10 Powerful Country Songs About Death
The best country songs are all about getting honest and real, and writing about death is just about as raw and real as it gets. The best country songs about death are often very sad, but sometimes they can help fans process what they’re going through, too.
You’ll find songs from some of country music’s most revered artists in the best country songs about death, and some of the actual tracks are some of the greatest classics in country music history. Many of the songs on this list are among the most award-winning songs that have ever been released. There’s just something about these songs that people can turn to time and time again in a time of need to help them make sense of what’s happened.
At least one of the greatest country songs about death is a modern-day take on the old classic country murder ballads, while several of them find the narrator contemplating the day when they might have to learn to live without a loved one. But whether the songs are meant to inspire or to tell the story of tragedy, the following songs about death are a fixture of country music.
Collin Raye scored his first-ever No. 1 hit with “Love, Me,” the second single from his All I Can Be album. Written by Skip Ewing and Max T. Barnes, the song is perfectly-crafted, framing the story of a man who is telling his grandson how his just-departed wife and he met and fell in love. The central device of the song is a haunting note that he wrote for her when they were supposed to meet and run away together, beginning with, “If you get there before I do / Don’t give up on me.” The second time through the chorus, the grandfather is reading the note after his wife has passed away, and the context shifts to the sentiment being intended for the woman who is now in Heaven.
“Who You’d Be Today”
Bill Luther and Aimee Mayo wrote “Who You’d Be Today,” which Kenny Chesney took to No. 2 in 2005 as the lead single from his classic The Road and the Radio album. The song addresses a person who has died young: “It ain’t fair, you died too young / Like a story that had just begun / But death tore the pages all away.” The narrator says he wonders who that person would be today, and states his belief that they’ll see each other again someday.
“Two Black Cadillacs”
Carrie Underwood would just as soon kill a guy as stand here talking about it — in songs, that is. She co-wrote “Two Black Cadillacs” with Hillary Lindsey and Josh Kear, cooking up a scheme for a scorned wife and jilted lover to get revenge on the man who has cheated them both: “Two months ago his wife called the number on his phone / Turns out he’d been lying to both of them for oh so long / They decided then he’d never get away with doing this to them / Two black Cadillacs waiting for the right time, right time.” The song is a modern-day version of old-time murder ballads. It appeared on Blown Away in 2012.
“If I Die Young”
The Band Perry really tapped the mood of a wide spectrum in 2010 with the second single from their self-titled debut album. Written by Kimberly Perry, “If I Die Young” gave the perspective of a young woman who is assuring her loved ones that everything will be okay if she happens to die before she gets to experience many of the ordinary joys of life. The song reached No. 1 in both county and adult contemporary, launching the sibling trio as overnight multi-genre stars.
“Drink a Beer”
Luke Bryan scored his seventh No. 1 hit with “Drink a Beer,’ the third single from Crash My Party. Written by Jim Beavers and Chris Stapleton, the song is an ode to a loved one who has died, ruminating on how you never how life is going to unfold and proposing to raise a drink in memory of those who passed. Bryan’s deeply personal performance is what makes the song so powerful, drawing from the loss of his own brother and sister at early ages.
“If You’re Reading This”
Tim McGraw isn’t a particularly prolific songwriter, but when he does write, he makes it count. McGraw collaborated with Brad and Brett Warren for “If You’re Reading This,” which he debuted live on the ACM Awards in 2007. The song is written from the perspective of a soldier who’s been killed in action who is writing to his wife to let her know that he’s in Heaven and that it’s okay that she moved on with her life, and it touched the public so much that radio stations began playing the live audio from the show on the air, driving the song into the charts, where it peaked at No. 3
Brad Paisley took a huge risk when he recorded “Whiskey Lullaby” and released it as a single from Mud on the Tires in 2004. Bill Anderson and Jon Randall wrote the song, inspired in part by Randall turning to heavy drinking after his divorce. Allison Krauss joined Paisley for a spellbinding duet about two former lovers who both end up drinking themselves to death after it turns out they can’t live without one another, one of the darkest of the best country songs about drinking. “Whiskey Lullaby” reached No. 3 and earned a CMA Award as Song of the Year.
“If Tomorrow Never Comes”
Garth Brooks makes us all step back and think about our lives with “If Tomorrow Never Comes.” which gave him his first No. 1 hit when it was released as the second single from his first album in 1989. He co-wrote the song with Kent Blazy, pondering what would happen to his wife if he was to die: “If tomorrow never comes, will she know how much I loved her?” The sentiment rings as true today as when it was released. We can’t let you hear it here since Brooks does not allow his music online, but if you haven’t heard “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” uh … what are you doing reading about country music?
“Go Rest High on That Mountain”
Vince Gill scored the most powerful hit of his career with “Go Rest High on That Mountain” in 1995. He began the song as an elegy to his friend Keith Whitley, with whom he played in an early band, and finished it after the death of his brother. Ricky Skaggs and Patty Loveless contributed backing vocals to the soaring track, which encourages a troubled loved one to find peace at last after a difficult life is over: “Go rest high on that mountain / Son your work on Earth is done.” It won a CMA for Song of the Year and took Grammys for Best Country Song and Best Male Country Performance as well, and has become one of the most widely requested songs for funerals.
“He Stopped Loving Her Today”
George Jones revived a failing career with “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which gave him a massive No. 1 hit in 1980. Bobby Braddock and Curly Putnam’s song about a man who keeps his promise to love his former flame until he dies struck a universal chord with country fans, carried along by Jones’ all-time great vocal performance. It not only tops the list of greatest country songs about death, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” won an armload of awards including a Grammy, ACM and CMA Awards. Not bad for a song that Jones initially did not want to record, saying, “Nobody will buy that morbid son of a bitch.”