For many years, death has largely been thought of as a somber subject. But in recent years, we’ve begun to adjust our stance on it. Many people are having uplifting celebration of life ceremonies instead of traditional funerals.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Funny Contemporary Songs About Death
- Funny Old-Time or Nostalgic Songs About Death
- Funny or Upbeat Broadway or Musical Theater Songs About Death
People are being more transparent about end-of-life planning. They're embracing the death positive movement. And people are poking fun at serious subjects like death in many formats, including through song.
Here, we’ve rounded up several of our favorite funny or upbeat songs about death. We hope that they will help you see this serious subject in a new light.
Funny or Upbeat Contemporary Songs About Death
Believe it or not, several modern artists have performed funny or upbeat songs about death. For the purposes of this piece, we’ll classify anything released since 1970 as being contemporary. Here are a few of these unexpectedly chipper tunes.
1. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M.
If you were an eighties or nineties kid, odds are you and your friends used to bounce up and down to this ridiculously catchy track. As you pogoed along to this uptempo bop, you might have remained blissfully unaware of its apocalyptic message. Many Millennials can probably attribute our blase attitude about the end of times to growing up with this song.
2. “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult
Even if you’re too young to know this classic rock jam, you may be aware of it. Saturday Night Live did an iconic sketch about the song’s signature feature of the cowbell.
Leaving that aside, this song is surprisingly uplifting. It’s all about how you can’t let fear hold you back from experiencing everything that life has to offer. It’s a surprising wholesome message from a rock song about the Grim Reaper.
3. “Goodbye Earl” by The Chicks
The country group formerly known as The Dixie Chicks is well-known for its catchy and often provocative songs. This song is one of their most famous and most controversial. In it, they gleefully tell the tale of two best friends who team up to murder one’s abusive husband.
While some people disapproved of the song’s support for vigilantism, it’s impossible to deny that Earl got his just desserts. It’s also packed with clever and entertaining lines like these:
So the girls bought some land
and a roadside stand
Out on Highway 109
They sell Tennessee ham
and strawberry jam,
And they don't lose any sleep at night
'Cause Earl had to die
4. “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks
In this tune, a dying man says goodbye to his friends and loved ones and reminisces about happier times. It’s easy to miss that message though, as the song’s catchy beat implies its subject matter is much happier.
5. “Jimmy Collins’ Wake” by Dropkick Murphys
We talked earlier about people having upbeat funeral services. A wake is an end-of-life ceremony that tends to be cheerful and celebratory. This rollicking, jangly tune captures the spirit of that occasion.
6. “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” by Elmo & Patsy
For over forty years, grandmothers around the world have gotten cranky during the holidays when their families sing this tune. It is puzzlingly cheerful, considering the dark subject matter.
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Funny or Upbeat Old-Time or Nostalgic Songs About Death
Funny and upbeat songs about death are not an entirely new phenomenon. In fact, darkly comedic songs about death have existed for years. Here are some older lighthearted death songs that may not be on your radar.
7. “Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers
This song was originally released in 1961, but it didn’t become well-known until this cover was released 3 years later. It tells the story of two teenagers who are involved in a tragic car accident, and only one of them survives.
The story is actually very poignant. But the uptempo rhythm and peppy vocals make for a jarring contrast that becomes a little unintentionally comedic.
8. “Leader of the Pack” by Mark Dinning
The aforementioned “Last Kiss” is part of a genre known as “teenage tragedy songs”. These songs were plentiful in the 1960s, and often featured tales of young love that has come to a tragic end.
In this song, a teen girl mourns the death of her motorcycle-riding bad boy love interest. Again, the uptempo rhythm and cheeriness of the delivery are in sharp contrast to the song’s serious message.
9. “Dead Man’s Curve” by Jan & Dean
What was it with the sixties and dead teenagers? This 1963 pop gem also set a story about death to a catchy pop beat. This one differs from earlier entries on this list, though. Instead of teenage lovers separated by tragedy, a teen recounts the death of someone he was drag racing against.
10. “Oh My Darling Clementine” by Freddy Quinn
This song has its roots as an American western folk ballad. It’s been covered countless times, and often pops up on CDs of children’s music.
You’ve probably sung along to the twangy tune before, but you might not know it’s actually about the death of a small child. It’s not the only ostensibly cheerful children’s song with a dark undertone. The nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosie” is speculated to actually be about the bubonic plague.
11. “Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin” by Ernest Tubb
Country music is often fairly subversive. In this track from the 1940s, Tubb bemoans a bad breakup and recounts all the self-destructive things he’s doing in its wake.
The cheerfulness of the music actually underscores the maudlin lyrics. 75 years later, this song is still relatable.
12. “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum
This 1969 track just misses the cutoff to be considered modern, but it had to be on this list. It’s an upbeat fusion of gospel and psychedelic rock that explores mortality and the afterlife. It’s also one of the most popular funeral songs of all time.
Funny or Upbeat Broadway or Musical Theater Songs About Death
The stage has long been a place to explore topics that people in the mainstream might find taboo. Here, we explore some humorous show tunes that deal with death in an unexpected way.
13. “Now (It’s Just the Gas)” from Little Shop of Horrors
Obviously, if you’re going to talk about funny songs about death, you have to include this little ditty from Little Shop of Horrors.
This quirky off-Broadway play was, after all, about a man-eating plant. In this song, the protagonist watches on as an abusive dentist accidentally asphyxiates himself on nitrous oxide. Luckily he has that man-eating plant around to help dispose of the body.
14. “What a Wonderful Way to Die” from The Bone Room
The Bone Room is a lesser-known musical from 1975, created by the duo of Tom Jones and Harold Schmidt. It wrestles with a middle-aged man beginning to face his mortality. This tongue-in-cheek number talks about how nice it must be to be pampered after death.
You get pretty and polished and coiffed, and everyone comes to admire you in your coffin. Of course, no one wants to wait until they’re dead to be the star of the show. But this meditation on vanity is worth a listen.
15. “To Keep My Love Alive” from A Connecticut Yankee
Mark Twain’s book A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court was originally adapted into a musical in 1927.
But this song didn’t make an appearance until the 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein revival. The song examines a woman who really didn’t want to be unfaithful, so she just killed her husbands. All fifteen of them. Each man has his own section—here’s a particular favorite:
Sir Thomas had insomnia: he couldn't sleep at night.
I bought a little arsenic; he's sleeping now all right.
Honestly, if you’ve ever suffered from chronic insomnia, this might sound like a good deed to you!
16. “Death is Such An Odd Thing” from Dance of the Vampires
It’s hard to get the perspective on death from someone who’s been there. Sometimes we have to settle on exploring the world of the undead.
This lesser-known German musical about vampires features this song where two women muse about how death can change a man. Everything they revered and feared about their husband/employer is rendered inert by his death. (Of course, he does come back later as a vampire, but that’s another story altogether.)
17. “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
This darkly funny Tony Award-winning musical is about a barber/serial killer. That character (the titular Sweeney Todd) enlists an accomplice (Mrs. Lovett) into making meat pies to conceal the remains of his victims.
In this tune, Todd and Lovett gloat about their macabre business and eye potential victims.
18. “Big-Ass Rock!” from The Full Monty
Sometimes people will complain hyperbolically that they want to kill themselves, even if they don’t actually mean it.
This song takes that concept to a new level. The characters point out different objects they could use to put themselves out of their misery. Of course, that includes the titular big-ass rock. It also has plenty of funny death puns.
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Laugh at Death With These Humorous Songs
Music can be a great place to wrestle with big, serious subjects like death. Songs even give people the chance to look at these topics in an unexpected way. A funny or upbeat song about death might seem to be inherently wrong or disrespectful.
But we’re allowed to have complicated thoughts about death, even ones that are tinged in dark humor. These songs may help demystify death in some way. At the very least, they might make you think more about how complex a subject it is.