Monday, May 25, 2009

Top 10 Contemporary Palliative Care Songs

Happy Anniversary to Pallimed: Arts & Humanities. And happy Memorial Day.

To commemorate our one year anniversary, we decided to make another Top 10 List. If you all remember, we started out with Top 10 Palliative Care Films back on May 17th 2008 (ok, we're a few days late). As with the other list, the Top 10 Contemporary Palliative Care Songs is a lot of personal preference, but we did try to get in songs from many different genres. Also, we interpreted "contemporary" very loosely. Mostly it means in the past 50 years. We know that there are alot of good classical songs with palliative themes (we have blogged about some), but we wanted to exclude them from the list for now.

The links will take you to YouTube videos for most of the songs.

10. Happy Phantom-Tory Amos

9. Girlfriend in a Coma- The Smiths

8. One More Day-Diamond Rio

7. I Will Follow You Into the Dark-Death Cab for Cutie

6. Until It Sleeps-Metallica

5. Another One Bites the Dust-Queen

4. Meet You There- Simple Plan

3. Tears in Heaven-Eric Clapton

2. Casimir Pulaski Day-Sufjan Stevens

1. What Sarah Said-Death Cab for Cutie

Please share your favorite palliative care songs in the comments section.

26 Responses to “Top 10 Contemporary Palliative Care Songs”

Lyle Fettig said...
May 25, 2009 at 6:00 PM

Good list. I could probably think of a few, but I'll merely mention "Come Back" by Pearl Jam. It's Eddie Vedder's Magical Thinking-esque tribute to his close friend guitarist Johnny Ramone (who died in 2004) disguised as a love song.

David Fisher, MD, MPH said...
May 26, 2009 at 3:36 PM

I think the list should include a couple of classics:

Dust in the Wind - Kansas
Tambourine Man - Bob Dylan

Drew Rosielle MD said...
May 26, 2009 at 6:51 PM

I love this list; particularly the shockingly inappropriate ones (girlfriend in a coma...i know, i know - it's serious).
A few others that I really like:

Pale Green Things by the Mountain Goats.
Holocaust by Big Star (depends I guess on what you mean by contemporary as this is from the early 70's I think). This, I read somewhere, was about Alex Chilton's mother, as she died of cancer.
Tomorrow Wendy by Andy Prieboy/Concrete Blonde (a song which is mostly an expression of rage about a life cut short, but also addresses, subtly, denial, and, not so subtly, religious doubt/anger brought on by a senseless death).
God Damn The Sun by the Swans is a ridiculously bleak song, so much so that it's almost funny depending on one's mood; that said it's a song about being at the end of your life, realizing your friends and lovers are dying; plans you made/things you hope for have not materialized; and you're alone. It's actually bleaker than that, but I occasionally have a patient which reminds me of this song, and it's very very sad.

Tony Correale said...
May 26, 2009 at 7:25 PM

Thanks for all the work you put into the site and widening my own horizons a bit. Don't know if these will appeal, or if they qualify as the top, but here's a little different take on "palliative care songs":

I'll Fly Away - sung by Marion Anderson

O Death - Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem

Crossing the Bar - Salamander Crossing (lyrics are Tennyson's poem)

Guardians - Mad Agnes

The Water is Wide - sung by James Taylor

Turning of the Year - Gordon Bok

Reconciliation - Hallowell

Along the lines of "music and art as palliative care" you might be interested in the work of singers Kathy Leo and Hallowell in the Burlington, Vermont area (, and the work of artist Deidre Scherer (, both of whom are featured in the film "Holding Our Own" produced by Camilla Rockwell (

Thanks again!

Unknown said...
May 26, 2009 at 8:30 PM

A CD that certainly belongs on this list is Warren Zevon's "The Wind". Written and recorded prior to his death from mesothelioma, he addresses palliative care issues such as medication side effects, "Disorder in the House", disease symptoms "The Wind", and grief and loss "Keep Me in Your Heart". The only song not written by Warren is Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heavens' Door", which also deserves a spot on the list.

John Mulder said...
May 26, 2009 at 9:40 PM

Perhaps a bit obvious, but I always thought that Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" was a good one in this category. And although little known, "Into the Light" was written as a tribute to hospice workers by Bruce Michael Miller and Jackie Carlyle. (I had the privilege of recording it a couple of years ago.

Mike Bevins MD, PhD said...
May 27, 2009 at 7:15 AM

A beautiful album entitled "Hospice," by The Antlers came out recently. Reviewers seem to suggest the references are a metaphor, but after listening to it I have to think whoever wrote it had actual experience with a dying loved one.

Amber Wollesen, MD said...
May 27, 2009 at 7:51 AM

Once we got into making this list I realized (as I did with the movie list) there are way more songs than I initially thought.

I love Dust in the Wind and it was one I considered, but it is one of those songs that I mentally link with a patient I knew. It's not that easy to listen too anymore.

Drew, I take issue with "shockingly inappropriate". I think it's just being diverse. You don't have to be a tear jerker to make the list. This song actually made our list because it makes me laugh every time I hear it. "Serious" is such a weird word to use when talking about people's illness. "His condition is very serious." Like the family thought it was a comedic coma. Although I don't know what the intention behind the song was (but how could anyone record this song and think it's serious?), I think of it as a sort of tongue-in-cheek version of "What Sarah Said" (although I realize it predates it by many years).

Thanks for all your comments. Great songs!

Drew Rosielle MD said...
May 27, 2009 at 6:44 PM's a little inappropriate, but that's why I tipped my hat at it; no reason for all of them to be somber, and that's a great point about the use of 'serious.' For my 11th grade literature class in high school one day we had to bring in favorite song lyrics as discuss them as poetry; i brought in the Smiths' 'sing me to sleep' (a song which is a suicide note) - i think if i had done this today i would have been detained by school security and perhaps interrogated by the fbi.

anyway...while we're on the topic of inappropriate ones, and giving a nod to lyle's mention of johnny ramone, how about the ramone's 'i wanna be sedated'? The song itself isn't really to do with anything palliative care, but we can all appreciate the sentiment I think as one many of our patients feel from time to time.

jbr - thanks for the mentioning the zevon album - i am downloading that song now, as i'm truly excited about hearing a song which mentions medication side effects: such a universal experience for our patients.

Lyle Fettig said...
May 27, 2009 at 7:16 PM

Here's a candidate for the worst possible song to be played during a goals of care discussion with a family member/surrogate of a patient who has been in the hospital for 9 months. (Seriously, this really happened to was on the patient's TV) 2 disclaimers: I had never heard this song before and yes, I usually turn the TV off when talking to patients.

Rodney Atkins - If You're Going Through Hell

Unknown said...
May 27, 2009 at 8:08 PM

Drew, the references are actually pretty loose in Zevon's "Disorder in the House", and also in another song on the CD "Numb as a Statue". My understanding is that Warren was addressing the feeling of loss of focus (and control) that he experienced with morphine.
Lyle, I had to laugh when I pictured your scenario. That song's lyrics certainly do not lend themselves to a conversation on options and choices for care!

Amber Wollesen, MD said...
May 28, 2009 at 2:09 AM

Drew, I'll accept "a little inappropriate" I wouldn't play it in a family meeting.

Speaking of family meetings and inappropriate songs... If your Going Through Hell is close to the top. Lyle, did the patient/family realize what song was on? I'm imagining someone from the palliative care team casually getting up and turning off the TV.

I think 'I wanna be sedated' is a great song. "I can't control my fingers. I can't control my brain." Hmmm, sounds like delirium.

Angie Konstantaras RN CHPN said...
May 28, 2009 at 6:51 PM

Love this topic. I'd like to add a few from a group called Lowen & Navarro. They have always written about life esp. love, loss and change. Years ago "Crossing Over" was what I listened to as I drove from pt to pt during my first year as hospice nurse. It defines what I do. The song "Seven Bridges" is definitely about life from beginning to end. But most profoundly, 5 years ago Eric Lowen was dx with ALS. His strength, courage and humor during this time has been remarkable. I make it a point to not miss a concert. Sadly, he can no longer sing so I will be attending their last show in Annapolis in June. From the perspective of his terminal dx he has written "Learning to Fall" and "How Mighty is the Silence". I hope you get a chance to download them.

On a hipper note, my son recommends "The Spider" by Weezer, "Hospital Bed" by Seabear and "The Silvery Light of a Dream" by The Apples in Stereo. ENJOY

jerseyRN said...
June 1, 2009 at 6:43 PM

A few on my "Hospice Mix" playlist (suitable for parties!):

"I Don't Wanna Die in a Hospital" - Conor Oberst

"Don't Fear the Reaper" - the Wilco version (best!)

"Death by Numbers" - Noah and the Whale (if you listen to just one tune off my fun list, this is the one)

"Darling Lorraine" - Paul Simon

"Since the Last Time"- Lyle Lovett

"Naked as We Came" - Iron and Wine

"People Who Died" -Jim Carroll (a historical relic from the '80s)

"Ten Things" - Paul Baribeau

Like anything else, when your friends know you collect something, they start to give you things... in this case, songs about dying. More cowbell, please!

Two sweet songs I love:

"God Is in the Roses" - Roseann Cash

"Step Into the Light" - Mavis Staples

There's just so many songs on the topic, and taken together, they're a great listen ... either despite or because of the subject matter.

(ps- About The Antlers' "Hospice," the cover is excellent, the music is dense... I definitely needed the printed lyrics in hand to get the drift.)

Dawn RN said...
June 2, 2009 at 10:45 AM

Two songs I would add are "Shadow of the Day" and "Leave Out All the Rest"by Linkin Park

Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT said...
June 5, 2009 at 6:31 AM

Members of Hospice of the Valley's online Grief Healing Discussion Groups ( have shared their choices of beautiful songs whose lyrics have touched them in some meaningful way. You'll find a list of them on our Grief Songs blog page:

Anonymous said...
June 26, 2009 at 2:29 AM

I recently heard David Cook's recent release "Permanent" which I found very moving. He wrote it for his brother Adam who succumbed to brain cancer.

Sean Marks said...
June 26, 2009 at 12:52 PM

Any Spiritualized fans out there? Dear heavens help us all if there are none. A song off their most recent album "Death take your fiddle" has a wonderful lyric -- "morphine, codeine, whisky, they won't alter, the way I feel now death is not around." I often find myself humming this lyric at work and marveling at its revelatory wisdom. Our morphines, oxycodones, methadones can only do so much in lieu of the circumstance of facing your upcoming mortality.

Drew Rosielle MD said...
June 26, 2009 at 6:04 PM

SM there's two Spiritualized fans in your own palliative program so one has to assume there's plenty more out there. I don't have their latest album however and don't know that song. The lyrics you quote however seem to be about sobriety (a not irrelevant topic given some bandmembers histories)? I don't get the 'death is not around' bit - sounds like they're describing the elation of death being forestalled??

chris said...
June 29, 2009 at 6:14 AM

sean marks - you took the words right from my mouth - amazing. Great list.
I'm both a musician and hospice nurse and my band has a song called 'weeping willow' -

"want to lay my head on my pillow
cos i'm feeling sleepy, i'm a weeping willow'
my eyes are closing and head is sore
I want to stay with you all
but I can't anymore

my mind is easy and I'm way up high
i think this might be the day i die"

not always the best dinner party conversation, but makes for some great songs!

Sean Marks said...
June 29, 2009 at 10:51 AM

DR: apparently Spiritualized lead singer got very ill with pneumonia right around the same time he was writing his last album Songs in A&E. Therefore, it's tempting to interpret a lot of the lyrics as reflections on his mortality brought upon by his critical illness. Now this is pure conjecture, of course. I agree with you that this lyric may instead be inspired by his long battle with drug and alcohol addiction. But for me, the power of it lies in its concise summation of the enormous weight from existential distress. Our medications to treat pain or other symptoms such as morphine, etc, though effective in treating the specific symptoms, are severely limited in altering the feelings of facing your mortality in lieu of medical illness.

Unknown said...
May 18, 2010 at 2:32 PM

Very late to this list! Can't wait to sample most of these on iTunes.
Would add Sarah McLachlin's "Hold On", particularly the version on The Freedom Sessions. The song was inspired by a documentary she saw about a woman whose husband was dying of HIV.

Lori Lucas CRNP said...
May 21, 2010 at 9:51 AM

I would like to add "My Beloved Wife" by Natalie merchant. What a tear-jerker! Really makes you think of the remaining expected to go on living.

Lori Lucas CRNP said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:53 PM

I would like to add "My Beloved Wife" by Natalie merchant. What a tear-jerker! Really makes you think of the remaining expected to go on living.

Julie said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:53 PM

Very late to this list! Can't wait to sample most of these on iTunes.
Would add Sarah McLachlin's "Hold On", particularly the version on The Freedom Sessions. The song was inspired by a documentary she saw about a woman whose husband was dying of HIV.

Anonymous said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:53 PM

I recently heard David Cook's recent release "Permanent" which I found very moving. He wrote it for his brother Adam who succumbed to brain cancer.