We explore the best tribute songs written in memory of dear, departed musicians.
‘Edge of Seventeen,’ Stevie Nicks
The title was inspired by Tom Petty’s then-wife (who said “age of seventeen” with a Southern accent), but the content came from the loss of Stevie Nicks’s uncle and the death of John Lennon. Nicks didn’t know the former Beatle, but her friend Jimmy Iovine had worked with Lennon and told her plenty of stories about him. The “white-winged dove” represented Lennon’s activism for peace.
‘American Pie,’ Don McLean
Buddy Holly died before Don McLean became a songwriter, but the early rock ’n’ roller had a profound influence on the folk-rocker. When penning his magnum opus, McLean began his story of America in the ’60s with the death of the “Peggy Sue” singer.
‘The Needle and the Damage Done,’ Neil Young
The Canadian singer-songwriter wrote this song about heroin addiction, more specifically, Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten’s addiction and subsequent overdose from the drug. Neil Young said he blamed himself for Whitten’s death for a time, before realizing that “every junkie’s like a setting sun” – that is, to say, going down.
‘Sleeps with the Angels’ Neil Young
After Kurt Cobain quoted Neil Young in his suicide note, the “Godfather of Grunge” added this song to the 1994 album he was working on with Crazy Horse. Released just months after Cobain’s death, the song was prescient when it comes to Cobain’s influence. Young sings, “He’s always on someone’s mind.”
‘Chelsea Hotel #2,’ Leonard Cohen
The songwriting great recalls a sexual encounter he shared with Janis Joplin at the artistic sanctuary name-checked in this 1974 song’s title. Leonard Cohen revealed the late Joplin’s connection to the song in concert, a comment he later regretted because of the intimate things he described in the lyrics.