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"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life": A Hit at Funerals

As a fan of Monty Python since 1972 (when they first appeared on US television), I feel qualified to write about them... even if it's crap.

1. Terry Jones, 2. Graham Chapman, 3. John Cleese, 4. Eric Idle, 5. Terry Gilliam, 6. Michael Palin

1. Terry Jones, 2. Graham Chapman, 3. John Cleese, 4. Eric Idle, 5. Terry Gilliam, 6. Michael Palin

The Bright Side of Funerals

In 2014, the most requested song at U.K. funerals was Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," beating out the likes of "The Lord is My Shepherd," "My Way," and "You'll Never Walk Alone."

The irreverent tune is the closing song from the 1979 comedy, Monty Python's Life of Brian. The film concerns Brian Cohen (played by Graham Chapman), who had the misfortune to be born the same day as, but next door to, Jesus of Nazareth. He's subsequently mistaken for the Messiah, so while Brian is hanging from the cross, fellow crucifixion victim, Eric Idle (who actually wrote the song), attempts to cheer him up by singing:

Some things in life are bad,
They can really make you mad.
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle,
Don't grumble, give a whistle,
And this'll help things turn out for the best, and...

At this point, Eric breaks out into full song. Within a few verses all the others being crucified join in, singing, whistling, and rhythmically shifting their heads side to side as best they can under the circumstances.

Irreverent, Blasphemous, Hilarious & Uplifting

Did I say irreverent? Indeed, even blasphemous to some. And hilarious-- at least to those not mortally offended by religious parodies (though behind closed doors some might loose a guilty chuckle). And somewhat infectious, at least akin to an earwig boring into your brain. It's just so catchy.

According to a study by Co-operative Funeralcare, the United Kingdom's largest funeral director with more than 900 funeral homes, requests for "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" have risen from 13th place in 2011 to the most popular funeral song of 2014. Hymns and classics are declining, now claiming only 9 of the top 20 choices.

One spokesman said, "The variety of songs played at funerals today illustrates how more and more people are choosing to personalise funerals, and celebrate their loved one's life with a fitting farewell." Ah, those crazy Brits. If you really think about it though, it really is uplifting; a kind of “up yours” in the face of the grim reaper.

Top 10 at UK Funerals (2014)

  1. "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" - Eric Idle
  2. "The Lord is My Shepherd" - Traditional
  3. "Abide with Me" - Traditional
  4. Match of the Day theme
  5. "My Way" - Frank Sinatra
  6. "All Things Bright and Beautiful" - Traditional
  7. "Angels" - Robbie Williams
  8. "Enigma Variations" - Elgar
  9. "You'll Never Walk Alone" - Gerry and the Pacemakers
  10. "Cricket Theme/Soul Limbo" - Booker T & the MG's

Lest you think the Brits have completely lost their sense of decorum, some songs, like "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and "God Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols have been refused based on “taste” and “inappropriate language”, though I doubt the folks at Downton Abbey would agree the banned list goes quite far enough. Also on the list of refused songs: "Imagine" by John Lennon. Say what???

The British Stiff Upper Lip

Perhaps part of the appeal of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" is that it has that sort of “stiff upper lip” British stoicism about it. When Monty Python's Graham Chapman died of cancer in 1989 at age 48, Eric Idle led the other Pythons and Graham's family and friends in a rendition of "Bright Side" at a private memorial.

During the Falklands War in 1982, the destroyer HMS Sheffield was struck by an Exocet missile on May 4 and her sister ship HMS Coventry was hit by several bombs on May 25. A total of 40 sailors were killed. In both situations, while the remaining crew members awaited rescue before their ships sank, they sang "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

© 2015 David Hunt


Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on July 18, 2015:

LOL! I think you're right, UnnamedHarald. I think it's delightful! Death doesn't have to be so somber. As Forrest Gump's mom said, "Death is a part of life." So why not celebrate, be goofy, or whatever . . . ?

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on July 18, 2015:

Thanks, Victoria. I've always thought of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life as a big "up yours" to death.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on July 18, 2015:

I think playing this song at the end of a funeral would bring some chuckles through tears. Of course, there are many who would frown on it. I would love to see funerals be more upbeat. Death is sad enough without drowning in the sadness. I adore this song!

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on May 18, 2015:

Kylyssa, can you imagine the faintings and the vapors in funeral houses across the US if it did catch on? I find it tempting, but hope the need for it is decades away. I think my family would get a kick out of it though.

Kylyssa Shay from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on May 18, 2015:

I'd love to see it catch on in the U.S. What a fantastic choice for a funeral song!

Lee Cloak on May 18, 2015:

A very interesting hub here, i do love a bit of Python, the match of the Day theme tune is my mobile phone ringtone, but i am Liverpool FC till i die and so in reckon it will be You'll Never Walk Alone at my funeral, a great share my friend, thanks, voted up, Lee

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on April 15, 2015:

So you'll be going out in style, Besarien! Thanks for reading and commenting.

Besarien from South Florida on April 15, 2015:

Three Little Birds, Let Me Ride by PFunk, I'd Rather Be with You by Bootsy Collins, Celebration by Kool and the Gang, Bob Marley's version of Knocking on Heaven's Door, The Sun by Burning Spear- I am having a funk/reggae wake for any loved ones I leave behind. If I have some notice, I'm making my own beer and wine for the party too. Nice topic for a hub!

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on April 10, 2015:

Glad you enjoyed it, tillsontitan. The other thing I've re-discovered, having listened to it several times since writing this, is that it has burrowed deep into my subconscious and won't... go... away.

Mary Craig from New York on April 10, 2015:

I shouldn't be surprised being a baby boomer myself. I think it's funny and yet touching. Thanks for sharing this, I would never have known.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on March 26, 2015:

Thanks, travmaj and Graham. I've a mind to request this when I shuffle off-- just to imagine the looks of shock on people's faces. But the one's who know me best will be smiling and tapping their feet.

Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on March 26, 2015:

Hi David. A jolly good hub here! Jolly being the operative word. I enjoyed it.


travmaj from australia on March 26, 2015:

This is a surprise but I don't know why - it's clearly a song to finalise with. What fun.

I do have a soft spot for Gerry and 'You'll never walk alone.' We had the Liverpool football team here last year and the fans sang with gusto. Well these are my personal top two farewell songs! Thank you.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on February 12, 2015:

Thanks, DDE. I've had quite a dry spell hub-wise. When I discovered that ALOTBSoL was the most requested funeral song, combining Monty Python and crazy Brits (I'm an ex-pat, not a Brit-basher) I dusted off my hub hat and actually published again. I hope it's the first of many more.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 11, 2015:

Interesting and mindful. You shared a unique hub.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on February 10, 2015:

Thanks, tireless. I agree completely. For life is quite absurd, and death's the final word... enjoy it, it's your last chance anyhow.

Judy Specht from California on February 10, 2015:

It's baby boomers who cut their teeth on Monty Python that are causing this trend. Excellent hub.