It’s never easy saying farewell. Goodbyes so often get caught in your throat. It may be easier to let someone else do the talking, or in this case, the singing. A fast bpm helps move your feet toward the door, and heartfelt lyrics tell a story with all the grace and strength that escapes us in our saddest moments.
From upbeat “outta here” anthems to slow and simmering “see ya laters,” the pop music world is full of fantastic farewells. Whether it’s a swinging ‘60s single from The Beatles or John Denver, a ’90s sing-along from Semisonic or Green Day, a painful ballad by Sarah McLachlan or Sam Smith, or an electronic mosaic from Porter Robinson or ODESZA, there’s a beautiful goodbye song to please every musical palate.
Sometimes, the goodbyes are breakups. Other times, the goodbyes are final messages of love from our family and friends. Some goodbyes are hellos in disguise, and some are nerve-racking insecurities come to life. We even have a goodbye to a whole world on this list, but as we will soon hear, there’s no such thing as a real goodbye, if you look at it (or listen to the lyrics and melody) in the right way.
So the next time you know it’s time to go but you need a little help, throw on this series of 20 goodbye songs and see if it doesn’t help ease the awkwardness of leaving. Hit the road, don’t look back, and remember that sometimes you’re better off alone.
Bo Burnham, "Goodbye" (2021)
There’s no feeling quite like the moving emptiness that follows a viewing of Bo Burnham’s Grammy-winning one-man show Bo Burnham: Inside. “Goodbye” is the film’s complicated climax; a heartbreaking finale that makes you laugh even as it makes you wanna cry. It’s a slow-footed ballad steeped in his depression and insecurity, but it’s also powerful, witty and strong. We’re not sure it’s gonna make you feel any better, but it sounds great to listen to. Listen here.
ODESZA feat. Bettye LaVette, "The Last Goodbye" (2022)
In the end, is it ever really a goodbye? ODESZA’s fourth studio album The Last Goodbye posits that there is no final goodbye, because the ones we love live on in our hearts and our smiles forever. This titular track from that stunning LP samples Bettye LaVette’s 1965 song “Let Me Down Easy” with poise, giving new energy to that old soul song, and bringing the album’s ethos to life. Listen here.
Lewis Capaldi, "Before You Go" (2019)
Some goodbyes hurt more than others, because sometimes they are final for the whole world and not just you. Lewis Capaldi’s “Before You Go” is the goodbye song that brings all that pain and turns it into something that sounds beautiful, even if it doesn’t quite make the hurt go away. Listen here.
Supertramp, "Goodbye Stranger" (1979)
A smashing farewell song from the ‘70s, this iconic single from Supertramp’s equally impressive Breakfast in America album has everything you need in a good goodbye: a defiant spirit, smashing drum crashes, a catchy sing-along chorus and well wishes to the scorned. Listen here.
Porter Robinson, "Goodbye to a World" (2014)
If you’re looking for a goodbye song that feels like the climax of a movie and the end credits rolled into one, this is the one. The closing track from electronic music producer Porter Robinson’s album Worlds, which celebrates fantasy art in all its forms, “Goodbye To A World” is a bittersweet ending that promises brighter days ahead, at some other time and in some other place. Listen here.
Gotye feat. Kimbra, "Somebody That I Used to Know" (2011)
Released in 2011, it became one of the biggest hits of the following year, topping the Hot 100 and wrapping up 2012 as that year’s best-selling single — though singer-songwriter Gotye was perfectly happy being an underground indie act. Featuring a saucy call-and-response verse set-up with collaborator Kimbra, “Somebody That I Used To Know” remains one of the coolest breakup or goodbye songs we’ve ever heard. Listen here.
Sam Smith, "Too Good at Goodbyes" (2017)
From their standout 2017 album The Thrill of it All, this soulful slow-pop sing-along is exactly the kind of anti-love song that can bolster your confidence, even as it lets you mourn your losses. It’s all about that slow sonic build. What starts as a soft-spoken whisper ends up erupting in gospel-level strength before settling back down gently. Listen here.
Simple Minds, "Don't You (Forget About Me)" (1985)
While Porter Robinson gives real end credit vibes, this No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 from Simple Minds actually did soundtrack the end scene to the classic teen flick The Breakfast Club (the song and film were released in February 1985). It typifies the new wave pop sound that defined that decade: echoing drums, romantic synths, emotional lyrics, atmospheric guitars and a cinematic mood. Listen here.
Luke Combs, "Even Though I'm Leaving" (2019)
North Carolina country boy Luke Combs wrote a powerful goodbye with “Even Though I’m Leaving.” It’s one of the happiest tunes on this list, telling the story of a father and child who can never be separated as long as they’ve got love between them. Even life’s final goodbye doesn’t mean your loved ones aren’t right by your side. Listen here.
Rihanna, "Farewell" (2011)
“Farewell” may not have been a single from Rihanna’s 2011 album Talk That Talk, but it still features an immensely powerful vocal performance that makes any goodbye go down a little sweeter. She sings of how she’ll miss this someone special when they leave, but she sends them on their way with love because they’re chasing their dreams. We’re sure it’s a message she understands, having left her native Barbados as a teen to become the musical and business powerhouse she is today. Listen here.
*NSYNC, "Bye Bye Bye" (2000)
When it comes to Y2K era boy band jams, this fan-favorite from *NSYNC is about as good as it gets. Synthesized rhythms, raspy man vocals, heartbreaking lyrics and iconic dance moves abound in this millennial classic. Next time your ex tries to pull you back in, do the little fit-shaking jump move in their face and play this on blast. Listen here.
Semisonic, "Closing Time" (1998)
One of the most beloved hits of the ‘90s, this pop-rock belter from Semisonic had the distinct pleasure of being a go-to graduation song and a five-week No. 1 on Alternative Airplay. It’s all about the way one door opens when another closes, but it’s hard to see past that closing door in the moment, and we lean on the ones we love to walk on through. Listen here.
Elton John, "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (1973)
Easily one of the best goodbye songs ever penned, Elton John’s classic 1973 single, with lyrics by lifelong collaborator Bernie Taupin, tells the story of a man who rejects the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, much preferring his humble roots where friendships come without ulterior motives and love is simple and kind. John’s falsetto is full of heartfelt drama, and the chorus will bring tears to your eyes. Listen here.
Green Day, "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" (1997)
Speaking of graduation songs, this generation-defining song was played ad nauseam pretty much everywhere after it came out in 1997. It even featured prominently in the penultimate episode of Seinfeld in 1998. A stark sonic switch-up for the pop-punk heroes, it had the band worried they’d be labeled sell-outs, but it was a smash hit (No. 2 on Alternative Airplay) that only strengthened their career and musical resolve, helping them push their sound into new directions on future albums. Listen here.
The Beatles, "Hello, Goodbye" (1967)
Of course, no one changed the world quite like The Beatles. From the band’s genius album Magical Mystery Tour, released in 1967, “Hello, Goodbye” puts all that Paul McCartney melody magic at the forefront and leans into the pop psychedelia that made The Beatles icons of their time and all of time. It reminds us that whenever someone says goodbye, you can say hello right back, because we are masters of our world, our love and our attitude. Listen here.
Avicii feat. Sandro Cavazza, "Without You" (2017)
Swedish DJ and producer Avicii had a real knack for melody, and this is one of the strongest and most empowering tunes in his wide catalog. It’s got pop freshness and electronic edge, and it’s definitely got what it takes to put a strong wind at your back and help you get through that goodbye with your chin held high. Listen here.
Journey, "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)" (1983)
If you want to make a powerful exit, Journey’s “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” is the perfect soundtrack. From the band’s eighth studio album Frontiers, released in 1983, this arena rock anthem and Hot 100 top 10 hit melts scintillating synthesizers with electric guitar and stomping drum work to conjure a face-melting amount of drama and attitude. Listen here.
John Denver, "Leaving on a Jet Plane" (1969)
So many goodbye songs are about hitting the road in search of fortune, fame and adventure, and this classic pop-folk hit written in 1966 is one of the originals. From John Denver’s 1969 debut LP (also given a hit cover by folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary that topped the Hot 100 in 1969), it has come to represent so much of the flower-power generation’s ethos. American culture was shifting forever and you can hear all that change in the air in these whimsical chords. Listen here.
Sarah McLachlan, "I Will Remember You" (1995)
This is one goodbye song that will rip the tears from your eyes. Originally released on the soundtrack to the 1995 film The Brothers McMullen and included on some editions of her landmark album Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, “I Will Remember You” earned the Canadian singer-songwriter a Grammy Award for best female pop vocal performance. It’s easy to hear why. All the heartbreak and regret of a lifetime is packed into McLachlan’s characteristically strong yet broken voice. Add acoustic guitar and piano, and you’ve got a haunting hit (No. 14 on the Hot 100). Listen here.
No Doubt, "Don't Speak" (1996)
Sometimes it’s just too hard to hear “goodbye,” and in those cases, No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” is all you need to play. Inspired by the split between the band’s bass player, Tony Kanal, and lead singer Gwen Stefani, it became one of the group’s breakout hits (a 16-week No. 1 on Radio Songs) and one of the catchiest sad songs of the ‘90s. It’s still a teary-eyed bop, somehow sexy despite its sadness. Listen here.