy or sanctimonious (Mr. Combs, I'm looking at you), but this one was a heartfelt, authentic and emotional honoring of a fallen mentor that deserves all the accolades it can get.
#3: Bruce Springsteen - "You're Missing" (2002)
In certain ways, the whole of Bruce Springsteen's twelfth studio album The Rising could be considered eligible for this list. The LP is focused on the singer/songwriter's thoughts regarding the September 11th, 2001 attacks on New York City, and thus in a lot of ways is a fully-realized album of reflection on grief and mourning. I only wanted to pick one song though and that would be this track, the twelfth on the LP. The song is remarkably light in musical quality considering the somber tone of the lyrics, which take a narrative structure of describing how everything seems to be in order within the house "But you're missing." That juxtaposition gives the song a more poignant sense; making it too downbeat would have made the whole thing overwrought and even perhaps melodramatic. Instead the less heavy tone means that when you get to "Children are asking if it's alright/Will you be in our arms tonight?" it really strikes home. Springsteen is one of the true American masters of balladry and that includes his ruminations on death; for my money this is his best.
#2: Pearl Jam - "Man of the Hour" (2003)
Like Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam has no shortage of songs dealing with mortality. You have such tracks as "Last Kiss," "Long Road," "Off He Goes" and many others. Their best as a group to date however has been this one, which was written for the Big Fish soundtrack after Tim Burton asked them for an original song for the film. The result was this song, which is about young man saying farewell to his father. This is one of those songs where Eddie Vedder has an amazing level of weariness to his voice; you can practically hear the texture of his vocal chords in the way that he sings the somber lyrics. The music is stripped down but not so understated as to be ineffective; it goes perfectly with Vedder's voice as he intones his way through about how the father guided his son along "in his own way" but he's gone and now the son must walk along on his own. It's one of those songs that stays with you and not only allows you to identify with it; it inspires you and reminds you that, if you believe in such a thing, it is only "goodbye for now."
#1: Eric Clapton - "Tears In Heaven" (1992)
Absolute no-brainer here for me. Eric Clapton's ode to his late son still gives me chills to this day. Clapton wrote the song in order to deal with the pain and grief that he felt after his four-year-old son Connor fell from the fifty-third floor window of an apartment in New York that belonged to a friend of Conor's mother, model Lory Del Santo. That period was an exceedingly difficult time for Clapton; beyond just the loss of his son, which would be horrific for anyone, he had lost his manager and two of his roadies seven months earlier in the same helicopter accident that killed Stevie Ray Vaughan. Clapton went into isolation for a short while; once he came out he began writing the film score for the Jason Patric/Jennifer Jason Leigh drama Rush, which is about two undercover narcotics officers who fall prey to drug addiction. While composing the score he enlisted songwriter Will Jennings to create "Tears in Heaven." There is no question as to what this song is about for anyone even remotely familiar with the story, but you don't need to know the inspiration to be stricken by the power of the song. Clapton's subdued, mournful tone and the melancholy lyrics speak to anyone who has lost someone important in their lives, making it a beautiful piece of music that pretty much anyone can relate to. By any measure I can imagine, this is THE song about grieving.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
This week in the Music Video A-Go-Go I'm going simple: with a selection from the episode that inspired this list. This is Lea Michele in the role of Rachel Berry on Glee, singing goodbye to the character's boyfriend who was played by her real-life boyfriend. Ladies and gentlemen, it doesn't get more emotional than this. This is a cover of Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love":
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.