Most songs are about Love, but the topics of Death, Murderer and Suicide are also surprisingly popular. Here are the Top 9 Death, Murder & Suicide Songs
Ring Around the Rosie was first sung in Europe in 1350 and is about the Bubonic Plague that killed over 25% of the population. The words describe the symptoms and eventual death of someone with the Bubonic Plague (Black Death). A red rash (Rosie Ring) appears around the neck of the plague victim. Then the person has uncontrollable sneezing (Achoo Achoo). Then the person falls down dead. Posies are bunches of flowers that were put in the pockets of the dead to try to keep the corpses from stinking too much. Put this all together and we get the charming children song that kids still sing today.
“Ring Around the Rosie, A Pocked Full of Posie, Achoo Achoo, We all fall down.”
(Often today, the words have been changes from “Achoo, Achoo” to Ashes, Ashes”)
Fire and Rain written by James Taylor in 1970 is about a man grieving for his lover (Suzanne) who died in a plane crash. Fire and Rain took on a whole new meaning after the 9/11 terrorist attack when James Taylor sang it to the families of fallen police and firefighters.
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer released by The Beatles in 1969 is a catchy, darkly comic tune about a serial killer bashing people’s heads in with a silver hammer. Maxwell is a medical student who never seems to get caught for his crimes. Perhaps he is still practicing medicine in some British Hospital even today.
Riders On The Storm released by The Doors in 1971 is about a hitchhiker, who murders anyone who foolish enough to pick him up. Jim Morrison was totally obsessed with death and to this day people argue about whether Morrison died of an accidental overdose or if he committed suicide. Riders On The Storm is about the real hitchhiker serial killer Billy Cook who murdered 6 people between 1950 and 1951.
Last Kiss is a heart wrenching song about a girl killed in a car crash while her boyfriend is driving. The singer is the boyfriend who holds his dying girlfriend in his arms while the rain pours down on the accident scene. Most people today know the 1999 version released by Pearl Jam. However Last Kiss was written by Wayne Cochran who released it in 1961. He was never able to have a hit with his own version, but J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers made it to the number 2 song in the country in 1964.
I’ll Be Missing You released by Puff Daddy & Faith Evans in 1997 as a tribute to the murdered rapper Notorious B.I.G. (Christopher Wallace). I’ll Be Missing You uses the melody from Sting’s Every Breath You Take. Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in Los Angeles on March 9, 1997 in a drive-by shooting. His murder has never been solved. It is generally assumed that the Notorious B.I.G. murder was part of the ongoing East Coast/West Coast hip hop/rapper war. Many in the African-American community are furious that this murder and other murders of the East Coast/West Coast war remain unsolved. They argue that if the people being murdered were middle class white businessmen the police response would have been much more extensive.
Psycho Killer – performed by Talking Heads in 1975 and has a very catchy beat despite being about a killer. However, unlike Maxwell’s Silver Hammer there is nothing comic about the song. Talking Heads denies it was about the Son Of Sam killer but it has eerie similarities.
The A Team by Ed Sheeran in 2011 is about a crack-addicted prostitute slowly dying from malnutrition, cold and drugs. There is debate about whether or not the woman actually dies at the end of the song. Some say “it’s too cold out for angels to fly” means she is dead but it’s too cold for the angels to come for her soul. Other people argue the verse just means it’s too cold for the woman go outside and turn another trick. However, the three last words of the song are “Angels to die.” An amazing number of people who love this song think it is just a nice-sounding ballad and have no idea what it is about. One of the strangest experiences we ever had was being at a Taylor Swift concert in New Jersey where Ed Sheeran was the warm-up act. When Ed Sheeran sang The A Team; crowds of 13 year old girls happily cheered and smiled and sang along knowing all the words. Did the girls or their parents understand the song is about a dying crack-whore? The title The A Team stands for the fact that the amount of drugs the woman has constitutes a Class A Felony.
Angel by Sarah McLachlan. Most people incorrectly think the title of this 1991 song is In The Arms Of The Angel. It is about the heroin overdose death of Jonathan Melvoin of Smashing Pumpkins. Sarah McLachlan’s hauntingly beautiful voice makes the listener hope that perhaps Jonathan Melvoin really did find peace at last. The last words of Angel are, “You’re in the arms of the angel; may you find some comfort here.”
So that is the list of the top death, murder & suicide songs that have made it into popular culture. In researching the list we found that these subjects are, in fact, hugely covered in popular music and have been for centuries. There were many more than we could put into one article. They range from Bobby Darin’s Mack the Knife about a mob hit man to the western ballad The Streets of Laredo, about a cowboy killed in a gun fight. There is even the hit Leader Of The Pack with death by motorcycle accident.
Yes, Love still has the most number of songs, but Death has also inspired some very fine music itself.