What comes to mind when you think of funeral music? Many people would say slow, sombre classical pieces or religious songs. But you don’t have to choose these styles if you don’t want to. Unless you’re planning a very traditional funeral, you’re free to pick any kind of music – including pop songs.
Pop songs for funerals
There are lots of pop songs that are suitable for funerals. Some have beautiful, bittersweet arrangements. Others have powerful lyrics that talk about losing someone or celebrating life. You could even choose a song simply because it had a special meaning to the person who has died.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the most popular pop songs for funerals, as well as a few that you might not have heard before.
Pop songs from the 1960s
Gerry and the Pacemakers – You’ll Never Walk Alone
Gerry and the Pacemakers released their version of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in 1963. It’s since become one of the best-loved pop songs for funerals. In 2021, it was the sixth most-played song at funerals in the UK (SunLife).
‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is also the anthem for Liverpool Football Club and supporters often sing it at matches. You don’t have to be a football fan to appreciate it, though. With its hopeful lyrics and stirring music, it would suit almost any funeral service.
The Beatles – Yesterday
‘Yesterday’ is a very well-known song with wistful lyrics and a gentle string arrangement. The words are about missing someone and wishing you could turn back time to be with them again.
‘Yesterday’ would work well as soft background music during the moment of reflection. This is the part of the funeral where people quietly reflect on the person who has died. Not all funerals include a moment of reflection, so bear this in mind when you choose the music.
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows
Don’t be fooled by the opening line of this song – it starts with the lyric, ‘I may not always love you’. However, the singer goes on to say that they’ll love the person as long as there are stars in the sky. In other words, they’ll love them forever.
The first half of the song is a heartfelt ballad with a beautiful instrumental backing. The second half almost sounds like a choir, with lots of soaring harmonies. It would make for a very tender piece of funeral exit music – the song that’s played when people leave the funeral venue.
Pop songs from the 1970s
Terry Jacks – Seasons in the Sun
‘Seasons in the Sun’ is one of those songs where the music and lyrics don’t seem to match. The backing track sounds happy but the words are quite serious and sad.
This may seem like a strange combination. However, it gives the song a bittersweet feel that’s perfect for the end of a funeral service.
Westlife released a cover of ‘Seasons in the Sun’ in 1999. You might prefer this version if you’re looking for more modern-sounding pop songs for a funeral.
Bob Dylan – Forever Young
Bob Dylan wrote this song as a message to his son. He says he hopes his son lives a good and successful life without losing his childlike innocence.
That’s just one way of interpreting the lyrics, though. You could also see it as a tribute to a person who has died at a young age. When you look at it this way, the words ‘may you stay forever young’ take on a different meaning. They could mean ‘we’ll always remember you as a young person’.
Pop songs from the 1980s
Bette Midler – Wind Beneath My Wings
‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ is another popular piece of funeral music. Many artists have recorded the song, but Bette Midler’s version is by far the best known.
It works well as a pop song for funerals because its lyrics mix the past and the present. When Midler asks ‘did you ever know that you’re my hero?’, she seems to be talking to someone who isn’t around anymore. But she goes on to sing ‘you are the wind beneath my wings’, which sounds like it’s meant for a person who’s still here.
You could take this to mean ‘even though you’re gone, you still give me strength’.
Missing You – Diana Ross
This song was written for Diana Ross by the singer Lionel Richie. He composed it as a tribute to his friend Marvin Gaye, who died only a few months before the song was released.
While the music has an upbeat 1980s pop sound, the lyrics are quite touching. Ross sings about the complex and confusing emotions we feel when a person has died. She misses and cares about her friend, but can’t understand why he left her behind.
Pop songs from the 1990s
Robbie Williams – Angels
‘Angels’ is one of the most popular pop songs for funerals in the UK. In a 2005 survey, it was voted as the song people most want to be played at their own funeral (BBC).
The song is a piano ballad with a big, powerful sound and a soaring vocal. The lyrics are about feeling protected and looked after by a guardian angel.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Into My Arms
Nick Cave started as a punk musician, but he’s since written many beautiful ballads – including ‘Into My Arms’. Cave famously performed ‘Into My Arms’ at singer Michael Hutchence’s funeral.
The song has a message that might suit a humanist or non-religious funeral ceremony. Cave sings about not believing in God, but loving someone so much it feels like a religious experience. ‘I don’t believe in the existence of angels’, he croons, ‘but looking at you I wonder if that’s true’.
More rock and pop funeral songs
- A guide to choosing the right funeral music
- Modern funeral songs released since 2000
- Uplifting songs for funerals
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