When writing songs inspiration can come from many places. Maybe you want to tell a story, or confess your love for someone. Perhaps you're really wicked high and want to get that across too. Sometimes, however, a great song can come from great pain or the loss of someone influential. Here are 10 Songs that are tributes to those lost.
1. "Hell's Bells" - AC/DC
AC/DC's first vocalist was the legendary Bon Scott. Known not only for his unique singing style but also for his unforgiving drinking habits. In 1980 he passed away after a night of hard partying and AC/DC, who were sky rocketing to the popularity moon at the time, had a difficult decision on their hands. Back In Black was already in the works, and with Bon's Mother's encouragement the group found a new singer and finished the record. The 13 tolls of the bell at the beginning of the album, along with the majority of the songs themselves, are a tribute to Bon.
2. "Bro Hymn" - Pennywise
Jason Matthew Thirsk was the original bass player for legendary punk band Pennywise. When three of his close friends were killed in a car accident he wrote the song "Bro Hymn" in their honour. Jason suffered from his own demons however and committed suicide in 1996. The band would re-release the song as "Bro Hymn Tribute" with the new lyrics "Jason Matthew Thirsk this one's for you"
3. "Hey, Hey. My, My. (Into The Black)" - Neil Young
This is another song that grew a life of it's own more than Neil could have ever expected. He was inspired by the lives of some of his musical influences such as Elvis and Johnny Rotten whom the song is a tribute to. In 1994 Kurt Cobain included the line "It's better to burn out than to fade away" in his suicide note. Since then Young has felt the song is a tribute to all those who live to fast and leave before they had a chance to truly live.
4. "Thief" - Our Lady Peace
Our Lady Peace singer Raine Maida and his wife Chantal Kreviazuk met a young girl named Mina Kim with a devastating cancerous tumor. Maida was so shaken by the thought of such a sweet child suffering at the hands of something few would understand he wrote "Thief" in her honour. Listen at the end of the track for actual audio of Kreviazuk singing with Mina....gives me chills every time.
5. "American Pie" - Don McLean
Everybody knows this one. "American Pie" is McLean's epic tribute to Buddy Holly or "The Music" as he's referred to in the song. In case you don't know, Buddy Holly was killed on February 3, 1959 when the single engine plane he was riding in crashed to the earth. Contrary to urban legend, the plane he was riding in was NOT named the American Pie. There have been many analyses of the song and it is quite intriguing to get into it's mythos, but perhaps i'll leave that for another list.
6. "Gypsy" - Fleetwood Mac
Stevie Nicks was a great songwriter, really under appreciated nowadays. This one is kind of a cheat. It was written for Nicks' solo album Bella Donna but was left off due to time constraints. By the time Fleetwood Mac were ready to work on their 1982 studio album Mirage one of Nicks' closest friends was dying of leukemia. The song was included on the album and was dedicated to her.
7. "Angel's Son" - Sevendust
This one is a tribute to James Lynn Strait, lead singer of the group Snot. Though they weren't well known in the mainstream, the respect they had within the musical underworld was immense. Strait list of fans included Incubus, Sugar Ray, Korn, Slipknot, Sevendust and on and on. Strait was killed in 1998 in a six car pile-up along with his dog, Dobbs. This song and the video (which includes Strait's mother) is one of the most beautiful and powerful tributes i've ever witnessed.
8. "Because Of The Shame" - Against Me!
I may have talked about this one on my Against Me! list, but it's a good enough song it deserves another mention. Against Me! front man Tom Gabel was attending a funeral for a friend of his who was murdered. His friend's mother approached him and told him that his friend always felt Gabel's other song "Thrash Unreal" was a swipe at her and that he owed her another song. This was the result...it's similarity to Bruce Springsteen's "No Surrender" was deliberate...it was one of her favourite songs.
9. "Would?" - Alice In Chains
Andrew Wood was the front man for Seattle grunge group Mother Love Bone. The band never amounted to much attention but it's roots grew deep in the Seattle scene. Mother Love Bone members would go on to form Pearl Jam and ties with other groups like Soundgarden and Alice In Chains were formed. Alice guitarist Jerry Cantrell wrote "Would?" for the fallen Wood when he died after a heroin overdose in 1990. Alice In Chains front man Layne Staley passed in a similar fashion in 2002. Pearl Jam released a song in his honour called "4/20/02"
10. "To Live Is To Die" - Metallica
In 1986 while on tour in Sweden, Metallica's tour bus slid off the side of the highway and rolled down a rocky embankment. After being thrown from the bus guitarist Kirk Hammett remembers hearing everyone's voice except for bass player Cliff Burton. Burton was killed after the bus rolled over top of him. His unique bass style and one of a kind personality is what helped Metallica stand out from the rest of crowded California metal scene in the 80's. His flavour is evident on songs like "Anesthesia", "Orion", "Damage Inc." and 'For Whom The Bell Tolls". When time came for Metallica's next album 1988's ...And Justice For All! they included this 9 minute instrumental in Burton's memory. At Cliff's funeral his sister gave singer James Hetfield a poem Cliff had written years earlier...you can hear it being quietly read over the end of the song.
May they all rest in peace