Ever since I interviewed Chris Hillman, the former bassist for the Byrds, I’ve been thinking about funerals.
Not that it was a morbid interview. It’s just that “Turn! Turn! Turn!” — one of the Byrds’s most famous songs — tends to be a popular burial primer. And it got me thinking about other songs that would be appropriate for a final send-off.
To be a good funeral song — and we’re talking about contemporary songs here — a tune basically has to be about death, the passing of time, spirituality or something that makes you reflect. The best might even have a lugubrious feel to it.
Or you can be like Dave Barry and vow to have “Louie Louie” be your swan song.
That said, here are my top ten Songs to Be Buried By:
10.) Turn! Turn! Turn!, The Byrds. Pete Seeger’s song quoted the Bible: “There’s a time to be born, a time to die.” Doesn’t get more clear than that.
9.) Remember, Harry Nilsson. There wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house with this one (also recommended: Randy Newman’s cover). Other good Nilsson funeral songs: “Don’t Forget Me” and “Turn on the Radio,” which implores, “Now that I am gone, I hope the wind that’s blowing helps me carry on.” Sniff, sniff — anyone have a hanky?
8.) Tears in Heaven, Eric Clapton. Written after Clapton’s 4-year-old son tragically fell from a high-rise apartment window, the lyrics are general enough to apply to others who have passed on.
7.) Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Warren Zevon. I know — it’s a Dylan song. But it was most dramatically sung by Zevon when he knew he was dying.
6.) I Wish You Peace, Eagles. A good going-away gesture, Bernie Leadon’s song, co-written by girlfriend (and daughter of Ronald Reagan) Patti Davis, caused strife with some of the other band members, who said it didn’t sound like an Eagles tune.
5.) There Will Be a Light, Ben Harper. A great gospel song performed with the Blind Boys of Alabama, it starts, “I wish we could live forever …” Amen to that.
4.) Yesterday, Ray Charles. Pretty much anything sung by Ray Charles is beautiful, but I especially like his cover of the Beatles classic, which makes you yearn for a bygone era.
3.) My Sweet Lord, George Harrison. Combining Hindu prayers, with “Hallelujah” and Hare Krishna chants, Harrison made this a spiritual song for many. And if you’re going to get spiritual, this would probably be the time to do it.
2.) My Way, Frank Sinatra. According to The (London) Guardian, this is the most popular contemporary song played at British funerals. Told from the view of an old man facing “the final curtain,” it expresses a satisfaction with a life lived well. Ironically, Elvis’ version became a hit shortly after The King died.
1.) Dust in the Wind, Kansas. It’s said that writer Kerry Livgren, despite all of Kansas’ success, was still humbled by what would happen in the end, which explains the line, “All your money won’t another minute buy.”
— Pat P.
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