A special piece of music can move us to the core, unlocking memories and awakening our senses. It can have the power to transcend the everyday and transport us to another place - another world even. 

Perhaps this is why the music we favour for parting from this world reveals something profound about us and our attitude, not only to death but to life itself. 

Funerals are traditionally formal affairs. The wearing of black clothing has always been intended to show respect and devotion to the deceased, for example. Queen Victoria showed her loyalty to her husband, Prince Albert, by wearing black for the remaining 40 years of her life. 

This set the tone for the funeral music, leading us to expect a sombre service, accompanied by hymns or dignified classical pieces - solemn scores possessing the gravitas of Elgar’s Nimrod or Barber’s Adagio for Strings in G Minor. They gently nod to an afterlife, one that’s immeasurable and metaphysical, beyond our earthly selves. 

But does such a perception reflect today’s tastes or has it become more important to honour the departed with the modern songs we know and love?

In the most recent wide-scale study on funeral music by the FuneralCare Co-operative, Frank Sinatra’s My Way was voted as the most popular song. Meanwhile, just two years earlier, it was Monty Python’s cheery ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ that swept to the top of the funeral music charts. 

Perhaps more surprising is that 1 in 10 adults in the UK said they’d consider having ‘Another one bites the dust’ by Queen played at their own funeral. 

At the behest of our wry British humour, it seems we are leading tradition out through the back door. 

While some might interpret this change of taste in recent years as irreverent, like a riposte to the respectability and decorum of funerals, others feel it reflects a growing wish to make funerals, not gloomy, stuffy affairs, but a joyful and intimate celebration of the individual. 

In the latest compilation of the nation’s favourite pop songs played at funerals, Wiz Khalifa’s ‘See you again’ comes in at No 3, Adele’s ‘Hello (from the other side)’ greets us at No 7 and Rihanna’s ‘Diamonds’ dazzles at No 8. Of course, ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams sits at No 1.

In any case, choosing our own songs for our funeral can be an incredibly powerful and touching way to say a final goodbye to those we love, leaving them with a lingering warmth of sweet memories. 

Here were the nation’s Top 10 songs from any genre in 2016, as revealed by FuneralCare Co-operative, to give you some inspiration:

  1. My Way by Frank Sinatra
  2. Time to Say Goodbye by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bochelli/Katerine Jenkins
  3. Over the Rainbow by Eva Cassidy
  4. Wind beneath my Wings by Bette Midler
  5. The Lord’s My Shepherd 
  6. We’ll meet again by Vera Lynn
  7. All things bright and beautiful
  8. Always look on the Bright Side of Life by Eric Idle from Monty Python
  9. Abide with me
  10. Unforgettable by Nat King Cole

Read our guide Planning for the end of life and our information on Difficult conversations for more on talking about death and your dying wishes.

For free advice, information and support, visit www.independentage.org/TalkAboutDeath