Losing a loved one is hard enough and arranging a funeral can be daunting, especially if it’s something you haven’t done before. Choosing suitable funeral songs isn’t necessarily easy.
In an ideal world, the deceased person would have made their wishes clear, perhaps by organizing a funeral plan or by talking to their loved ones about what they want, including songs. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always turn out to be the case.
It goes without saying that when deciding on funeral songs, a lot depends on the person who’s died and their preferences in terms of music genre. If they had songs that held particular meanings for them, it might be appropriate to play them at their funeral, even if they’re not what everyone would consider being appropriate funeral songs.
For this article, I’ve decided to list 20 tracks, that I believe would be good to play at a funeral, whilst acknowledging that my choices are completely subjective.
What is the most played song at a funeral?
- My Way by Frank Sinatra
- Unforgettable by Nat King Cole
- Ave Maria by Franz Shubert
- Well Meet Again by Vera Lynn
- Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton
- Aria, Goldberg Variations VWV 988 by Johann Sebastian Bach
- Adiago in G Minor by Tomaso Albinoni
- El Cant Dels Ocells by Pau Casals
- Always on my Mind by Elvis Presley
- Ver The Rainbow by Eva Cassidy
Also the versions of these songs. The list is long and varied since different aspects influence it: cultural, social, political, religious, the moment, and the place. So, what is the most played song at a funeral? Depends. For example, the British opt for a song made for the movie Life of Brian: ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE.
1. Candle in the Wind – Elton John
This version of ‘Candle in the Wind’ was re-written in 1997 by Elton John, especially for Princess Diana’s funeral. It was originally written for Marilyn Monroe and Elton John’s version focuses on the many positive traits that Princess Diana had, as well as how badly she was treated towards the end of her life.
Expert Tip: Choosing this track could have personal relevance, but would also be a tribute to the “peoples princess” who will never be forgotten
2. Tears In Heaven – Eric Clapton
Written by Eric Clapton, following the tragic death of his young Son Conor in 1991 when he fell out of a skyscraper, this song is extremely sad and heartfelt. The focus however is on a one-day meeting again, in heaven. Regardless of ones’ religious beliefs, there is something very comforting about the idea that you will see your loved ones again.
3. What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
Released in 1968, this song doesn’t specifically talk about death, instead, it focuses on someone’s appreciation of day-to-day ordinary life. The optimistic tone of this song can help the mourners to think about taking pleasure in the here and now both as a way of life and as a means of dealing with their grief.
It could also be that the person who has died enjoyed simple pleasures, which are something to be remembered fondly. Overall, it’s an uplifting track.
4. Unforgettable – Natalie Cole
This track marked a change in direction for Natalie Cole when it was released in September 1991. Before this, she had recorded R&B tracks. In many ways this song was a tribute to her father, not least because overdubbing was used, to make it sound as if she was singing a duet with him.
This in itself is significant as the “duet” is a prime example of how someone’s memory could be kept alive, which is of course directly relevant to a funeral setting. Also, the word ‘unforgettable’ itself shows how someone can be gone but never forgotten.
5. My Way – Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra recorded My Way in December 1968. It is often viewed as one of his classic songs and still holds a record for the amount of time spent in the UK “top 40”.
This track is a popular track for funerals and could be used if the person who died was a bit on the stubborn side and didn’t like to conform, always wanting to do things on their terms. It’s fair to say that we all know people like that.
Expert Tip: Choosing this song could be viewed as slightly tongue in cheek, at the same time it’s a good way to acknowledge someone’s strength of character and originality.
6. You Raise Me – Aled Jones
Aled Jones’ version of “You Raise Me” was released in 2006 as part of the “You Raise Me: The Best of Aled Jones” album. This track can work well towards the end of a funeral ceremony when people have been upset and need a bit of a lift.
It focuses on how the person who died has created memories, with the definite message that life needs to go on and the person who has died will somehow by a guiding force give the deceased people strength. I recently attended a funeral myself and I found this very appropriate.
7. Over The Rainbow – Eva Cassidy
“Over the Rainbow” originally came from the film “The Wizard of Oz”. Eva Cassidy’s recorded version was released on “The Other Side” album in 1992. Its significance is that her recording of this track became more famous following her death in 1996. Although rainbows have lots of different meanings, there is something magical about rainbows.
Some people believe that the deceased send rainbows to those left behind and this song can therefore bring comfort to those left behind.
8. I’ll be Missing You – Puff Daddy (Sean Combs)
This song was written as a tribute to Notorious B.I.G following on from him getting shot in March 1997. It focuses on the treasured memories that someone has of a close friend following their death and how they will always be missed, whatever the friend who has been left behind is doing.
When Diddy wrote this song, he said it was as if he was finally able to talk to Notorious B.I.G. Certainly, the belief that you can still talk to the person who has died and keep your memories alive that way can bring great comfort to many. Diddy also wrote this song to give himself closure, which again is a focal point in any funeral ceremony.
9. Time to say Goodbye – Sarah Brightman & Andrea Bocelli
This version of this classic song was created to serve as a theme for the farewell championship fight of boxer Henri Maske. It is undoubtedly a song about closure and consequently a bit of a tearjerker.
Expert Tip: As funerals are about saying goodbye, this track could work particularly well during the final stages of the funeral service, such as during the comital.
10. Spirit in the Sky – Norman Greenbaum
Arguably this song, released in 1969 is particularly suited to more religious funeral ceremonies. The upbeat, slightly jazzy tone of this song could add a touch of reassurance and almost cheer to the funeral proceedings.
After all, people are going to feel reassured if they believe that something positive and definite is going to happen to them when they die.
11. You’ll Never Walk Alone – Gerry & The Pacemakers
The Gerry & The Pacemakers version of this song was released in 1963 and it quickly became the anthem for Liverpool Football Club. It took on a particular significance in 1989 following the Hillsborough disaster. The emphasis of this song is on never being alone in your grief.
Hence by sharing your grief, you can hold one another up and be of mutual support.
12. My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion
Released in 1997, this track also served as the theme tune for “Titanic”, which was also released in 1997. It conveys the deep message that the heart still carries on loving someone whether they are still here or not.
In other words, the person you have lost is still in your heart Whilst sad, this could also be seen as reassuring making it an ideal choice for funerals.
13. Heroes – David Bowie
Released in 1977, this track was inspired by an illicit relationship between Tony Visconti and one of his backing singers. The message behind the song is that even if a relationship doesn’t last long, it is still important and it can mean a lot.
In the context of death and dying, just because somebody is no longer around does mean that they have any less significance. They can still be your hero.
14. Another one is Bites the Dust – Queen
Released in 1980, this potential funeral song could be viewed as humorous and possibly a bit blase. It talks about how out of a group of friends, people are going to gradually die one by one. Some might say that this down-to-earth (no pun intended) song is refreshing and reassuring.
It reminds us that death is very much a normal part of life, and perhaps nothing to be feared
15. Wind Beneath my Wings – Bette Midler
This track is from the film Beaches which was released in 1988. This film is predominantly about friendship and this soundtrack is particularly poignant when one of the central characters (Hilary) receives a grace diagnosis and later dies.
Expert Tip: It is a highly emotional song that would have a lot of relevance in most funeral settings.
Indeed, our family and friends can be our driving force, the ‘wind beneath our wings.
16. Turn, Turn, Turn -The Byrds
This track was released in 1965 and talks about certain events happening when it is time, for instance, life and death. This could be interpreted as it being someone’s time when they die. However, the focus is also arguably on world peace, perhaps making this funeral choice a suitable one for someone who has lost their life by fighting for their country.
17. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
This song was released in 1981. It is a powerful song and can be interpreted in several ways. Some may say that it is unexpectedly suited to religious funeral ceremonies because it talks about heaven. However, it is construed it is certainly a very emotional song.
18. The Show must go On – Queen
This inspiring song was written following Freddie Mercury’s diagnosis with HIV. When he found out, he decided to continue their tour as planned. Sadly, he passed away 6 weeks after this track was released. This track is a real testament both to his courage and to that of his fellow band members.
It shows how humans can successfully continue with their plans in the face of extreme adversity. In other words, following the death of a loved one, you can still focus on achieving your aspirations, despite your grief.
19. Wish you Were Here – Pink Floyd
Recorded in 1975, this track focuses on the longing people have for someone to still be around following their death. In some respects, it could be seen as a good choice for a funeral, as the sadness of the song encourages people to release their emotions. It is also a song that many of us can relate to.
20. Seasons in the Sun – Terry Jacks
Terry Jacks released his version of this song in 1973. It talks about friendship and reminiscing about the good times, the seasons in the sun. Typically, remembering the fun times you had with the person who has died is something that people do when they have a ‘celebration of life’ following a funeral.
Expert Tip: In essence, whilst sad, this song could be said to have particular relevance; it can help people focus on their happy memories
What is a good song for a funeral?
There is no one “right” answer to this question, as the best song for a funeral will vary depending on the person who has died and their personal preferences. However, some popular choices for funeral songs include “Amazing Grace,” “Ave Maria,” and “The Lord’s Prayer.”
Ultimately, it is up to the family of the deceased to choose the song that they feel is most appropriate. If you are looking for suggestions or need help deciding on a song, your funeral director should be able to provide you with some options.
Since funerals can be emotional and difficult occasions, it is often comforting for the mourners to have a song that they can focus on and remember the deceased by. A good funeral song can provide closure and allow the family to say goodbye in their own way.
If you are looking for a song to play at a funeral, it is important to choose something that is meaningful and special to the person who has died. You may also want to consider the tone of the service and what will be most appropriate for those in attendance.
These ideas should give you a starting point to help you decide on the best songs to opt for. It’s a good idea to talk about potential choices with other family members and friends. It’s also worth running your choices past the minister or celebrant just to work out how they will fit in with the rest of the ceremony.