If you google ‘rock and roll songs for funerals’, you will see a blog I wrote for the Hansen-Spear website in 2014. I recently checked the comments and people have continued to reference my ideas and leave some comments (some positive, some not so…). Click Here to read the original blog (15 Best Rock and Roll Songs for Funerals).
At the urging of my son, Will, I have decided to expand upon the list. One of my criteria the first time around was that it was a song that was actually used at a funeral in my experience. That was limiting, and, to answer some of the detractors, did generate songs that would more appropriately be in the pop genre. I am not going to limit myself this time around, and have taken into account many of the suggestions offered.
In no particular order –
15 – “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas
This was one I missed the first time. Some band members commented that, being an album based band, any hit singles were a fluke. This was Kansas only top ten hit and has numerous biblical and other cultural references that from dust we come and to dust we return. “Now, don’t hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky. It slips away, and all you money won’t another minute buy. Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind.”
14 – “In My Life” by The Beatles
Another miss on my first list. ‘Rolling Stone’ lists it as the 23rd Greatest Song of All Time. In the write up, John Lennon said, “‘In My Life’ was, I think, my first real , major piece of work. Up until then it had all been glib and throwaway.” Only four other Beatle songs and Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ rated higher. It’s a look back at his life before the Beatles. “All these places had their moments, with lovers and friends, I still can recall. Some are dead, and some are living. In my life, I’ve loved them all.”
13 – “Knockin’” on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan (or Guns N Roses)
This Dylan song was also selected by ‘Rolling Stone’. He wrote it for the soundtrack of the 1973 Western film, Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid. It is played as Sheriff Baker is dying from gunshot wounds. “Mama, take this badge of of me. I can’t use it anymore. It’s getting dark, to dark for me to see. I feel I’m knocking’ on Heaven’s door.
12 – “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynrd
Written as a tribute to Duane Allman, this song never was a chart success but has to be considered one of the most iconic rock songs ever. At 14 minutes, the live version from August, 1976 is the best but might be a bit lengthy for most funerals. But what’s the hurry! “If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me? For I must be traveling on, now, ‘Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see.”
11 – “See You On The Other Side” by Ozzie Osbourne
Many think this was for guitar great Randy Rhoads or his wife, Sharon, but a you tube video says it’s talking about comedian Sam Kinison. It doesn’t matter as the point is that there is hope of being able to see one’s loved ones again, on the other side. Leave it to the ‘Prince of Darkness’ to go all Biblical on us with a great funeral song. “But I know I’ll see you once more. When I see you, I’ll see you on the other side.” Two other Ozzie songs can be considered, “Mama, I’m Coming Home” and his duet with Lita Ford, “If I Close My Eyes Forever.”
10-“Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison
This was a suggestion by someone, and after hearing it again for the first time in forever, I can see why. This is classic Van Morrison ballad material from his critically acclaimed Moondance album. And even though it never charted as a single, it also rates top 500 from Rolling Stone. Morrison responded to questions about its meaning with ,”A lot of times I have no idea what I mean.That’s what I like about rock and roll.” “And I want t rock your gypsy soul, Just like way back in the days of old. And together we will float into the mystic”
9 – “A Tout Le Monde” by Megadeath
Another suggestion, this goes a little heavier, but certainly not the craziest thing I’ve ever played for a funeral. Frontman Dave Mustaine denied it was pro suicide which got it banned on MTV. Sometimes people die on a bad note. This would be what he would say if he knew he had 3 seconds to live. The translation is, “To all the World, To all my friends, I love you, I have to leave. These are the last words I’ll ever speak, And they’ll set me free.”
8 – “Man of the Hour” by Pearl Jam
My favorite Eddie Vedder song is his tribute to the Cubs, “All the Way.” But this poignant song about a father should be a classic funeral song. Written for the movie, Big Fish, it received a 2004 Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song. The man of the hour has taken his final bow. Goodbye for now.”
7 – “In Loving Memory” by Alter Bridge
Guitarist Mark Tremonti wrote this song about his mother wha had died. It hits all of the topics of grief and longing for someone who made an impact but is no longer there. “I cart the things that remind me of you. In loving memory of the one that was so true.”
6 – “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds
This fantastic biblically based song written by Pete Seeger is in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Paraphrasing Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8, the song reminds us all that there is truly a time for everything. None of us will live forever. One of the things we have experienced many times is that when a family member dies, there has just been a birth or a grandchild/great grandchild is expecting. “A time to be born, A time to die.”
5 – “Seasons In The Sun” by the Poppy Family (Terry Jacks)
This song was written by Rod McKeun from a poem by Belgian Jacques Brel. Originally recorded by the Kingston Trio, the Poppy Family took this to number one. It basically is a dying man’s farewell, although the original by Brel is quit dark. “We had joy we had fun, we had seasons in the sun. But the wine and the song like the seasons have all gone.”
4 – “Everything I Own” by Bread
Another great song from my teen years that we all just thought was a love song, as was everything David Gates seemed to do. But this is another son singing about his deceased father, the influence he had, and the desire to be able to have him back. “And I would give anything I own just to have you back again.”
3 – “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen
I mentioned this one the first time (one of my sons felt it should be included) around and felt it was too harsh. But it does sum up some of the helplessness of death. One seems to have no control. “And another one gone, and another one gone. Another one bites the dust.” The real irony is the B-side on the US single, “Don’t Try Suicide.” It doesn’t appear to be too serious, so probably not due to a friends having committed suicide. However the focus on suicide being very egocentric does strike a chord.
2 – “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC
Not everyone has the same spiritual beliefs as myself. Some feel like what happens on Earth is it so make the most of it. Few songs package it as well as the young brothers. Being an oldies guys, mostly 60s rock, it is fun to note that Australian group, The Easybeats, has a Mercy sounding record of “Friday On My Mind.” Rockers in the day tended to have money issues, and George Young of the Easybeats ended up helping younger brothers Angus and Malcolm with their band, AC/DC. “I’m on my way to the promised land. I’m on the highway to Hell.”
1 -“Don’t Fear The Reaper” – by Blue Oyster Cult
I wrote an entire blog about this song so I won’t repeat it. Feel free to read “More Cowbell” or “Don’t Fear the Reaper” to get the entire story. There are lots of music stories from The Beach Boys To One Hit wonders to Bobby Sherman to Henry Gross. The point of that blog was that Buck Dharma didn’t fear the reaper. We will all die. But what are you accomplishing in the meantime? P.S. “More cowbell”
I hope you enjoyed this expanded version of the best rock and roll songs for funerals. As one person pointed out, is your loved one likes a certain group, the songs don’t have to be ‘funeral’ songs. Have the funeral director make a playlist of the favorite artists. It’s to set the mood for visiting and sharing and celebrating. And nothing sets the mood lime the perfect background music.