25 Iconic Tribute Songs For Musicians Who Passed Away
John Lennon and his controversial Jesus statement - pkgannon / Youtube
Music has a unique ability to immortalize the legacies of our heroes, and what better way to pay homage to fallen musicians than through song? In this collection, we delve into the world of 50 iconic tribute songs that various artists have crafted to honor their departed musical comrades.
For many musicians, creating these tribute songs served as a way to cope with the loss of a collaborator, co-worker, or friend. Bands ranging from AC/DC to the Yardbirds have recognized and memorialized their fallen comrades in subsequent releases. Icons like Bruce Springsteen, Roger Daltrey, and Chrissie Hynde have expressed their grief and paid tribute to band members in their own unique ways.
The tradition of writing tribute songs extends beyond bandmates, with some artists penning heartfelt tunes about musicians who may not have been part of their immediate circle. Rod Stewart and Don McLean, for instance, sang about late artists who inspired them deeply. Others have commemorated fellow musicians who left us tragically young or long after their prime.
This gallery of songs pays homage to some of the greatest legends in music, including Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, and Billie Holiday. U2, a band known for its poignant tributes, wrote a song dedicated to the jazz icon and has a history of honoring mentors like Joey Ramone and friends like Michael Hutchence.
Here are 25 of these iconic tribute songs:
‘All Those Years Ago,’ George Harrison
Originally intended for Ringo Starr, George Harrison altered the lyrics after the tragic death of John Lennon. The song features a unique Beatles reunion, with Paul McCartney providing backing vocals.
‘Here Today,’ Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney’s tribute to John Lennon takes a reflective approach, imagining a conversation between the two Beatles. The song expresses McCartney’s love and admiration for his departed friend.
‘Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny),’ Elton John
Elton John’s tribute to John Lennon, with lyrics by Bernie Taupin, reflects on their collaboration and friendship. The title, “Empty Garden,” refers to Lennon’s final concert at Madison Square Garden.
‘The Late Great Johnny Ace,’ Paul Simon
Paul Simon’s tribute is a poignant reflection on three late Johns – Johnny Ace, John F. Kennedy, and John Lennon. The song connects these tragic deaths through heartfelt lyrics.
‘Edge of Seventeen,’ Stevie Nicks
While the title was inspired by Tom Petty’s wife, the content of the song reflects on Stevie Nicks’s personal losses, including the death of her uncle and John Lennon. The “white-winged dove” symbolizes Lennon’s commitment to peace.
‘Roll on John,’ Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s tribute to John Lennon, years after his murder, weaves together anecdotes and quotes from Lennon’s iconic songs like “A Day in the Life” and “Come Together.”
‘Blind Willie McTell,’ Bob Dylan
Initially left off an album, this “lost” Dylan track pays homage to bluesman Blind Willie McTell. The song uses the melody from “St. James Infirmary Blues” and includes references to McTell’s legacy.
‘American Pie,’ Don McLean
Don McLean’s iconic song begins with the tragic death of Buddy Holly, a pivotal figure in early rock ‘n’ roll. “American Pie” serves as a nostalgic reflection on the changing landscape of music.
‘Desperado,’ Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper’s ominous tribute to Jim Morrison blends Western imagery with thoughts of his recently deceased friend. The song captures the raw swagger that characterized Morrison’s impact on rock music.
‘Under a Raging Moon,’ Roger Daltrey
Written by John Parr and Julia Downes, this tribute to the late Who drummer features performances by seven famous drummers, creating a powerful elegy.
‘Old Red Wine,’ the Who
Pete Townshend’s song, written after the death of John Entwistle, pays homage to the bassist’s love for red wine. The title reflects Entwistle’s penchant for drinking red wine “past its prime.”
‘Real Good Looking Boy,’ the Who
Pete Townshend’s tribute to Elvis Presley incorporates elements of “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Roger Daltrey sings a few lines from the famous Presley tune in this heartfelt track.
‘Porcelain Monkey,’ Warren Zevon
Warren Zevon’s song is less of a tribute to Elvis Presley and more of a cautionary tale about fame. The “porcelain monkey” represents the sacrifices some artists make for success.
‘Johnny Bye-Bye,’ Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen combines Chuck Berry’s tune with a dreamlike funeral scenario, creating a poignant tribute to Elvis Presley. The song captures the impact of Presley’s death on the music industry.
‘The Last Carnival,’ Bruce Springsteen
A tribute to E Street Band member Danny Federici, this song references a previous track where Federici played accordion. The inclusion of Federici’s son Jason on accordion adds a personal touch to the tribute.
‘Miss You “C,”’ Nils Lofgren
Originally written for Ray Charles, the song transforms into a tribute for E Street bandmate Clarence Clemons and other departed musicians. Nils Lofgren alters the lyrics to pay homage to his late bandmates.
‘The Needle and the Damage Done,’ Neil Young
Neil Young’s poignant song addresses heroin addiction, specifically the tragic story of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten. The lyrics reflect Young’s personal struggle with the consequences of drug abuse.
‘Sleeps With Angels,’ Neil Young
Released just months after Kurt Cobain’s death, this song acknowledges Cobain’s lasting influence on music. Neil Young reflects on Cobain’s impact and the challenges faced by artists in the spotlight.
‘Chelsea Hotel #2,’ Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen’s intimate song recalls a personal encounter with Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel. The lyrics reveal details about the artistic sanctuary and Cohen’s connection with the late Joplin.
‘A Boat Lies Waiting,’ David Gilmour
Dedicated to Pink Floyd bandmate Rick Wright, this song features lyrics by Polly Samson and opens with Wright’s own words. The oceanic references reflect Wright’s love of sailing, creating a fitting tribute.
‘Of Missing Persons,’ Jackson Browne
Jackson Browne’s ballad pays tribute to Little Feat frontman Lowell George. The song reflects on their musical collaboration and friendship, making it a personal and heartfelt tribute.
‘Too Soon Gone,’ the Band
Written by Jules Shear and Hawks member Stan Szelest, this tribute to departed Band member Richard Manuel showcases the band’s reunion (minus Robbie Robertson). Rick Danko’s vocals add a plaintive touch to the elegy.
‘Fallen Angel,’ Robbie Robertson
Robbie Robertson’s debut solo single honors Band-mate Richard Manuel, featuring Peter Gabriel on keyboards and vocals. The song captures the somber mood surrounding Manuel’s tragic death.
‘Angel of Harlem,’ U2
Written in tribute to Billie Holiday, U2’s R&B-tinged song also references other jazz greats and New York landmarks. The lyrics celebrate the enduring legacy of Holiday and her impact on music.
‘Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,’ U2
Inspired by the suicide of Michael Hutchence, Bono wrote this gospel-inspired tune as an imagined argument with his late friend. The song explores themes of regret and the impact of mental health on artists.