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The Absolute Saddest Years in Music History

Updated October 18, 2019 17.1k views17 items

When Prince died on April 21, 2016, music fans were reminded once again just how rough the year was shaping up to be. Numerous other prominent and influential artists died in the first few months of 2016, as well. On the same day Prince's death was announced, it was revealed that Richard Lyons, a founding member of the avant-garde noise band Negativeland, had also passed away. Eagles member Glenn Frey, country legend Merle Haggard, and David Bowie, whose death from cancer came as a shock even to some of the artist's closest friends, also passed away in 2016.

But while these 2016 deaths may have had music fans reaching for the tissue box seemingly without end, there have been several other bad years in music history, including the day the music died in 1959. In fact, some of the worst years in music saw not only the deaths of prominent artists, but also other shocking events that permanently changed the landscape of the creative world. These are ten such important, though terrible years.

  • 1959

    Photo: Bradford Timeline / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0
    1959 will likely always be remembered for one specific date: February 3rd, also known as "The Day the Music Died." It was on this day that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Popper (real name J.P. Richardson) perished in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. The deaths of all three musicians became the subject of Don McLean's hit song "American Pie."
  • 2016

    Photo: Alberto Botella / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    From January to April of 2016, there were a staggering number of prominent and influential musicians who passed away, including Prince, David Bowie, Richard Lyons, Merle Haggard, Glenn Frey, Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer fame), and George Martin, the genius producer behind every Beatles album minus Let It Be

    Apart from these deaths, however, 2016 brought us a disturbing court decision involving pop star Ke$ha, which forced her to honor a record label contract that pairs her with producer Dr. Luke, who is accused by Ke$ha of rape and psychological torment.
  • 1969

    Two events occurred in 1969 that, combined with some notable deaths in the next couple of years, effectively signified the end of "flower-power" idealism among youths, and the end of the "spirit of the '60s" in general. These events were: 

    1.) The Tate-Labianca murders committed by the Manson Family, which were a part of cult leader Charles Manson's plan to instigate a race war. He claimed to have received the map to this plan via The Beatles's self-titled album (more commonly known as The White Album). 

    2.) The Altamont incident, in which a free, Rolling Stones-headlined concert turned violent after the Hells Angels—hired as security for the show—began beating and harassing the already unruly and mostly intoxicated crowd. The madness ended in the stabbing death of one teenage boy. Members of The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, who had organized the concert, had hoped to create a "Woodstock West" experience, with all the "peace, love, and rock and roll" commonality that characterized the original festival.
  • 1970

    Both Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died of drug overdoses in 1970, less than a month apart from one another. Jim Morrison followed them six months later in 1971. These three deaths in such quick succession, combined with the Altamont incident and the Manson Family murders of 1969, symbolized the end of 1960s-era idealism.