Silences are endlessly changeable. Sometimes we find them comforting, as when curled up with a good book. Other times they can be unsettling, as when we struggle to fill an awkward conversational pause.
There are as many songs about silence as there are kinds of silences. Here are some of our favorites.
Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel
‘The Sound of Silence’ is perhaps the most famous song about silence there is from singer-songwriter duo Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Talking about his composition, Simon said it explored themes not only of silence but the difficulty people have communicating with one another. Specifically, it was a song about how the incommunicability of feelings engendered unintentional silence.
But it wasn’t until 1966 when Tom Wilson agreed to have the song remixed with a rock sensibility overlaying the melody, that ‘The Sound of Silence’ became the touchstone listeners today know and love.
It’s About That Time by Miles Davis
From folk-rock to jazz, ‘It’s About That Time’ is another staple for lists of songs about silence. Here Miles Davis features not only the skilled saxophonist he was but an artistic and compelling singer.
The result is a moving tribute to the effect silence has on people.
Hush by Deep Purple
Deep Purple’s ‘Hush’ tells the story of one man’s unrequited love. Throughout the song, he attempts to soothe the woman he loves despite knowing the feelings aren’t reciprocated.
Deep Purple debuted the song in 1968 on their album ‘Shades of Deep Purple.’ It was their first album, and the song was an immediate success. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and singer Ian Gillan collaborated on the song’s music and lyrics.
Silent Shout by The Knife
Don’t be deceived by the title. This song about silence has lyrics about:
‘Silent Shout’ was composed by artistic sibling duo Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer. It grapples with how and why people instinctively create noise to drown out the silence.
Enjoy the Silence by Susan and the Magical Orchestra
Like ‘Sound of Silence,’ the early version of this song about silence might surprise listeners.
Martin Gore first wrote ‘Enjoy the Silence’ as a ballad-style song. It was significantly slower than the version Gore’s band, Depeche Mode later recorded. The change came about at the insistence of one of the band members. Gore agreed, and the song duly altered.
They slow the melody down to something that perhaps more closely resembles Gore’s earlier conception of the song. The result is a haunting electronic melody with intricate chords and exemplary vocals.
Be Patient, Be Steadfast and Be Silent by Lucia Popp and Children’s Choir
These spirits appear several times during Mozart’s singspiel ‘The Magic Flute.’ Here, they intervene to save a despairing Pamina from death. They tell Pamina that to survive Sarastro’s trials, she must be patient, loyal, and, crucially, silent.
The children sing this refrain each time they appear. While they are always successful at guiding Mozart’s heroes, some are better at being silent than others.
While translations of the German libretto vary depending on the translator, silence is not only a popular interpretation but thematically significant to Mozart’s story.
4:33 by John Cage
Famously, John Cage’s ‘4:33’ is four and a half minutes of complete silence. Perfect for a list of songs about silence.
While some critics debate whether Cage’s composition qualifies as music, Cage felt they missed the point. Instead, he pointed to the ambient sounds that made up the day, like:
- Rustling leaves
- Clocks ticking
According to Cage, not only is the world never really silent, but most people don’t know how to listen to silence. And that’s what ‘4:33’ asks listeners to do.
Silence by Chet Baker and Charlie Haden
Written by Charlie Haden, ‘Silence’ is another jazz song about silence. Here it’s played by Chet Baker on trumpet and Haden on the double bass.
The result is a song with a warm tone and rich harmonies that invites the listener to lean closer as they meditate on the nature of silence.
Pay special attention to the double bass as it dips lower and lower on the scale. The pizzicato sound makes for a striking contrast to the other instrumentation. It gives the impression that the strings stutter to a stop as the music ends.
I Better Be Quiet now by Elliott Smith
Not all silences are golden. In ‘I Better Be Quiet Now,’ singer and songwriter Elliot Smith uses a wistful, lilting melody to explore the silences created by missed opportunities.
The use of flats and other accidentals contributes to the somber tonality of the music, and it works as word-painting for the lyrics, where the speaker grapples with loneliness after failing to keep in touch with someone they’re interested in.
Throughout the song, communication is a recurring theme. Having failed to obtain a phone number, the speaker muses that regrets naturally breed silence. They further speculate that sometimes these silences are more bearable than is the effort required to attempt further communication.
The Quiet One by The Who
British rock band The Who wrote ‘The Quiet One’ om 1981. Composed by bass player John Entwistle, it is one of Entwistle’s two contributions to the band’s first album.
Like other songs about silence on this list, ‘The Quiet One’ explores the darker morasses of thought and feeling that silence can open up.
Talking about his creation, Entwistle said the song was partly an attempt to explain that he was more talkative than people gave him credit for. But because he began his career as one of the band’s more reserved members, that was the reputation he earned.
Nowhere Man by The Beatles
The Beatles released ‘Nowhere Man’ in 1965. It was written by songwriting team John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Although initially released as a single in 1965, North America didn’t get hold of this song about silence until 1966, when it appeared as the A-side. Subsequently, it featured on the album ‘Yesterday and Today.’
Atypically for a Beatles song, ‘Nowhere Man’ is one of the rare musical entries not to be about romantic love. Instead, the lyrics typify Lennon at his philosophical best. They speculate on a man who feels directionless and struggles to find his place in the world.
While not explicitly about silence, ‘Nowhere Man’ explores themes of loneliness, isolation, and the silence that descends when we let these things take over.
Our Lips Are Sealed by The Go-Gos
The Go-Gos’ guitarist, Jane Wieldin, wrote ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’ in 1981. It first appeared as a single and subsequently featured on the band’s album ‘Beauty and the Beat.’
This song about silence tackles more than conversational lacunae. It also wrestles with how to handle gossip and fear-mongering.
The song’s speaker chooses silence as a defense against the barrage of mistruths spread about them.
Funeral Blues by Benjamin Britten
Spiky and jarring, no one but Britten could have adapted ‘Funeral Blues’ so skilfully. The lyrics come from a poem by W. H. Auden of the same name, and from the opening lines onwards, the piece is a powerful call for silence as the speaker wrestles with the emptiness and devastation of grief.
Britten sets the speaker’s demand for silence at odds with the angular tonality and jagged harmonies of his composition. The result is a stark and compelling song about silence and the pain of loss.
A Quiet Place by Garnet Mimms
‘A Quiet Place’ is a song about silence introverts everywhere can appreciate. The song was written by Bert Burns and Samuel Bell, but it was Garnet Mimms' soulful rendition that made this anthem to silence memorable.
Garnet Mimms takes vocal inspiration from Sam Cooke and the musical tradition of doo-wop. However, he started his musical training as a choir boy for his local church.
The lyrics of ‘A Quiet Place’ tell the story of one man’s struggle to find immersive silence while surrounded by ambient city noises. The speaker craves the peace of a truly silent place without interference from:
- Arguing neighbors
In A Silent Way by Miles Davis
This is another song about silence featuring Miles Davis. ‘In a Silent Way’ isn’t only a song, it’s the title of Davis’ 1969 album.
As featured on the album, ‘In a Silent Way’ is part of a medley with ‘About That Time.’ Each song is approximately 20 minutes long, but they are otherwise different.
Where ‘It’s About That Time’ contrasts its themes of silence with noise and bombast, ‘In a Silent Way’ is softer and gentler.
The song got its name during a soundcheck after someone remarked how like ‘a silent way’ the song sounded. The name stuck.
It was a revelatory moment for Davis’ career. Many consider ‘In a Silent Way’ an example of some of the first jazz fusion.
Lazy Calm by The Cocteau Twins
Scottish band The Cocteau Twins released ‘Lazy Calm’ in 1986. This song about silence tackles the concept in a variety of ways.
It starts by exploring the isolation of profound silence and the loneliness that this causes. As the song progresses, it shifts and explores how, in the right circumstances, silence can offer clarity and inner peace that can be hard to find in the everyday business of the world.
It’s a compelling song, full of nuances, best appreciated by sitting silently afterward and reflecting on the piece.
Two of Us by Lake Street Dive
‘Two of Us’ opens with the ticking of a metronome. More than a way of keeping the beat, it’s a subtly observed commentary on how sometimes silence speaks louder than words.
As the song progresses it emerges the speaker is separated from a romantic other because they couldn’t communicate. Instead, silence consumed them both and spoke volumes.
The song was first made famous by The Beatles, but Lake Street Dive innovatively reimagine and reinvigorated it.
Silence Kid by Pavement
This song about silence taps into an age-old fear; That no one will understand us. Throughout the song, the speaker sits in contemplative silence and struggles to find exactly the right words to describe their thoughts and feelings.
It’s a sensation familiar not only to kids, but anxious adults, too, and that goes a long way to explaining why this song resonates as powerfully as it does with listeners.
Awooga by Calvin Harris
Calvin Harris’s ‘Awooga’ is a song about silence that reminds us that sometimes silence can be as deafening as noise.
Throughout it, the speaker struggles not only with insomnia but with the ways we weaponize silence to inspire fear or even control others.
Quiet on tha Set by N.W.A.
‘Quiet on Tha Set’ doesn’t have many lyrics. But the few it has powerfully explore silence.
Atypically, this song about silence examines how sometimes too much of a good thing can be detrimental. Here the speaker’s success as an artist alienates them from others. Consequently, they endure silence and loneliness when they struggle to connect with the people around them.
Silence in Your Head by The String Cheese Incident
For a song about silence, The String Cheese Incident crams a lot of instrumentation into this melody. Listen for:
Overlying these instruments are lyrics that tackle a variety of silences. The String Cheese incident vacillates between singing about the comforting silences when we enjoy our own company, to the seemingly all-consuming silence of loneliness.
Ruhe Meine Seele by Kiri Te Kanawa
‘Ruhe Meine Seele’ translates to ‘Rest, My Soul.’ Because of this, it’s sometimes treated as an unofficial part of Strauss’s song cycle ‘Four Last Songs.’
However, the lyrics talk as much about the restorative power of silence as they do about death.
In this song, with lyrics from a poem by Karl Henkell, not even the wind disturbs the all-encompassing silence.
It’s Oh So Quiet by Bjork
Last but not least, Björk’s ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ is yet another song about silence that tries to navigate the multiplicity of silences life presents us with.
In particular, this song explores how silence can soothe and discomfort people as few other sensations can.
Best Songs About Silence, Final Thoughts
Silences come in all shapes and sizes, from the companionable to the unsettling. That’s no less true about songs about silence. They tackle a variety of emotions and often explore themes of:
- The power of language/silence
Irrespective of the genre or lyrics, all these songs are a potent reminder that we never underestimate silence. Sometimes it says more than words ever could.