Without a doubt, sunsets are some of the most powerful natural scenes in daily life. Not only are they some of the most popular photo options to preserve memories; a sunset paints the sky with a palette of ephemeral colors that shift as time goes on, symbolizing the end, sometimes beautiful, sometimes bittersweet, of some chapters of our stories.
It’s no wonder that such a compelling image can bring music to life, the words and melodies reminding us of times past and times to come. Here are some songs that perfectly capture the essence of a sunset.
1. Sunrise, Sunset – Fiddler on the Roof (1964)
The first song that comes to mind when I think of sunsets is Sunrise, Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof. This song is a compelling ballad sung by multiple characters in the movie, but the most prominent are the mother and father of the current bride, reminiscing on their daughter’s life and wondering how time moved so quickly.
It perfectly encompasses the nature of the sunset, the end of one story, and the beginning of another.
2. Castle on a Hill – Ed Sheeran (2017)
This soft-pop song is a perfect representation of the power sunsets have on memories. The song details the singer’s memories of their childhood and the people with them, illustrating how although memories can grow foggy as we age, those feelings of fondness will always be there.
The times we shared with our friends and family from youth, be it quiet drives, getting into trouble, or watching sunsets, will remain with us even after those friends are gone.
3. California Sunset – Neil Young
This upbeat jig makes it almost impossible to keep still. Whether it’s a tapping foot, a little dance, or a whole performance, this song’s energy will sweep you away and take no prisoners!
The lyrics are a sentimental remembrance of the uncertainty of youth, sung by someone with enough experience to remember them fondly, even though their journey couldn’t have been easy.
4. Wasted Sunsets – Deep Purple
Wasted Sunsets is a melancholy classic rock song whose heavy rhythm and thoughtful lyrics create a picture of deep regret. Although sunsets are beautifully symbolic transitions, they can also represent lost or wasted time, which is perfectly done with this song.
From the powerful guitar solos to the haunting lyrics, this song will definitely remind you of the inevitable passage of time and the loss that comes with it.
5. Sunsets – Kid Ink
Kid Ink’s Sunsets is a hip-hop/rap fusion that takes a different spin on the concept of sunsets. Instead of using it as a medium of reminiscence, it’s instead used as a way to look towards a brighter future, his lyric “wait until the sun goes down” is indicative of a better future to come and a commitment to move into a new chapter of his life soon, which makes his use of the sunset imagery so powerful, especially in the music video.
The catchy melody and great production give the song the perfect “road trip” feel, maybe on the way to the start of a new adventure!
6. Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks
Waterloo Sunset, written by songwriter Ray Davies, has been labeled by Rolling Stone as resting in the Top 20 Greatest Songs of all time, and for good reason.
The opening of the song contains a rhythmic guitar-drum duo that propels the song into action, softened by a nostalgic, soothing melody whose lyrics bring up a new purpose for sunsets, to stop time instead of starting it. In the lyrics, Davies laments the passage of time and the busyness of those around him, which is something that other lyricists don’t commonly do.
The Waterloo Sunset here signifies not the passage of time, but the ability of the idyllic image of a natural sunset to stop time, if only for a moment. It allows us to exist in a world without worry or ailments for just as long as it takes the sun to set, drawn into its mesmerizing disappearance, enjoying a few moments without our daily burdens.
7. Two Suns in the Sunset – Pink Floyd
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t at least heard of Pink Floyd, and for good reason. “Two Suns in the Sunset” is only one of their songs, but it certainly packs a punch in and of itself. Like “Waterloo Sunset – this breaks the norm we’ve seen so far and looks to the sunset as something to be mourned because it signifies an end more than a beginning.
The lyrics convey the loss of the moments we can’t get back and a fundamental, irreversible end to something in our lives. The song draws the listener in with not only its haunting melody and emotional delivery, but with its profound lyrics that speak of the tragedy of a lost past and an uncertain future.
8. Early Sunsets over Monroeville – My Chemical Romance
My Chemical Romance is a band known for their darker pop-rock songs, but the beginning of “Early Sunsets over Monroeville” is a little bit different than their usual head-bangers. This soft-rock anthem is definitely dark, but the melancholy melody and softer instrumentals paint a picture more of grief than anger.
It definitely speaks to the passage of time, but in such a way that the lyricist and the listener both feel absolutely powerless to stop it. Sunset in this song is not a beginning, but an end that can’t be undone, it’s an end that the singer is desperately running from, but unfortunately, can’t escape.
9. Red Sails in the Sunset – Nat King Cole
Compared to the rest of this list, “Red Sails in the Sunset” is a blast from the past. With the singers’ thick harmony and poignantly emotional techniques, it’s no wonder Cole and his trio profoundly impacted small jazz ensembles after them.
These lyrics are so heartbreakingly bittersweet, both in the words themselves and in the gentle way they’re sung. The song sounds like the embodiment of “if you love something, let it go.” The tender voices free a loved one, either in parting or death, to whatever awaits them, though it nearly kills them to be left behind.
10. What Makes the Sunset? – Frank Sinatra
This one, like “Red Sails in the Sunset – is an oldie but a goodie. The strings that open the song sound like they’re right out of a movie score, providing romantic imagery from the second you hear the first note. Frank Sinatra’s smooth baritone enters seconds later.
His voice dances on the instrumentals, and together they craft an atmosphere of serene joy. It’s an inherently peaceful song, free of complicated concepts, and is almost genius in its simplicity, full of simple questions that remain unanswered, but that speak to deeper, unspoken feelings, supported by the depth of the accompaniment and the emotion in Sinatra’s voice.
11. Sunset Lover – Petit Biscuit
This song is distinctive in that it’s the only one on this list that is an instrumental and has no lyrics. The song has been trending on several social media platforms lately, namely TikTok, and involves quite a bit of musical production and synthetic elements, in which repetitive recorded melodies on several instruments are embedded.
The song has a calming rhythm, steady like a heartbeat, and lulls the listener in with its interwoven ostinatos. It’s the perfect music for studying or relaxing, and creates a sense of unencumbered peace, like that of a colorful sunset.
12. Sunset – DAVICHI
“Sunset” by DAVICHI was a bit hesitant to include this song, mostly because it’s both written and sung in Korean; however, it was so beautiful I couldn’t make myself leave it off. Even without understanding the lyrics, the piano draws the listener in almost immediately. It’s played with a soft touch, and the chord progression keeps you guessing in the best way. The singer’s voice is so pure that I truly didn’t care that I didn’t understand the song.
However, the lyrics are just as stunning as the music. It speaks of the sunset not as a mirror to the past or an oracle for the future, but as a steady presence in everyday life. It’s a constant in an ever-changing world, and the lyrics detail not only the sunset’s power but how the lyricist will be there for their loved one no matter what the circumstance, just like their sunset.
13. Sunset – The Midnight
“Sunset” by The Midnight definitely catches your attention from the first second. The introduction is a series of punctuated synthetic beats that almost twinkle over a steady bass. Once you’ve gotten used to that, the vocalist begins to speak instead of sing, introducing an avant-garde element to the already unique song.
Once the exposition ends, the song takes on a pop-rock quality, and the lyrics don’t disappoint. In this song, sunsets represent the passage of time as signs of hope for a better future. Instead of a feeling of loss, as with “Two Suns in the Sunset – this song’s sunset is an expression of “This too shall pass” and “There are better things to come.” It’s the promise not of a loss today, but a better tomorrow.