You read it in high school (or at least you sat in class while your English teacher talked about it), and unless you completely missed the boat, you know the story— two young lovers from rival families fall for each other despite the overwhelming objections of everyone on both sides of the feud.
They die in the end, but we as a society have decided that these two teenagers (Juliet celebrates her 14th birthday in the course of the play) are the pinnacle example of true love. Add to that songwriters love writing about love, and you have these top songs about Romeo and Juliet.
1. “Love Story” by Taylor Swift
Song Year: 2008
While “Love Story” doesn’t directly tell the tragic story of our star-crossed lovers, Taylor Swift mentions the pair in her song about a boy she loves but of whom her family and friends disapprove.
It came from Swift’s second album and landed at the number-one spot on several charts around the world. It also shines a light on young love and what it overlooks.
While we all know that things went very south very quickly for Romeo and Juliet, we still hold the pair up as an exemplar of true love. When you’re young and in love, you overlook details sometimes, like that niggling one about Juliet stabbing herself to death in grief.
2. “Romeo” by Dolly Parton
Song Year: 1993
While credited to Dolly Parton, more artists sing on “Romeo” than just our beloved blond national treasure. Billy Ray Cyrus appearances, as do Tanya Tucker, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kathy Mattea, and Pam Tillis.
Singing about a handsome guy who enters the bar, the women croon about how good he looks and how much they just want to be his Juliet. For Cyrus’ part, in the video, he plays the titular character (with a mullet Shakespeare never dreamed of) and sings what are instructions for doing a dance Dolly christened The Romeo.
Seems like a mess, but it’s a fun song.
3. “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Öyster Cult
Song Year: 1976
Before getting immortalized in the Saturday Night Live “More Cowbell” sketch, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” was a pretty big hit for Blue Öyster Cult. But despite that comedy gold, it was a morose song about the inevitability of death.
The connection to Romeo and Juliet is a passing one, as the pair only get briefly mentioned in the lyrics, but invoking their doomed love and the fact that they’re together forever makes the song lean toward not dreading death, as the title says.
After all, even though they died, Romeo and Juliet ended up together. Maybe not how they hoped they would, but we take what we can get.
4. “Romeo Had Juliette” by Lou Reed
Song Year: 1989
Lou Reed’s story of Romeo Rodriguez and Juliette Bell sets Shakespeare’s tale in New York and has overtones of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story. Like their namesakes, this pair of doomed lovers find each other against the odds.
They live difficult lives in a hard city, but the chaos around them seems more manageable when they’re together. And then it’s over without explanation. Reed obliquely refers to violent death in the song, but it befell someone else in the story. Still, the image is there, and we know what happened to the previous pair.
5. “Romeo” by Wipers
Song Year: 1982
Punk rock’s take on Romeo and Juliet has Romeo, roaming through the city, alone, lonely, and looking for love. Juliet’s out there and may even be hoping for someone like him to come around, but in the Wipers version of the story, they never meet.
While that may seem sad, at least they don’t kill themselves in the end. Well, they might, but it’s not over each other.
The song has a driving darkness and desperation that echoes what the lovers must have felt once the play reaches Act V, but since the Wipers have them never meeting, things work out differently.
6. “Desolation Row” by Bob Dylan
Song Year: 1965
Upon its release as part of Highway 61 Revisited, “Desolation Row” was Bob Dylan’s longest song to date. While Juliet doesn’t make an appearance, Romeo does, along with T.S. Eliot, Ophelia, Albert Einstein, and Noah of Ark fame.
This varied cast of characters parades through the song, all serving as examples of desolation, sorrow, and loneliness. The lyrics may be hard to follow due to Dylan’s experimentation with LSD when writing “Desolation Row,” but even the oddest Dylan stuff is still pretty darn poetic.
7. “Romeo And Juliet” by Dire Straits
Song Year: 1980
When you’re young, a breakup can feel worse than death. That’s the idea behind “Romeo and Juliet,” a song about a modern couple just as doomed as the literary pair, though death isn’t part of this equation.
Still, the narrator has lost his love, either because the time wasn’t right, or she was too particular about what she wanted, or for any number of reasons. He spends much of the song trying to convince her that they should be together and that their love is fit for the ages.
8. “Juliet” by Robin Gibb
Song Year: 1983
Robin Gibb had a worldwide number-one hit with “Juliet,” from an otherwise forgettable album, How Old Are You? It was Gibb’s second solo effort.
It’s unclear whether the pair in the song are the same kids from the story, but they sure could be. There are references to the way the whole world falls away when you meet that one special person and Gibb mentions destiny and how we may try to fight against it but nearly always lose that battle.
A later mention of eternity alludes to the fact that the song’s lovers may have died, but even if it’s about a pair that isn’t THE Romeo and Juliet, it’s still a sad song about how things don’t always work out.
9. “Mystery Dance” by Elvis Costello
Song Year: 1977
Elvis Costello wrote “Mystery Dance” almost on a whim and thought little of it when he was done. It was, to him, a piece of pop confectionery. But audiences loved it. It appeared on his first album, but he ended up playing it for many years after that.
It’s a straightforward song, and while it mentions R & J, it could be about any young couple, as it’s about a first sexual encounter. Costello refers to both parties pretending they know what they’re doing, even though they’re both clueless. It’s kind of charming.
10. “Not Romeo Not Juliet” by Bryan Adams
Song Year: 2004
Bryan Adams has never been accused of subtlety in his music. This is, after all, the guy that gave the world “Summer of ‘69.” “Not Romeo Not Juliet” holds Shakespeare’s lovestruck kids up as an ideal that the pair in the song can never equal.
The characters in the song seem weary of each other, and there are spots in the lyrics where it seems they may not even really like each other. Why do they stay together? If you’ve been in a relationship like that, you understand. If you haven’t, you don’t. And you should count yourself lucky.
11. “Romeo and the Lonely Girl” by Thin Lizzy
Song Year: 1976
While Jailbreak was Thin Lizzy’s sixth album, it was the first that got them some major airplay, specifically with the hit “The Boys Are Back in Town.” Also included on that album was “Romeo and the Lonely Girl.”
So there’s a train in the song’s lyrics, and trains weren’t a thing when Shakespeare wrote his famous play. However, Romeo, in the beginning, is suffering from an unrequited love for Rosaline.
The story the song weaves talks about the lonely girl who doesn’t have Romeo, and for all we know, Rosaline changed her mind about Romeo once he set his sights on his beloved Juliet. That would leave her a lonely girl, indeed.
12. “Romeo Loves Juliet” by Rick Astley
Song Year: 2001
Again, here’s a song in which the characters aren’t the actual Romeo and Juliet, but the names tell us all we need to know about who they are in the story Rick Astley is telling (and no, clicking on the link to the video will NOT result in you getting Rick-rolled. Promise).
“Romeo Loves Juliet” is about missing out on the important things in life because you’re too caught up in details or trivialities. Juliet spends time on her cell phone and misses the signals Romeo gives off. He loves her, but she doesn’t have a clue. Pay attention, girl.
13. “To You I Bestow” by Mundy
Song Year: 1996
Full disclosure: neither Romeo nor Juliet appears in “To You I Bestow.” However, it was part of the soundtrack to Baz Luhrman’s adaptation of the story, one of several Leonardo di Caprio films that reached iconic status. It seems wrong to complete a list like this without at least one song from that soundtrack.
With references to being dead and outlandish plans for a future that we know the lovers won’t have, it’s a haunting song. It was one of Mundy’s first big hits. While the mononymic musician is huge in his native Ireland, “To You I Bestow” is all most know of him, but with the film’s reach, a lot of people know this song.
14. “(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet” by The Reflections
Song Year: 1964
If you’re going to sing about love, you can do worse than
- Making reference to Romeo and Juliet;
- Singing it as a doo-wop song.
Something is appealing about the form, and endearing, too. The Reflections tell a tale of young love that draws on those feelings we all had about our first love, specifically the idea that if this relationship doesn’t work out, then all is lost, and I’ll never, ever find love again.
As adults, we all poo-poo that sentiment coming from the next generation, but we all went through it.
The kid in the song fears that if he doesn’t get a job, he won’t be able to win his girlfriend’s parents’ approval (which is adorable), and that will spell the end. Losing her, he believes, would be on par with Romeo losing Juliet. Presumably, the songwriters didn’t think she’d kill herself.
15. “Happy Ending” by Elvis Presley
Song Year: 1963
“Happy Ending” is more or less about the opposite of Romeo and Juliet. From the Elvis Presley film, It Happened at the World’s Fair, the song comes in at the end (duh). The lyrics refer to the literary couple as the opposite of something to which to aspire.
The lyrics speak of finding a happy ending and that thoughts of ending up like Romeo and Juliet would be bad. It may be kind of obvious, but not every romantic comedy musical can be Waitress or The Goodbye Girl.
16, “Your Kind of Woman” by Supertunes
Song Year: 2022
Supertunes is the name under which Obinna Miracle performs. He’s a Nigerian musician who you can tell, upon just one listen, is well-versed in reggae rhythms and styles, though this may be more accurately described as world music. In “Your Kind of Woman,” he sing-speaks to the object of his affection, hoping she’ll be the Juliet to his Romeo.
Again the overlooking of how the story ends.
Miracle remains an underground sensation, but with his sound, that may change soon.
17. “Here In Heaven” by Sparks
Song Year: 1974
Sparks was a band centered around brothers Russell and Ron Mael. The Los Angelenos headed for the UK and, in turn, embraced glam rock. Then along came Kimono My House, Sparks’ breakthrough album (it spawned a number two hit with “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us”).
It also contained “Here in Heaven,” a wonderfully weird little song that finds Romeo in the afterlife, fuming at Juliet for how things turned out. The thing is, the tantrum Romeo throws in the song must have been short-lived.
Once the lovesick teenager killed himself, he’d have arrived at the pearly gates only to discover that Juliet hadn’t died. And sure, he’d be mad, but just a few minutes after his death, she would awake, discover what he’d done, and join him in the afterlife. Young love, right?
18. “Romeo & Juliet” by Kasey Chambers
Song Year: 2017
Another song that plays somewhat fast and loose with the events of the play, “Romeo & Juliet” is a folk song that looks at the tragedy from Juliet’s point of view, though she seems to be alive after Romeo is gone. So perhaps the lyrics address the last few minutes of her life.
She woke up to find Romeo dead, having not gotten the message from Friar Lawrence about her faking her death. Juliet, in this song, tells Romeo’s corpse that he should meet her at the church, but only if he died for her. Perhaps this Juliet is unclear as to what happened in the tomb that night, even though, in the play, she sees the empty vial of poison.
19. “Romeo and Juliet” by Malcolm McLaren & the World's Famous Supreme Team
Song Year: 1990
Remember that good-times hip hop of the 80s and 90s? “Romeo and Juliet” may be the culmination of this genre that includes the Fat Boys and other party anthem creators.
What’s so fun about this piece is that it’s crammed full of samples. There’s a deep cut from The Police, spoken dialogue from a 1936 film version of Romeo and Juliet (starring a then-34-year-old Norma Shearer playing Juliet, who is 13 at the beginning of the play), the voice of Vincent Price for some reason, the Pointer Sisters, and even the music of Prokofiev. It’s a jumbled mess that’s ridiculously fun.
It doesn’t so much tell of the star-crossed lovers as a sexual encounter that goes off the rails. The comparison between the lummox in the song and Romeo is laughable.
20. “The Cinema Show” by Genesis
Song Year: 1973
“The Cinema Show” is a 10-minute song from the old days of Genesis, the line-up people seem to forget. Phil Collins was playing drums for the band by then, but the lead singer was still Peter Gabriel. His distinctive voice— though you can hear how young he is— is unmistakable.
Romeo and Juliet are stand-ins, as they are other songs, and in this one, the two are separately preparing for their date at the movies. Both are hoping for things to get physical after the flick. Good luck, you crazy kids.
21. “Romeo and Juliet” by Johnny Drille
Song Year: 2017
Nigerian folk singer Johnny Drille weaves a tale about a girl he loves. Predictably, he wants her to be his Juliet, and he’s more than happy to be her Romeo.
Yes, it’s cliche, and yes, it’s yet another song that conveniently forgets all the murder and suicide surrounding and ultimately doing in the pair, but we all know what he means.
Drille’s lilting voice makes it sound like true love is just around the corner for anyone.
Top Songs About Romeo And Juliet, Final Thoughts
Take the couple’s white-hot love for each other. Take their commitment to doing what they think is right no matter what their friends and families think. Leave the part where people get stabbed or drink poison. Romeo and Juliet is the height of romance for many, and these songs mine the play for some great material.