As George Harrison sang: All things must pass. On July 30th 2006, that came true for a TV programme that he himself had graced many times: Top of the Pops. It had been running for 42 years by then. That’s a lot in cat or dog years and even longer in pop years, because pop careers rarely last long. Madonna or Kylie Minogue are exceptions that prove the rule: in pop music, you rise as quickly as you fall.
Most of the acts and artists who appeared on Top of the Pops are not famous any more, but many of them benefit from a new taste for nostalgia. And the internet has stopped music disappearing the way it once did. I remember seeing an old cartoon with three puzzled men sitting in a pub. One of them is asking: “Whatever happened to Bananarama?” Before the internet, the joke worked. A band could be successful and then disappear completely.
Nowadays you can find out what happened to Bananarama or anyone else in seconds. They’ll probably have a website of their own and might even have re-formed and be on tour, visiting a town near you in the near future. This flood of information on the internet is part of what killed Top of the Pops. In its day it was like an oasis for pop fans, a once-a-week chance to see an old favourite or hear something new. The rest of the week could feel like a desert by comparison. People don’t need that oasis more. Music is available 24/7/52 in all genres from all eras to suit any taste.
This has altered our relationship with music. Each generation used to have its own sounds and own favourites. Mums and dads didn’t like what their children liked. “What’s that noise?” Nowadays, the parents and children might like the same band. And grandparents might like them too. Whoever would have thought that Ozzy Osbourne, lead singer of long-haired ear-busters like Black Sabbath, would become a national treasure, appearing at Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen? Top of the Pops used to use the riff from Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” as its signature music. That was music for young people: loud, exciting and not for the older generation.
But you’ll hear Led Zeppelin on Radio 2 today. They were once dismissed as crude and unsophisticated rock dinosaurs, playing ear-splitting music for louts. All that’s changed. Their music receives serious analysis and their influence is acknowledged across the world. They’ve got fans of all ages too, from grandparents to grandchildren. The first generation of Led Zeppelin fans is starting to grow old, which means that their music will be heard more and more at funerals.
A funeral is a time for celebrating someone’s life, after all, and popular music has been part of millions of lives for many years. If Led Zeppelin or another band has been important to you, why shouldn’t it be part of your farewell to the world? You don’t have to believe in heaven to find “Stairway to Heaven” a beautiful song. I’m not sure that “Whole Lotta Love” and Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” are beautiful songs, but people can choose those for their funerals if they want. Personal choice is the important thing and if a song has meant something to you during life, it’s an appropriate thing to play at your funeral.
Music is something you can discuss as part of a funeral plan, because funeral plans are not just about money and keeping costs down. They’re a way to decide in good time exactly how you want to leave the world and say goodbye to your loved ones. Some will prefer a traditional church service, others will want to design something for themselves. Music can be important in any kind of funeral, because it’s such a powerful way of calling up emotions, setting a mood and sending a message. “All things must pass,” George Harrison sang. It’s a message we should all remember and a funeral plan is an excellent way to be ready when the day of our own passing arrives.