With the possible exceptions of love, sex, and slaying mythical beasts, no topic has commanded the attention of song-writers throughout history more than death. From Metallica's "Enter Sandman" to The Shangri-La's "Leader of the Pack" and even as far back as Beethoven's "Deathstomp 9 in D minor", the great beyond has been the inspiration for some of the most compelling songs ever written.
If you think I'm making up the title of that Beethoven number, by all means, go ahead and Google it, I'll wait. Did you do it? Wow, you are a gullible one, aren't you?
Anyway, while songs about death come in all styles and genres, there is one thing most of them have in common...listening to them will bum you right the hell out.
And why not? The songs are about dying. That's rarely cause for celebration. But there are exceptions. Today, we celebrate seven songs about death that are guaranteed to liven up any party. Even if they don't mean to.
7. Elton John - "I Think I'm Gonna Kill Myself"
This Elton John classic from 1972's Honky Chateau album certainly doesn't go to any great lengths to hide its dark subject matter. The title pretty much tells you everything you need to know. But give the song a listen and you're sure to be asking yourself one question. What the hell is he so happy about?
It's not just that it's one of the Rocket Man's happier tunes. It's more that it's quite possibly the most chipper he's ever sounded on record. The song is so breezy and lighthearted it makes "Philadelphia Freedom" sound like a Slayer tune. The major key chord sequence and catchy-as-all-hell melody would be more than enough to qualify the song for inclusion on this list, but right about the time that you think things can't possibly get any more sunshiny sounding, you find yourself staring down the business end of a tap dancing interlude. Tap dancing. On a song about suicide.
Because it was released in 1972, an actual music video for the song wasn't available. While there were better quality video clips out there, I settled on the one below because of the overwhelming enthusiasm displayed by the tambourine player accompanying Elton on stage. While most people treat playing the tambourine like an afterthought, this guy treats it like a mission from God. It adds a nice extra bit of "what the hell?!?!" to the performance. Unfortunately, the tap dancing solo isn't included, but fret not, Mr. Tambourine Man brought along a xylophone.
6. Bright Eyes - "Four Winds"
Nothing says "hoedown" quite like an opening fiddle riff. And the fiddle solo that opens Bright Eyes' "Four Winds" is a doozy. This is the type of swinging tune that rednecks have been line dancing to for decades. But it's highly unlikely that any Texas two stepping has ever gone down to a song that can't even make it a full five lines before breaking out the lyrics about "people always dying" and "bodies decomposing in containers." And it just gets better from there.
"Four Winds" isn't so much just about death as it is full-on apocalypse. Later verses feature happy-go-lucky lines like "the Bible's blind, the Torah's deaf, the Koran is mute. If you burn them all together you'd get close to the truth." Note to Muslim extremists: he said it, not me. By the time the lines about genocide in South Dakota roll around, most people would probably find themselves a little down in the dumps if not for the fact that they're probably too busy whistling along to notice. If you've never heard this song, make sure to give it a listen. I can all but guarantee that it will be a long time before you hear "when great Satan's gone, the whore of Babylon" sung with such funtastic enthusiasm.
The video for "Four Winds" raises a number of questions itself, not the least of which is "why did the audience bring so much garbage to the show?" Pay special attention around the 2:34 mark when someone hurls a pair of fuzzy dice on stage. Awwww.
5. Smashing Pumpkins - "Today"
Today? It's the greatest day you've ever known? Wow, that's great Billy! How come? Oh? Oh. Oh my.
To call anything by the Smashing Pumpkins "upbeat" may seem like a stretch, but on "Today" Billy Corgan's half singing, half caterwauling whine sounded deceptively positive. As promising as "the greatest day I've ever known" may sound, it's really anything but. You see, the reason today is such a great day is because tomorrow ain't coming. Things have gotten so bad that the song's protagonist is planning to kill himself. Today is the greatest day ever, because he knows things will never be as bad as they have been ever again. Cheers, everybody!
The video for "Today" doesn't give a whole lot of insight as to why the subject of the song wants to kill himself, unless it's distress over what has become of his beloved ice-cream truck. It does feature Pumpkins guitarist James Iha in a dress though. If that's not enough to make a person want to kill themselves, I don't know what is.
4. Norman Greenbaum - "Spirit In the Sky"
How happy sounding is this tune? There's a version of it on YouTube that features the cast of The Lion King. And I don't mean the play. It, literally, features Simba and all those other animated jungle beasts frolicking around while singing the line "when I die" as much as lionly possible.
It's rumored that Greenbaum wrote this song not because he's overly religious and can't wait to die, but instead because he was looking to appeal to a wider audience and thought a song about going to see Jesus was the way to go. Judging from the lyrics, I'm going to have to assume that is true. For someone so fired up about Jesus, he's a little bit light on religious philosophy. What this song boils down to is a guy telling you that when he dies, he's going to see Jesus. This is after he dies. And did I mention this is going to happen after he dies? Because, that's when he's going, after he dies. Seriously, he says so right in the song...about seventy five times. He's going to see Jesus. Just as soon as he can die. Which should happen right around the time someone finds him. Dead.
Against all odds, there is an actual video for this song, even though it was released sometime in the late 1940's (give or take a few decades). So how is Norman Greenbaum going to die when he goes to see Jesus? If the camera work in this video is any indication, probably from ingesting far too many psychedelic drugs.
3. Warren Zevon - Excitable Boy
It's doubtful that the dude responsible for "Werewolves of London" really ever wrote a song that sounded anything but joyous. Keeping things relatively positive sounding while tackling even the most serious of subjects was part of Warren Zevon's charm. "Excitable Boy" takes that juxtaposition of dark subject matter and upbeat melodies to dizzying new heights.
The song couples "ooooh wahhh ooooh" background vocals and 150% of the USDA recommended amount of saxophone with lyrics about a kid whose disturbing behavior is shrugged off with eventual disastrous results. When he's rubbing pot roast on his chest at dinner, he's just an excitable boy. When he bites the usher's leg at a movie theater, he's just an excitable boy. When he rapes and murders his prom date, well, that's just pretty messed up. When he's let out of the mental institution ten years later, digs up the the prom date and makes a cage out of her bones, you start to wonder just what the hell is going on in Zevon's head. Songs like this are supposed to be sung either while strumming an acoustic guitar all melancholy like or in a cookie monster voice while playing an electric guitar tuned to drop C. But Warren Z. could never be bothered with bumming people out. The world is a much lesser place without him.
An actual video for "Excitable Boy" was nowhere to be found. But trust me when I say that this video, which appears to have been made using nothing other than 'The Sims 2' turns the overall creepiness of this song to well past eleven.
2. Celine Dion - "My Heart Will Go On (Club Mix)"
In its original ballad version, this song makes perfect sense. The lyrics, while depressing as all hell, are mildly hopeful and probably provided loads of comfort to plenty of people who lost loved ones and had terrible taste in music. But, inexplicably, Celine went the extra mile and commissioned a club remix of the song. Because, when you're mourning lost love, what better to do than hit the club?
How much better would Titanic have been if, upon learning Leonardo DiCaprio had died, Kate Winslet's character opted not to swim off and find a whistle, but instead stuck a glow stick in her mouth and stood on that wood door and started vogueing? How much more awesome could it get than that? The answer is none. None more awesome.
I couldn't find a video of Celine partying it up to her ode to lost love, but really, it's for the best. What I found instead is far more touching. And by "touching" I mean totally gay. If you're a dude anyway. Otherwise, it's just kind of gay. Apparently, someone with video editing software, too much time on their hands and, presumably, a plethora of emotional problems, decided it would be a good idea to splice together various images from the Disney movie "Spirit" and set them to the clubtacular sounds of "My Heart Will Go On." You know what's more unsettling than the thought of someone making a homemade video for "My Heart Will Go On" using nothing more than clips from a Disney movie? Not a damn thing.
1. Kiss - "Detroit Rock City"
Has Kiss ever cranked out a song that didn't sound like its entire purpose was to get them amped up to head to a party? OK, except "Beth." The fact that "Detroit Rock City" is actually about death borders on unbelievable. Something about that "get up, everybody's gonna move their feet" chorus just doesn't really give one an impending sense of doom. And even if it did, the drummer is wearing kitty cat makeup. What could go wrong?
For the unfortunate fan that this song was written about, the answer is "a whole hell of a lot." The song begins with a news report that talks about, among other things, a fatal car accident. As it turns out, Paul Stanley wrote "Detroit Rock City" about a fan who was killed while traveling to a Kiss concert. Hell, he even found some time to mention the car accident somewhere near the end of the song, ending with the line "I know I'm gonna die, why?". But by that time, who the hell is listening to what Paul has to say? Anyone with a shred of metal in them should have been rocking out on the air guitar and swinging their mullet in circles well before that point.
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