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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Dead popular
By Alan Connor
BBC News

james blunt
James Blunt is the top choice for funerals

This week a survey identified a different kind of pop chart - a top 10 for music at funerals. But are we really listening to what these songs are saying?

James Blunt has joined the esteemed company of Gabriel Fauré, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Robbie Williams.

He is now the current favourite choice for funeral music, according to a new poll from the Bereavement Register.

His heavily-wrought track, Goodbye My Lover, seems unlikely to remain at the top of the chart. Looking back over similar polls, you'll see songs which have dropped from favour altogether.

The late 1990s saw the Titanic ballad My Heart Will Go On, which has now disappeared - perhaps no bad thing, given that heart disease remains Britain's biggest cause of death.

Certain songs crop up across the lists, though, with a consistent mood. And it's not the celebratory send-off of New Orleans or Ghana.

The churches and crematoria of the UK are accustomed to sincerity, a dignified croon and, with the exception of U2's With Or Without You, no electric guitars: the sounds are of pianos, strings and maybe a lightly-plucked acoustic.

Funeral faves

Tempos are generally low (notwithstanding the Theme From Fame) and singers technically precise (in contrast to mainland Europe's perennial pick, AC/DC's Highway To Hell).

Frank Sinatra
Sinatra's My Way is another funeral classic

Lyrically, though, it's far more of a mixed bag.

Listening to the words of our funereal faves, you might wonder what a visiting anthropologist from New Orleans or Ghana would make of us.

For a start, they'd make a note that we like rabbits and cats.

Two recordings which come up time and again on the funeral charts are Bright Eyes from the film of Watership Down and Memory from Cats.

The bunnies are Fiver and Hazel; Bright Eyes plays as the psychically-blessed Fiver searches for his brother, fearing he's contracted myxomatosis. It was written by Mike Batt, who had practice with anthropomorphic songs composing for the Wombles, none of which appear on the funeral lists.

And the cat in question is Grizabella. Memory was added to Cats after the musical was finished and, like the TS Eliot poem on which it was based, tells the story of a good-time girl-cat, abandoned and alone in her dotage. The lyric is certainly sombre, though the climactic "Touch me! It's so easy to leave me" strikes an odd note.

'Regrets ...'

Other lines which jump out are, from Candle In The Wind: "All the papers had to say was that Marilyn was found in the nude" and, from Release Me: "I have found a new love, my dear - her lips are warm, while yours are cold".

Funeral scene from EastEnders
Music captures feelings at an emotional time

More strikingly, Release Me remained a popular choice throughout the 1990s, when it was being used as the theme tune to The Fast Show, running the risk of a roomful of mourners wondering why the words "Suit you, Sir" were running through their minds.

Every Breath You Take, written during the break-up of Sting's marriage, is a portrait of a stalker, Stairway To Heaven a confused jumble of Celtic magic and Wordsworth, and My Way, while possessed of a certain elegiac quality, is the most egotistical piece of braggadocio ever pressed onto vinyl.

If you're struck by the apparent incongruity of these choices, consider the track DJ John Peel played after the Heysel Stadium deaths: You'll Never Walk Alone.

In its original context - the musical Carousel - the song is used to comfort Julie after her violent robber husband Billy stabs himself rather than be caught by the police.

But through its use on football terraces and throughout popular culture, You'll Never Walk Alone has comforted countless people who have heard of neither Billy nor Julie; neither Rodgers nor Hammerstein.

When songs are used at funerals, they're not meant literally, and it would be the height of churlishness to assume otherwise.

Music has a resonance to people - particularly at such an emotional time. Other factors are in play: a caught phrase, a chord change, a memory of the singer (or the video), or a memory of a time when the song was playing.

The Bereavement Register suggests that many people have discussed funeral music - and there have been some less than serious suggestions - including Going Underground and Take My Breath Away.

You may have more.

The thought of James Blunt being played at my funeral has made me redouble my efforts to find the elixir of eternal life.

My brother is determined to have a Clash song at his funeral - Should I Stay Or Should I go?
Robson, Manchester

I have chosen the music for my funeral already and communicated it to my wife and in my will. The music is Hungarian Rhapsody Number 5 by Franz Liszt. It has the dirge of a funeral and then lifts to a whirlwind of a polka and fades back to a dirge and so on for several cycles. I want people who are sad to feel uplifted by the music, thats why I have chosen something that moves from funeral to happy to give them the opportunity.
David Whelbourn, Fredericton, Canada

When one of my friends sadly died young a few years back, his "entrance" song to the crematorium was the theme from Z-cars, due to his affinity to Everton FC...
Tony Doyle, Holmes Chapel

Sad, poignant, yet a beautiful and funny love song all at the same time ¿ it would have to be ¿There is a Light That Never Goes Out¿ by The Smiths.
Jon Holden, Blackpool

I've had my funeral song planned for ages. Who wants to live forever, by Queen!
Paul, Nottingham

As a Church Organist, I have been asked to play a whole host of weird and wonderful pieces of music at funerals over the years. It's not my place to question the selections made by the bereaved family, but some choices have been slightly more unusual than others. Bearing in mind these pieces were played on a pipe organ... The theme tune from the Great Escape accompanied the procession out of the church at one funeral. Crocodile Rock by Elton John was at another. Perhaps, the strangest of them all was The Bill title music - apparently, the favourite programme of the dearly departed. Much to my relief, I couldn't transcribe in time, so they had to play from a cassette instead.
Arnold, Chelmsford

I'm surprised Elvis's Always on My Mind didn't feature.
Christine Bowles, Milton Keynes

Am I alone in detesting any kind of music at funerals? They should be a time of quiet contemplation and peaceful reflection. Music is naturally emotive and a funeral is no place for artifically induced emotions.
Dawn, Berkshire

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