Top 10 Country Songs About Death
Country music artists are known for recording and releasing songs that pull on listeners’ heartstrings. Naturally, songs about death are among those heart-wrenching tunes.
While it’s a subject that people don’t necessarily want to talk about too much, death has inspired plenty of country music’s biggest hits. Throughout the years, a number of the genre’s songs have eloquently touched on the topic. Below are The Boot’s picks for the 10 best.
Written about McCreery’s grandfather, who had recently passed away, “Five More Minutes” is the singer’s way of honoring the man who was such a large influence in his life.
“At 86, my grandpa said, ‘There’s angels in the room’ / With all the family gathered ’round, we knew that time was coming soon,” McCreery sings in “Five More Minutes.” “With so much left to say, I prayed, ‘Lord, I ain’t finished / Just give us five more minutes.'”
McCreery says “Five More Minutes” is his favorite song he’s ever written.
“We sat down at Frank’s house — Frank Rogers, my producer and co-writer on the song. I was just kind of talking to him about Grandaddy, and [how] there were a few things I wanted to tell Grandaddy that I didn’t get a chance to,” McCreery tells The Boot. “I was kind of reminiscing on what we’d do together: We’d golf together and swim together in his pool in the backyard.”
“Chiseled in Stone” is the title track of Gosdin’s 10th studio album. Thanks in part to one especially poignant line — “You don’t know about lonely / ‘Til it’s chiseled in stone” — the song became a Top 10 hit, and has been counted among some of the saddest songs in country music. Chris Young included “Chiseled in Stone” on his Voices EP.
“When you get to Nashville, if you move here from somewhere else, or if you’re living in Nashville like I did, and you’re growing up and start learning cover songs, that’s … just one of those songs that you have to learn how to play,” Young notes. “If you don’t know the words to “Chiseled in Stone,” I don’t know if you can go play downtown Broadway in Nashville.”
Written by hit songwriters Bobby Tomberlin and Steven Dale Jones, “One More Day” is a heart-wrenching song about wishing that a loved one who passed away would return for just one more day. Lyrics include “First thing I’d do is pray for time to crawl / I’d unplug the telephone and keep the TV off / I’d hold you every second / Say a million I love yous / That’s what I’d do with one more day with you.”
In addition to hitting the top of the country charts, “One More Day” became a hit on the adult contemporary and Hot 100 charts for Diamond Rio. It was also nominated for multiple awards, including a Grammys trophy for Best Country Performance By a Duo or Group With Vocal.
“How Can I Help You Say Goodbye” covers farewells from childhood friendships to the end of a marriage to someone on their deathbed in lyrics such as “Sitting with Mama alone in her bedroom / She opened her eyes and then squeezed my hand / She said, ‘I have to go now, my time here is over’ / And with her final word, she tried to help me understand.” The song was later covered by pop star Laura Branigan.
“Holes in the Floor of Heaven,” penned by Wariner and Billy Kirsch, was inspired by a line in a novel that Kirsch’s wife Julie read; however, it wasn’t until several months later, after the death of Kirsch’s grandmother, that Kirsch and Wariner sat down to finally write the song. “Holes in the Floor of Heaven” was written as Wariner was ending his deal with Arista Records, and it helped him land his deal with Capitol Records: Wariner played the song for Garth Brooks, who in turn played it for then-label head Pat Quigley.
“Love, Me” was Raye’s second single and first No. 1 hit. Written by Skip Ewing and Max T. Barnes, the song chronicles a couple’s romance from young love to their final farewell; it was inspired by Ewing’s grandparents. Lines such as “If you get there before I do, don’t give up on me / I’ll meet you when my chores are through / I don’t know how long I’ll be” helped Raye earn a reputation for delivering emotional ballads.
“I Drive Your Truck,” written by Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Jimmy Yeary, comes from Brice’s sophomore album, Hard 2 Love. The song was inspired by a true story Harrington heard on NPR, of a man whose son died in the war in Afghanistan; the man would drive his son’s truck to feel closer to him.
“Anybody in the world would have recorded that song. I somehow got my hands on it first,” Brice tells The Boot. “The first time I heard it, it really broke me down, and I had to listen to it over and over again. When I went into the studio, I remembered how [the demo] made me feel, so when I was singing it, I wanted to make sure I didn’t screw that up.”
“I Drive Your Truck” earned an ACM Awards trophy for Song of the Year.
Bill Anderson and Jon Randall wrote “Whiskey Lullaby” — a song about two people in love who separately drink themselves to death — not intending for it to be a duet. They penned the song following some struggles in Randall’s personal life: He lost his marriage, his record deal and his publishing deal within a couple days, and ended up crashing at a friend’s house for a while. Later, when he apologized for his behavior, his friend told him, “That’s alright, Jon; I’ve put the bottle to my head and pulled the trigger a few times in my life.”
“Whiskey Lullaby” was written five years before Paisley recorded it; about the delay, Anderson quips, “People weren’t lined up down the street looking for double-suicide drinking songs.” Still, when Paisley recorded it, it became one of the biggest hits of his career, earning CMA Awards trophies for Musical Event of the Year and Song of the Year.
“Go Rest High on That Mountain,” written by Gill, was inspired by the loss of both country star Keith Whitley and Gill’s brother Bob. Although it instantly resonated with country music fans, Gill says he never intended for the song to be one of the biggest hits of his career.
“I wrote this song, and I didn’t have any idea if anybody would want to hear it or like it,” Gill shared during a performance at the Country Music Hall of Fame. “All I wanted to do was grieve for [Bob] and celebrate his life. That’s how I always process grief: sit down with a guitar and make something up. Turns out that if anybody remembers any of my songs, it’ll be this one.”
Perhaps the most heart-breaking song of all time, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was written by Jones with Billy Sherrill. Lyrics include “He stopped loving her today / They placed a wreath upon his door / And soon they’ll carry him away / He stopped loving her today.”
Jones initially thought the song wouldn’t be a hit because of its morbid message. But later, after seeing fans’ reactions, Jones — whose own troubles with addiction almost derailed his career — wrote in his autobiography, “To put it simply, I was back on top. Just that quickly. I don’t want to belabor this comparison, but a four-decade career was salvaged by a three-minute song.”
Ironically, as Jones’ own health was failing, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” became the last song he ever performed. Jones ended a concert in Knoxville, Tenn., on April 6, 2013, with the song. He passed away 20 days later.