25 Popular Songs Inspired By Heartbreaking Events

Published 2 weeks ago

Music has a way of soothing our souls. The words, the meanings, and the emotions conveyed can speak to each of us in different ways. Most of us even have a few favourites that we like to listen to on repeat.

But do you know how many popular songs were inspired by real tragic events? Some inspirations behind popular modern music are rather dark if you care to dig deep. Scroll below to read the sad stories behind some of your favourite hits. 

More info: Reddit

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#1 I always loved (and still do) The Show Must Go On, but once Freddie Mercury revealed he was dying of AIDS, those words suddenly made horrible sense.

Image source: Wasps_are_bastards, Thomas Steffan

He recorded it after his diagnosis. Reportedly he could barely stand in the studio when they recorded it and the band offered to do it another time, but he just said “I’ll sing it darling” and belted it out in one take.
Amazing and tragic.

#2 Zombie by The Cranberries is about a bombing that [unalived] children during “The Troubles.”

Image source: Chucks_u_Farley, TheCranberries

#3 Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People, it sounds like a happy song but it’s about school shootings.

Image source: Rocketcheckman, Foster The People

#4 The best selling song in history, White Christmas, was written by Irving Berlin because his son Irving died on Christmas at 8 days old. Irving married an Irish Catholic girl, Ellin Mackay, whose family disowned her for marrying a Jew. Irving and Ellin would visit their son’s grave on Christmas. The song is about the Christmases he never saw.

Image source: jokumi, Al Aumuller

#5 Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA. I thought it was a happy song.. about being born in the USA, I guess?

Image source: simulatislacrimis, Bruce Springsteen

And of course it’s not. According to Wikipedia: “The song addresses the economic hardships of Vietnam veterans upon their return home, juxtaposed ironically against patriotic glorification of the nation’s fighting forces.”

Yeah, not a happy song.

#6 Wake me up when September Ends. It’s not just a meme. It’s literally all Billy Joe Armstrong said after his dad died when he was a teenager.

Image source: supergeek921, Green Day

#7 Electric Avenue by Eddie Grant is about the Brixton riots and living in poverty, not being able to feed your kids despite working full time.

Image source: boomerxl, @britcultarchive

#8 “House of the Rising Sun.” Most people know it from the Animals’ version, sung by a man. But it is written from the perspective of a young woman, forced into prostitution in the House of the Rising Sun. “It’s been the ruin of many a poor girl, and God I know I’m one.”.

Image source: GutterRider

#9 When I Lost You by Irving Berlin. Irving Berlin was 24 years old and an early success. He married singer Dorothy Goetz who was in her early twenties. Five months after the wedding she died of typhoid fever. It’s the first sad song he wrote. It was a year before he could bring himself to perform it. He didn’t marry again for 14 years.

Image source: doublestitch, Unnamed photographer for Bain News Service

#10 My darlin’, Clementine is about a man who watches his lover drown in a river because he can’t swim.

Final verse goes “Ruby lips above the water blowing bubbles sweet and fine. Alas for me, I was no swimmer so I lost my Clementine.”.

Image source: 03zx3

#11 American Pie – I already knew it was heartbreaking, I just didn’t know what it was about.

Image source: 1SassySeductress, United Artists

[it’s about] the plane crash that [unalived] Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper among others.

#12 “Take Me To Church”, by Hozier. On first listen, sounds like a love song. Music video with more visual details? OOF.

Image source: LostInTheMists, Hozier

My whole life I thought it was just some Christian rock song. All the Jesus freaks would play and sing it nonstop.
Had no idea it’s about a gay couple explicitly hiding from the church.

#13 Dancing in the Moonlight. One of my favorite songs, very sad, unexpected origin. The songwriter and his girlfriend were on vacation at the beach when he was brutally beaten and his gf r*ped by gang members. He wrote the song afterwards, envisioning an idyllic world where everyone is happy and just dances all the time.

Image source: Clear_Pressure_2878, brenoanp/pexels

#14 I Don’t Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats. I heard the song just a few years ago and recently learned the backstory. It’s about the Cleveland school shooting from 1979. When the shooter was asked why she did it, she said it was simply that she didn’t like Mondays.

Image source: fabulousmakeupcase, the Boomtown Rats

#15 “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam is inspired by the real-life s*icide of Jeremy Wade Delle, a 15-year-old student from Richardson, Texas who shot himself in front of his English class on January 8, 1991.

Image source: ballchamois, Pearl Jam

#16 Pink Floyds song dedicated to their former bandmate Syd Barrett who tragically lost his mind/mental state.
Shine on
You crazy

“On 5 June 1975, Barrett, now heavyset, with a completely shaved head and eyebrows, wandered into the studio where the band were recording. They did not recognize him for some time because of his drastically changed appearance, but when they eventually realized who the withdrawn man in the corner was, Roger Waters became so distressed about Barrett’s appearance that he was reduced to tears.” Wikipedia.

Image source: I_suckyoungblood

#17 Gypsy by Fleetwood Mac.

Image source: hai_lei, Warner Bros. Records

Recently found out Stevie wrote it when her childhood friend was dying of leukemia. I have incurable leukemia so the lyrics hit harder now for me.

“Faces freedom with a little fear, I have no fear and have only love”.

#18 Definitely “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton. Found out he wrote it after his 4-year-old son tragically passed away. Hit me differently ever since.

Image source: AniaAwe, Majvdl

#19 Okay, not heartbreaking, but definitely more serious than I ever thought: The dogs in Who Let the Dogs Out are men who harass women in the clubs. The song is basically “who let in these a******s who don’t know how to act?”.

Image source: 12345_PIZZA

#20 Glenn Campbell — I’m not gonna to miss you — A song to his wife while he has Alzheimer’s, saying goodbye while he can because he knows he’s not going to say goodbye later

Image source: CorporateNonperson, Glenn Campbell

Ashley Campbell — Remembering– A song from his daughter to him in response.

#21 It’s not exactly tragic, but the wedding staple “At Last” by Etta James is actually about a widow who dies and meets her late husband in the afterlife. “My heart was wrapped up in clover the night I looked at you,” cause she was buried. Still a great love story that can be used for weddings but a touch darker.

Image source: Animelily, Louis Ramirez

#22 Definitely “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman. found out it’s about escaping a life of poverty and unfulfilled dreams. hits way harder now.

Image source: RinaRadiant65, Tracy Chapman

#23 Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding. The final verse where he whistles the melody was a placeholder. He died (I think in a plane crash?) before he could record the lyrics to the end of the song. Hell of a voice in that man.

Image source: Tylensus

#24 All of My Love by Led Zeppelin is about his 5-year-old son’s unexpected death from a virus.

Image source: aflockofpuffins, Jim Summaria

#25 Before You Go by Lewis Capaldi. He wrote it for his aunt that took her own life.

Image source: umokaygotit, Raph_PH

Shanilou Perera

Shanilou has always loved reading and learning about the world we live in. While she enjoys fictional books and stories just as much, since childhood she was especially fascinated by encyclopaedias and strangely enough, self-help books. As a kid, she spent most of her time consuming as much knowledge as she could get her hands on and could always be found at the library. Now, she still enjoys finding out about all the amazing things that surround us in our day-to-day lives and is blessed to be able to write about them to share with the whole world as a profession.

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