Funerals hymns dumped by Brits who much prefer secular songs

Funerals hymns dumped by Brits who much prefer secular songs May 2, 2019


A LIST of the ten most popular songs played at UK funerals is headed by Frank Sinatra’s My Way. And for the first time ever no hymns appear on the list, compiled by leading British funeral company, the Co-op.

The Telegraph reports that the last time the company compiled a list was in 2016, and it featured The Lord Is My Shepherd, All Things Bright and Beautiful, and Abide With Me.

This year all three dropped off of the list, to be replaced with modern pop songs.

My Way is followed by Time to Say Goodbye by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman and Somewhere over the Rainbow by Eva Cassidy.

The list reflects the fact that religious funeral services are declining in the UK, with more people choosing secular ceremonies for their loved ones.

Annual statistics released last year by the Church of England showed a decline in the number of people turning to the church for key life events, with 133,000 religious funerals compared with 139,000 in the previous year.

Earlier this year it was reported that the number of humanist weddings overtook those carried out by the Church of Scotland in 2017 and, while official statistics are not recorded for funerals, local celebrants reported a similar growth.

Janet Donnelly, who is based at Kingston on Spey in Moray, said:

It has hugely increased year-on-year since I became a celebrant in 2009. Last year was the busiest year I’ve had for funerals and that takes into account that there are more of us doing it.

We do sometimes struggle to keep up with demand, and we are conscious that this is a rising trend.

I don’t think it is necessarily that people are becoming less religious but that people are less willing to go down the religious route if that isn’t a big part of their life.

Halde Pottinger, a humanist celebrant from the Cawdor area, had also witnessed the increase in demand.

It is very much so on the rise in the Highland area. The younger generation are making their own choices.

The research by the Co-op also showed a shift in more people sharing their swansongs ahead of time. A quarter (24 per cent) of UK adults say they have already told loved ones which songs they want playing at their funeral, compared to just a fifth (19 per cent) in 2016, it found.

Kate Thornton, broadcaster and former Smash Hits editor, above, commented:

There’s a lot of surprises on the chart … it’s good to see that people are putting so much thought and personality into what will be their swansong, as a way of making loved ones smile, shed a tear or laugh out loud.

I’ve been agonising over what song I’d choose, but the one I keep going back to is my favourite song of all time, Love and Affection, by Joan Armatrading, simply because it’s beautiful and a lovely open letter to love in all its guises.

For the record, my late partner – Brian Parry –  who died of of cancer in 1996 aged 47, asked that Mood Indigo, from The Cotton Club film score, and Don’t Fence Me In, by Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters, be played at his humanist cremation.

A few months back, in a column I wrote for Spain’s Euro Weekly News, I pointed that in Spain one can instruct the authorities, via a legally-binding document called an Acta de manifestaciones (testamento vital)  precisely what should be done with one’s body after death.

My document includes an instruction to harvest my organs, and, should they not be required, I am to cremated immediately without a funeral.

I am informed that so many Spanish people are now choosing this option that a small charge is now being levied on this method of disposal, which, until recently, was carried out free of charge.

I also wrote that I would set aside modest sum for a farewell celebration in my favourite gay bar. I said that if more people took this route they would avoid hefty funeral costs – and that I believed prepaid funeral plans were a complete waste of money.

The column was rejected on the grounds that it would upset companies who use the paper to advertise their funeral plans for ex-pat Brits.

And among the songs I want played at my farewell party is this one:

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Tawreos

    My funeral will be closed casket and the song will be Pop Goes The Weasel. I can just picture people sitting there staring at the casket in horror as the song plays. =)

  • llDayo

    I think I’d like the most offensive song around at the time sung a capella by all kids in the family between 8 and 12 years old. If there’s an after life I believe I would be laughing my spiritual ass off.

  • barriejohn

    You find yourself attending more and more funerals as you get older I’m afraid, but thankfully most of them seem to be secular affairs now. Frank said that he didn’t much care for “My Way”, and I have to say that I much prefer this one myself:

  • larry parker

    I would steal that idea, but I don’t think it would be as effective with a urn filled with ash.

  • Tawreos

    You could substitute the real urn and ashes for an urn filled with glitter. Horrifying and evil because they will never get rid of the glitter. =)

  • Raymond Metcalfe

    I don’t want a funeral my body to be harvested and the rest cremated. My friends will gather in my favourite ale house and drink large quantaties of real ale

  • cnocspeireag


  • Broga

    My choice, with no relevance to anything except that I like Marty Robbins and this is my favourite: “Cool Water.”

    A close second: “Big Iron” “.But the outlaw didn’t worry, men who tried before were dead
    Twenty men had tried to take him, twenty men had made a slip,
    Twenty one would be the ranger with the big iron on his hip,
    Big iron on his hip……..

    “Ghost Riders in the Sky” might provide a link to the after life and a bit of the “spiritual”

    “No abide with me” for me. So moaning and yukky.

  • MystiqueLady

    When my husband died, I held a totally humanist memorial in my home. Unfortunately, I tried, and failed, to come up with a “play list” of his favorite songs. He had a broad musical taste, but i had only known him for 6 years, so I felt woefully inadequate to develop such a list. Since then, I have been listing some of the songs that I would hope would be played at any memorial service given for me and attaching them to my will — I’ve even thought of recording them on a USB drive (I think paper and pen will be the better format since that hasn’t gone out of style in over a thousand years).

  • Vanity Unfair

    Peggy Lee: Is that all there is?
    Jake Thackray: Last will and testament
    And, as the coffin slips away:
    Funk’n’stein: Come and join me.

  • Michael Newsham

    No list in this article or the original? Wanted to see if “Always Look on he Bright Side of Life ” is still up there.
    -Just Googled and it’s there at No. 10.
    “Fairytale of New York” is down to No. 3 for Christmas songs. It contains the lines:
    She: “You’re a bum, you’re a punk…”
    He: “You’re an old slut on junk
    Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed.”
    She: “You scumbag, you maggot,
    You cheap lousy faggot
    Happy Christmas yer ass
    I pray God it’s our last.”

    Apparently a lot of people complained that “faggot” was a slur that was inappropriate in such a beloved Christmas classic. (“Slut” is used in the Irish/British sense of “slovenly woman”.)

  • ManxStuart

    My favourite local one has to be a musician who requested a particular Dire Straits song. He went so far as to arrange with the crematorium staff that his coffin vanished behind the curtains JUST as the words “This is the road to hell” were being sung. The mixture of nervous giggles and loud gasps from the mourners was something he’d have loved!

  • Broga

    For Elvis Presley who died aged 42: “Gotta lot of living to do.”

  • Richard B

    But there’s no rule saying that hymns cannot be used. Stop this scare tactic.

  • BertB

    I don’t want any kind of funeral. Burn baby, burn, and spread the ashes in my back yard where they can be put to use by the plants there.
    If some friends and family want to get together to remember me, the only music I would want is Grieg’s “Solveig’s Song” from his Peer Gynt Suite No. 2.
    Not for any spiritual or quasi-religious reason. The lyrics do mention God, but that is irrelevant. I just think it’s a beautiful song.

  • BertB

    I view the article as a commentary, and I don’t see any comments here criticizing the use of hymns or any other religious music.

  • Contractions of Fate

    Yeah, as much as we enjoy AronRa, The Atheist Experience, Seth Andrews etc, we Brits just don’t get it. The whole idea of “coming out” and needing a support network or becoming a social pariah or being anathematised over which church you don’t go to is ludicrous to us. Who cares? In Britain, no one. The religious ones are the weirdos.

    When my friend’s daughter died at the age of 20 after long and painful chemotherapy for leukemia, they played The Parrot Sketch by Monty Python during the service and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” as the coffin was wheeled down the aisle and out of the church. My kid sister had Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” at her wedding.


  • Leonard Cohen, “Dance me to the End of Time”

  • oh I do like your style

  • C_Alan_Nault

    There was a post on my Facebook page with a good suggestion for your funeral. It suggested arranging to have someone rush in about halfway through the service wearing clothing identical to the clothes you dies in, waving a sonic screwdriver, and saying in a loud clear voice “OK, here’s where things may get a bit complicated…”

  • C_Alan_Nault
  • barriejohn

    What is there to be scared of? I don’t understand!

  • BertB

    Only those who demand religious services at funerals could answer your question.

  • barriejohn

    Does it matter which religion? I rather like this one (much preferable to “All Things Bright and Beautiful”!):

  • David Heath

    how about Joy Division’s “Love will tear us apart, again.”

  • David Heath

    how about Brian Eno’s “Putting out the fire with gasoline” to be played during cremation!!

  • David Heath

    The last funeral I attended, my Grandmother’s… we played Mary Hopkins’ “Those Were the Days” as she left the church.

  • Philip Buczko

    A friend of mine having cancer arranged her funereal which included a bright red casket/coffin and the song ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ by Eric Idle. This was over twenty years ago.

  • towercam

    So what about the List? It was too much trouble to share the list of songs topped by Sinatra?
    Phooey! We need a journalist to do a journalist’s job.

  • How about Billy Joel: “We didn’t start the fire”

  • ralyra

    I was going to mention that one, too. It’s always been one of my favorite Sinatra songs.

  • ralyra

    They played hymns and then Green, Green Grass of Home by Tom Jones at my aunt’s funeral. I’m not sure of the significance of the song. It might have been the home-going theme, or she might have just liked it a lot.

    I’ve also heard I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack used at funerals.

  • Androw Bennett

    I attended a crematorium funeral some years ago where “Last Train to Hot Town” was the music to which the Committal was made.

  • 24CaratHooligan

    Serious suggestion for my funeral, Ashokan Farewell, not-so-serious suggestion, Disco Inferno as the coffin slides away… And I want a New Orleans jazzband playing behind the hearse.