21 Best Tribute Songs

12. “Luv (Sic) Part 2 Acoustica” by Nujabes and Shing02

Nujabes was one of the primary forces in Japanese hip-hop music during the 2000s. He pioneered a downtempo and lo-fi approach to hip-hop beats. In 2010, Nujabes died in a traffic accident that profoundly affected his frequent contributors and friends.

“Luv (Sic) Part 2 Acoustica” is a remix of a song Nujabes produced during his lifetime. Frequent contributor and rapper Shing02 dedicates the track to a “dear friend” as an acoustic arrangement plays. Many tribute songs exist for Nujabes, real name Seba Jun, but few hold the emotional weight as this one.

13. “Happy Birthday” by Stevie Wonder

The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. was a blow to many Black people and activists. Stevie Wonder shared a birthday with the late Dr. King and decided to produce a tribute song for the late reverend and civil rights proponent.

Wonder never released the song in the United States, instead releasing it as a single in the United Kingdom. The tune has become one of Wonder’s signature songs, and many Black people play this song during their birthdays.

14. “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan

“Angel” has become a meme, but the song is a touching tribute and one of the saddest songs ever recorded. Sarah McLachlan wrote the song as a memorial to Jonathan Melvoin, the keyboardist for the Smashing Pumpkins, who died of a heroin overdose.

McLachlan sings about the tragedy of musicians turning to hard drugs while admitting she understands what might drive one to abuse these products. While McLachlan dedicated the song to Melvoin, she said you could apply the track to any musician who died of a drug overdose.

15. “Life Changes” by Wu-Tang Clan

The Wu-Tang Clan was one of the primary innovators in the world of ‘90s hip-hop. One of the members with the most influence in the group was Ol’ Dirty Bastard. ODB died of a drug overdose in 2004, and the remaining Wu-Tang Clan members banded together to create a touching tribute to their fallen comrade.

“Life Changes” samples from “The Road We Didn’t Take.” Wu-Tang Clan members rap through their grief at the loss of ODB, saying he went too soon.

16. “Free as a Bird” by The Beatles

Though the Beatles broke up in 1970, the three surviving members got together to record “Free as a Bird” in 1995. John Lennon originally wrote the song years after the band dissolved, and the band decided to record the song in honor of their murdered friend.

“Free as a Bird” was the first song released under the Beatles' name since 1970, and anticipation was at an all-time high. The tribute went on to win a Grammy Award in 1997.

17. “Rock and Roll Heaven” by The Righteous Brothers

“Rock and Roll Heaven” by The Righteous Brothers is not a singular tribute song to one person. Instead, the song is a tribute to the many rock and rollers who died too young. Alan O’Day and Johnny Stevenson originally wrote the song, but it did not become a hit until The Righteous Brothers released its version.

“Rock and Roll Heaven” alludes to several artists, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Jim Morrison, Jim Croce, and Bobby Darin.

18. “No One But You (Only the Good Die Young)” by Queen

Freddie Mercury is one of the most iconic personalities in rock and roll music. His early death led to much grief from the other bandmates of Queen. Six years after Mercury passed, the surviving Queen members recorded “No One But You (Only the Good Die Young)” in tribute to their fallen friend and frontman.

The song is the only Queen song to feature three musicians. Brian May wrote the track and originally intended it to be a solo track before the other members of Queen decided to join him.

19. “Johnny Bye Bye” by Bruce Springsteen

Few forces in pop culture were as prevalent as Elvis Presley. Many artists took inspiration from the King of Rock and Roll, and the myth of Elvis continues to permeate today. Many artists have recorded tributes to Elvis, including Bruce Springsteen.

Springsteen said seeing Elvis at a young age inspired him to become a musician. Taking inspiration from a Chuck Berry song, Springsteen wrote “Johnny Bye Bye” to analyze the legendary figure’s life and the depressing way his life ended.

20. “Buddy Holly” by Weezer

Released on what should have been Holly’s 58th birthday, “Buddy Holly” by Weezer pays tribute to the classic rock and roller. Weezer discusses many other topics in the song, but everything returns to its namesake.

“Buddy Holly” was a smash hit for Weezer, and the popularity of its music video helped establish the band in its early days. The music video evokes 1950s nostalgia and contains many references to the 1970s television show Happy Days.

21. “Sleeps with Angels” by Neil Young

Neil Young is one of folk’s most accomplished musicians. In 1994, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana committed suicide and left a hole in popular music. Cobain quoted his icon Young in his suicide note and that scarred and depressed Young.

Young wrote “Sleeps with Angels” as a tribute to the fallen musician as he attempted to work through the grief he felt as another artist died too young.

Top Tribute Songs Ever, Final Thoughts

There are so many touching tribute songs out there, and we only scratched the surface of the best examples. What is your favorite tribute song? Did we miss any that belong on this list? Let us know!

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