The morning of Nov. 22, 1963 broke overcast and gloomy in Dallas. President John F. Kennedy started his day in Forth Worth, Texas, offering remarks to the crowd of people gathered outside his hotel.

"There are no faint hearts in Fort Worth," he said, "and I appreciate your being here this morning. Mrs. Kennedy is organizing herself. It takes longer, but, of course, she looks better than we do when she does it."

By midday, the sun had appeared and the president's motorcade was making its way through the streets of Dallas, en route to the venue where he was slated to speak at a luncheon. Of course, President Kennedy never made it to that luncheon, instead shot, taken to the hospital and ultimately pronounced dead.

For many Americans, Kennedy's death was not only a shocking tragedy, but a representation of the zeitgeist of the '60s — violence, particularly against those advocating for peace and forward progress, was often just around the corner. And naturally, such an unprecedented event made its way into music. Even decades later, the assassination remained an unforgettable moment, name-checked in songs.

In recognition of the 60th anniversary of his killing, we're taking a look at 26 Songs With JFK references.

1. The Beach Boys, "The Warmth of the Sun"
From: Shut Down Volume 2 (1964)

Technically, there is no direct reference to JFK in the Beach Boys' "The Warmth of the Sun," but the melancholy track is centered on him regardless. There are conflicting accounts of how exactly the song came to be — Mike Love recalled that it was started the morning of Kennedy's killing, while Brian Wilson remembered it as being written later in the day, following the news. Either way, the event triggered a response. "It seemed like something we had to think about," Wilson wrote in his 2016 autobiography I Am Brian Wilson, "and songs were the way I thought about things."


2. Billy Joel, "We Didn't Start the Fire"
From: Storm Front (1989)

Billy Joel references 120 political, cultural or otherwise socially significant elements in "We Didn't Start the Fire," covering ground from 1948 to the year of the song's release, 1989. Of course, that includes a couple of Kennedy-related things, including Joe McCarthy, noted friend to the Kennedy family and the Bay of Pigs invasion, a failed operation approved by Kennedy. And in case you forgot what happened in November 1963:  "JFK – blown away, what else do I have to say?"


3. Bob Dylan, "I Shall Be Free"
From: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)

The first time Bob Dylan wrote specifically about JFK, the president was still very much alive. "I Shall Be Free" appeared on 1963's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, released six months before the murder. In it, Dylan imagines a conversation with the leader of the free world: "Well, my telephone rang, it would not stop / It's President Kennedy callin' me up / He said, 'My friend, Bob, what do we need to make the country grow?'"


4. Bob Dylan, "Blind Willie McTell"
From: The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991 (1991)

Two decades after Kennedy's death, Dylan hinted at the event in "Blind Willie McTell:" "I travel through east Texas / Where many martyrs fell." Though he recorded the track in 1983, it would not be released until the first installment of Dylan's Bootleg series arrived in 1991.


5. Bob Dylan, "Murder Most Foul"
From: Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020)

Dylan took things a step further in 2020, not just referencing JFK but writing an entire 17-minute dirge about his assassination. "Twas a dark day in Dallas, November '63," he begins, "A day that will live on in infamy." It wound up Dylan's very first song to reach the No. 1 spot on a Billboard chart. "To me it's not nostalgic," he told The New York Times in 2020. "I don't think of 'Murder Most Foul' as a glorification of the past or some kind of send-off to a lost age. It speaks to me in the moment. It always did, especially when I was writing the lyrics out."


6. The Byrds, "He Was a Friend of Mine"
From: Turn! Turn! Turn! (1965)

"He Was a Friend of Mine" is actually a traditional folk song dating back to the 1930s. In 1965, the Byrds added their own original lyrics, making the song about Kennedy and his untimely death. "He was in Dallas town / From a sixth floor window / A gunman shot him down." The Byrds performed the song at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, where David Crosby implied to the audience that multiple people, not just Lee Harvey Oswald, were responsible for Kennedy's death. "They're shooting this for television. I'm sure they're going to edit this out. I want to say it anyway, even though they will edit it out," he said. "When President Kennedy was killed, he was not killed by one man. He was shot from a number of different directions, by different guns. The story has been suppressed, witnesses have been killed, and this is your country, ladies and gentlemen." (Roger McGuinn would later denounce this statement of his bandmate's.)


7. Deep Purple, "Jack Ruby"
From: Abandon (1998)

Deep Purple's "Jack Ruby" is less about the man himself as it is something of a metaphor for one's own "panache," as they put it in the lyrics. Two days after Kennedy's death, Ruby, a nightclub owner, went to the police headquarters in Dallas where he shot and killed Oswald. Unlike Crosby, Deep Purple evidently did not subscribe to the multi-shooter belief: "No dark conspiracies, I stand on my own two feet / I'm coming through just like Jack Ruby."


8. Dion, "Abraham, Martin and John"
From: Dion (1968)

Dion was the first person to record "Abraham, Martin and John," penned by Dick Holler, but he was certainly not the last — others included Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson. As its title suggests, the song refers to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and JFK, but there's also a verse that mentions "Bobby," as in JFK's also assassinated brother, who was killed a month before the recording was released.


9. Donald Fagen, "New Frontier"
From: The Nightfly (1982)

Donald Fagen's "New Frontier," a single from his debut solo album The Nightfly, isn't actually about JFK, but its title is a reference to the term Kennedy coined in his 1960 Democratic nomination acceptance speech. "But I believe the times demand new invention, innovation, imagination, decision," the future president said. "I am asking each of you to be pioneers on that New Frontier."


10. Elvis Costello, "Less Than Zero" (Dallas Version)
From: Live at the El Mocambo (1993)

Elvis Costello can take a joke when one is presented to him. On his 1977 debut album, his song "Less Than Zero" made references to a "Mr. Oswald," which many American fans assumed to be Lee Harvey. Costello was actually referring to Oswald Mosley, founder and leader of the British Union of Fascists. Nevertheless, Costello ended up writing a new version of this song, one that actually was about the American Oswald and JFK killing. The first time he performed the new version was in Dallas, January 1978.


11. Guns N' Roses, "Civil War"
From: Use Your Illusion II (1991)

For a number of Americans, Kennedy's death marked a stark divide. The man who once represented a new era of youth, promise and justice was literally and figuratively shot down within a matter of minutes. Those who were old enough at the time of the event to remember it would not soon forget, and as the '60s continued, a sense of disillusionment permeated the population — peace had once seemed attainable, but not anymore. This was hinted at in Guns N' Roses' "Civil War: "And in my first memories / They shot Kennedy / I went numb when I learned to see."


12. Harry Chapin, "She Is Always Seventeen"
From: Greatest Stories Live (1976)

Where were you and what were you doing when you learned Kennedy had been shot? For those who lived through it, one's exact location and activity at the time of the shooting became an ultra-vivid memory. Harry Chapin touched on this in "She Is Always Seventeen," a song about a former lover, one he happened to be with when the news broke in 1963: "She held me through the night / When we heard what had happened / In that brutal Dallas light."


13. Jerry Lee Lewis, "Lincoln Limousine"
From: Memphis Beat (1966)

The only original song to appear on Jerry Lee Lewis' Memphis Beat was "Lincoln Limousine," named for the kind of car Kennedy was riding in when he was shot. (The exact car was later outfitted with far safer equipment, like bullet resistant windows.) Lewis' song notes the conflicting feelings many had following the murder: "This nation is a great place but one fact still remains / That they shot a president in the backseat of a limousine."


14. John Fogerty, "I Saw It on T.V."
From: Centerfield (1985)

In 1950, only 9% of American households had a television, but by the early '60s, that figure had skyrocketed to 90%. Millions of people then learned of Kennedy's death via their television. John Fogerty, who was 18 years old in November 1963, was one of them. He'd watched Kennedy go from a promising rookie senator to dead in the backseat of a car: "A young man from Boston said 'sail the new frontier' / And we watched the dream dead end in Dallas."


15. John Lennon, "God"
From: John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970)

John Lennon was not interested in glorifying his past in 1970, the year the Beatles officially split and he released his first solo album. Which is likely why he used an entire song, "God," to more or less denounce or disown a number of culturally relevant people and things from the past, including the former president: "I don't believe in Kennedy."


16. The Kinks, "Give the People What They Want"
From: Give the People What They Want (1981)

There is an old journalistic mantra: if it bleeds, it leads. Typically, violent news attracts a lot of eyes and Kennedy's killing was no exception, helped by the fact that a man named Abraham Zapruder literally captured the murder on video. "When Oswald shot Kennedy, he was insane," the Kinks wrote in "Give the People What They Want." "But still we watch the re-runs again and again / We all sit glued while the killer takes aim."


17. Kris Kristofferson, "They Killed Him"
From: Repossessed (1986)

Released in 1986, Kris Kristofferson's "They Killed Him" mentions "the brothers Kennedy," both murdered on the job. (Other fallen heroes of Kristofferson's acknowledged in the song are Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus Christ.)


18. Living Colour, "Cult of Personality"
From: Vivid (1988)

"Like Mussolini and Kennedy, I'm the cult of personality," Corey Glover sings in "Cult of Personality," referencing the kind of intense societal admiration that followed Kennedy and his family throughout his life.


19. Lou Reed, "The Day John Kennedy Died"
From: The Blue Mask (1982)

In 1963, Lou Reed was 21 years old and a student at Syracuse University, where he was studying English, meeting his future Velvet Underground bandmate Sterling Morrison and generally trying to ascertain where life was taking him. At such a formative period of his life, it makes sense that JFK's assassination created a profound memory for Reed, one he later wrote about on his 1982 solo album, The Blue Mask: "I dreamed the perfect union and a perfect law, undenied / And most of all I dreamed I forgot the day John Kennedy died."


20. The Misfits, "Bullet"
From: 1978 Single

The first lines of the Misfits' "Bullet" immediately give away the song's subject: "President's bullet-ridden body in the street / Ride, Johnny ride." It really only gets more intense from there, turning its attention to JFK's widow: "Texas is an outrage when your husband is dead / Texas is an outrage when they pick up his head / Texas is the reason that the president's dead / You gotta suck, suck, Jackie suck."


21. New Order, "1963"
From: 1987 B-side

JFK's death was an international shock, not just an American one. New Order's "1963" is a curious song, one that doesn't clearly reveal itself to be about Kennedy but instead dances around the idea. Some have impishly interpreted it as being about JFK's desire to be with Marilyn Monroe instead of his wife, and his subsequent arrangement with Oswald to have her murdered. (This rather grotesque theory does not account for the fact that Monroe died the year prior to JFK.)


22. Paul Simon, "The Late Great Johnny Ace"
From: Hearts and Bones (1983)

The list of cataclysmic events that took place in the 1960s is not short, but Kennedy's killing, perhaps because it was so public, was one that stood out to many as a touchstone of the decade – there were two periods of time, before JFK's death and after. Paul Simon notes this in "The Late Great Johnny Ace," using the assassination as a sort of timeline marker: "It was the year of the Beatles / It was the year of the Stones / A year after JFK."


23. Paul Simon, "Trailways Bus"
From: Songs From the Capeman (1997)

Over a decade later, Simon again alluded to the assassination, this time with an even more wistful attitude: "We pull into downtown Dallas by the side of the grassy knoll / Where the leader fell and a town was broken."


24. Pearl Jam, "Brain of J"
From: Yield (1998)

There are two ways to consider Pearl Jam's 1998 song, "Brain of J." The first is morbidly literal: in 1966, Kennedy's brain was discovered to be missing from the National Archives, where it had been stored for three years. It has never been recovered. "Who's got the brain of JFK?" Eddie Vedder sings, "What's it mean to us now?" But there's a more metaphoric lens with which to view this song, too. It only took one day for JFK to be shot down, but it was followed by decades of debate, analysis and retrospective scrutiny. What does his death, and the violence it displayed, mean for America years after the fact?


25. The Police, "Born in the '50s"
From: Outlandos d'Amour (1978)

It is widely understood that a shift in culture took place between the '50s and '60s in America. Younger generations began charting paths for themselves socially and professionally that did not resemble the ones their parents had — the status quo would no longer do. "My mother cried when President Kennedy died," Sting sings in "Born in the '50s." "She said it was the communists, but I knew better."


26. The Rolling Stones, "Sympathy for the Devil"
From: Beggars Banquet (1968)

"I shouted out: who killed the Kennedys?" Mick Jagger sings in "Sympathy for the Devil. "When after all, it was you and me." Its the perspective of the Devil, purportedly responsible for the deaths of both JFK and his brother, RFK, the latter of whom's death took place the same week the song was recorded.

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