The rock n’ roll lifestyle can make for a hard road. The stories rockers detail in their songs are not always hyperbole, at times resulting in the tragic death of a star in their prime or years later as they deal with the after-effects of living life in the fast lane.
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Today, we’re going through five songs that were written by musicians that found themselves on death’s door. Whether it was an accidental overdose or a battle with cancer, these musicians were deeply affected by their fate. Find five songs that were written right before the artist’s death, below.
1. “Kickstart My Heart” – Mötley Crüe
By the mid-’80s, Mötley Crüe were more than living up to their reputation of being Los Angeles’ biggest hellraisers. Their need for thrills rivaled that of any rock n’ rollers that came before them or since. Given that the band was living in excess, it was only a matter of time before one of them had a brush with death. Nikki Sixx got dangerously close in 1985.
Right before the band was about to head out on another tour, Sixx overdosed on heroin and was pronounced dead at the scene. After taking two adrenaline needles to the chest, Sixx was shocked into sobriety. Inspired by his close call, Sixx wrote “Kickstart My Heart” about coming back from the afterlife.
Undoubtedly a steadying experience, Sixx uses the track to uncover alternative methods to finding another “good time” in this song. Few songs capture as much spirit.
2. “Back In Black” – AC/DC
Following the release of the wildly successful LP Highway to Hell, AC/DC were feeling the pressure of following it up with something equally as riveting. Little did they know, they had bigger issues at hand – their frontman’s time was running out.
After completing the demos for what would grow into “Back In Black,” Bon Scott put down his pen for a moment and headed out to the bar. When his friends came to check on him the next morning, he was unresponsive, having choked on vomit in his sleep.
While Scott’s shocking passing had a huge impact on AC/DC, Angus Young was determined to continue on in their hard-rocking quest. The band brought in Brian Johnson to replace Scott on vocal duties and framed their next album as a tribute to Scott’s memory. Though “Back In Black” is anything but somber, it’s an apt homage to Scott’s pursuit of the high life.
3. “Lazarus” – David Bowie
After getting diagnosed with terminal cancer, David Bowie knew his time was coming to an end. He opted to spend his final days in the studio, working on music. The pursuit saw Bowie wave goodbye to the world with yet another timeless record, Blackstar. The entire album is about Bowie meditating on his death, but few are as haunting as “Lazarus.”
The song became one of Bowie’s last singles. He makes one final commentary on fame through the lyrics: Look up here, I’m in heaven / I’ve got scars that can’t be seen / I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen / Everybody knows me now.
Bowie has a marked acceptance of his fate in this song. He approaches the afterlife as a place of freedom from his notoriety. Bowie didn’t need to make another album, his legacy was cemented a long time ago. But in particular Bowie fashion, he followed his own creative spark wherever it led him, right down to the last second.
4. “Mother Love” – Queen
Despite being diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, Freddie Mercury outlived his original prognosis, continuing to create music out of the public eye until 1991. Most of Mercury’s swansong with Queen, Made in Heaven, was constructed while the frontman was still healthy enough to do so. Despite his condition, Mercury maintains his soaring vocals on “Mother Love,” sounding every bit as good as he did in his early days with the group.
However, Mercury died before the song was completed. Guitarist Brian May filled in for him on the final verse, adding a poignant layer to the song. Though he didn’t get to see this song through, his dedication to music right up until the very end proves that no one ever lived more true to the “show must go on” sentiment than Mercury.
5. “Horse To The Water” – George Harrison
George Harrison and his son Dhani penned “Horse To The Water” in the early ’00s, several years after the former Beatle was diagnosed with cancer. The song was originally performed by Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra with a special appearance from Harrison.
The performance became Harrison’s last on a record. His trademark sense of humor never faltered, as Harrison cheekily copyrighted the song under “R.I.P Music Ltd” instead of his usual publisher “Harrisongs.” Harrison died just a few weeks later in November 2001.
(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
2 CommentsLeave a Reply
This list should include, if not lead off with, “Keep Me In Your Heart” by Warren Zevon.
You forgot about “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” whose co-writer Bobby Russell died of cancer.