Just because the subject matter is sad doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to rock out to it.
Death has been a staple in art since the beginning of time. These songs defy the ordinary and, like Frank Sinatra sang, make you want to live, live, live until you die.
"I’m Gonna Live Until I Die" Frank Sinatra
Ol’ Blue Eyes lived life to the fullest on his terms. This is one those songs that makes you want to quit your job and run down the street. Hallelujah! (Once the adrenaline and excitement wears off you may want to apologize to your boss and beg for your job back. Or just listen to the song again and live your life like Frank if that's an option.)
"I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight" Cutting Crew
While the lead singer probably didn’t actually die in his lover’s arms that night, this over-dramatic pop ballad from Cutting Crew is pure '80s. They even use the word “proxy,” which we’re more used to hearing in an Advance Directive (Health Care Proxy) as opposed to a song that would headline a goth prom (“She's loving by proxy, no give and all take”).
"At Your Funeral" Saves The Day
This infectious tune by '90s band Saves The Day isn’t the most well-known but definitely earned it’s spot near the top of our list. If you’ve never heard it before get ready to add it to your playlist. When taken out of context, the lyrics might seem depressing -- “And at your funeral I will sing the requiem. I'd offer you my hand it would hurt too much to watch you die.” Somehow when being sung by a cherubic blonde kid it doesn’t seem so bad.
"Dead Man’s Party" Oingo Boingo
If any song can pump life into a dying party, it’s this one about death. Danny Elfman has gone on to become the premier music man for movies, mainly Tim Burton films and other whimsical endeavors (The Simpsons theme). In the '80s he fronted the band Oingo Boingo, and even performed this hit in Rodney Dangerfield’s Back To School.
Special bonus factoid: The skeleton mariachi band in the video looks a lot like the one residing in our office:
"Live and Die" The Avett Brothers
A more recent song from a very talented band called The Avett Brothers. It’s more of a love song, but it has “die” in the title and it makes us feel good so it made the list.
"Don’t Fear The Reaper" Blue Oyster Cult
If seasons don’t fear the reaper, why should humans, asks The Blue Oyster Cult. Good point, Cult. They also reference Romeo and Juliet and how 40,000 men and women every day meet the reaper. Then they want us to take their hand to meet the reaper... Wait a minute! Does The Blue Oyster Cult want to kill us? Right now? Wow, this got awkward fast...
Actually, that’s not what the song’s about. The deeper meaning speaks to eternal love and how it’s meaningless to worry about death since it’s inevitable for all. We also dig the classic guitar riff and smooth pacing of this 1976 hit. But, just to be safe, if The Blue Oyster Cult offers you their hand, politely decline. Just to be safe.
"Seasons in the Sun" Terry Jacks
The catchy chorus qualifies this 70s hit as upbeat ("we had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun"). The rest of the lyrics make us want to curl in a corner and cry ... and not just because it’s so cheesy.
"People Who Died" Jim Carroll Band
This punk song from author/poet/musician Jim Carroll, who died in 2009, might makes you a little sad since all 13 people he mentions actually died. Often in terrible ways. (Note: The video above is an abridged version of the song. Full song with lyrics here!) But at least they’re memorialized in a song that gets your blood pumping.
Yes, that’s Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg in the video, which was taken from the movie The Basketball Diaries based on Carroll’s best selling book of the same name.
"I’ll Fly Away" Hank Williams
Hank Williams Sr.’s reassuring and steady voice makes the transition between life and death seem so peaceful and knee-slappin’.
"There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" The Smiths
Only The Smiths could make getting hit by a double-decker bus sound so romantic. Morrissey is quite the charming little devil.
"Only The Good Die Young" Billy Joel
Let this be a lesson: Being good leads to an early death. So, according to Billy Joel, be bad. And if your name is Virginia, please have carnal relations with him already. He’s really getting tired of waiting. On a related note, all that repression can lead to a heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack.
"Die Young" Ke$ha
Now, something for the kids! Ke$ha is very weird and this song is quite self explanatory. It also has an infectious beat, which is perfect for dancing. If you happen to like good music, you’ve come to the wrong selection on this list.
"Oh My Darling Clementine" Some Terrible Person
It should be illegal for a song about a dead child to sound this sweet and cheerful. If you’ve only sung the chorus and never paid attention to the lyrics, here’s a recap: A little girl drowns because her dad couldn’t swim. But it has a happy ending: He gets past her death really quickly because he has another daughter. Whew, grieving problem solved! Have nursery rhymes always been this evil? (Yes.)
"Jimmy Collins' Wake" Dropkick Murphys
The perfect song in which to raise a pint and celebrate life. These nice Irish Boston lads really know a thing or two about sending people off in style while keeping the living in good spirits.
"Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" Elmo & Patsy
No one blends holiday cheer and manslaughter better than Elmo & Patsy. This Christmas staple is so upbeat and light, until you start thinking about poor old grandma dead in the street after a St. Nick hit-and-run. At least it helped the song's grieving protagonist, and his suspicious grandpa, believe in Santa. (Don't skip town, grandpa. We're on to you!)
"The Funeral" Band of Horses
We have no idea what this song is really about -- family obligations, depression, addiction -- but it includes the word “funeral” a lot and has such a great melody we thought it best to share if you’ve never heard it before.
"Blaze of Glory" Jon Bon Jovi
Jon Bon Jovi stepped out on his own -- even though his regular gig is fronting a band featuring his last name -- to write and perform this song for the movie Young Guns 2, which tells the legend of Billy The Kid. "Blaze of Glory" has a fierce guitar twang, a lot of powerful Jovi bellows (YEAH!), and the mentality of a wild west outlaw always on the verge of being shot down:
Each night I go to bed, I pray the Lord my soul to keep
No I ain't looking for forgiveness, but before I'm six foot deep
Lord, I got to ask a favor, and I'll hope you'll understand
'Cause I've lived life to the fullest, let the boy die like a man
Staring down the bullet, let me make my final stand
"Holland, 1945" Neutral Milk Hotel
If you’d only focus on the music and tempo, you’d think this had nothing to do with death. Then we did some research and found an interesting interpretation on a site we rarely use as a credible source: Wikipedia:
The song contains references to Anne Frank. In 1945, World War II ended and Frank and her sister Margot died of typhus. The lyric "all when I'd want to keep white roses in their eyes" could be seen as a reference to the White Rose resistance group that existed in Nazi Germany in the early 1940s...
Also referenced in the song is a "dark brother wrapped in white." In the liner notes for the song, Mangum initialed the letters "(h.p.)" after the words "your dark brother." A critic of The Boston Phoenix wrote in 1998 that this "dark brother" was someone who committed suicide, a family member of one of Mangum's close friends.
So there you have it. A song that references WWII and a suicide that affected the band in one tight, rocking package.
"Another One Bites The Dust" Queen
The bass-line alone makes you start pumping your fist. The kings (yes kings) of arena rock took an antiquated cliche about death and made it so infectious you can’t help but sing along ... even though you might not know any of the words apart from the chorus.
"Send Me To Glory In A Glad Bag" John Biggs
Who needs a fancy coffin when you’ve got Glad Bags? While there are many versions on YouTube, most with dubious visuals, this mp3 is the best way to enjoy it.