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The great thing about music is that it can make someone feel more than one thing at once — sad, angry, funny, triumphant, or even happy. It can be hard to find the words to express everything one feels.
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, it’s clear that many people have a lot to say. Music has a unique voice, unlike any other media format, and it can speak volumes and spark important discussions.
The songs about 9/11 are truly powerful and moving in their message and meaning.
Top Songs About 9/11
“When The World Stopped” – Alan Jackson
This is a popular country song; it is a sad song about 9/11. It’s a ballad that tells a story of the events during the tragedy on September 11th, 2001. It talks about how people were spending their time watching the news on TV and listening to the radio.
It also talks about how they could not believe what was happening at first, but soon they realized it was happening. Some lines within the song state that people felt their world had stopped.
“9/11” – Wyclef Jean featuring Mary J. Blige
It was written as a response to the September 11th attacks. The song was written by Jean and Blige, who also produced the track with Jerry Duplessis. “9/11” is a hip-hop ballad, with lyrics addressing the pain of those affected by the attacks.
The track reached number 30 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and number 10 on the UK Singles Chart.
“9/11 Freestyle Rap” – Jay-Z
When the song was first released, it was aggressive, and people thought Jay-Z should be arrested. Jay-Z goes into a freestyle rap about how he feels about 9/11. He expresses his anger at how America was quick to bomb Afghanistan and Iraq but not quick enough to find Bin Laden.
As well as this, he also asks how America expects them to feel when they are in a war that has killed over 3000 innocent people from their country.
He then expresses his views on how America has become more concerned about security than freedom and democracy, a feeling that many other citizens share throughout America.
“Sacrificed Sons” – Dream Theater
It’s a song about the sacrifice soldiers when they’re sent off to war, and it’s like they can’t write an anti-war song without writing an anti-religious one too.
The lyrics are so powerful and emotional. It goes against some people’s whole “glory of martyrdom” thing. The song is about 9/11; however, it was written before the event took place.
“Politik” – Coldplay
Coldplay sang “Politik,” and it was about the Iraq invasion. It is on the album “Parachutes,” released in 2000, written by Chris Martin and the band’s lead guitarist Jonny Buckland. The song was striking because of its musical simplicity and because it was a hit.
The lyrics of this song are filled with references to American politics. The world is compared to a stage by the singer. Politicians, he claims, are performers who aren’t as significant as the public believes.
“9/11” – Lady Gaga
9/11 is a hit by Lady Gaga, produced on August 21st, 2011, as the fourth single from her second studio album Born This Way (2011).. The song’s lyrics dealt with emergency services and were inspired by Gaga witnessing her fans’ struggles.
Gaga explained that she “wanted to write [a song] to give the listener a sense of empowerment.” It contains electro and techno music influences while borrowing lyrics from the American folk song “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
The song has received mixed reviews. Some critics praised its dance-pop nature and the lyrics, while others criticized its use of autotune.
“Around My Way” – Talib Kweli
The song is a tribute to the police officers, volunteers and firefighters who died on 9/11. This song also shows the feelings of Americans who were angry with Osama Bin Laden’s attacks.
This song was not just about 9/11, but also it was a great way to show how we are all brothers and sisters of America because this attack struck everyone’s heart. Talib Kweli said that he wrote the song after hearing about September 11th.
He claimed that 90% of Americans did not know how to react to the situation and felt powerless as citizens.
“Patiently Waiting” – 50 Cents & Eminem
Fifty cent and Eminem released a song called “Patiently waiting” that directly mentions 9/11. The lyrics mention the World Trade Center attacks. The chorus repeats, “I’m patiently waiting for you to blow up New York City again.”
This particular song stands out because it was released before the attacks had even happened, but it immediately took on a new meaning afterward.
“Empire State of Mind” – Jay-Z
One of the most popular songs in the world right now is “Empire State of Mind,” a song by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys that celebrates New York City’s resilience in the face of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.
The song starts with the line: “In New York, you’re either number one or your number two. There’s no in-between.” It then describes how New York was named after a man who saw it as an opportunity to become rich and famous.
The song has a few seconds of silence at one point where someone can hear someone screaming; this seems to be there for dramatic effect. It is supposed to remind people of those terrible moments when people realized what was happening and tried desperately to escape from the falling towers.
“America Rocks” – Monty Milne
In 2001, Monty Milne’s America Rocks were one of the only songs to deal with the issues raised by 9/11. The song had a certain amount of controversy.
Some people argued that it wasn’t fair to link 9/11 with the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, or the Cold War.
The song is about big events that are not supposed to happen anymore, like political assassination and nuclear war. And about how these things have changed people.
“Out Of Our Heads” – Sheryl Crow
On this rousing anti-war track, Crow begs those around her to realise the pointlessness of conflict. “Someone’s feeding on your anger/Someone’s been whispering in your ear,” she sings. Insisting that the public is being fed lies, she laments the waste of young lives being sacrificed to war and conflict. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, she begs everyone to lay down their fears, put aside their emotion for a second, and try to see things clearly.
“Exodus Damage” – John Vanderslice
Vanderslice expresses his confusion in the wake of the attacks in ‘Exodus Damage’. He describes watching the plane strike the towers on the TV in his hotel room and the despair he felt.
The story is told through the lens of another narrative – a conversation that Vanderslice had with his conspiracy-theorist friend. 9/11 is an event thickly clouded by conspiracy theories – Vanderslice uses the conversation in the track to unpack that climate.
“Into The Fire” – Bruce Springsteen
This emotional track from Springsteen describes a firefighter being called to help during the 9/11 attacks. The firefighter tragically passes away whilst serving. Although his family still needs him, they recognise that his country needed him more in that moment and are inspired by his sacrifice.
“You gave your love to me and lay your young body down,” he sings, from the perspective of the firefighters’ loved ones.
‘Into The Fire’ was dedicated to the 343 firefighters that were lost in 9/11. It comes from Springsteen’s album The Rising, his first in seven years and his first with the E Street band in eighteen.
The album primarily deals with Springsteen’s response to 9/11, and performed well commercially, as audiences could relate to Springsteen’s confusion and grief. The Rising won a Grammy for Best Rock Album.
“America” – Imagine Dragons
This inspiring track from Imagine Dragons acts as a love song to an entire nation. Despite referencing their disillusionment with America and its administrations, Imagine Dragons still hold a lot of love for the American people, and offer this encouraging anthem to them.
“Rise to the top of the world/America, America don’t you cry,” they sing. They ask for strength to keep going, healing for the American people, and unity for the nation as a whole. Although ‘America’ was released a decade after 9/11, it represents a nation that was still healing from the attacks and still trying to rally together.
“I Can’t See New York” – Tori Amos
On her concept album Scarlet’s Walk, Amos uses the travels of a character called ‘Scarlet’ to represent her own emotional journey and the journey of America post-9/11. ‘I Can’t See New York’ is the most explicit track about the September 11 attack, in which Scarlet flies over the city as the crash happens and is unable to process the event, or to physically see the city any longer through a crowd of dust.
Amos herself was in New York on September 11, and ‘I Can’t See New York’ is reflective of her own experiences. Like Scarlet, she was torn between staying in the city in its time of distress and getting some distance.
“Elevator” – Box Car Racer
This racing rock track from Box Car Racer describes the final thoughts of a jumper from the towers on 9/11. There’s an urgent, panicked feeling to the track, and at the same time the characters in the song speak matter-of-factly.
The band sing about everything that goes through the jumper’s mind as he rushes towards the ground, until the perspective switches to a watcher on the street below. “Let’s forget this all move on,” sing the band dryly in the outro. It’s a stark, blunt scene that effectively depicts the realities of the tragedy.
“Sirens” – Nell Bryden
Indie singer-songwriter Nell Bryden avoided writing about the events of 9/11 for ten years. It wasn’t until the 10th anniversary of the tragedy that she began describing them to producer Patrick Mescall, and by the end of the day ‘Sirens’ was complete. Bryden is a native New Yorker, and the track describes her personal experience on the day itself, as well as how she feels looking back on it.
The emotional love song to New York was later covered by Cher for her 2013 album Closer To The Truth. Cher described the cover as “Cher does U2”.
“Skylines and Turnstiles” – My Chemical Romance
‘Skylines and Turnstiles’ was the first song that My Chemical Romance ever wrote. Frontman Gerard Way witnessed the 9/11 attacks from a ferry bound for Manhattan. Surrounded by people who had family in the towers, Way felt intensely emotional and struggled to process the event.
The event’s effect on Way was so intense, in fact, that he felt moved to try his hand at music again, something he had given up as a teenager. He formed a new band and wrote ‘Skylines and Turnstiles’ about his experience on September 11.
“Seven” – And One
With quite a different tone to the others on this list, electronic track ‘Seven’ sees And One discussing the events surrounding 9/11. In particular, the track discusses conspiracy theories surrounding the tragedy, such as an identified white plane seen during the event and the collapse of the WTC 7 building.
“Courtesy Red, White And Blue (The Angry American)” – Toby Keith
This patriotic track from Toby Keith talks about the sacrifices that America’s army and emergency services make for civilians, with a particular focus on the events of 9/11. Keith celebrates all the ways in which the country remains strong and promises that America will always fight back. He also reminisces about his own father, whose service as a soldier helped to protect his soldier.
“Flying” – Living Colour
In ‘Flying’, Living Colour tell the story of a man who goes to work on 9/11 ready for an ordinary day. He considers the possibility of asking out Carmen, a colleague that he likes. However, as he’s gathering up the nerve, she glances out of the window and sees the strike. As everything starts to burn around them, the two of them hold hands and prepare to jump out of the window. It’s a grim reminder of how quickly everything changed on that tragic day.
There is no doubt that the events of 9/11 reshaped the world for those affected by the September 11th tragedy. Partially remembered, but never forgotten – these are the songs that will forever remind people of the darkest day in the country’s history.
Whether someone believes that music is a form of expression with no real rules or limitations, it has always been a wonderful way for artists to express themselves and let the listener see through their eyes.
Caitlin Devlin is a music, entertainment and lifestyle writer based in London. When she’s not creating playlists for Repeat Replay, she’s reviewing gigs and interviewing artists for Ticketmaster UK and thinking about what her Spotify Wrapped will look like this year.