Fact Check

Songs Played at Funerals

An inappropriate song is mistakenly played at a funeral

Published May 4, 2006


Legend:   An inappropriate song is mistakenly played at a funeral.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2006]

I'm from South Wales, and there is a prevaling rumour frequently told about a distaster at a crematation. Basically, the family of the deceased requested that as coffin went through the curtain the music should be a certain track by Queen which was very appropriate for the solemnity and theme of the occasion.

However, the undertaker had accidently hit the play button earlier in the service, so when the volume was turned up and the coffin started to move through the curtain, instead of Freddy Mercury singing the haunting refrain "who wants to live for ever" they heard: "*Boom* *Boom* *Boom* Another One Bites The Dust!"

Origins:   This story about a funeral turned on its ear by the 1980 rock anthem "Another One Bites the Dust" being used for the decedent's sendoff (rather than the Queen song actually requested) seems to

be a reworking of "Robin Hoodwinked," a well-traveled tale about a bride's processional music gone terribly wrong. In that legend, the about-to-be-wed young lady who had envisioned herself making her way to the altar to Bryan Adams' wistfully crooning "Everything I do, I do for you" (the theme from the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) instead got a rousing "Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen" for her approach, the theme from the 1950s television show The Adventures of Robin Hood. In both stories, musical miscues turned what should have been dignified occasions into scenes of merriment.

Yet while the story of "Another One Bites the Dust" being accidentally played as a casket is slid into a crematorium might seem far-fetched, that very song has intentionally been selected for such a purpose a number of times. Funerals are becoming less solemn in Western society, as greater numbers of those making final arrangements for themselves or loved ones choose to make the ceremonies less about comforting ritual and more about the individuals being said good-bye to. Pop songs have become an increasingly common component of final services, both because the lyrics of many of them so well express the sadness of parting, and because of a growing lack of familiarity with the musical funerary standards of a previous age: hymns.

According to a 2002 poll of co-op funeral directors in Britain, the ten most requested pop songs at funeral services are:

  • 1. Wind Beneath My Wings   (Bette Midler)

  • 2. My Heart Will Go On   (Celine Dion)

  • 3. I Will Always Love You   (Whitney Houston)

  • 4. Simply the Best   (Tina Turner)

  • 5. Angels   (Robbie Williams)

  • 6. You'll Never Walk Alone   (Gerry & the Pacemakers)

  • 7. Candle in the Wind   (Elton John)

  • 8. Unchained Melody   (The Righteous Brothers)

  • 9. Bridge Over Troubled Water   (Simon &Garfunkel)

  • 10. Time to Say Goodbye   (Sarah Brightman)

However, it doesn't end there. The deliberate working of humor into the funerary rites is a growing trend, with a number of popular music offerings that would previously have been regarded as irreverent for such use being very deliberately made part of the ceremonies. That same 2002 poll of co-op funeral directors in Britain identified the following as the ten most-requested quirky pop songs:

  • 1. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes   (The Platters)

  • 2. Another One Bites the Dust   (Queen)

  • 3. Theme from ITN's Ten O'Clock News

  • 4. She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain   (Various)

  • 5. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go   (Wham)

  • 6. YMCA   (Village People)

  • 7. I Wanna Be Like You   (from the Disney film The Jungle Book)

  • 8. Run Rabbit Run   (Flanagan & Allen)

  • 9. Firestarter   (The Prodigy)

  • 10. Atmosphere   (Russ Abbot)

The use of musical humor during such a somber occasion gives the deceased a way to make one last public statement. For some, it grants the ability to comment on the absurdity of death itself, the inescapable truth that some thumb their noses at during their lives but which always triumphs in the end. For others, using funny or incongruous songs to accompany their exits is one way by which they remind those assembled of who they were. Similarly, family members and loved ones will sometimes choose to insert tunes others might view as inappropriate because in their hearts those particular ditties were strongly identified with the ones who passed on, to the point of almost being their theme songs. As one British funeral director explained, 'What might seem wacky to one person can make perfect sense to another who sees that song as the ideal way to remember a partner, friend, or family member."

In March 2005, various readers of The Times shared these tidbits about unusual musical choices for funerals. We make no claim as to any of these being true, only that they were reported:

  • I am reminded of the man who had asked for a Bach chorale to be played at his cremation service. Because of a slight confusion on the part of the organist, the coffin slid behind the curtains to the strains of the Barcarolle.
  • At the funeral of a Berkshire butcher some years ago his wife unfortunately chose the hymn "Sheep May Safely Graze."
  • My Uncle Charlie requested "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash, played as the curtains closed around his coffin at the crematorium. It brought a little humour to the occasion, and he always was a bit of a joker.

Barbara "for the crematory-bound, we recommend the Doors' 'Light My Fire'" Mikkelson

Last updated:   15 May 2006

  Sources Sources:

    Jamieson, Alastair.   "Deceased Do It Their Way with Music to Die For."

    The Scotsman.   10 March 2005   (p. 12).

    McDonald, Claire.   "How to Have the Very Last Laugh."

    The [London] Times.   12 June 2000   (Features).

    Vergnault, Olivier.   "Why Shuffle Off This Mortal Coil When You Can Boogie?"

    Bristol Evening Post.   6 August 2002   (p. 28).

    Leicester Mercury.   "Songs in the Key of Death."

    8 December 2003   (p. 11).

    The [London] Times.   "What Music Would You Choose for Your Funeral?"

    15 March 2005   (Features, p. 60).

    The [London] Times.   "More Music to Die For."

    21 March 2005   (Features, p. 51).

    Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph.   "Pop Songs Replacing Hymns at Funerals."

    3 September 2003   (p. 15).

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