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July 21, 2023 Feature

In Passing: A Playlist

Seth Kramer and David Ray Papke

Hundreds of artists have recorded moving songs about death, grieving, and mortality. Here are our favorites:

  • “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Bob Dylan [], 1973—Writing early in his career, the legendary poet/songwriter considers a time when “It’s getting dark, too dark to see.”
  • “I’ll Be Missing You,” Puff Daddy (Sean Combs) [], 2006—The hip-hop artist shows a tender side, lamenting the murder of his friend The Notorious B.I.G. and hoping the latter will “hold open the gates.”
  • “Who Knew,” Pink [], 2006—After losing a close friend to an overdose, the pop rock singer bemoans her own naiveté in thinking death can be planned.
  • “Last Man Standing,” Bruce Springsteen [], 2020—The Boss reflects on the death of all members of his earliest band and wonders why he’s “still standing.”
  • “Marjorie,” Taylor Swift [], 2020—America’s songstress shares memories of a beloved grandmother and takes consolation that “What died didn’t stay dead.”
  • “Keep Me in Your Heart,” Warren Zevon [], 2003—The dying songwriter tells his love to remember him in the ordinary moments of life: “Maybe you’ll think of me and smile.”
  • “Hurt,” Johnny Cash [], 2002—The Man in Black hauntingly articulates his own mortality in this cover of the 1995 Nine Inch Nails original [].
  • “And When I Die,” Blood, Sweat & Tears [], 1968—Taunting the Grim Reaper with attitude.
  • “Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” medley, Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole [], 1990—The song to be played at every memorial; wistful and optimistic.
  • “Let the Mystery Be,” Iris DeMent [], 1992—The songwriter ponders death as one big unknown and unknowable question.

Join the conversation

Email us ([email protected], [email protected], and [email protected]) by August 10 to tell us the songs about death you’d add to our playlist and why they’re fitting contributions.

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Seth Kramer and David Ray Papke