1. Andrew W.K., "Ready To Die"
What able-minded young person hasn't thought about drafting a will for the sole purpose of demanding that a particularly funny, appropriately inappropriate song be played at his or her send-off? (Putting the "fun" back in "funeral," as it were.) But the last thing your parents want to hear while gazing at your waxy, lifeless body is party-rock, particularly a song that begins, "This is your time to pay / This is your judgment day!" Still, for the right family, Andrew W.K.'s anthem of preparedness might be just the tonic to soothe a difficult time, sending everyone off packing, and not just ready to die, but ready to kill, too.
2. Ween, "Push Th' Little Daisies"
With its high-pitched, prepubescent vocals, "Push Th' Little Daisies" would make a perfect funeral song for someone who accidentally asphyxiated while inhaling helium. The frantically squeaky chorus—"Push th' little daisies and make 'em come up!"—could certainly drive home the reality of someone's passing and help erase any feelings of denial among the attendees. But the song suggests an unhappy fate for the departed, as Gene and Dean Ween sound less like cherubic angels than like Satan's taunting imps.
3. They Might Be Giants, "Exquisite Dead Guy"
Over the years, They Might Be Giants have crafted songs both lighthearted and depressing, and "Exquisite Dead Guy" sits squarely between those poles. Though it kicks off with cheery, uptempo scat singing and bouncy bass, it ultimately builds to an organ-washed bridge that finds the narrator soberly asking the elegant, deceased titular gentleman, "How'm I supposed to let you know the way I feel about you?" Sure, it reverts back to the bass and scat singing from there, but there are also lines about watching a dead man's mouth move while he rotates in a display case.
4. Jim Carroll, "People Who Died"
Jim Carroll is better known as an author (The Basketball Diaries) than a songwriter, but his one semi-crossover track was his painfully plain ode to "People Who Died." Brutal in its simplicity, "People Who Died" lists Carroll's friends and the ways they shuffled off: leukemia, suicide, murder, drug abuse—pretty much everything you don't want on your mind when burying a loved one.
5. Beck, "One Foot In The Grave"
On the plus side: Death inspires serious reflection about mortality, and having Beck remind funeral-goers that they "been livin' one foot in the grave" could make them re-evaluate how they're spending their precious time on Earth. If they've been sinning, they might want to change, lest Satan come down "dressed like a snake" and call their names, as he does to poor Beck. On the downside, the song could seriously confuse loved ones by suggesting that they're obscenely thrifty vandals: "Don't go throwing no coupons on my grave / Don't go carving no happy face on my tombstone."
6. Notorious B.I.G., "Ready To Die"
"You ready to die? You ready, motherfucker? We gonna kill your ass." If grandma hasn't fainted from grief already, she will after hearing Biggie's deeply sad, deeply angry rhymes about street life—and the end of it. "Fuck the world, fuck my moms and my girl / My life is played out like a Jheri curl, I'm ready to die." And while faux homies from the 'burbs might find your final sentiment hilarious, it might be a little bit disrespectful.
7. Pixies, "Cactus"
Though Black Francis doesn't let loose his usual yowling scream in "Cactus"—a song about a prisoner's wish that his probably deceased girl send him something with her scent on it—there are still plenty of desperate emotions on display. "A letter in your writing doesn't mean you're not dead," the inmate reasons, so he implores her to send a sweaty and/or bloody dress to make prison life more bearable. The song would be inappropriate even at a prison funeral, especially for a convict who died while bloodying his wrists with cactus thorns.
8. Iron Maiden, "Die With Your Boots On"
Though it shouldn't be confused with Toby Keith's equally funeral-unsuitable song of the same name, Iron Maiden's "Die With Your Boots On" suggests the same footwear. To be fair, the Maiden lyric doesn't assume you're dead: "If you're gonna die / Die with your boots on" is sound advice any way it's sliced. The lyric also deals with the Cold War and a prediction from Nostradamus (the most metal of all prophets) that "Through earthquakes and starvation, the warlord will arise." So even if the deceased died the way he lived and was buried with boots on, things aren't looking rosy for those left behind.
9. Blue Oyster Cult, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper"
Guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser insists that "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" is about eternal love, not a murder-suicide pact—though it's hard to ignore lyrics like "Romeo and Juliet are together in eternity / 40,000 men and women every day redefine happiness," and the instrumental freak-out that ensues after those damning figures. Whatever they mean, they aren't appropriate for a memorial service—even if the song has helped listeners overcome their fear of the Grim Reaper, thanks to its unsubtle use of cowbell and soothing vocals.
10. Elvis Costello "God's Comic"
What could be a better sentiment for a funeral than a mournful ditty about heading to heaven to meet a disappointing, demoralized God? How about one that opens with the line "I wish you'd known me when I was alive," and whose chorus mourns "Now I'm dead, now I'm dead,†now I'm dead,†now I'm dead"? (That might come in handy in case someone forgets why everybody's standing around wearing nice clothes, in a room full of flowers.) While "God's Comic" may offend prissy Aunt Mabel, it could be a comforting, good-natured song for everyone else at the wake. Costello's POV character, a sloppy, drunken comedian who used to do a funny-priest act, dies and wings toward the Pearly Gates, terrified that a judgmental God won't get the joke. Instead, he meets a sighing Lord who drinks generic soda and reads trashy novels, while "wondering if I should have given the world to the monkeys." In spite of Costello's sins, this God isn't invested emotionally enough to boot the deceased off to Hell; instead, he gripes a bit about people and their demands, then buggers off on vacation. Surely an ennui-stricken, human-like God is a safer bet than a wrathful one, at least for†nervous agnostics and half-religious types.
11. Peggy Lee, "Is That All There Is?"
Peggy Lee had a Top 20 hit in 1969 with this Leiber & Stoller-penned novelty song, which argues that drinking and dancing are better than worrying, because all the good and bad moments in life—from fires to circuses to romance—are inevitably a letdown. In the last verse, Lee says that she even expects death to be "that final disappointment." If you do choose "Is That All There Is?" for your funeral, then as you lay in your coffin at the front of the chapel, with rinky-dink organ and Lee's detached croon echoing around your mourners, your spirit can feel satisfied that everyone who ever cared about you is being told that everything about your life and their lives is plainly ridiculous.
12. Cutting Crew, "(I Just) Died In Your Arms"
Granted, this '80s power ballad would be inappropriate to play even if you were alive. But is there anything more delicious than the idea of your friends and relations dabbing away tears as the loudspeaker blares, "Ohhh I, I just die-ied in yo ahhhhms toniiiite!" (Followed by the stinger: "It must have been something you said.") By the second verse, when Nick Van Ede is describing the specifics of his lady's killer lovemaking, your funeral attendees will be muttering to themselves what he's singing: "I should have walked away, I should have walked away…"
13. Eels, "Last Stop: This Town"
The catchiest song about death on an album full of catchy songs about death (Electro-Shock Blues), Eels' "Last Stop: This Town" follows the recently deceased through a brief, final flyover of "the world you left." The song offers healthy reminders to the bereaved that life goes on, but those having a hard time coping might be inspired to join the journey ("Can you take me where you're going if you're never coming back?") since it sounds awfully tempting to float "up over the billboards and the factories and smoke." If others decide to accept that invitation, you'll need to find more funeral songs.
14. Public Image Ltd., "Theme"
John Lydon had a lot to live for in 1978. Even though Sex Pistols disintegrated earlier that year, his new group, Public Image Ltd., kicked up an instant buzz—not that there's a trace of hope or happiness to be heard in "Theme," the opening track of PiL's debut full-length. With a sandpaper scream, Lydon begins babbling over a hellish avant-punk racket: "There is only one reaction / You must never underestimate / And I wish I could DIIIEEEEE!!!" And like coffin nails on a chalkboard, the song just keeps on scraping, for an eternal nine minutes. Who says attempted suicide—career or otherwise—is painless?
15. Warren Zevon, "Life'll Kill Ya"
Sardonic songwriter Warren Zevon didn't know it, but he was suffering from lung cancer when he recorded "Life'll Kill Ya." But even that story won't make it make it consoling to mourners. The song essentially serves as a reminder that everyone everywhere will die, including Zevon: "From the President of the United States to the lowliest rock 'n' roll star / The doctor is in and he'll see you now / He don't care who you are." (That's true, but still a fucking downer.) Still, Zevon's advice to David Letterman following his diagnosis—"enjoy every sandwich"—would be perfectly suitable for the wake.
16. Pedro The Lion, "Priests And Paramedics"
Pedro The Lion's amazing, matter-of-fact assessment of death-business professionals (paramedics have poker faces, priests are cynical bastards) won't soothe anyone. Still, it might actually be refreshing to hear a funeral director echo the song's character: "You're gonna die, we're all gonna die / Could be 20 years, could be tonight / Lately I have been wondering why / We go to so much trouble to postpone the unavoidable / And prolong the pain of being alive." Okay, maybe it's the wrong day for that.
17. Sid Vicious, "My Way"
Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley famously adopted "My Way" in the twilight of their careers as a self-conscious epitaph to their monumental lives. But Sid Vicious' incompetent take on the standard manages to sound even more arrogant because the worthless little imp can't even be bothered to learn the words. The message of Sid Vicious' "My Way" rings loud and clear through terrible sonics and worse singing: "I'm dead, and I have no regrets." The only problem: No one will get the message, because this truly awful cover will clear out your funeral in 30 seconds.
18. Pink Floyd, "The Great Gig In The Sky"
"And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." Or, in this case, the evocative wailing of a session singer paid a measly £30 for her troubles. Taken from Pink Floyd's seminal Dark Side Of The Moon, "The Great Gig In The Sky" will let your mourners know that you aren't afraid of death—that is, if they can pick up on the unintelligible spoken-word bit that opens the song. On the contrary, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, "dying would be a stone groove, man." If you're Pink Floyd—or really, really high—every day in heaven is a sold-out show in an infinite stadium, and everyone has their lighters in the air. Beats contemplating the mortal bummers suggested in "Money" or "Us And Them," that's for sure.
19. The Coup, "Underdogs"
Boots Riley, the wildly charismatic frontman of Bay Area outfit The Coup, doesn't just write hip-hop songs as dense and substantive as great fiction—he writes soul-stirring working-class anthems. Opening with anguished sobs, a despondent woman hollering "I can't take this shit no more," and Riley raising a glass "for the ones who die meaninglessly," "Underdogs" offers a stirring elegy for the hardships of the ever-suffering proletariat—a bluesy, funereal homage that's rich in novelistic detail. Riley, the poet laureate of soulful poverty, articulates what it's like to "feel like crying but you think that you might never stop." Having "Underdogs" played at your funeral is the perfect way to convey to friends and families that there was an Afro-sporting Commie provocateur lurking inside you all along. Don't be surprised if a riot breaks out.
20. XTC, "Dear God"
It might seem unwise to mock God while passing through the Pearly Gates, but Andy Partridge's bitterly funny evisceration of religion in "Dear God" will set your mind at ease. Partridge makes a strong case for atheism when he pointedly asks the man upstairs if He "made mankind after we made you." But funerals are for the living, and only a corpse could find comfort in "Dear God." You don't want all "the silly humans" who "believe that junk is true" to wish they were buried along with you.
21. Metallica, "For Whom The Bell Tolls"
When a young person meets an untimely end, it's common for the family to play the departed's favorite song at a memorial service. During Metallica's heyday, the group's music sent many a young hesher to the big arena show in the sky. Hell, the band's "Orion" was even played at the funeral of bassist Cliff Burton in 1986. An old poll on a Metallica fan site asks which song listeners would play at their own funerals, and "For Whom The Bell Tolls" is a natural fit. What heavier sendoff could there be than a five-minute-plus rocker that opens ominously with a bell ringing? The lyrics are pretty standard battleground gloom, but the chorus will hit home with mourners: "For whom the bell tolls / time marches on / for whom the bell tolls." Cue the solo.
22. The Smiths, "I Know It's Over"
"Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head," wails our man Morrissey in one of The Smiths' finest, saddest moments. Your goth girlfriend might want this one played at her funeral, but relatives won't be comfortable with the imagery—or the moaning. Sure, they want to give you a proper burial, but they don't want to picture dirt covering your lifeless body. Not for you, my love. Not tonight, my love.
23. Bobby Darin, "Artificial Flowers"
Bobby Darin's 1960 hit "Artificial Flowers" comes on like Rat Pack-lite, but leaves a tragic aftertaste of Kurt Weill. The song's heroine, a poor orphan named Annie, is forced to sell artificial flowers to "ladies of fashion" on the cold streets to survive. Ultimately she's found "all covered in ice" in her tenement flat, after which Darin advises, "Throw away those artificial flowers / those dumb, dumb flowers / fashioned from Annie's des-pa-a-a-air." The word "despair" has never been sung with such perverse joie de vivre—exactly the thing to liven up (or mortally offend) a room full of the bereaved.
24. Queen, "Another One Bites The Dust"
Gunshots were a whole lot cooler decades ago, before masses of American citizens were plugged in public on an almost daily basis. Case in point: "Another One Bites The Dust," Queen's funky hit from 1980. Freddy Mercury—apparently inspired by Steve McQueen, who started packing heat on the street after Charles Manson murdered McQueen's close friends Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring—kicks off the song with the lines, "Steve walks warily down the street / with the brim pulled way down low / Ain't no sound but the sound of his feet / machine guns ready to go." From there it just gets bloodthirstier, but it's the chorus of "And another one down / and another one down / Another one bites the dust" that's sure to be a howl down at the funeral home.
25. John Lee Hooker, "Burning Hell"
When they gather around your coffin and sing about how the angels are coming to take you home, it's considered bad manners to express disgust at the stupidity of the entire concept. In one of his best songs, grizzled bluesman John Lee Hooker doesn't give a damn. He's heard the preacher's nonsense about the fiery torments of the sinner in the afterlife, but his unrepentant opinions aren't going to be silenced: "Ain't no heaven," he hollers in that inimitable take-no-bullshit voice. "Ain't no burning hell. When I die, where I go—nobody know." When John Lennon sang "Imagine there's no heaven," he meant it in a flowers-and-sunshine kind of way; this is more like "Now that I'm dead, I don't have to waste time on hokey religious ideas anymore, and thank Jesus for that."
26. Hank Williams, "I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive"
It's one of the sad ironies of Hank Williams' short life that this morbidly cheerful tune was the last single he ever released. Naturally, it became a huge posthumous hit. As funeral fare, the song might go over just fine if your friends and family have the same penchant for tongue-in-cheek dark humor that Williams did, and the ability to shrug off the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with a resigned grin: "I'm not gonna worry wrinkles in my brow, 'cause nothin's ever gonna be all right no-how." (As another philosopher put it: "Life sucks, and then you die.") That may be true, but the sentiment is too on-the-nose for public consumption until your coffin is safely underground.