10 of the Best Tribute Songs

Published: October 18, 2014

This list is my attempt to compile a Top 10 list of tribute songs. I failed. There are way more than 10 songs that qualify to be Number One on the list, so I have pulled 10 songs out of the proverbial hat to share with you.
Now for a few disclaimers. (1) This list is based upon my personal opinions. (2) The songs are in no particular order. I got a very bad headache when trying to rank them. (3) The YouTube links will you to videos that were personally hand-picked or should that be 'earpicked'?  (4) No animals were harmed during the creation of this list.

  1. Candle in the Wind - words by Bernie Taupin and music by Elton John.

    Recorded by Elton John in 1973, "Candle in the Wind" is a poignant tribute to Marilyn Monroe. Bernie Taupin has said the song is about "...the idea of fame or youth or somebody being cut short in the prime of their life. The song could have been about James Dean, it could have been about Montgomery Cliff, it could have been about Jim Morrison ... how we glamorize death, and how we immortalize people". Elton also preformed "Candle in the Wind" for Princess Diana (words were re-written and re-title "Goodbye England's Rose) and for Ryan White (a youg boy who was fighting aids.
    YouTube link: http://youtu.be/kRBHERttdP4
    Bonus! YouTube link for "Goodbye England's Rose": http//youtu.be/A8gO0Z818j4 

  2. Song to Woody - words and music by Bob Dylan.

    "Song to Woody" was one of the first songs that Bob Dylan Wrote. When he read Woody Guthrie's autobiography, Bound for Glory, Dylan's heart and mind were captured. Dylan penned the song in 1962 and played it for Woody. With his idol's approval, it was released on Dylan's first album. Later Dylan would composed the poem "Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie". He recited this poem during the April 12, 1963 performance in New York City, and it was later released on the 1991 album "The Bootleg series Vols. 1- 3 (Rare and Unrealeased)".
    YouTube link (the video starts with VERY RARE Audio/video footage of Woody): http://youtu.be/tlm1kzWTrOl
    Bonus! YouTube link to Bob's recitation of "Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie": http:/youtu.be/Q0OdNY8Aybw


  3. Empty Garden (Hey, Hey Johnny) - words by Bernie Taupin and music by Elton John.

    History says the "Shot heard around the world" was the first shot fired in the American Revolution. But on Sept. 8, 1980 there was a new "Shot heard around the world". The word spread and the tears flowed - John Lennon was dead. Of all the tributes written for the beloved poet and artist, "Empty Garden" is my favorite. And this was not the only Lennon tribute that Elton composed; in 1982 he composed the instumental "The Man Who Never Died" released in 1985 as the B-side of the song "Nikita".
    YouTube link for "Empty Garden (Hey, Hey Johnny)": http://youtu.be/EKRWk9nbfHM
    Bonus! (Don't you just love bonuses?) "The Man Who Never Died": http://youtu.be/F6q0kMx9xMA


  4. Sir Duke - words and music by Stevie Wonder.

    Stevie composed this tribute to jazz great Duke Ellington. He also gave a nod to other jazz greats in the lyrics; "There's Basie, Miller, Satchmo, and the king of all, Sir Duke /And with a voice like Ella's ringing out /There's no way this band can lose". ( I hope they have Jazz in Rock'n'Roll Heaven). Stevie said, "I knew the title from the begining but wanted it to be about all the musicians who did something for us. So soon they are forgotten. I wanted to show my appreciation."
    This video celebrates African-American musicians/legends from the 1940's to the present day. YouTube link for "Sir Duke": http://youtu.be/3MljsANK_LQ 

  5. Song for Sonny Liston - words and music by Mark Knopfler.

    Charles L. "Sonny" Liston became the World Heavy Weight Champion in 1962 when he knocked out the reigning title holder, Floyd Patterson. He lost the title in 1964 to a little known boxer named Cassius Clay. Mark's song covers Sonny's life, from the abusive days of his childhood to his lonesome death in 1970. Mark pulls no punches in recalling Sonny's sad story.
    YouTube link for "Song for Sonny Liston": http://youtu.be/gArK3Am2mA0 
    Bonus! Youtube link to the 2003 documentary - "Behind the Fights." http://youtu.be/ESrVBRBmHfw


  6. Back to Tupelo - words and music by Mark Knopfler

    I think this may be the most mournful off all the songs written in honor of Elvis. It explores the craziness that had become everyday life for Elvis. And I have no trouble believing that Elvis yearned for the simpler times of life, with his mother, back in Tupelo. The King could have whatever he wanted...excpet to go "Back to Tupelo".
    I chose a stripped down version of the song, it just felt right. YouTube link to "Back to Tupelo": http://youtu.be/jG-EZWD5cws

  7. Ballad of Easy Rider - words and music by Roger McGuinn.

    When I started this list, I intended to have only those tributes that were written in honor of the deceased. Well, here's the exception that proves the rule. The song was originally written by Roger McGuinn in 1969 as the theme song for the movie Easy Rider. In 1987 Tom Petty dedicated "The Ballad of Easy Rider" to River Phoenix. Even though the song was written a year before River was born, I dare you to listen to this song and not agree that it the perfect tribute for River.
    YouTube link for "Ballad of Easy Rider" preformed by Tom Petty in his 1987 concert in Gainsville, FL: http://youtu.be/cz5CZ7RIJ-k

  8. The Ride - words and music by Gary Gentry and J.B. Detterline Jr.

    Hank Williams just might be the original 'Bad Boy' of music. He wrote a whole mess of songs, and when he died, a whole mess of songs were written in honor him. I managed to narrow my choices down to two songs, "The Ride" and "The Ballad of Hank Williams". "The Ride" won out by a very narrow margin. (Do I hear someone asking for a bonus? Hmmm... We'll see. Wink. Wink.) "The Ride has an very eerie feel to it. I got goosebumpps the first time I heard it. 
    YouTube link to "The ride" Performed by David Allan Cole, live at Billy Bob's Texas: http://youtu.be/EuxyZ8bowDY 
    I still here a faint chant of "Bonus, Bonus, Bonus!" So here you go:
    YouTube link to "The Ballad of Hank Williams", words and music by Hank Williams Jr. Performed by Hank Jr., featuring Don Helms. It'll make you smile: http://youtu.be/Ur2BQoUtEH0


  9. American Pie- words and music by Don McLean.

    Don McLean's "Amarican Pie" may be the king of tribute songs. It definitely broke the "radio rules" for a song. Radio Stations want songs to be no longer than four minutes; "American Pie" clocked in at a long 8min 33sec. That didn't stop the listeners from requesting it, nor did it stop the DJs from spinning the single. It is also one of the most studied songs. People have been trying to dechiper the lyrics since it was written in 1971. Don referances : The Byrds, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan and many more artists of the time. And a full verse (1st) is dedicated to Texas rocker Buddy Holly.
    YouTube link for "American Pie" performed by (who else) Don Mclean. This video attempts to break down the symbology line by line: http://youtu.be/ih7N9_VUU4U
    I found a really cool bonus while trying to pick out the best video, an interview with McLean (2011) "American Pie: The Story Behind": http://youtu.be/32d2oZh_DI4  

  10. Rock and Roll Heaven - words and music by Alan O'Day.

    Recorded firat by Climax in 1973 and then by the Righteous Brothers in 1974, "Rock and Roll Heaven" pays tribute to all the musical greats who have passed from the mortal realm. The chorus sums up the song: "If you believe in forever/ Then life is just a one night stand/ If there's a rock and roll heaven/ You know they have a hell of a band". Sadly for those of us who walk among the living ...the band gets bigger and more kick ass every year. 
    The video I chose not only gives a nod to everyone mentioned in the song, it also pays tribute to those we have lost since the song was written. YouTube video link: http://youtu.be/9IEemZ6-LZc

I hope you enjoyed out little musical journey. I was thrilled to learn more about these songs as I researched the facts for this list! Keep the Love, Joy, and Music in your heart and I'll catch you on the flip side.