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This is the most popular funeral song in the world right now

caption: The most popular song played at funerals around the world is "My Way" by Frank Sinatra.
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The most popular song played at funerals around the world is "My Way" by Frank Sinatra.

What's one song you want played at your funeral?

We asked folks on-air during The Record and on social media for their afterlife theme song. This is the playlist that came about as a result.

Oddly enough, nobody mentioned Frank Sinatra's "My Way." It's the most popular song played at funerals worldwide, according to U.K.-based writer Emily Mackay.

"It was really the gateway song for funerals away from ceremonies that were purely religious," Mackay said. She gave a presentation at MoPop’s Pop Conference on Thursday on the popularity of the song.

(Side note: "My Way" was also the first song President Donald Trump danced to with First Lady Melania on the day he was inaugurated.)

KUOW's Ross Reynolds spoke with Mackay on The Record about why the song has such staying power, even beyond the realm of the living.

Interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Emily Mackay in conversation with Ross Reynolds on The Record, Wednesday April 10, 2019

Funeral songs
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caption: Writer Emily Mackay presented at MoPop's 2019 Pop Conference that centered on music, death, and afterlife.
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Writer Emily Mackay presented at MoPop's 2019 Pop Conference that centered on music, death, and afterlife.
Courtesy of Emily Mackay

How did “My Way” come to Frank Sinatra?

The song came to life in 1967. It was a break-up song sung by the French pop singer Claude François. Then Paul Anka heard it on the radio when he was holidaying in France that summer and found something intriguing about it.

It was common practice at the time for American and Britain artists to cherry-pick European pop hits and rewrite them with an English lyric, so Anka did just that with the song and bought the rights to it. Then he was sat on the song, wondering what to do with it.

Meanwhile, David Bowie — who was working as a songwriter in Denmark Street at the time — also had a go at writing his version of the song, but it was never released. It’s called “Even A Fool Learns To Love.”

Did Frank Sinatra choose “My Way” for his funeral?

He did not. Sinatra chose “Put Your Dreams Away.”

What do you think should be the characteristics of a song played at a funeral?

A lot of the songs that come up in the U.K. tend to be sort of plays on words. So you get songs like "Highway to Hell" by ACDC or "Stairway To Heaven" by Led Zeppelin. I think increasingly, though, people are choosing songs that aren't necessarily a humorous comment on the situation, or a song that sums up their life, but rather songs that they love.

A lot of the funeral directors that I talked to said they've experienced a wide range of genres. You think of what would naturally be fitting for that situation but I've heard of funerals where it was all hard house, rave, or quite literally death metal.

These days, I think people feel a lot freer to choose what's most appropriate for them.

Did anything surprise you when you started looking at popular funeral songs?

Something I hadn't thought about was when you read articles about people's funeral music choices, you tend to think of it being about one song. But funeral services tend to have three or more pieces of music.

Often, when people choose humorous or abrasive songs, I couldn't imagine sitting through that after I've suffered a loss. But when I spoke to funeral directors, they explained there's a kind of emotional arc to services. Different pieces of music will fit different points in the ceremony, so there will be space for people to sad, and feel that, and think back. And then towards the end, there will be a song that encourages people to think on the brighter side of life.

What's a song you want played at your funeral?

I think I'll definitely have the album version of "All Is Full Of Love" by Björk. It has a lovely, celestial, warm ambiance to it. And the message is very like: if you're feeling bad, then look at around you. It's a kind of pantheistic love song.

This is Ross Reynolds' pick for his funeral song. In the song, each member of The Special's explains how he will enjoy their life before it's too late:

Monty Python's "Always Look On The Brightside Of Life" was once the most popular funeral song. Eric Idle wrote it and spoke with Bill Radke on The Record about it back in October 2018. It has since been eclipsed in popularity by "My Way."

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