Close To The Ledge: Top Ten Suicide Songs

Posted by Billyjam, February 26, 2017 06:35pm | Post a Comment

First up, if you are currently feeling suicidal or simply need to talk to someone, call the 24 hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK [8255] where you will be forwarded to a counselor in your local area. Secondly this Top Ten Suicide Songs list (songs dealing with suicide from first and third person perspectives, and/or the mindset surrounding the subject), while intensely emotional, are in fact uplifting songs that have been known to both distract from and alleviate self-destructive feelings. Much like the power of blues music, these songs can similarly begin to lift those feeling low and depressed out of their deep funk.

As with any limited music list that attempts to cover a wide range of recordings on a specific topic, this top ten does not include a lot of great/worthy songs on the subject of suicide. A Top 50 list would have included many deserving songs that unfortunately were omitted in this top ten. Hence I have referenced these "honorable mention" songs in the honorary mentions paragraphs below as well as throughout the text of this Amoeblog. But please post any other worthy songs not included in the comments section, thanks.

I chose the Amoeblog title "Close To The Ledge" because of the fact that so many songs about suicide reference, both literally and figuratively, the ledge that people jump to their death from. This recurring theme appears in such songs about suicide as Frank Turner's "Song For Josh" and Stacy Barthe's "My Suicide Note  (both in top ten below), the Paul Westerberg penned "The Ledge" by The Replacements from their 1987 album Pleased To Meet Me (also on vinyl/LP),  Third Eye Blind's deceptively peppy sounding 1997 hit "Jumper" with the refrain "I wish you would step back from that ledge my friend," and The Dead Ships' "Citycide." The title track off the LA band's 2015 album Citycide refers to the ledge of the San Francisco side of Golden Gate Bridge that singer Devlin McCluskey, who lost his best friend to suicide, was referring to upon learning that the majority of jumpers off the GGB (the subject of the dark but nail-bitingly engaging 2006 documentary The Bridge) "jumps off the City side."

Honorable mentions not referenced above or in the text below include Billy Joel's "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" of which the royalties from the song, found on his Greatest Hits, are donated to the National Committee for Youth Suicide Prevention. The artist, who once attempted suicide, wrote the song as a caution to young people struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide. Another is Gnarls Barkley's "Just A Thought" found on 2008's St Elsewhere. Of the song, lyricist Cee-Lo said he wrote it because suicide has crossed his mind on occasion. In a 2006 interview with Rolling Stone he said that the song was meant to be therapeutic for him and others. 

More honorable mentions include Johnny Mandel's "Suicide is Painless" aka the main title from the TV series M*A*S*H OST
with such lyrics as "suicide is painless. it brings on many changes. and I can take or leave it if I please. the game of life is hard to play I'm gonna lose it anyway." The cheerful upbeat sounding song was later covered by Marilyn Manson but given a different, much darker vibe in keeping with its subject matter. And speaking of happy sounding songs about suicide another honorable mention goes to Elton John for his Honky Chateau album track "I Think I'm Gonna Kill Myself" with the lyrics:  "Think I'm gonna kill myself. Cause a little suicide. Stick around for a couple of days. What a scandal if I died. Yeah I'm gonna kill myself Get a little headline news
I'd like to see what the papers say on the state of teenage blues"

Other honorable mentions include Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" off Ten which is one of many songs written about specific instances of suicide, Leonard Cohen's "Seems So Long Ago, Nancy" from his 1969 album Songs From A Room, blink-182's "Adam's Song" off 1999's Enema of The State (also on vinyl/LP), The English Beat's "Click Click" from I Just Can't Stop It, Marcy Playground's "One More Suicide," David Bowie's "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die" from 2013's The Next Day (also avail on LP/vinyl), Bloc Party's "SRXT" from A Weekend In The City, Katy Perry's "By The Grace Of God" from Prism (also avail on vinyl/LP), Skillet's "The Last Night" from Comatose, Silverchair's "Suicidal Dream" from Frogstomp, and Five Finger Death Punch's "Coming Down" from their album Wrong Side Of Heaven And The Righteous Side Of Hell, Vol. 1.

1: Billie Holiday's "Gloomy Sunday" (aka "The Hungarian Suicide Song")  can be found on a variety of artist collections including Billie Holiday: The Centennial Collection, 16 Most Requested Songs, The Essence Of Billie Holiday, and The Essential Billie Holiday: The Columbia Years. Gloomy Sunday", also known as the "Hungarian Suicide Song", is a song composed by Hungarian pianist and composer Rezs Seress and published in 1933 with the original lyrics "Vége a világnak" ("The world is ending") about the despair caused by war. Folklore/urban legend claims that the song was responsible for hundreds of suicides just from listening to it. The poet László Jávor wrote his own lyrics for the song, calling it "Szomorú vasárnap" ("Sad Sunday"), in which the protagonist of his tale, following his lover's death, wants to commit suicide. First recorded in Hungarian by Pál Kalmár in 1935, it was shortly after recorded in English by Hal Kemp with lyrics by Sam M. Lewis that referenced suicide. It would also be recorded by others. But it was the 1941 version by Billie Holiday that became best known/loved and with whom the song is most associated.

2:  Elliot Smith's "Needle In The Hay" (Kill Rock Stars 1995 album Elliot Smith also on LP/vinyl + on 7" single vinyl) can be perceived as a song about hard drugs and the dramatic mindset that accompany their abuse. But coupled with the scene that Wes Anderson chose for his 2001 comedy-drama The Royal Tenenbaums (on soundtrack) it just has to be the among the top ten suicide songs. Much of the late great Elliot Smith's music could apply here since he was such a brilliant, albeit troubled, artist who effortlessly could [and frequently did] craft such a moving melancholy mood with his voice and lyrics by channeling his depression into his music. Another artist whose music is oft thought of in conjunction with suicide and feelings of isolation is Morrissey. In addition to all of his solo and The Smiths songs there is one specifically that tackles suicide: "Staircase at the University" from his 2014 album World Peace Is None of Your Business.

3: Loudon Wainwright III's "Suicide Song" gets right to its subject matter with the opening line: "I know I'm unhappy. I know things aren't right. For instance last week I got drunk every night" moving along to "When you get the blues and you want shoot yourself in the head. It's alright, it's alright. Go ahead" and "When you get hung up. Hang yourself up by the neck. What the hell, what the hell. What the heck." But while on paper these lyrics may seem sombre, dark and grotesque in actuality, like much of the music by the artist known to contemporary audiences via his music loving offsprings;  Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright and Lucy Wainwright Roche, it can be filed under self-effacing "comedy-drama." To me, this half-joking, semi-serious type of suicide song is sort of coping mechanism by those tempted by the notion of suicide.  Also applicable in this category would be Teddy Thompson's "Turning The Gun On Myself" from A Piece of What You Need which is an ironic song about suicide in which he channels Randy Newman

4: The Notorious B.I.G.'s Lord Finesse produced "Suicidal Thoughts" from the late great BK emcee's aptly titled album Ready To Die (Bad Boy, also on LP/vinyl) is one powerful lyrical assault in which Biggie totally unloads his innermost dark feelings of despair with such spine-tingling, gripping lyrics as: "I swear to God I want to just slit my wrists and end this bullshit Throw the Magnum to my head, threaten to pull shit (nigga what the fuck). And squeeze until the bed's completely red. It's too late for this shit man! I'm glad I'm dead; a worthless fuckin' buddha head. The stress is building up......I can't believe suicide's on my fuckin' mind. I wanna leave. I swear to God I feel like death is fuckin' callin' me. But nah, you wouldn't understand."

5: Frank Turner "Song For Josh" from Postive Songs For Negative People (Interscope) is one of those songs that routinely brings listeners to tears upon hearing it live in concert or on record. Not surprisingly the powerful moving piece of music was written from the heart for Turner's close friend Josh Burdette who committed suicide. The soulful song touches a nerve with those who've lost loved ones to suicide who share the frustration and hopelessness expressed in Turner's lyrics. "Why didn't you call?" he repeatedly asks in the song, noting how at 9:30pm each evening he thinks of his departed friend. "I let you down in your darkness. I wasn't there"  "I too have stood up on that ledge, but I know you'd have pulled me back down from the edge." For more on this uniquely talented English folk/punk singer/songwriter check out his Amoeba WIMB? (What's In My Bag) episode.

6: Drive-By Truckers' "Baggage" from the hard-rocking, alt-country's last album, last year's politically tinged American Band (also avail as LP/vinyl) is about comedian / actor Robin Williams' shocking August 2014 suicide death at his home in California. [Note that although Williams' death was labeled suicide, the underlying cause of his death was a rare brain disease called Lewy body dementia according to his widow]. This DBT song was penned by the band's Patterson Hood's in reaction to learning of his comedy hero's death. "I wrote it the night he passed away. It was a pretty day, and I was driving home when it came on the radio that Robin Williams had committed suicide. I thought, goddam, he's one of the guys that makes us forget our troubles,"
the artist told the British music magazine Uncut. In the same interview he noted how he and his band are big supporters of Nuci's Space: the Anthens, GA based non-profit organization that does suicide prevention for musicians and artists in that southern city.

7: Queen's "Don't Try Suicide" from the group's 1980 album The Game (also avail on LP/vinyl) is a cautionary tale, advising anyone entertaining suicide not to do it: don't try suicide. The song finds the late Freddie Mercury singing over the peppy upbeat track such repeated lyrics as "Don't do it. Don't you try it baby. Don't do that. Don't, don't, don't" and "You got a good thing going now" and the refrain "Don't try suicide. Nobody's worth it." A similarly themed song, cautioning those thinking of offing themselves, is Lucinda Williams' excellent "Sweet Old World." That title track from her 1992 album
Sweet Old World reminds those feeling suicidal that they are loved and valued living beings and would lose out on a lot if they, "left this world, this sweet old world."

8: Metallica "Fade to Black" from early in the CA metal group's career on their 1984 album Ride the Lightning, (recently reissued as Deluxe Box LP/Vinyl set) this is one amazing song even if the above live version is not quite as good as the original studio recording from decades earlier. Like other metal or hard rock songs on the subject of suicide, the loud sonic assault of the raging guitars and drums act as a form of catharsis or relief. The song addresses feelings of being defeated in life with such lyrics as: "Life it seems, will fade away, Drifting further every day. Getting lost within myself. Nothing matters no one else. I have lost the will to live. Simply nothing more to give There is nothing more for me Need the end to set me free."

9: The Eels "Elizabeth On The Bathroom Floor" was the opening track from the indie rock band's 1998 album Electro-Shock Blues (DreamWorks, also on vinyl/LP) and reportedly about the first suicide attempt by the SoCal group's main man Mark Oliver Everett's (aka E) schizophrenic sister Elisabeth who successfully committed suicide in 1996. In fact the entire album was themed on both that subject plus the passing of the artist's mother dying from lung cancer the year the album was recorded, and as such acted as a form of emotional catharsis for the artist. The personal song was reportedly made up of excerpts directly culled from his sister Elizatbeth's journal: lyrics such as "But waking up is harder when you want to die….cos I am going to a place where I am always high."

10: Stacy Barthe's "My Suicide Note (Intro)" is the opening track from the artist's 17 song 2015 Motown album BEcoming. One of the lesser known songs in this list, it's nevertheless an incredible track in which the singer bears her soul and shares recurring feelings of being suicidal with such revelatory lyrics as, "Talking myself off the ledge again. It's really that bad….What do you do when there's no cure..I'm going thru it. little voice in my head saying 'do it.'" However, like so many of the other songs referenced in this Amoeblog, "My Suicide Note" is another song that has had a positive influence and helped those with feelings of self-destruction.

Relevant Tags

Pearl Jam (13), Lucinda Williams (9), Suicide Songs (1), Frank Turner (3), David Bowie (83), Pearl Jam (13), Billie Holiday (18), Elliot Smith (2), M*a*s*h (1), Marilyn Manson (4), Songs About Suicide (1), Metallica (27), Elton John (13), Dead Ships (1), Eels (4), Queen (20), The Notorious B.i.g. (2)