Zach Sobiech wasn’t the first or last artist to deal with imminent death in song. Here are other powerful examples of musicians sharing their deepest feelings in the studio, knowing they didn’t have much longer to live. All selections available on YouTube.
“Lazarus” by David Bowie
The Thin White Duke didn’t share details of his terminal diagnosis with many people, but he had plenty to say about facing the end in this somewhat cutting self-appraisal of his life, a number that was also featured in his musical of the same name.
Sample lyrics: “This way or no way/You know, I’ll be free/Just like that bluebird/Now, ain’t that just like me?”
“The Show Must Go On” by Queen
Freddy Mercury wasn’t one for subtlety, so it makes sense that his swan song would be this soaring epic that he co-wrote with his bandmates. Although his voice was ravaged by AIDS, he still managed to belt out the high notes.
Sample lyrics: “Inside my heart is breaking/My makeup may be flaking/But my smile still stays on.”
“I’m Not Going to Miss You” by Glen Campbell
He was mostly known as a guitarist who covered Jimmy Webb tunes, but Campbell co-wrote this sly gem with Julian Raymond after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It would go on to receive an Oscar nomination and a Grammy Award.
Sample lyrics: “I’m never gonna hold you like I did/Or say I love you to the kids/You’re never gonna see it in my eyes/It’s not gonna hurt me when you cry.”
“Stuck Inside a Cloud” by George Harrison
The former Beatle gave his final album the title “Brainwashed,” a nod to his incurable brain cancer. Almost all the tracks find Harrison looking back on all those years ago, most notably this track that son Dhani has called one of his personal favorites.
Sample lyrics: “Never been so crazy/But I’ve never felt so sure/ I wish I had the answer to give/Don’t even have the cure.”
“Years Ago” by Jimmie Rodgers
The country music pioneer was suffering so badly from tuberculosis that a bed was brought into the studio so he could rest between takes. But Rodgers was determined to record as many songs as he could so his family could pay the bills. He died two days after this final recording.
Sample lyrics: “When I left him in the gloamin’/I recall I heard him say/You’ll be sorry that you roamin’/Fifteen years ago today.”
“Searching for a New Day” by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
The funk queen knew she was dying from pancreatic cancer when she recorded most of her final album, “Soul of a Woman,” yet most of the numbers still shimmer with optimism, especially on this autobiographical anthem.
Sample lyrics: “Through the hard times/Can’t sit on the sideline/You know we got to get ahead/I’m gonna keep on trying.”
“L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole
Like Jimmie Rodgers, Cole insisted on working until the very end so his loved ones could benefit from the royalties. How fitting, then, that one of his final recordings was this unabashed swinger in which the smooth singer was as upbeat as ever.
Sample lyrics: “Love is all that I can give to you/Love is more than just a game for two/Two in love can make it/Take my heart and please don’t break it.”
“Keep Me in Your Heart” by Warren Zevon
The “Werewolves in London” singer was so weak when he recorded the final track for his album “The Wind” that he set up a makeshift studio in his home. Fifteen years later, Eddie Vedder would deliver a moving cover during the Mark Twain Prize ceremony honoring David Letterman, one of Zevon’s most avid fans.
Sample lyrics: “Shadows are fallin’ and I’m runnin’ out of breath/Keep me in your heart for a while/If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less/Keep me in your heart for a while.”
“When I Get to Heaven” by John Prine
The folk legend retained his unique sense of humor, even while he directly confronted mounting health problems. Only Prine would lay down a swan song with his grandson giggling in the background and a fleet of kazoos, one of which was played by Brandi Carlile.
Sample lyrics: “Yeah when I get to heaven, I’m gonna take that wristwatch off my arm/What are you gonna do with time after you’ve bought the farm?”
“The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash
It’s impossible not to get goose bumps watching the Man in Black’s career whiz by in the video to “Hurt.” But in addition to that Nine Inch Nails cover, Cash would spend his final sessions in the studio laying down this self-penned prayer packed with biblical references.
Sample lyrics: “The hairs on your arm will stand up/At the terror in each sip and in each sup/Will you partake of that last offered cup/Or disappear into the potter’s ground?”