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Top 20 Best Songs About Life

Life, oh, life. The good times and the bad. The ups and the downs and all the boring bits in-between. It’s a subject songwriters have pondered over the years. Popular music is overflowing with songs offering advice or speaking simple truths to the masses.

Naturally, some are much more powerful than others. Those songs truly capture the essence of what the human experience can be like on planet earth.

So, I decided to gather 20 of the best songs about life from across musical genres, featuring some of the best songwriters giving their take on this game we call life. Let’s start with the classic…

Best Songs About Life

Top 20 Best Songs About Life

That’s Life – Frank Sinatra (1966)

Originally recorded by Marion Mongomery a few years earlier, Frank Sinatra’s cover made the song his own. It was also a commercial success for him. Making it to #4 in the US Billboard Hot 100.

“That’s Life” is a song brimming with positivity. It encourages the listener to take the ups and downs of life in their stride. If you take a knock in life, brush yourself off, and get right back on that horse.

It is a fundamental truth that you’ll be thrown a load of curveballs on your journey through life. As “That’s Life” informs us, if you can handle the rough with the smooth, then everything will work out just fine. When it comes to the most iconic songs about life, Ol’ Blue Eyes nails it.

What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong (1967)

Louis Armstrong didn’t write one of the best songs about life but thank the lord, he agreed to sing it. His rich gravelly voice lends itself perfectly to the beautiful lyrics. 

It’s a lovely song that reminds us to appreciate what an amazing place our planet is, whether it be nature’s abundance or our fellow humans.

On its 1967 release…

It was a big hit in Europe, topping the UK charts. Due to disagreements with ABC Records’ president, “What a Wonderful World” wasn’t promoted in the United States and failed to chart.

Twenty-one years later, it was featured in the movie “Good Morning Vietnam.” Then, it finally made a belated appearance on the US chart peaking at #32. You have to wonder how much such a universally loved song would have done with promotion back in 1967.

Ain’t Got No, I Got Life – Nina Simone (1968)

Nina Simone performs a miracle by turning the deprivation of poverty into the glory of life’s abundance in this stone-cold classic from the High Priestess of Soul.

She reminds the listener that although they may be living in the depths of material poverty, all is not lost. As long as you still have the beautiful gift of consciousness, the human form, and life itself. If there is a more uplifting anthem to appreciating just how lucky we are to be alive, I’ve yet to hear it.

Nina Simone was unique…

You knew that whatever she sang came straight from the heart. Whether it was a protest song or powerful reflections on existence like this, you knew she meant it.

The song reached #2 on the UK chart and the top spot in the Netherlands. The fact it didn’t do so well in the US was possibly the racial controversy surrounding her 1964 song “Mississippi Goddam,” which she felt harmed her career.

Let It Be – The Beatles (1970)

Paul McCartney’s semi-religious ballad of reassurance gave The Beatles their seventh consecutive year with a #1 hit. A record they share with Elvis Presley. 

The “Mary” he talks about in the song is his deceased mother, who had come to him in a dream “It will be all right, just let it be.” McCartney has stated that people can interpret Mary religiously if they want.

However, people interpret the song…

It’s beautifully composed. The lyrics have brought comfort to millions of people around the world. Although, John Lennon slammed the song in a 1980 Playboy interview disavowing any involvement.

However, modern-day music critics disagree with John. “Let It Be” flies high in the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs list at #20. Likewise, it always features near the top of the greatest Beatles song lists voted on by fans.

What is Life – George Harrison (1971)

It’s the early 1970s, and The Beatles have all gone their separate ways. Lennon and McCartney are feuding, writing songs attacking one another. Meanwhile, George Harrison is just letting all that bitterness wash over him and writing philosophical songs about the meaning of life

The lyrics to “What is Life” are a little ambiguous. It could be seen as a simple love song or a spiritually devotional song. Either way, they express a basic truth in life that without love, our lives become meaningless.

It’s a rare moment of jubilant celebration for Harrison and is probably the catchiest release of his solo career. The song made the Top 10 charts all over the world, hitting #1 in Australia and Switzerland. 

Lean on Me – Bill Withers (1972)

Bill Withers was a masterful songwriter, and “Lean on Me” was truly one of his finest moments. It’s an ode to the importance of having a strong support network around you. 

It’s a song about being a good friend because it’s the right thing to do. But, also because you never know when you’ll be the one in need of a helping hand. It is all about treating people as you want to be treated. 

Swallow your pride…

Withers wrote it after he had left the rural mining town where he was raised to move to LA. He didn’t find the same community spirit in the big smoke and felt compelled to write about it.

It was a hit song about life’s struggles with the American public. It went to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in July of 1973 for three weeks. It’s also a Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs alumni, placing at #208.

I Can See Clearly Now – Johnny Nash (1972)

Johnny Nash’s 1972 smash hit is a life-affirming celebration of lifting yourself out of the darkness and into the light. That feeling of clarity you get when you know the challenges facing you can be surmounted. And that you are up to the task.

Johnny Nash had recently worked with Bob Marley. You can hear the reggae influence in this inspiring classic song about living life. Fans around the world were appreciative and sent it to #1 in the United States, Canada, and South Africa.

It’s been covered by a wide variety of acts. Most notably by reggae legend Jimmy Cliff. His version of the song was also featured in the movie “Cool Runnings.”

Dream On – Aerosmith (1973)

“Dream On” was Aerosmith’s first big hit and has since gone on to become a Rock staple. Lead singer Steven Tyler penned the lyrics at the tender age of 14. 

Understanding the importance of dreaming “until your dreams come true” at such a young age and writing such profound lyrics on the subject is quite remarkable.

The song was released twice, once in 1973 and again in 1975. It was more successful the second time around, peaking at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. It currently sits at 199th on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list.

Cat’s in the Cradle – Harry Chapin (1974)

Harry Chapin’s 1974 hit is a bittersweet tale of a father and son relationship, of patterns repeating themselves, and the dangers of not being around in your son’s life. 

It’s an eloquent and emotional song about family life sung in a beautifully simple style. If you’re a father of a young boy, it never fails to bring a tear to the eye.

It was by far Chapin’s biggest hit and his sole #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, topping the chart in December 1974. American Rock band Ugly Kid Joe released a cover in 1992, which also did well. And it helped bring the original song to a whole new generation.

Lust for Life – Iggy Pop (1977)

The year is 1976. Iggy Pop moves to Europe to try and escape his rampant drug addictions. He went to live in Berlin, and his friend David Bowie helped him to produce his first two solo albums.

“Lust for Life,” from the album of the same name, is one of the standout tracks they produced. It’s a timeless track that sounds as vibrant today as it did almost 50 years ago. There’s an energy running through this song. 

It demands you get up and dance…

The lyrics are typically focused on the hedonistic lifestyle Iggy Pop was famed for. It’s a main course of sex and drugs references with a big side of Rock n Roll. 

The song was largely ignored on its initial release. Twenty years later, it featured as part of the soundtrack in the film “Trainspotting.” As a result, it received a whole new lease of life, charting in the UK and resurrecting Iggy Pop’s career.

I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor (1978)

Gloria Gaynor’s female empowerment anthem is as popular today as it was on its release in 1978. It’s a dancefloor classic and karaoke favorite for recently single women everywhere. It’s the message at the core of the song that makes it one of the best songs about life. 

Even though you may have been treated badly by a lover, you have to be strong enough to get on with your life and find someone who’ll treat you right. Its refusal to wallow in self-pity is a fine example to all, male or female.

It’s proud defiance in the face of adversity. And its ability to fill a dancefloor anywhere saw “I Will Survive” top the charts in four countries, including the US. Over the years, it has steadily risen the ranks in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs list, currently residing at 251st in the 2021 version.

Once in a Lifetime – Talking Heads (1981)

What a fantastically innovative band Talking Heads were. The New Wave band was never afraid to experiment with their sound. And “One in a Lifetime” is a great example of this adventurous spirit at work.

The song is a warning against wasting your life by just doing what society expects of you. Bowing to conformity by pursuing a nice house and a pretty wife isn’t the only way to live. “Once in a Lifetime” challenges the listener to wake from their stupor and live the kind of life that makes them feel alive.

How did we get here?

Producer Brian Eno introduced David Byrne to the Afrobeat sounds of Fela Kuti, and it was a big inspiration for this song. The world of Pop music had never heard the likes of it, and it didn’t do so well on its release, failing to break the US Billboard Hot 100. 

Retrospectively, its innovation has received the respect it deserves. Rolling Stone magazine ranks it at #27 on their comprehensive list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life – Monty Python (1981)

“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” is a witty take on existence featured in the cult classic movie, “The Life of Brian.” It encourages you to face adversity with a “keep calm and carry on” attitude. 

The fact that Brian is being crucified in the movie whilst being serenaded by another man nailed to the cross next to him made it one of the funniest songs ever written.

Eric Idle wrote the song. And, as the film slowly grew in popularity, so did this song. So much so that a full ten years after its initial release, it was receiving so much airplay that Virgin records decided to re-release it. 

It made the Top 10 in multiple European countries. Additionally, it has gone on to be one of the most popular songs that people request at their funerals.

Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey (1981)

Rock anthems don’t get much more uplifting than this gem by Journey. It’s a rallying cry to never give up on yourself, even if the situation is looking grim. It has since become one of the most iconic Rock songs of the 80s. The moment that piano intro kicks in, you know just what you’re listening to.

On its 1981 release, it placed in the Top 10 in multiple countries. In the digital era, it is the most downloaded 20th-century track in the United States. It’s currently been downloaded seven million times. 

Rolling Stone magazine loves this song enough to place 133rd on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

I’m Still Standing – Elton John (1983)

Some of the best songs about life are all about dusting yourself off after a failed relationship. Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” most definitely falls into that category. It’s almost like a male version of “I Will Survive” in its celebration of not falling apart after a bad split. 

Most of us have been through the turbulence of splitting up, maybe after being treated badly too. This song talks of coming out of it on the other side stronger for the experience, having learned something along the way. There aren’t too many life lessons more valuable than that.

It wasn’t one of Elton John’s biggest hits. Although, it still topped the charts in Canada and Switzerland and made solid inroads into the Top 10 everywhere else.

Live is Life – Opus (1984)

Austrian band, Opus, wrote this song in celebration of performing live. The song also doubles as a celebration of life itself, with its positive message of giving everything your best shot.

An infectious reggae rhythm and plenty of sing-along moments helped make this a huge hit in Europe in 1984. It topped the charts for weeks in Austria, West Germany, France, Spain, and Sweden.

Make sure you watch the video on YouTube. The oversize blue suit worn by the singer has to be seen to be believed. Mullets and mustaches also feature aplenty. We can forgive these dubious style choices as the song itself never fails to raise spirits.

Don’t Worry Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin (1988)

As a game plan for facing life’s difficulties with a positive outlook, Bobby McFerrin nailed it with his breezy and refreshing novelty record.

It’s simple a cappella in a reggae style with stripped-down musical production to allow the excellent message to take center stage. As a result, it is one of the most well know songs about dealing with life.

And, what a fantastic message that is… 

Whatever problem modern-day life has in store for you, you’ll be better equipped to cope with warmth in your heart than let bitterness drag you down.

Also, if you like a good whistle, there’s a great whistle-along section that will have you tooting away merrily. It’s one of those songs that instantly raises your mood if it comes on unexpectedly.

Fans all over the world loved the positivity, making it a #1 hit in five countries, including the United States.

Circle of Life – Elton John (1994)

Celebrations of existence don’t come much more uplifting than this one. “Circle of Life” is the Grammy-nominated song Elton John and Tim Rice wrote for the Disney movie “The Lion King.”

The song is full of wisdom on how to approach the complexity and diversity of life with open arms whilst remembering to never take more than you give. The song is used in the opening scene of the movie as Simba is brought into the world, and the circle of life continues unabated.

No matter how our fortunes turn out, the great wheel will keep on turning. It’s up to us not to waste the gift of being. If you want an inspirational song about life, don’t miss this one.

Imitation of Life – REM (2001)

REM wrote this song as a backlash against the superficiality of modern life. It is an invitation to live a genuine life and to stop caring what other people think of you.

“Imitation of Life” is a late-era REM song. Released in 2001, it heralded a welcome return to the sound of their most popular songs of the late 80s/early 90s, a period of sustained success for the band.

Whilst the song only hit a high of #83 in the US, it was a far bigger hit in Europe, making the Top 10 in multiple countries.

Float On – Modest Mouse (2004)

For those in the know, Modest Mouse was one of the most interesting Alternative Rock bands of the 2000s. If Talking Heads and The Pixies spawned a band, it would sound like them. Legendary Smiths guitarist, Johnny Marr, was even part of their lineup from 2006 to 2009.

Lead singer, Isaac Brock, wrote this song as an antidote to all the bad news that comes flying at you every day from the media. 

He wanted to write a positive song about how things will generally turn out alright. We shouldn’t live our lives full of worry even when things are feeling heavy. The equilibrium of life will swing things around.

Good news is on the way…

Considering he wrote this song in 2004, its message is as poignant today as it was then. It topped the Billboard Modern Rock chart but peaked at only #68 on the Billboard Hot 100. Music critics have seen it in a more favorable light. 

Rolling Stone magazine ranked it 39th in their list of the Greatest Songs of the 2000s. And it also received a 2005 Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Song. 

Looking for More Inspirational Songs?

Well, take a look at our detailed articles on the Top Songs About Home, the Best Songs About Magic, the Best Songs About Friendship, the Best Songs About Heroes, and the Top Songs About Time for more great song selections.

Of course, you need to listen to them. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Best Bass Earbuds, and the Best Headphones Under $200 you can buy in 2022.

Final Thoughts on The Best Songs About Life

So there you have it. Twenty of the greatest songs about life are presented to you in chronological order. In this list, I’ve gone for the more uplifting and life-affirming takes on the big picture, rather than songs focusing on the negative aspects of life. That would be a different list completely.

I hope you agree that there are some absolute gems in there. If you would like to buy any of the songs in MP3 format, click on the link in the song title. I know this list is highly subjective. If you feel I made any glaring omissions, let us know in the comments who we should have included.

Until next time, happy listening.

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About Joseph L. Hollen

Joseph is a session musician, writer, and filmmaker from south Florida. He has recorded a number of albums and made numerous short films, as well as contributing music to shorts and commercials. 

He doesn't get as much time to practice and play as he used to, but still manages (just about!) to fulfill all his session requests. According to Joseph, it just gets harder as you get older; you rely on what you learned decades ago and can play without thinking. Thankfully that's what most producers still want from him.

He is a devout gear heat and has been collecting musical instruments all his life. As his wife, Jill, keeps on saying, "You're very good at buying nice instruments, but terrible at selling them!".

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