There’s no pain exactly like losing a musician you love. Partaking in good art can’t help but feel like a communion between oneself and the work’s author, so even if we never get the chance to meet our favorite creators in real life, the loss of one feels deeply personal. Not to mention the collected weight of all those songs that will never be written, and concerts never performed. Add to this the complicated nature of mourning a public figure — whose private life and struggles are often known only to their family and friends — and, well, it’s just brutal.
That’s why posthumous songs, while so often a source of strife between labels and artists’ estates, can be so soothing to us fans. They give us a chance to remember the musicians as they were (consider Sublime’s “What I Got”) or as they might be right now (Avicii’s “Heaven”). They let us feel grateful for what we had (Bob Marley’s “Give Thanks & Praises”) or pissed off over what we lost (Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”). Sometimes they play like a final missive from beyond (John Lennon’s “Woman”). Often they’re prophetic (Tupac’s “To Live and Die in L.A.”). And occasionally they’re just big, beatific shrugs (Mac Miller on “That’s Life”).
Some of these songs were released within days of the artist’s passing, and most came within a year. But all of them feel imbued with some extra meaning, from the sad irony of the opener, Hank Williams’ “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ but Time,” to the hard-fought optimism of the closer, Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Music heals, so grab a tissue box and hit play.