The choice of funeral song can, of course, be a mightily significant one. It’s essentially the last time you get to have a say in front of your nearest and dearest. And these days, mourners are more likely to hear a number-one hit than a traditional hymn. Here’s a look at 40 pop songs that, according to a chart published by a U.K. funeral firm, have become part of the send-off songbook.
40. Frank Sinatra – “My Way”
“And now, the end is near/And so I face the final curtain.” With an opening couplet like that, it’s little surprise that Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” has been a funeral staple ever since its 1969 release. Everyone from the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious to Elvis Presley have put their own spin on this standard. But you may not know that its music is lifted from a French chanson called “Comme d’habitude.”
39. Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth – “See You Again”
Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s chart-topping song was born out of tragic circumstances. The track was penned in memory of Paul Walker, the Fast and Furious star who’d lost his life in a car accident in 2013. Many grieving individuals have found comfort in its hopeful lyrics about seeing a loved one again.
38. Celine Dion – “My Heart Will Go On”
Celine Dion’s epic power ballad was famously used on the soundtrack to Titanic, the true-life tale of an early 20th century disaster. As a result, for many it’s impossible to hear “My Heart Will Go On” without picturing Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. But for some its theme of everlasting love makes it the perfect choice of farewell song.
37. Sam Smith – “Lay Me Down”
Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down” took some time to connect with the public. In fact, it was only on a re-recorded third release that added John Legend to the mix that the heartfelt ballad topped the U.K. charts. The track has gone on to become a funeral standard thanks to Smith’s affecting vocals and touching lyrics about loss.
36. Bon Jovi – “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”
“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” is a phrase often used by individuals who live their life to the full. And so Bon Jovi’s rock anthem of the same name is an ideal way for some to commemorate those who are now able to get some well-earned rest. The track first appeared on the band’s 1992 LP Keep the Faith and has been a fixture of their concerts ever since.
35. Ellie Goulding – “How Long Will I Love You”
“How Long Will I Love You” was first released by folk-rockers The Waterboys at the turn of the 1990s. But it was given a new lease of life nearly a quarter of a century later by Ellie Goulding. The pop songstress covered the acoustic ballad for a British charity telethon, and its moving declaration of unconditional love has since become a firm favorite at funerals.
34. Bette Midler – “Wind Beneath My Wings”
Back in 2002 Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” was crowned the U.K.’s most frequently played funeral track. The emotional ballad was originally recorded by Australian star Kamahl and made its way to various artists including Sheena Easton and Gladys Knight before reaching the iconic singer/actress. Midler’s version went on to top the U.S. Hot 100 in 1989 thanks to its inclusion in tearjerker Beaches.
33. Andrea Bocelli – “Time to Say Goodbye”
Tenor Andrea Bocelli has recorded “Con te partirò” in three different languages: Spanish, his native Italian and English. It was the latter version, a duet with popera sensation Sarah Brightman, that connected with the biggest audience. And with its new title, “Time to Say Goodbye” also became a popular choice with those planning a funeral.
32. Louis Armstrong – “What a Wonderful World”
“What a Wonderful World” is ideally suited to those who want their funeral to be more of a celebration than a wake. Its uplifting lyrics about “trees of green” and “skies of blue” were penned by great American songwriters George David Weiss and Bob Thiele. And combined with the unmistakable gravelly tones of Louis Armstrong, they immediately struck a chord with optimists across the globe.
31. Eric Clapton – “Tears in Heaven”
With a title like “Tears in Heaven,” Eric Clapton’s early 1990s hit was always going to become a regular at funerals. Sadly, the track is inextricably linked to a real-life tragedy that the former Cream front-man suffered shortly before its release. Clapton penned the song with Will Jennings in memory of his son Conor, who died in an accident at the age of just four.
30. Garth Brooks – “If Tomorrow Never Comes”
“If Tomorrow Never Comes” has been a major hit for two different artists. In 1989 Nashville icon Garth Brooks scored his first Billboard Country Singles chart number one with the story of a man who wonders how his partner would cope if he suddenly passed away. And 13 years later former Boyzone frontman Ronan Keating reached pole position in the U.K. with his faithful cover.
29. Luther Vandross – “Dance with My Father”
“Dance with My Father” was soul legend Luther Vandross’ final U.S. chart hit. And it’s also become one of his most enduring. Not only is the track regularly played for the father/daughter wedding dance, it’s also become a popular funeral choice. Vandross penned the ballad in memory of the father he lost through diabetes as a child.
28. AC/DC – “Highway to Hell”
Of course, some people decide to be a little more playful when it comes to their funeral song of choice. The title track from Australian rockers AC/DC’s 1979 LP, “Highway to Hell” was named after Angus Young’s description of the touring lifestyle. But taking on another more tongue-in-cheek meaning, it’s also helped to lighten the mood at various funeral services.
27. Queen – “The Show Must Go On”
Queen are a popular band when it comes to the funeral chart, but “The Show Must Go On” is perhaps their most fitting entry. The epic rock ballad was inspired by Freddie Mercury’s terminal illness. And the front-man was in such bad health in the studio that his band members worried it he would ever finish the track. But, admirably, Mercury somehow summoned up the strength to deliver the song’s empowering message.
26. Nat King Cole – “Unforgettable”
Most of us would like to think that we’d be difficult to forget once we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. So what better way to reiterate this than with Nat King Cole’s timeless classic. The jazz pianist first released the track in 1952. And he had a posthumous hit with the same song almost 40 years later, when daughter Natalie added her vocals to a Grammy-winning beyond-the-grave duet.
25. Puff Daddy feat. Faith Evans & 112 – “I’ll Be Missing You”
Often mistaken for a love song, The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” is actually performed from the perspective of a stalker. But Puff Daddy and co. decided to spin the 1983 hit into a touching tribute song 14 years later. Released just months after The Notorious B.IG.’s death, “I’ll Be Missing You” topped the charts worldwide and entered the canon of funeral-friendly pop songs in the process.
24. Snow Patrol – “Chasing Cars”
Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” was practically inescapable in the mid-2000s. The indie-rock anthem not only dominated the airwaves, it also appeared in season finales for both Grey’s Anatomy and One Tree Hill. Its use in the latter, in particular, helped to cement the track as a tearjerker perfect for a memorial.
23. Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey – “One Sweet Day”
“And I know you’re shining down on me from heaven,” opens the chorus of Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s mid-1990s chart behemoth. “One Sweet Day” was co-written by the two artists as a way of honoring those who had lost their lives to AIDS epidemic. And their sentiment certainly connected with U.S. audiences, as the track topped the charts for a record-breaking 16 weeks.
22. Dolly Parton – “I Will Always Love You”
Sometimes the simplest words are the most effective. Dolly Parton penned “I Will Always Love You” in response to breaking free from her long-time mentor and ex-boyfriend Porter Wagoner. Whitney Houston’s bombastic rendition two decades later introduced the song to a new audience and both versions have regularly featured on the published list of funeral favorites.
21. Guns N’ Roses – “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”
“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is undoubtedly one of the more literal funeral song choices. The folk-rock epic was penned by Bob Dylan for the 1973 western Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. But it’s the version recorded by Sunset Strip hell-raisers Guns N’ Roses that’s become more popular with the mourning crowd.
20. Eric Idle – “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”
Perhaps the most positive message you could possibly expect from a funeral song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” is performed by Monty Python’s Eric Idle. It was penned by the funnyman for the cult comedy troupe’s 1979 movie Life of Brian. And it has since been adopted as a soccer stadium chant and as an amusing final farewell.
19. Ed Sheeran – “Supermarket Flowers”
Heartfelt ballad “Supermarket Flowers” was actually first performed by Ed Sheeran at a funeral. The world-conquering singer-songwriter had penned the acoustic number in the wake of his beloved grandmother’s death. And he was encouraged by his grandpa to make the song available to the public for Sheeran’s third LP, Divide.
18. Elvis Presley – “Always on My Mind”
Love song “Always on My Mind” has been tackled by dozens of artists over the years. Willie Nelson picked up a Grammy for his take, while Pet Shop Boys topped the U.K. charts with theirs. But it’s Elvis Presley’s 1972 rendition, recorded shortly after his marriage ended, that has been adopted as one of the more sorrowful funeral anthems.
17. ABBA – “Dancing Queen”
ABBA’s party favorite “Dancing Queen” may seem like an unorthodox choice for a funeral. But the Swedes were renowned for hiding melancholic themes in their joyous Swedish pop sound. And some believe that this 1976 hit is sung from the perspective of a woman looking back at her youth and realizing that it has gone forever.
16. Robbie Williams – “Angels”
Robbie Williams’ signature hit “Angels” was the earliest track he penned with his regular cohort Guy Chambers. And the affecting ballad, written about the former Take That star’s late uncle and aunt, remains one of their most cherished. With its talk of salvation, the Life Thru a Lens cut has been a familiar sound at funerals in the U.K. ever since its 1997 release.
15. Josh Groban – “You Raise Me Up”
Irish groups Westlife and Celtic Woman and Welsh tenor Aled Jones have all enjoyed success with “You Raise Me Up.” However, Josh Groban was the first artist to bring the stirring ballad to the world’s attention in 2003. The track was penned by the front-man of new age duo Secret Garden, Rolf Løvland, who also sang the track at his mum’s funeral.
14. Judy Garland – “Over the Rainbow”
Penned for the Hollywood classic The Wizard of Oz, “Over the Rainbow” picked up the Best Original Song Oscar in 1940. It also became the signature hit for its leading lady, Judy Garland, and was later covered by everyone from Israel Kamakawiwo’ole to Ariana Grande. Moreover, many have interpreted Dorothy’s hope of finding salvation in a new place as a perfect metaphor for heaven.
13. Adele – “Make You Feel My Love”
A relatively late Bob Dylan classic, “Make You Feel My Love” first appeared on the iconic troubadour’s 1997 LP Time Out of Mind. It was given a new lease of life a decade later when one of the most successful modern-day artists, Adele, offered up her take. The unashamedly romantic ballad has since become a go-to for grieving partners wanting to express their love one last time.
12. Led Zeppelin – “Stairway to Heaven”
With a running time of eight minutes and two seconds, “Stairway to Heaven” is one of the lengthiest pop/rock songs to enter the funeral canon. The track was recorded by Led Zeppelin for their fourth LP in 1971. And fans have often opted for its slow-building but ultimately epic sound as the perfect musical send-off.
11. Vera Lynn – “We’ll Meet Again”
Released in 1939, Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again” became synonymous with World War Two. Its hopeful message of reunion struck a chord with both combatants and those they’d left behind at home during the six-year conflict. What’s more, Queen Elizabeth II even referenced the track in her 2020 speech addressing the hardships of the coronavirus pandemic.
10. Aerosmith – “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”
One of the 1990s’ ultimate movie ballads, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” was recorded by rock legends Aerosmith for the blockbuster Armageddon. It gave Steven Tyler and co. their first U.S. number one single more than a quarter of a century into their career. And many mourners have used its touching sentiment to bid a farewell to a loved one.
9. Pink Floyd – “Wish You Were Here”
Many fans believe Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” is a glowing tribute to the band’s departed guitarist Syd Barrett, and the 1975 track has become a funeral soundtrack regular. Co-writer Roger Waters, however, claims that its lyrics are about how to liberate yourself. Nonetheless, the bassist is more than happy for the song’s meaning to be taken differently.
8. Kenny Rogers – “The Gambler”
“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em/Know when to walk away, know when to run.” Kenny Rogers’ Grammy winner offers several pieces of advice throughout its tale of an encounter with a gambler. And with the line claiming “the best you can hope for is to die in your sleep,” this 1978 hit also turns into a fitting self-penned eulogy.
7. John Denver – “Take Me Home, Country Roads”
Singer-songwriter John Denver very nearly hit the number one spot in 1971 with “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Co-penned with Taffy Nivert and Bill Danoff, the track concerns a man’s desire to head back to West Virginia, a place said to be “almost heaven.” As a result, it’s also been used by mourners who want to help guide their lost loved ones.
6. Bill Withers – “Ain’t No Sunshine”
This soul classic sees Bill Withers pining for a loved one who takes the sunshine away with them whenever they leave. However, the iconic vocalist took inspiration from a toxic fictional relationship in 1960s film Days of Wine and Roses. “They were both alcoholics who were alternately weak and strong,” Withers told SongFacts.com. “It’s like going back for seconds on rat poison. Sometimes you miss things that weren’t particularly good for you.”
5. Beyoncé – “I Miss You”
Co-penned with Frank Ocean, “I Miss You” was Beyoncé’s attempt to create a classic that she’d be able to perform well into old age. The 1980s-inspired number has since become one of the superstar’s most acclaimed ballads. And its theme of yearning for a former partner has resonated with many mourners wanting to say a final goodbye to their lost love.
4. Oasis – “Live Forever”
Noel Gallagher wrote one of Oasis’ most anthemic and optimistic tunes in response to the nihilism of the grunge movement. “Seems to me that here was a guy who had everything, and was miserable about it,” the outspoken guitarist said in the Stop the Clocks DVD, in reference to Kurt Cobain. “And I still thought that getting up in the morning was the greatest thing ever, ’cause you didn’t know where you’d end up at night.”
3. The Verve – “Bittersweet Symphony”
“’Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony this life/Trying to make ends meet, you’re a slave to the money then you die.” The Verve’s anthemic 1997 hit might not be the most rose-colored of songs about our time on Earth. But with its stirring strings, it’s still seen by many as a way to send off a loved one in style.
2. Coldplay – “Fix You”
Coldplay’s back catalog is packed with anthems that sound like modern-day hymns. And with its church organ-like backing and lyrical theme of grief, 2005 hit “Fix You” is perhaps their most funeral-appropriate. The X&Y cut has been described by frontman Chris Martin as the band’s “most important song.”
1. Johnny Cash – “Ring of Fire”
Some funeral organizations advise mourners against picking songs relating to fire, particularly for a cremation. But alongside tracks such as The Doors’ “Light My Fire” and The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno,” Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” is still a popular choice for those who can still find humor in such a sad situation. The country classic was originally recorded by the sister of Cash’s wife June before The Man in Black took it into the charts in 1963.