Welcome to Cover Me Q&A, where we take your questions about cover songs and answer them to the best of our ability.
Here at Cover Me Q&A, we’ll be taking questions about cover songs and giving as many different answers as we can. This will give us a chance to hold forth on covers we might not otherwise get to talk about, to give Cover Me readers a chance to learn more about individual staffers’ tastes and writing styles, and to provide an opportunity for some back-and-forth, as we’ll be taking requests (learn how to do so at feature’s end).
Today’s question: What cover song would you like to have played at your funeral?
This post was designed to be a companion piece to an earlier Cover Me Q&A question, about our choice of wedding cover songs. But last week, the topic got too close to me, too fast.
A friend of mine got into an altercation outside a restaurant in Florida. The other guy felled him with one punch. He hit his head hard on the ground, and twenty-three hours later, his wife made the impossible decision to take him off life support.
I had been planning a jaunty answer to this question, pondering whether I cared which orchestra played the Lone Ranger theme as my coffin was carried away (honest and for true, that’s one of my choices). Now, however, I don’t have it in me to laugh at death.
As it happens, neither does Johnny Cash‘s cover of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Backed by a giant church organ, he sings – or speaks, really – as though rising from his deathbed to let us know just one more thing. The music is appropriately solemn, the message is appropriately hopeful. Best of all, it’s Johnny Cash, who’s been a sort of family avatar all my life.
So that’s my choice, and I’m dedicating it to my friend. I hope to see you one day in the golden sky, listening to the lark’s sweet silver song.
Lingering on my computer, last modified at the end of 2006, sits a Word document called “My Life ~ The Soundtrack.” At the end of this testament to my middle school sense of self, listed under “death scene” song, is Sixpence None the Richer’s “There She Goes.” The answer to this Q&A was a no-brainer.
You would be justified in thinking this version is the original. The original artists, The La’s, never really gained traction in the United States despite being an English band from Liverpool. This cover follows the spirit of the original almost completely, but the switch from the original male singer to the female singer makes the song sound more self-reflective. SNtR’s singer Leigh Nash delivers the lyrics with a voice that is whimsically cheery yet just a little bit forlorn. This song provides the perfect mood to both celebrate me and shed a few tears. When my time comes, all I can ask is that the guests at my funeral “just can’t contain this feeling that remains.”
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There are so many (more obvious, more covered) songs (I’m looking at YOU, AC/DC), but for my money, it’s hard to beat the Squirrel Nut Zippers for a farewell anthem. I refer, of course, to “Hell,” that peppy little ditty about the eternal damnation that we all (yes, you too) face.
There aren’t that many covers of the song (damn it), but one that stands out (mainly because they actually covered it) is the version by New Jersey’s immortal (seems appropriate to say) ska band, Streetlight Manifesto. They remain very faithful to the original (no sense pissing off the Powers That Be), which is to say they almost make Hades sound like fun.
As for the original artists, Squirrel Nut Zippers are proud children of my current home state, North Carolina. I am originally from Pennsylvania, and like many thousands of others, moved from the cold and snowy northeastern US to the warmer climes of the south. With so many former New Jerserians in North Carolina, it’s nice to see a North Carolina song migrate to New Jersey. And what better state than New Jersey to rhapsodize about the warm climes of Hell?
I am definitely of the school that feels funeral songs should not be funereal, and a frequent waking moment is planning my playlist for that day. I would have to confess that covers have never featured much amongst my choices, but this schedule has given me a chance to think, mainly looking at my ever-changing shortlist and seeing who has done the same songs. And, in the end, it’s easy.
“Who Knows Where the Time Goes” can effortlessly bring on tears in its original incarnation. (No, check that, in its 2nd incarnation, the author having been in and sang it with the Strawbs ahead of her better known gig with Fairport Convention.) And, hell, yeah, I want tears at my funeral. The pathos of the words sum up the astonishment of getting this far, tinged with the realization that Sandy Denny, in fact, didn’t. But which version, so many to choose. In the end it’s this one, being a rare avoidance of over-reverence at the shrine. It’s by Emily Maguire and I first heard it on this site. And I suppose it is a bit gloomy, isn’t it? Have to make sure there is a banger on afterwards.
I like to say I want a party when my days are done. Put on my favorite songs and tell all the stupid stories and make it a celebration. I don’t know if anyone will follow through on that request, but I don’t think this song necessarily fits that vibe. At the same time, Beck‘s absolutely masterful reworking of Skip James’s “Jesus is a Mighty Good Leader” is one of my all time favorite songs. For those who aren’t super-familiar with Beck’s abilities to cross genres, I’d expect them to be pretty surprised by the sincerity and the knockout guitar here. As much as anything though, this song has stuck with me for years because of the tone; it strikes somewhere between melancholy and reverence. Although it’s not a perfect match for my vision for the “End of Mike Party” I can’t help picturing a rousing sing-along of this one at my funeral. The lyrics are filled with enough hope that maybe it could still be followed by some fun.
The song I’ve always said I want played at my funeral is the same one I wanted played at my wedding: Tom Waits’ “Never Let Go.” Sadly, it’s never been covered very well. So in lieu of that, I’ll go with another beautiful dirge with ambiguous lyrics: Nick Cave’s “The Ship Song.” Unlike the Waits song, any number of wonderful covers lie around to be selected. I’ll go with Lissie‘s, from her wonderful 2011 covers EP Covered In Flowers. The lyrics admittedly have nothing to do with death or a funeral, but when Lissie unleashes her full-throated, voice-cracking wail on the chorus, it would feel appropriately mournful.
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