As Summer ends, thoughts turn to Autumn and everything the cooler season brings. Fall has always been a fertile ground for songwriters with its symbolism of change, bountiful harvest, and its beautiful colors inspiring songs both wistful and hopeful. These ten songs about Fall all treat the season in very different ways, using various aspects of the season as a launching board for deeper conversation.
10. Dream Theater - "A Change of Seasons"
Progressive metal icons Dream Theater have never been a band known for their restraint, or their concision. But if you're looking for beautiful instrumentals and evocative lyrics, “A Change of Season” is well worth the 23 minute run time on your Fall playlist. Written by drummer Mike Portnoy, “A Change of Seasons” used Fall imagery to process the death of his mother, and to remember to “seize the day.”
“The chill of November
The news of the fall
The sounds in the hall
The clock on the wall ticking away
Seize the Day”
9. Jason and the Scorchers - "Harvest Moon"
The last full moon before the autumnal equinox, is a popular muse for songwriters, as is evidenced by our having two songs by that name on our Fall playlist. The first is from Nashville's Jason & the Scorchers. A foundational act in the Americana scene, Jason and the Scorchers' mixed rock guitars with country lyrics, and “Harvest Moon” is one of their best examples of that.
“Harvest song, the wheels are set
The odds are against us in sin we met
Autumn child, born too soon
For soul is chilled underneath that moon.”
8. Simon and Garfunkel - "Leaves That Are Green"
If there is one theme that pops up more than any in Fall songs, it's death and transition explored through the changing of the leaves. It's been done by countless artists, but rarely as well as by Simon & Garfunkel with “Leaves That Are Green.” It's an early Simon song, initially released on a 1965 solo album before getting wider attention on their 1966 album Sounds of Silence.
“Once my heart was filled with the love of a girl.
I held her close, but she faded in the night
Like a poem I meant to write.
And the leaves that are green turn to brown”
7. Guns N' Roses - "November Rain"
While the changing leaves are an easy symbol for loss, Guns N' Roses went with a less obvious one, the chilling rainfall of autumn, for “November Rain.” One of the band's most recognizable hits from Use Your Illusion, “November Rain” is about unrequited love, according to statements by primary writer Axl Rose.
“So never mind the darkness
We still can find a way
'Cause nothin' lasts forever
Even cold November rain”
6. Frank Sinatra - "Autumn Leaves"
Frank Sinatra wasn't the writer or even the first artist to record “Autumn Leaves.” The jazz standard has been released by everyone from Doris Day to Grace Jones. But no one's version pops quite like Old Blue Eyes. The song has endured so long because it is one of the prototypical, and simplest, bits of “change of season as lost love” symbolism.
“But I miss you most of all
When autumn leaves
Start to fall”
5. The White Stripes - "We're Gonna Be Friends"
Not every song about Fall is about loss or death. There's also the opportunities of new beginnings as kids go back to school. No one has captured that sense of “anything is possible” better than The White Stripes on “We're Gonna Be Friends.” It's an unusual ballad for the band, innocent enough that Jack Johnson covered it for the soundtrack to Curious George.
“Fall is here, hear the yell
back to school, ring the bell
brand new shoes, walking blues
climb the fence, books and pens
I can tell that we are gonna be friends”
4. Neil Young - "Harvest Moon"
The second, and most famous, “Harvest Moon” on our Fall countdown comes from Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Neil Young. The title track from his 1992 album, “Harvest Moon” is an unofficial sequel to his 1972 album Harvest. Of course, Young is certainly an artist who always finds inspiration in the harvest season, being a founding member of the Farm Aid charity.
“Because I'm still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I'm still in love with you
On this harvest moon.”
3. Tom Waits - "November"
If any artist's voice and style fits Fall perfectly, it's the raspy drawl and dark cabaret theatrics of Tom Waits. Sure enough, “November”, from Waits' 1993 album The Black Rider, is a darkly comic repudiation of the cold and windy season. It even features a spooky “wind” effect courtesy of Don Neely's saw playing.
It only believes
In a pile of dead leaves
And a moon
That's the color of bone.”
2. Led Zeppelin - "Ramble On"
Whether it's the crisp wind, the change in the air, or just the romanticism of the season, Fall seems to inspire wanderlust in many a songwriter. Led Zeppelin isn't immune to this, as is evidenced by “Ramble On”, from their album Led Zeppelin II. While the song's lyrics veer wildly from love and loss to Tolkien-inspired fantasy, it's all rooted in the changing season and the desire to “ramble on.”
“But now it's time for me to go
The autumn moon lights my way
For now I smell the rain
And with it pain
And it's headed my way.”
1. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong - "Autumn in New York"
This list has had its fair share of dark lyrics surrounding Fall, so what better way to end than on a high note. “Autumn in New York” is both an ode to and a slight condemnation of the Big Apple. Written in 1934 by Vernon Duke, the jazz standard has been recorded by numerous artists including Billie Holliday. But it's the duet between the silky smooth voice of Ella Fitzgerald and the amiable rasp of Louis Armstrong that truly deserves the top spot as the best song about Fall ever recorded.
“Autumn in New York
The gleaming rooftops at sundown
Oh, Autumn in New York
It lifts you up when you run down”
Not familiar with some of the songs on this list? Check out our Songs of Autumn Spotify playlist below to get to know them better.