Songs about love and loss can seem even more significant when they are played at a funeral – and even more so, when the song in question was written in tribute to someone who died.
While funeral hymns and sombre music are traditional, the songs we loved in our happiest moments are becoming the memorial songs of choice at many final farewells today.
These 10 hits from the 80s, 90s, Noughties and more recent years have become evergreen funeral songs. With lyrics written in loving memory, they are modern funeral songs with incredible meaning.
1. When September Ends – Green Day
“As my memory rests, but never forgets what I lost.”
Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong was just 10 years old when his father, Andrew, died of cancer.
This evergreen classic is a fitting modern funeral song, which Billie Joe has described as therapeutic to write, but sometimes difficult to perform due to the emotions behind the poignant lyrics.
2. Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton
“Would you know my name, if I saw you in Heaven?”
Eric Clapton channelled his grief following the heartbreaking death of his four-year-old son, Conor, into the lyrics of this timeless funeral song.
When you are lost for words and grieving, it is among the modern funeral songs that expresses in words and music what is almost impossible to say.
3. Keep Me in Your Heart – Warren Zevon
“If I leave you, it doesn’t mean I love you any less.”
Rocker Warren Zevon penned this heartbreaking goodbye after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer that took his life a year later.
If you are searching for funeral songs with meaning, this song is worth a listen if you are unfamiliar with it. Indeed, many of the tracks that feature on Zevon’s final album, The Wind, are worthy modern funeral songs, with reflections upon life, death and the people left behind.
4. The Show Must Go On – Queen
“I can fly, my friends.”
A terminally ill Freddie Mercury was becoming frail when he came to record The Show Must Go On, but his incredible voice was as strong as ever, as Queen recorded their final studio album together.
Expressing courage in the face of final days that came way too soon, it’s a deeply moving and uplifting funeral anthem for rockers who turned it up to 11.
5. Go Rest High on That Mountain – Vince Gill
“Son, your work on Earth is done.”
Bittersweet country numbers often touch a chord deep in our hearts and make touching songs for funerals.
This song has been amongst the most popular funeral songs since country star Vince Gill released it in 1994. He began writing it in tribute to another country star, Keith Whitely, but it was the death of Vince’s brother, Bob, that moved him to finish the song, in memory of them both.
6. I’ll Be Missing You – Puff Daddy and Faith Evans
“Can’t believe you ain’t here.”
Shortly after the murder of his good friend, rapper Notorious B.I.G., rap star Puff Daddy wrote, recorded and released this Billboard chart-busting tribute. It has been one of modern funeral music’s most-played songs ever since.
The beat was sampled from The Police hit Every Breath You Take, while the song also features extracts from composer Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which was amongst the funeral music played for President John F. Kennedy, Albert Einstein and Princess Grace of Monaco.
7. The Living Years – Mike and the Mechanics
“I just wish I could have told him, in the living years.”
Singer B.A. Robertson and musician Mike Rutherford had both lost their fathers when they co-wrote this poignant modern funeral song and tied their experiences into the lyrics.
Rutherford has said that he’s had hundreds of letters from fans saying it’s helped them pick up the phone following an estrangement. For others, it’s a memorial song which brings a lump to the throat and evokes what they felt in their heart for their dad.
8. Meet Me in the Middle of the Air – Paul Kelly
“Fear not death’s dark shadow, I will meet you in the middle of the air.”
Legendary Aussie singer songwriter Paul Kelly and guitarist Charlie Owen released an entire album of funeral songs, Death’s Dateless Night, in 2016.
Inspired to record it after attending the funeral of a friend, it includes arrangements of evergreen classics such as The Parting Glass and arrangements of some of Kelly’s own best-known songs, including Meet Me in the Middle of the Air. He revealed the tracks are the most popular funeral songs he’s requested to play at people’s final send-offs.
9. See You Again – Wiz Khalifa
“Everything that I went through, you were standing there by my side.”
This was written in memory of film star Paul Walker and featured on the soundtrack of the movie Furious 7.
It was the world’s biggest selling song in 2015 and its touching lyrics also struck a chord with people remembering their own loved ones. It has already become one of the most popular modern songs for funerals and memorial services.
10. Courtney’s Song – James Blunt
“There’s still your name on my phone, I can’t believe I’m not able to call.”
James Blunt wrote this beautiful memorial song in tribute to his good friend, actress Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds, who died just a day apart in 2016.
It was played at their joint public memorial in March 2017 and is likely to become a poignant funeral song in the years to come. Debbie’s son Todd Fisher said: “Everybody has lost somebody and this song is a true help in letting go.”