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Tribute Songs that Pay Respect to Legendary Performers

Updated on March 28, 2015

Songs are so powerful they can make you dance, they can make you think, they can bring back a memory, and they can take a place in our hearts with their messages.

Here is a list of wonderful songs that pay tribute to fellow performers that were either friends or inspirations. Here is a list of tribute songs that showcase legendary performers who are still missed to this day.

Here are songs that pay tribute to John Lennon. The first tribute is by fellow Beatle George Harrison. The song is called “All Those Years Ago”. The song was on the album Somewhere In England. It was released in 1981. The song reached number 2 on the Billboard 200 and it reached number 13 on the UK singles chart. Ringo Starr played drums on the track, and Paul McCartney and Linda McCartney provided the back-up vocals.

George was the youngest Beatle and he always looked at John as an older brother. In fact a line from the song states: “Living with good and bad I always look up to you.” George was very upset to hear the news of John’s death and this song is so well written conjuring up images of the Beatles and all the times they shared together and the impact of John Lennon the musician and the man. It is a perfect song.


Paul McCartney wrote a song for John too and it was called “Here Today”, it was released in 1982 album Tug of War. The song was never released as a single and that is a shame because it is such a beautiful song. It has an Eleanor Rigby vibe to it and to hear the song the listener can really feel the pain Paul had about the death of his friend. Paul and John had a few bitter years after the Beatles broke up, but they shared so many years together forming the band and then having the success in America that began their brilliant careers. People felt that Paul didn’t show emotion when he was first told the news about John’s death, but that might have been shock. There is no doubt that Paul loved John when you listen to this touching song.

Next to pay tribute to John Lennon was Elton John. He and John were friends and Elton was Godfather to John’s son Sean. The song that Elton released was “Empty Garden”. Elton felt that was the only good song from the album Jump Up in 1982. Elton doesn’t like to perform the song because it brings back too many painful memories of John Lennon’s death.

John would be very honored to hear these well-crafted songs in his memory.

George Harrison not only wrote his tribute song for John Lennon he also wrote a song called “When We Was Fab” heralding the Beatles and their rise to fame. George masterfully created the Beatles sound with a I am The Walrus type sounds that have the listener know that this man lived the words in the lyrics. The song came from George’s album Cloud Nine and the song reached number 25 in the UK Singles Charts and It reached number 23 in the Billboard’s Top 100 Singles charts. It is a great tribute song for the group.

Stepping over to the country sound of things there is one great tribute song by George Jones called "Who’s Goin To Fill Their Shoes". This is from George’s album Who’s Goin To Fill Their Shoes released in 1985. The song reached number 3 on the Hot Country’s singles charts. The song ponders who is going to fill the shoes of such legendary country stars such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Conway Twitty, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, and Patsy Cline. The song also needs to include George Jones. It will be hard to fill his shoes too. The names in this song are truly worthy of this tribute.

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Celebrating the early days of rock and roll is the classic song "American Pie" by John Mclean. The song came from Don’s album American Pie released in 1971. The song was a number one hit in the United States and in the United Kingdom it reached number 2. American Pie is a song about the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. The plane crash created the phrase the day the music died. Buddy Holly was such a great performer and song writer he influenced the world of rock and roll with admirers such as The Beatles, Elvis Costello, and the Rolling Stones. Many of the lyrics of American Pie are up for interpretation because Don Mclean thought it was best for the listener to form his own theories to the song. The only thing that he would verify is that he found out the news about the deaths of Buddy, Ritchie and the Big Bopper when he was folding newspapers to be delivered. It is funny how you remember where you were and what you were doing when someone you had admired is suddenly taken away.

A joyful sounding tribute to an artist was done by Stevie Wonder in the year 1976 from his album Songs In the Key of Life. The single Sir Duke was released in 1977 where it reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The song not only honors Duke Ellington it also mentions Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong and Glenn Miller. The song has a great horn arrangement and it really swings and it captures that magic sound of the 1940’s. Stevie’s song is so brilliant that it may have the listener going back to discover the songs of these legendary performers.

A song that should be included with the list of tribute songs is "Candle in the Wind". Elton John first recorded this song in 1973. It was a song honoring Marilyn Monroe. It came from Elton’s album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The song is about a fan who wished he had known Marilyn and wished he could have saved her from an early death. Later the song was reworked after the death of Princess Diana. Elton was a close friend of Diana’s the song was titled "Candle in the Wind 1997" or "Goodbye England’s Rose". George Martin helped produce this record. Elton performed this song at Princess Diana’s funeral.

Another artist be given tribute in song was Marvin Gaye. There were two songs done for him. The first song was Night Shift by the Commodores. It came from the album Night Shift released in 1985. The song not only honors Marvin Gaye whose life ended tragically, but it also mentions Jackie Wilson who also died young. The song reached number 3 on the Billboard Charts. This song blends the sounds of Marvin and Jackie to perfection. It is a wonderful tribute to these two great artists.

Diana Ross came up with her tribute to Marvin Gaye with her song “Missing You” released in 1984 from her album Swept Away. Lionel Ritchie wrote the song after he and Diana Ross had a conversation about Marvin. Diana and Marvin knew each other from the Motown days and they were lifelong friends. The song captures the sadness and the feelings of why a person is taking so suddenly from this world.

Another great tribute song might not be as well remembered as the others, but it belongs in the tribute song list. It is called "Back On The Chain Gang" by Chrissy Hyde and The Pretenders. The song was released in 1982. The guitarist in the band James Honeyman-Scott died of a drug overdose at the age of twenty-five. The song in the beginning was going to be about Ray Davies. He and Chrissy were a couple and had a daughter together, but the death of Honeyman-Scott turned the song all about him. Chrissy sings it with a raw emotion and you can tell what his death meant to her. It is a beautiful song.

The last great tribute song comes from The Righteous Brothers and the song is "Rock and Roll Heaven". The song was released in 1974 and it reached number 3 on the Hot Billboard Charts. It is a song that pays tribute to some of the greatest names in rock and roll from Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Jim Croce, Jim Morrison and Bobby Darin. All of these performers were at their prime and just starting to achieve success when they died way too soon.

Song tributes are a great way to honor the performer because the songs are well crafted, and they express the feelings not only the song writer felt, but the feelings of the listener as well. These songs will help add to the legacy of all these great performers whose lives ended way too soon.

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