The 25 greatest songs about aging and mortality.

The 25 greatest songs about aging and mortality.

The 25 greatest songs about aging and mortality.

All things elderly.
Sept. 11 2008 11:50 AM

The Pensioner's Playlist

The 25 greatest songs about aging and mortality.

Read more from Slate's Geezers Issue.

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Joe Tex, "Buying a Book" The raspy-voiced Southern soul hero delivers a homily on the perils of May-December romance. Listen and learn.

Tom Lehrer, " When You Are Old and Gray"
"Your teeth will start to go, dear/ Your waist will start to spread/ In 20 years or so, dear/ I'll wish that you were dead." The evilest old-age song ever written.  Maybe the best.


Willie Nelson, " September Song"
On second thought: Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson's dark, glorious "September Song" is pop's definitive statement on aging. Here, Willie Nelson summons the full force of his taciturn ballad-singing genius, bearing down beautifully on the key line: "September, November …"

Frank Sinatra, " The September of My Years"
No singer aged with more dignity than Frank Sinatra, who in the 1960s and '70s transformed himself from roguish boulevardier to Lion in Winter—with a little help from his favorite songwriters, Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn.

The Grateful Dead, " Touch of Grey"
"I weeeeeel get by/ I weeeeel survive …"

Hoagy Carmichael, " Rockin' Chair"
Carmichael's great 1932 ballad—sung here by the songwriter himself some 24 years later—makes curmudgeonly codgerdom sound like an idyll. "Old rockin' chair's got me/ Cane by my side/ Fetch me that gin, son/ 'Fore I tan your hide."

Nas, " Can't Forget About You"
Or, "Rockin' Chair," the rap version: "There comes a day in your life when you wanna kick back/ Straw hat on the porch when you old perhaps/ Wanna gather your thoughts, have a cold one/ Brag to your grandkids about how life is golden."

Hazel Dickens, "Old and in the Way" Help the aged. "Just remember when you're young/ That to you, the time will come/ When you're old and only in the way."

The Magnetic Fields, "When You're Old and Lonely" Perpetual sad sack Stephin Merritt finds solace in time the avenger: "When you're old and lonely/ You will wish you'd married me."

Celia Cruz, "Yo Vivire(I Will Survive)" In 2003, the late queen of salsa overhauled Gloria Gaynor's classic disco breakup anthem, turning it into an Ode on the Immortality of Celia Cruz. "My voice can fly," Cruz sings, "Can overcome any hurt/ Any time/ Any loneliness."

Johnny Cash, " We'll Meet Again"
The Man in Black turns the World War II-era anthem into a promise of reunion in the great beyond. The final track on Cash's final album. Get out the hankie for Cash's spoken-word verse that begins at the 1:32 mark.

The Zimmers, " My Generation"
Brilliant novelty-song stunt or ugly oldsploitation pop? The answer is in the ear of the beholder. This 2007 cover of the Who classic by an army of London pensioners certainly struck a chord, cracking the top 30 on the U.K. charts and going viral on YouTube.

Jimmy Durante, " Young at Heart"
Age ain't nothing but a number.

Jody Rosen is critic at large for T: The New York Times Style Magazine.