It took a special song to dethrone Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” from its 14-week run atop the Billboard Hot 100. That song was Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again,” featuring singer Charlie Puth. The piano-laced hip-hop ballad paid tribute to actor Paul Walker for Furious 7 and touched enough hearts to reach the top of the charts. We take a look back through decades past to uncover some of music’s most touching tributes to those we lost.
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“I’ll Be Missing You&rdqu...
“I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans featuring 112
Notorious B.I.G.’s death devastated the hip-hop world, and the music industry in general. Puff Daddy, B.I.G.'s widow Faith Evans, and 112 preserved his memory in this glorious hip-hop ballad, which prominently sampled The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” At the 1997 MTV VMAs, Sting tipped his hat to Puff and Evans, joining them onstage to perform the song. In the end, it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 11 weeks.
“Candle in the Wind 1997”...
“Candle in the Wind 1997” by Elton John
The original 1973 version was written in memory of Marilyn Monroe; in 1997, Elton revived the piano ballad to commemorate the sudden loss of close friend Princess Diana. Beginning on Oct. 11, 1997, it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 consecutive weeks. It sold in excess of 10 million units in the U.S. alone (earning diamond status) and remains the best-selling physical single of all time in the States.
“A Day Without Me” by U2 ...
“A Day Without Me” by U2
U2’s 1980 debut album Boy was supposed to be helmed by Martin Hannett, but the legendary post-punk producer had to back out to grieve the suicide of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, whom he’d worked with extensively. Still, Bono and company pledged to carry on Curtis’ memory and wrote this song about the value of every human’s life.
“Missing You” by Diana Ro...
“Missing You” by Diana Ross
The Commodores paid homage to Marvin Gaye with their 1985 ballad “Nightshift,” but for a Marvin Gaye tribute, it’s impossible to overlook Diana Ross’ poignant pop tribute. The emotional 1984 ode, written by Lionel Richie, perfectly captures the long friendship between Ross and Gaye, who got their start together at Motown Records in the early ‘60s.
“Man on the Moon” by R.E....
“Man on the Moon” by R.E.M.
From 1992’s Automatic for the People, one of R.E.M.’s most popular songs paid tribute to the eccentric comedian Andy Kaufman, and Michael Stipe captured his persona perfectly. “Let's play Twister, let's play Risk/See you in heaven if you make the list,” he sings, evoking Kaufman’s playful outlook on life.
“Better on the Other Side&rdquo...
“Better on the Other Side” by the Game, Chris Brown, Diddy, DJ Khalil, Polow da Don, Mario Winans, Usher and Boyz II Men
Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, and this crew of hip-hop and R&B stars took to the studio immediately, emptying their grieving hearts into a collaborative ballad. Less than 24 hours after M.J.'s death, Diddy shared the song over Twitter, which featured the Game proclaiming, “We all Michael Jackson.”
“Coldest Winter” by Kanye...
“Coldest Winter” by Kanye West
Kanye reinvented himself on 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak, which was largely inspired by the death of his mother, Donda West. In his newfound Auto-Tune persona, he lamented both her death and his breakup with fashion designer Alexis Phifer: “Goodbye my friend, I won't ever love again, never again.”
“American Pie” by Don McL...
“American Pie” by Don McLean
Yes, it is possible for an eight-and-a-half-minute song to top the Billboard Hot 100. Or at least it was in 1972, when Don McLean’s masterwork captured “the day the music died,” or the 1959 plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.
“Happy Birthday” by Stevi...
“Happy Birthday” by Stevie Wonder
Even though Stevie Wonder’s 1981 single came out 13 years after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, it was still a timely tribute. The song called for MLK’s birthday to be made into a national holiday, and that goal was finally realized in 1986.
“Free As A Bird” by the B...
“Free As A Bird” by the Beatles
This song originated as a 1977 John Lennon demo, but went on to be repurposed as a Beatles tribute 15 years after his 1980 death. Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr teamed with producer Jeff Lynne to re-record the track as a Lennon tribute for the Beatles’ Anthology 1 in 1995.
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“Angel” by Sarah McLachla...
“Angel” by Sarah McLachlan
McLachlan earned arguably her most enduring hit with this somber piano ballad about Jonathan Melvoin, who died of a heroin overdose in 1996 while touring as the Smashing Pumpkins’ keyboardist. It peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Life Changes” by Wu-Tang...
“Life Changes” by Wu-Tang Clan
After Ol' Dirty Bastard died of a drug overdose in 2004, the surviving Wu-Tang members gathered together for this touching tribute, built around a sample of Freda Payne’s “The Road We Didn’t Take.” “Now I'mma swallow this whole bottle for Ol' Dirty,” Method Man raps. “Damn, it hurts me, I hate it when brothers go early.”
“Tears in Heaven” by Eric...
“Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton
In 1991, Eric Clapton lost his 4-year old son, Conor, who tragically fell to his death from a New York apartment window. The legendary guitarist emerged from a period of grief with this heartfelt rumination on meeting his son again, which became one of his signature songs.
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"They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" ...
"They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" by Pete Rock and CL Smooth
This 1992 tribute to Troy Dixon (Trouble T Roy from Heavy D & the Boyz) is one of the most emotional songs from hip-hop’s golden age. Over Pete Rock’s saxophone-and-bass sample, CL Smooth reflects on a panorama of family and friends, especially the titular Troy, who fell to his death in 1990.
“Miss You” by Aaliyah
“Miss You” by Aaliyah
After the world lost Aaliyah far too soon in a 2001 plane crash, much of her unreleased material was compiled in the posthumous 2002 album I Care 4 U. A host of special guests appeared in the music video for lead single “Miss You,” led by DMX, who declared, “You were truly an angel on earth.”