When you first listen to a song, it's not always immediately clear what the song is about. While there are plenty of songs with secretly dark meanings, those meanings can escape even the most astute listener. Songs about suicide are usually even harder to place. These songs appear in all genres, from country and rap to metal and punk, and they're so unexpected. Few would've guessed that Van Halen's catchy "Jump" is about a man encouraging someone to jump to their death off of a high building. Even fewer people would guess that "Waltzing Matilda" is really about a sheep thief who kills himself to avoid arrest.
Sometimes music fans fail to notice a song's meaning because the backstory isn't clear from the lyrics. Other times, the song is so upbeat that the lyrics produce cognitive dissonance. Sometimes, you've heard a song so many times that it becomes easy to gloss over the dark lyrics.
Keep reading to find out what other secret suicide songs are out there and take note of the truly surprising ones.
If the title didn't make it clear enough, though, this list discusses suicide so please use your best judgment when deciding whether or not to keep reading.
Most people who don't know the story behind Van Halen's "Jump" think of it as an invitation to take a risk. With its bouncy synth line and seemingly encouraging lyrics, the song certainly doesn't seem like it would have anything to do with death.
David Lee Roth has stated, however, that the song is about self-inflicted fatality. He got the idea for the song while watching a man on the news threaten to commit suicide. Roth believed that there was at least one onlooker in the crowd telling the man to "go ahead and jump."
Originally written in 1895, "Waltzing Matilda" is one of the most famous Australian songs ever. In fact, it's considered the unofficial national anthem. If you're not familiar with 19th century Australian slang, however, you probably can't understand the lyrics.The song tells the story of a swagman (transient worker) hanging around a billabong (watering hole) who steals a jumbuck (sheep) and ends up committing suicide to avoid being caught and arrested.
While the song never explicitly mentions suicide, the lyrics, "you'll never take me alive... [my] ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong" make the swagman's fate pretty clear.
Fastball's "The Way" sounds like a dreamlike adventure involving a couple who suddenly decides to leave their lives for a nomadic, paradise-like existence. And it's no wonder, with lyrics like this:
Anyone can see the road that they walk on
Is paved in gold
And it's always summer
They'll never get cold
The song is actually based on a true story about Lela and Raymond Howard, a couple that went missing in 1997. Their bodies were found shortly afterward. While the injuries that lead to their deaths were sustained in a car crash, no one knows what caused the Howards to abandon their lives. Some believe that they committed suicide.
If you're not listening carefully, "Today" by Smashing Pumpkins could easily sound like a feel-good song about living in the present and embracing the current moment. Lyrics like the first few seem to support this message:
Today is the greatest
Day I've ever known
Can't live for tomorrow
Tomorrow's much too long
Once you get further into the song, however, it becomes clear that while today might be the greatest day, it's not great because the narrator is seizing the moment and living life to the fullest. Indeed, today is the day because he finally decides to end his unhappy life.
The more descriptive lyrics make this fact far more clear:
I wanted more
Than life could ever grant me
Bored by the chore
Of saving face
Can't wait for tomorrow
I might not have that long
I'll tear my heart out
Before I get out
This narrator is ready to "tear [his] heart out."