Death is an important part of life, and how we celebrate it has changed a lot throughout history. These 11 popular funeral songs will be sure to leave not a single dry eye in the house, and maybe even garner some laughs!
1. Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
2. Angel – Sarah McLachlan
Canadian songstress Sarah McLachlan wrote “Angel” following the tragic death of Jonathan Melvoin, the Smashing Pumpkins’ touring keyboard player. McLachlan herself said that the song is about “trying not to take responsibility for other people’s problems and trying to love yourself at the same time.”
3. Like a River – Carly Simon
Carly Simon‘s devastating ballad “Like a River” was written as a tribute to her mother Andrea (Heinemann) Simon. The heartbreaking chorus is likely what makes this song a popular funeral piece for family members: “I’ll wait no more for you like a daughter / That part of our life together is over / But I will wait for you, forever / Like a river.”
4. Time to Say Goodbye – Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman
Originally released as “Con te partirò” or “With You I Shall Depart,” Andrea Bocelli joined classical singer Sarah Brightman in the famed duet version of the song, which was re-named “Time To Say Goodbye.” The duet was recorded as a tribute to boxer Henry Maske for his final match. Today, the song’s beautiful message is often heard at funeral services.
5. The Last Waltz – Engelbert Humperdink
“When I was a little kid, my father was in the army and my mother and her sisters used to go to a dance every Friday evening at the local YMCA. We could hear the band just across the allotment and I used to wait for the last waltz which was ‘I’m Taking You Home Tonight,’ and as all the men were in the army, the women were dancing together and I knew that when the last waltz came, I would be getting my supper within ten minutes.”
6. What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
In a 1970 spoken word intro for “What a Wonderful World,” Louis Armstrong shared his thoughts about one of his most renowned songs:
“People keep on saying to me: ‘Hey, Pops, what do you mean what a wonderful world? How about all them wars all over the place – you call them wonderful?’ Well, how about listening to old Pops for a minute… See what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance?”. Armstrong’s song calls on us to see the beauty in everything, even our darkest moments.
7. Dancing Queen – ABBA
We don’t usually think of funerals as a place to dance, jive, or have the best time of your life – but apparently, some ABBA fans disagree. The hit ’70s tune “Dancing Queen” makes almost everyone feel young and alive again – even the Queen herself! When BBC Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans played the song at a Windsor Castle event, Queen Elizabeth said: “I always try to dance when this song comes on because I am the Queen and I like to dance.”
8. Always Look on the Bright Side of Life – Eric Idle/Monty Python
What better way to leave things on a lighter note than with this hilariously optimistic Monty Python tune! Eric Idle and other Monty Python members lead a chorus of men singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from crucifixes to conclude the film Life of Brian. In fact, a 2014 survey by the UK chain The Co-operative Funeralcare proved that this song was the most popular song at British funerals!
9. Highway to Hell – AC/DC
AC/DC’s rock n’ roll classic “Highway to Hell” has more to do with death than you might expect. The song was inspired by the Canning Highway in Australia, where lead singer Bon Scott hails from. Supposedly the highway was close to his favorite neighborhood pub on top of a large hill. So many people died driving too fast through the intersection that locals dubbed it “the highway to hell.”
10. My Way – Frank Sinatra
Ol’ Blue Eyes supposedly despised his own signature song, making us wonder if he really did do it “My Way“? The song was originally a French tune translated by Paul Anka, who pitched it to Sinatra in 1968. While Sinatra resented how popular the song became, it is still a touching tribute about looking back at one’s life fondly.
11. Always on My Mind – Elvis Presley
This is definitely one of the sweetest selections on the list. While “Always on My Mind” has been covered by many talented musicians over the years, Elvis Presley’s 1972 version is one of the most-requested funeral songs out there. It’s particularly poignant as he recorded the song just weeks after he and Priscilla officially separated.