Best Celebration Songs for a Funeral

What are the best celebration songs for a funeral or memorial service?

The tradition of solemn and somber music at a funeral or memorial service is slowly becoming a thing of the past. More and more often, people are selecting music that is a reflection of the person’s feelings toward life rather than a reflection of mournful feelings.

If you are in the midst of planning a funeral, you might consider selecting at least one song that celebrates the person’s life. Sometimes this can be a special song that the person loved, while other times it can be a song that you select specifically because its lyrics remind you of the deceased person.

The list below includes some of the favorite “celebration” songs that have become popular for modern funerals or memorial services. For your convenience, we have compiled the songs in a playlist, making it easy for you to listen to a sample or purchase a song. Additional information about each song, including significant verses and choruses, is provided below the playlist.

Best Celebration Songs for a Funeral

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Affirmation

This Savage Garden song is a surprisingly fast-paced with very repetitive lyrics—every line starts with “I believe.” The only real references to death or the afterlife that the song mentions is the last line of the chorus as well as one of the final lines of the songs that says, “I believe you don’t know what you’ve got until you say goodbye.” It should also be noted that although many of the beliefs could almost be considered universal, a few of them lean toward the liberal side of things, such as the line that says, “I believe you can’t control or choose your sexuality.”

Chorus:

I believe in Karma what you give is what you get returned
I believe you can’t appreciate real love ’til you’ve been burned
I believe the grass is no more greener on the other side
I believe you don’t know what you’ve got until you say goodbye

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Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Written and performed by Eric Idle, it was made famous when it was featured as a part of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Idle performed at the memorial service for Graham Chapman, another member of Monty Python, in December 1989. The song talks about how you should never let anything—including death—get you down. Important lyrics include: “You must always face the curtain with a bow / Forget about your sin – give the audience a grin / Enjoy it – it’s your last chance anyhow” and Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true / You’ll see it’s all a show / Keep ‘em laughing as you go / Just remember that the last laugh is on you.”

Chorus:

And always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the light side of life

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Fame (I Want To Live Forever)

Made popular by Irene Cara in the 1980′s, this is another song that was ranked as a popular choice by the poll done by the Research for the Bereavement Register. The lyrics vaguely reference the struggles of a young artist as she tries to make it to the top.

Chorus:

Fame, I’m gonna live forever
I’m gonna learn how to fly: High
I feel it coming together
People will see me and cry
Fame, I’m gonna make it to heaven
Light up the sky like a flame
Fame, I’m gonna live forever
Baby remember my name.

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 Fill Your Heart

Only two versions of this song is available in the mainstream, one by David Bowie and another by Tiny Tim. Both versions are song at a very high range for the men. If you have ever heard Tiny Tim’s more famous song “Tiptoe through the Tulips,” this song is slightly similar in style, but with less ukulele. Links are for the David Bowie version.

Significant Lyrics:

Just remember
Lovers never lose
‘Cause they are Free of thoughts unpure
And of thoughts unkind
Gentleness clears the soul
Love cleans the mind
And makes it Free.

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From a Distance

Bette Midler recorded this song written by Julie Gold in 1990. It soon became the most requested song during the Operation Desert Storm, and for many it is very closely associated with that war. According to Gold, she “set out to write a decent song about the difference between the way things seem and the way things are.” The song does mention God, but in a very generic sense.

Significant Verse:

From a distance there is harmony,
and it echoes through the land.
And it’s the hope of hopes, it’s the love of loves,
it’s the heart of every man.

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I Have a Dream

This song by ABBA surprised me with its beautiful melody and striking lyrics. It has a very positive message to it, but does not make you feel like you stepped into the middle of a Broadway musical. For those of you that are slightly familiar with ABBA, this song leans more towards Fernando and not Dancing Queen. However, it is also available by Westlife. If you are looking for a song that is upbeat but leans towards the more traditional, then you should listen to this song.

Chorus:

I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream; I have a dream.

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I Hope You Dance

This song by Lee Ann Womack was very popular on the Country charts a few years back. It does have a slight country twang to it, but the song is good enough that even Country-haters will enjoy it. It is also slower than some of the other songs listed here, making it lean more towards traditional funeral music.

Significant Verse:

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat
But always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small
When you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance

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Imagine

“Imagine” was voted as the third greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine in 2004. Extremely popular around the world, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter claims that he has heard it used all over the world “almost equally with national anthems.” In contrast, John Lennon (who wrote and performs the song) claimed that it was “an anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic song” and “virtually the Communist Manifesto.” This message is very subtle, and most people will not view it as such as the song’s overwhelming message is one of binding together and living together in harmony.

Significant Verse:

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

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Into the Mystic

Van Morrison made “Into the Mystic” popular. Although the newer version by The Wallflowers is not bad either, perhaps because they closely mimic the original styling of Van Morrison. Other versions have been done as well, but pale in comparison next to Van Morrison, in my opinion. The lyrics make several references to sailing, making this a good song for any boating or ocean enthusiast. Links are for the Van Morrison version.

Chorus:

I want to rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
Then magnificently we will float into the mystic

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I’ve Had The Time of My Life

Made popular by the film Dirty Dancing, this might seem like an odd song to play at a funeral. Still, it ranked number three on a poll done by the Research for the Bereavement Register. The most popular recording of this song is by Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley. The lyrics reflect the thoughts of two people who are expressing their affection toward one another.

Chorus:

I’ve had the time of my life
No I never felt this way before
Yes I swear it’s the truth
And I owe it all to you
‘Cause I’ve had the time of my life
And I’ve searched through every open door
‘Til I found the truth
And I owe it all to you

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 My Way

There are several songs with the same title, but the one discussed here was made famous by both Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. Both versions are very good with a slow pace and gentle rhythm. Like “What a Wonderful World,” “My Way” uses a refrain structure. The song’s lyrics detail a man who had overcome struggles and is at the end of his journey. Choose between Sinatra and Elvis? Impossible. Both links are included.

Significant Verse:

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you know
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall
And did it my way.

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Live Like You Were Dying

This song by Tim McGraw tells the story about a man who is told that he is dying, and he explains all the things that he did. It is a very upbeat song and is basically meant to remind us all that we only have a short time on this planet and that we all need to do now what we put off.

Significant Verse:

He said someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying.
Like tomorrow was a gift and you got eternity to think about
What would you do with it?

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Please Celebrate Me Home

The song (also known simply as Celebrate Me Home) is traditionally sung by Kenny Loggins. While its message is one of celebration, the melody and beat are much slower in comparison to the other songs listed here. It should also be noted that the song starts out with the lyrics “Home for the holidays / I believe I’ve missed each and every face” so it would be particularly moving for a funeral during that time. The lyrics talk about a man who has returned home after a long journey.

Chorus:

Please, celebrate me home,
Give me a number,
Please, celebrate me home
Play me one more song,
That I’ll always remember,
And I can recall,
Whenever I find myself too all alone,
I can sing me home.

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Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)

Although there are other versions, the most popular is the one sung by Doris Day. She first sung the song in Alfred Hitchcock’s remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, but it was also the theme song for the sitcom The Doris Day Show from 1968 to 1973. The song has been redone by countless artists and there are even several versions available in other languages.

Chorus:

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.

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Reach

This song is sung by the British pop group S Club 7. It is very fast paced and has a sort of bubble gum / musical feel to it. The lyrics are very sweet and emphasize that no matter what happens, the singer will be there for you.

Chorus:

Reach for the stars,
Climb every mountain higher.
Reach for the stars,
Follow your heart’s desire,
Reach for the stars,
And when that rainbow’s shining over you,
That’s when your dreams will all come true.

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Smile

Another classic song that has been done by everybody from Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and many others. If you are looking for a more modern version, you should consider Eric Clapton’s version. For the rare few who have never heard this song, it has a very slow melody with lyrics that encourage the listener to smile.

Significant Verse:

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you

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What a Wonderful World

This song was made famous by Louis Armstrong; although, a few have dared to produce their own versions, such as Celine Dion, Anne Murray, Willie Nelson, Tony Bennett, and Leanne Rimes. Still, my favorite version is the one that combines the performance of Louis Armstrong and Kenny G. For the few who are unfamiliar with this song, it does not have a set chorus. Instead, it repeats the refrain, “And I think to myself what a wonderful world.”

Significant Verse:

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you.

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