Want to know 5 sad songs about death? Sad songs about death are as old as music itself. Culling a list down to 5 sad songs about death is certain to leave off some masterpieces, but a few tried and true classics withstand the test of time.
- "The Long Black Veil" – A country ballad written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin, the 1959 song was originally recorded by Lefty Frizzell. It has since become a standard, covered by a wide variety of artists, most recently Rosanne Cash on "The List", 100 essential country songs compiled by her father Johnny Cash. As with many sad songs about death, the "Long Black Veil" is a love story. It is told from the perspective of a man who has been falsely accused of murder and executed. On the night of the murder he was in bed with his best friend's wife. Protecting both his friend and his lover, he refused to offer an alibi. The titular long black veil is worn by his mourning lover, who walks alone at night to visit his grave.
- "He Stopped Loving Her" – Country music is a tremendous vein for sad songs, and this 1980 release by George Jones is credited with single-handedly reviving his career. One of the best sad songs about death ever recorded in any genre, it was his first number one single in six years. The song was written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman. It tells the story of a man who, despite a betrayal by his lover, never stopped loving her, until the day he stopped.
- "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" – Folk music and human tragedy are another deep mine of sad songs about death. This tear jerking ballad was written, composed, and recorded by Canadian Gordon Lightfoot on his 1976 album "Summertime Dream". The song reached number one on the Canadian singles chart, and number two on the Billboard U.S. pop chart. It commemorates the sinking of the ship SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. The most famous disaster in the history of Great Lakes shipping, the Fitzgerald sank suddenly in Canadian waters without any calls for distress. The ship literally broke in two, and its crew of 29 disappeared without a trace. No bodies were ever recovered.
- "Reuben and Cerise" – Written by lyricist Robert Hunter, with music composed by the late Jerry Garcia, this mythical tune was a rare live treat for Grateful Dead fans in 1991. However, it was a staple of the Jerry Garcia Band, and they performed it live nearly 100 times. This tragically sad song about death retells the Greek myth of Orpheus, set in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. It recounts the journey of Orpheus to Hades to plead for the return of his recently deceased love. He is allowed to lead her back to the land of the living, but only if he never turns to look behind. He does, and she permanently returns to the underworld.
- "The Needle and the Damage Done" – This song was written by Neil Young about the heroin abuse and death of his friend and band member Danny Whitten. It was recorded live and first appeared on the album "Harvest" in 1972. Whitten was involved in early recording work on "Harvest", but Young had to send him away because he was not up to the task. The coroner called soon after to state that Whitten had overdosed and died. Neil Young personally felt responsible for his friend's death. The classic lyric "every junkie's like a setting sun" is both haunting and poignant.