Funeral survey charts the demise of popular hymns

24 October 2012 , by The Co-operative Funeralcare


Pop music has become the soundtrack to peoples’ lives - and now deaths - as it out plays traditional hymns at two thirds of today’s funerals, according to new research issued today.

As the number one request at over 30,000 funerals over the last 12 months, pop music outplayed hymns by two to one, according to The Co-operative Funeralcare, the UK's largest funeral director. Only four per cent of mourners requested classical music.

Frank Sinatra’s My Way remains the firm favourite, making it the longest running number one by holding on to the top spot for seven years. It was only usurped in 2002 by Wind Beneath My Wings by Bette Midler.

The study charts the steady demise of hymns at funerals: in 2005 they accounted for 41 per cent of all funeral music requests, while in 2012 the figure has fallen to just 30 per cent.
The most popular hymn was Abide With Me, and the favourite classical piece was Nimrod by Elgar.

But whilst the majority of funerals featured sombre or emotive music, there is an indication that many are taking a more humorous approach to death, as Eric Idle’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life featured at number 13 in the popular music chart. The song – taken from the 1979 Monty Python film The Meaning of Life – is even more popular regionally, reaching number six in the South East and the North East, and number nine in London.

In addition, the novelty Ying Tong Song by Spike Milligan, whose engraved headstone famously reads “I Told You I Was Ill,” featured at several funerals.

There were also a number of less than conventional requests, including Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and the clock from Channel Four’s Countdown marking the seconds as the curtains closed at the crematorium.

Lorinda Robinson, Head of Marketing, The Co-operative Funeralcare, said: “Hymns were once the mainstay of a funeral service but pop music plays such an important part in people’s lives that it now acts as the theme tune to their passing. Modern funerals are very much about personal choice, and this is often reflected in the choice of music.

“Song lyrics now provide the poignant words to remember a loved one’s life, either to acknowledge how much they were loved and will be missed or as a reminder of their favourite hobby, pastime or humour.”

Key findings:

• My Way becomes the UK’s longest running number one song – as requested at 15 per cent of funerals - while six of Sinatra’s hits feature in the charts, making him the most popular artist of all.
• A quarter of funeral homes have had to refuse to play a piece of music on the grounds of taste, usually because clergy conducting the ceremony feel the choice is inappropriate. An example is John Lennon’s Imagine which features the line ‘Imagine there’s no heaven.”
• Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings continues a slow slide down the charts from number one in 2002, to number two in 2005 and 2009 but down to number three in 2012.
• Adele’s worldwide chart success sees her enter the funeral music charts at number 22 with Someone Like You while there is no place for Take That in the top 30.
• A third of funeral homes have received unusual or quirky requests, including the theme tune to Countdown.
• Over half (53%) of funeral homes have been asked for live music, ranging from pipers and choirs to steel bands and rock groups. This is up from 39 per cent in 2009.

Top ten contemporary songs
1. My Way – Frank Sinatra
2. Time To Say Goodbye – Sarah Brightman/Andrea Bocelli
3. Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler
4. Over the Rainbow – Eva Cassidy
5. Angels – Robbie Williams
6. You Raise Me Up – Westlife
7. You’ll Never Walk Alone – Gerry & the Pacemakers
8. We’ll Meet Again – Vera Lynn
9. My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion
10. Unforgettable – Nat King Cole

I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston and Dolly Parton have dropped out of the top ten since 2009, replaced by We’ll Meet Again.

Top ten hymns
1. Abide with Me
2. The Lord is my Shepherd
3. All Things Bright and Beautiful
4. The Old Rugged Cross
5. How Great Thou Art
6. Amazing Grace
7. Jerusalem
8. Morning Has Broken
9. The Day Thou Gavest Lord Has Ended
10. Make Me a Channel of Your Peace

The Lord is My Shepherd has been replaced by Abide With Me at the top of the charts.

Top ten pieces of classical music
1. Nimrod – Elgar
2. Canon in D – Pachelbel
3. Ave Maria – Schubert
4. Nessun Dorma – Puccini
5. Pie Jesu – Faure
6. The Four Seasons – Vivaldi
7. Adagio – Albinoni/Bizet
8. Air on a G String – Bach
9. Largo – Handel
10. Clare de Lune – Debussy

Jesu Joy of Mans Desiring (Bach) and Going Home from Dvorak’s New World Symphony have been replaced in the top ten by Clare de Lune and Adagio.

The most popular TV theme tunes were:
Match of the Day
Pot Black
One Foot in the Grave
Last of the Summer Wine
Dr Who
The X Files
Red Dwarf
Top Gear
Six Feet Under
The Muppets Theme Tune – It’s Time to Face the Music