Electricity & Lust

Column: Funeral Songs

Posted in Column, Music by Sam Unsted on July 6, 2008

Tony Naylor on The Guardian talks about funeral songs following the publication of a list which showed the top ten most requested at a cemetery in Adelaide and the ten most unusual choices.

Topping the list, naturally, is ‘My Way’, a fairly predictable but solid choice, a decent two-fingers-to-death kind of song saying that I may be dying, but I don’t care because I did everything I wanted the way I wanted. You’ve also got ‘What a Wonderful World’, ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ and ‘Unforgettable’, the latter seeming maybe a little ego-filled but hell, it’s your funeral and if you can’t blow your own trumpet there without fear of consternation then this is indeed a dark world.

Outside of that, there are more modern staples in the UK, most notably ‘Goodbye My Lover’ by James Blunt. All seriousness, I lose it enough to have James Blunt playing at my funeral, kill me again. ‘Angels’ by Robbie is another popular one, as is ‘With or Without You’ by U2. The Robbie one is a little too life-affirming for me (‘I know that life won’t break me’ is pretty redundant when you’re in a box) and ‘With or Without You’, a paean to the difficulties of relationships, it’s a beautiful song but for a funeral… hmmm. ‘Tears in Heaven’ by Clapton is about the only one that makes sense and isn’t overly mawkish, a pretty lovely and heartfelt song about the devastating death of a loved one.

Lists always provide fuel for more lists and the unusual songs are much more interesting. It includes one I thought would be a staple of funerals, ‘Highway to Hell’, which is actually a celebratory song in the vein of ‘My Way’ and let’s face it, if Heaven and Hell exist, most of us aren’t going up. It also includes ‘I’m Too Sexy’ by Right Said Fred which seems to me like it would be mighty amusing at the time but would wear thin quite quickly. You’ve also got ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead’ by Bon Jovi which just doesn’t work at all because he just was never hard living enough to sell that idea. His sleeping wouldn’t occur after a life of rock ‘n’ roll mania but rather after forty years of solid accounting and number-crunching. ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is another I would think a staple although surely all the mysticism is just a little too odd for most deaths unless the deceased dug Tolkien and sex as much as Robert Plant.

I suppose you can go a number of different ways in your choices. You could take it in a thorough depressing direction with something like ‘Unsatisfied’ by The Replacements which would have all and sunder pissed at you for saying you died with achieving anything you wanted, kind of an anti-‘My Way’. You could spook people out with something like ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ from Blue Oyster Cult, an ode to suicide pactery maybe but both a) a great song and b) juxtaposes haunting melody and vocals with lyrics that speak of being unafraid of death. Those put in a pot together will provide people with a nice confusion over how to take the song and likely spark a post-funeral debate on the merits of Blue Oyster Cult, surely the dream of anyone.

I think the best funeral songs though need to be something of a celebration. They need to have a tint of humour to them because I personally may well want to have people crying but I don’t want them thinking I, or my wife, was an over-earnest numbnut thinking the world of themselves. So for me it’s got to be ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right’ by Bob Dylan first, a beautiful folk break-up song that details that failings of a relationship but really, it’s about how people can be shits but we shouldn’t worry about it so much because life goes on. It’s sad and lovely and people would dig it. Then, as I’m being carried out, ‘In An Aeroplane Over The Sea’ by Neutral Milk Hotel. Partly because they remain underappreciated outside of the indie community and partly because it’s a song about the beautiful things in the world and would remind all the other members of the audience to appreciate what they have. Just to end it though, when I’m being loaded into the hurse, ‘Fuck and Run’ by Liz Phair.

Here’s a further list of funeral songs.

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