There have been some outstanding songs based on the lives of people in history as well as some who currently are among us. I’ve found there are more being written than I even care to hear about. Here we’re going to look at and listen in our heads to ten well-known tunes about people that we should remember.
Candle in the Wind by Elton John & Bernie Taupin
This tribute to Marilyn Monroe was a heartfelt composition which lamented the loss of a sweet and lovely person who lifted the spirits of so many people in the world. A sample of the beautiful lyric:
And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in
And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did
Vincent by Don McLean
This song is a masterpiece, blending lyrical poetry with melody as well as it could ever be done. McLean speaks intimately to Van Gogh with deep understanding.
Now I understand
What you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now
Abraham, Martin and John by Richard Holler
Sometimes songs about people group together a few or more of the illustrious who light the way for the rest of us. Honored here are three assassinated leaders beloved by many for their contributions to humanity.
Didn’t you love the things they stood for?
Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?
And we’ll be free,
Someday soon it’s gonna be one day.
Has anybody here seen my old friend Bobby,
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin and John.
Greensleeves by Henry VIII (maybe)
The woeful monarch allegedly penned one of the most beautiful tunes of all time in Greensleeves. He is said to have been commenting on the state of his dissolving marriage to Anne Boleyn. That did not turn out well for her.
Greensleeves was my delight,
Greensleeves my heart of gold
Greensleeves was my heart of joy
And who but my lady Greensleeves.
Victoria by Ray Davies
The Kinks were excellent with satirical lyrics. This was about Queen Victoria. It opens with an acidic verse, though later ones were almost adoring.
Long ago life was clean
Sex was bad and obscene
And the rich were so mean
Stately homes for the Lords
Croquet lawns, village greens
Victoria was my queen
Victoria, Victoria, Victoria, ‘toria
The Ballad of Ira Hayes by Peter La Farge
It honors a marine who was born on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona as a member of the Pima tribe. He was one of the American war heroes photographed planting the United States flag at Iwo Jima. His story is inspirational, but tragic.
Ira Hayes returned a hero
Celebrated through the land
He was wined and speeched and honored
Everybody shook his hand
But he was just a Pima Indian
No water, no home, no chance
At home nobody cared what Ira’d done
And when did the Indians dance
Talkin’ Baseball by Terry Cashman
This iconic tune celebrates a slew of baseball heroes, especially Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider. When baseball was king, these guys were household names.
We’re talkin’ baseball!
The Man and Bobby Feller.
The Scooter, the Barber, and the Newc,
They knew ’em all from Boston to Dubuque.
Especially Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.
Bette Davis Eyes by Jackie DeShannon and Donna Weiss
Those unforgettable eyes immortalized in a Number One hit by Kim Carnes. Davis had acting skills that championed independent women. She was not a one hit wonder by any means, but those eyes…
And she’ll tease you, she’ll unease you
All the better just to please you
She’s precocious, and she knows just
What it takes to make a pro blush
She got Greta Garbo’s standoff sighs, she’s got Bette Davis eyes
Hurricane by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy
Heavyweight boxing great Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was unfairly convicted of murder back in 1966 and spent 19 years in prison. This powerful composition helped bring attention and funding to the legal defense of Carter. In 1985, the Supreme Court exonerated the man for good.
Rubin Carter was falsely tried
The crime was murder “one,” guess who testified?
Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game
Don’t Cry For Me Argentina by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
From the 1978 musical Evita came this song about Eva Peron, the Argentine political leader. While her husband was President, she helped establish many charitable institutions while also supporting workers’ unions. In the musical, she grandly sings her message to a crowd from a balcony of the Casa Rosada.
Don’t cry for me, Argentina
The truth is, I never left you
All through my wild days, my mad existence
I kept my promise
Don’t keep your distance
And as for fortune, and as for fame
I never invited them in
Though it seemed to the world they were all I desired
They are illusions, they’re not the solutions they promised to be
The answer was here all the time
I love you, and hope you love me
Don’t cry for me, Argentina
Making music in honor of those we know or remember can be one of the most loving and kind forms of art. Even when we’re poking a little fun, it’s still a tribute for someone who could probably afford to be brought back down to reality just a bit. If you know of some other songs about memorable people, feel free to comment and share a title or two.