Saying goodbye to someone you love is one of the harder things we have to deal with. It can be devastating, or it can be freeing. Either way, it’s a subject that songwriters have long been fond of.
Many a classic song has been penned on the subject. So, I’ve put together my list of the 20 best goodbye songs to help get you through these emotionally turbulent times.
Some are painfully sad, whilst others strike a more positive note. Hopefully, you can find something amongst these gems that you can relate to.
- Top 20 Best Goodbye Songs
- Midnight Train To Georgia – Gladys Knight and The Pips (1973)
- Ramble On – Led Zeppelin (1969)
- Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac (1977)
- Leaving On a Jet Plane – John Denver (1969)
- Ruby Tuesday – The Rolling Stones (1967)
- Candle in the Wind – Elton John (1973)
- Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton (1992)
- Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan (1973)
- Wild World – Cat Stevens (1970)
- Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd (1973)
- Hello, Goodbye – The Beatles (1967)
- Nothing Compares 2 You – Sinead O’Connor (1990)
- Somebody That I Used to Know – Gotye featuring Kimbra (2011)
- Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds (1985)
- Don’t Speak – No Doubt (1995)
- Hit the Road Jack – Ray Charles (1961)
- Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers (1971)
- I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor (1978)
- You’ve Got a Friend – Carole King (1971)
- 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover – Paul Simon (1975)
- Looking for More Songs with Sentiment?
- Best Goodbye Songs – Final Thoughts
Top 20 Best Goodbye Songs
Midnight Train To Georgia – Gladys Knight and The Pips (1973)
This R&B classic was a smash hit for Gladys Knight and The Pips, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on its release in 1973.
“Midnight Train to Georgia” is the story of a man who is returning home after a failed attempt at making his dreams come true in California. Luckily, he only has to say goodbye to California as his woman is going to stand by him wherever he goes.
The song went on to win Best R&B Vocal Performance at the 1974 Grammy Awards. And it is ranked 470th in the latest version of Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.
Ramble On – Led Zeppelin (1969)
Like every Zepplin song apart from “Whole Lotta Love,” “Ramble On” was never released as a single. Perhaps it should have been. It consistently ranks highly on lists of the best Led Zeppelin songs. And it is ever present in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs list.
It’s the ultimate ode to living life on the road, saying goodbye to the old and welcoming the new. Never settling down until you find “the queen of all my dreams.”
If you ever feel like throwing the towel in and starting anew, this song would make the perfect soundtrack as you cruise off into the distance, your middle finger in the air.
Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac (1977)
“Go Your Own Way” was the first single released from Fleetwood Mac’s masterpiece, Rumours. It’s a deeply personal song written by Lyndsey Buckingham about his breakup with fellow bandmate Stevie Nicks.
It’s about knowing when to say goodbye and moving on. Even if it’s the last thing, you want to do. Several other songs on the album are about strained relationships within the band.
Imagine having to perform these together to a live audience. Rather masochistic behavior, if you ask me.
Whatever floats your boat, I guess…
“Go Your Own Way” is another that regularly features in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs. Riding as high as 120 in the 2010 version. It peaked at #10 in the US Billboard Hot 100.
Leaving On a Jet Plane – John Denver (1969)
This heartfelt goodbye song from John Denver is all about the pain of saying goodbye to a loved one. There’s a long journey ahead of you, and you don’t know when you’ll see each other again. It’s a subject most people can relate to in one way or another.
Despite being one of John Denver’s most famous songs, his version failed to chart at the time. The folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary brought the song to prominence with their 1967 recording. It reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Ironically, the song came to take on even greater significance after Denver’s life was cut tragically short in a plane crash. Thankfully, he left us with one of the best goodbye songs ever.
Ruby Tuesday – The Rolling Stones (1967)
“Ruby Tuesday” became The Rolling Stones’ fourth US #1 on its release in 1967. It was a golden era for the band.
The mysterious Ruby Tuesday cannot be held down. The protagonist knows he has to say goodbye to this free-spirited woman. She isn’t going to sign up for the boredom of conventional life.
If the subject matter sounds a bit depressing, the Stones manage to make it sound more like a celebration than a lament. Rolling Stone magazine may be a little biased, but they rank this song at #310 on their 500 Greatest list.
Candle in the Wind – Elton John (1973)
Written as an ode to Marylin Monroe, “Candle in the Wind” is all about the temporary and often unfair nature of life. Especially for those who are cut down in their prime, as Monroe was.
The original 1973 version was never released as a single in the United States. So, we’ll never know how well it would have done there. Elton John released an updated version after the death of Princess Diana in 1997, which hit #1 in the UK charts.
The song remains a beloved one by music fans around the world. If you’ve been on this earth long enough, the chances are you’ll have known someone who had it all but died too young. It resonates with people’s life experiences as most memorable goodbye songs do.
Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton (1992)
Songs don’t get much sadder than Eric Clapton’s song about the death of his 5-year-old son Conor. The boy tragically fell from a 53rd-floor apartment balcony in 1991. After a period of isolation, this was the first song Clapton did in the aftermath of the tragedy.
It’s a heart-wrenching listen. And one can only hope that writing it helped Clapton in the healing process. Having to say goodbye to a child has to be one of the hardest challenges anyone can face.
“Tears in Heaven” was #1 in countries all over the world. It sold a staggering 2.8 million copies in the United States alone, making it one of the highest-selling singles of that decade.
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan (1973)
Written to accompany the film “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” Bob Dylan’s song about nearing death and saying goodbye to the world is one of his best compositions. As a masterful example of stunning simplicity, this song is hard to beat.
It was written to accompany a scene in the movie where a lawman is taking his last breaths. Taken out of the context of the film, death is a subject most of us can relate to. And, it’s almost impossible not to sing along with that chorus. Truly one of the most powerful refrains ever put on paper.
“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” made it into the Top 10 of multiple charts. Rolling Stone deemed it good enough to place 192nd on their latest 500 Greatest Songs list. The vastly inferior Guns N’ Roses cover version was a far bigger commercial success hitting #1 in five countries. Such is life.
Wild World – Cat Stevens (1970)
Cat Stevens explored the sad world of saying goodbye to a lover in his 1970 hit “Wild World.” The song is a lament about what could have been and the sadness of saying goodbye. It’s also partly an upbeat exclamation of anticipation about what the future will hold.
It peaked at #11 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. While not as big a hit as others on this list, it has gone on to be covered 25 times by a diverse cast of artists, helping to bring it to an even wider audience.
Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd (1973)
In the same vein as “Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin, leaving town and hitting the road is what this song is all about. Rather than feeling all sad about saying goodbye and moving on, Lynyrd Skynyrd proclaims loudly and proudly that it’s the only way to live.
Not all songs about leaving are tinged with sadness. For some, the monotony of sitting still is not to be celebrated. The call to roam is too strong, and “Free Bird” is truly a celebration of that ethos.
Famed for its epic guitar solo, which gets an extension when played live, “Free Bird” peaked at #19 in the Billboard Hot 100. It has become a Hard Rock staple ever since.
Hello, Goodbye – The Beatles (1967)
This jolly Beatles number was unsurprisingly a huge hit for the fab-four, reaching #1 in 13 countries. It’s far from the most profound thing that Paul McCartney ever wrote. Instead, it is an entertaining play on the duality of life accompanied by an incredibly catchy tune.
Before this release, The Beatles had been starting to embark on some of their more esoteric and out-there productions. This was a marked return to the simplicity that garnered them so much fame, to begin with. Critics are split on their opinion of this song, but the public loved it.
Nothing Compares 2 You – Sinead O’Connor (1990)
“Nothing Compares 2 You” was originally written by Prince as part of his “The Family” side project. It didn’t garner much attention until Sinead O’Connor reworked the arrangement and made the song her own.
If there is a more perfect Pop song about the pain of a bad breakup, then I’ve not heard it. O’Connor’s voice captures the sense of despair and emotion of having to say goodbye for good. The song was a gigantic hit all over the world, topping the charts in an incredible 22 countries worldwide.
It spent an impressive four weeks on top of the US Billboard Hot 100 and was ranked the third highest-selling single of 1990. Top 40 radio stations all over the world virtually played this ode to unrequited love on a loop; it was so popular.
Somebody That I Used to Know – Gotye featuring Kimbra (2011)
This breakout hit from Belgian-Australian songwriter took the world by storm on its release in 2011. It’s another song about the bitter aftereffects of a breakup.
Many of us have experienced a relationship that failed so badly that we never saw the other party ever again. Gotye crystalizes that empty feeling of being completely cut off by someone you were formerly close to.
The number of countries that this song topped the charts in was very long. So long it remained uncounted. Trust me when I say it was well over 30. There aren’t many songs that can lay claim to those kinds of numbers.
Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds (1985)
“Don’t You Forget About Me” is more a song about the fear of saying goodbye than any pain caused by an actual split. The narrator wonders if his partner will remember him if they ever split up and if she will remember him favorably.
It topped the charts in the US, staying there for three weeks. However, it didn’t do so well in their native UK, only managing #7. But, it did stay in the UK Top 40 from 1985 to 1987, making it one of the longest-serving singles in UK history.
The song memorably features on the soundtrack of the hit John Hughes movie, “The Breakfast Club.”
Don’t Speak – No Doubt (1995)
There were a lot of contenders for the best breakup song of the 90s. But, this Alt-Rock power ballad has to be near the top of the pile. The pain of breaking up is so intense that the protagonist can’t bear to hear any more from her one-time lover.
Bizarrely, this song was never released as a commercial single despite spending 16 consecutive weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart. If it had, “Don’t Speak” would have undoubtedly reached #1 on the main chart, just like it did in so many other countries.
Hit the Road Jack – Ray Charles (1961)
Never has a break-up song been so much fun. In Ray Charles’s R&B classic, the protagonist is getting kicked out by his woman and is forced to pack his bags and find somewhere else to live.
It’s a real swinging number with a full brass section. The back and forth between Ray Charles and the backup singers is very entertaining as Charles pleads his case in the face of steadfast resistance from the ladies.
On its 1961 release, it became Charles 6th US #1, staying at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks. Rolling Stone placed it at 387th in their 500 Greatest Songs list.
Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers (1971)
Bill Withers has to be one of the most underrated songwriters in popular music history. He’s produced some of the most memorable and beautifully written Soul songs of the 20th century. And “Ain’t No Sunshine” is one of them.
In the song, the protagonist’s woman keeps going away, taking all the light out of his life every time she leaves. Withers highly emotional rendering of the lyrics, along with the beautiful string section, helped to make this song Withers’s first breakthrough hit.
The song peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Ain’t No Sunshine” is currently ranked by Rolling Stone at 285th in their 500 Greatest Songs list.
I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor (1978)
This dancefloor standard from disco diva Gloria Gaynor was a huge hit. It spent three weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the UK chart too. On their 2021 version, Rolling Stone placed “I Will Survive” at #251 on their 500 Greatest Song list.
It’s become a female empowerment anthem with its show of strength in the face of a devastating breakup. The protagonist has had enough, and she won’t take her man back. On top of that, she will be stronger for it.
Most of the songs on this list of the best goodbye songs deal with the emotional impact of loss and saying goodbye to loved ones. Where this song differs is in its strident refusal to let the negative emotions win. It’s a celebration of resilience above all else.
You’ve Got a Friend – Carole King (1971)
Carole King’s perfectly crafted song is a heartwarming reflection on the bonds of friendship. Even if you’re far apart and you’ve had to say goodbye, it won’t break the friendship. As she says, “All you have to do is call – And I’ll be there, yes I will – You’ve got a friend.”
King never released the song as a single. Her friend James Taylor also recorded a version of the song in 1971, which he released as a single. It reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States. However, in my opinion, Carole King’s recording remains the more intimate and beautiful of the two.
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover – Paul Simon (1975)
Paul Simon wrote this humorous song in the wake of his divorce from his first wife. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, he chose to exorcise his emotions through the medium of this cleverly written song about leaving your lover.
It’s a very catchy song. Additionally, it provided Paul Simon with his only US #1 hit as a solo artist, topping the Billboard Hot 100 on its 1975 release.
Looking for More Songs with Sentiment?
If so, take a look at our detailed articles on the Best Songs About Lying and Liars, the Best Songs About Crushes, the Best Songs About Loneliness, the Best Songs About Missing Someone You Love, and the Best Songs About Crying for more emotional song selections.
Of course, you need to listen to those tunes. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Most Comfortable Headphones, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, and the Best iPhone Earbuds you can buy in 2023.
Best Goodbye Songs – Final Thoughts
So, we’ve come to the end of this emotionally exhausting rollercoaster of the best songs about saying goodbye. Some of the finest songs ever written feature on my list. And, it’s surely a subject that will keep songwriters busy forever.
What do you think of my selection? Did I make any glaring omissions? Let us know in the comment if I missed a classic goodbye song that you feel should have made the list.
Until next time, happy listening.