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Hank Williams and Jim Morrison knew it. Did they ever. Temple-born bluesman Blind Willie Johnson had a pretty good idea, owning up "Dark Was the Night — Cold Was the Ground" (a crucifixion song based on the old hymn "Gethsemane") in 1927. Most people spend the majority of their lives denying it, but that doesn't make it any less true.

No one here gets out alive.

Mortality may not be the most popular topic at the water cooler or dinner table, but in music it's an entirely different story. Death is right up there with love and cars when it comes to inspiration; see box for Noise's picks for the best Reaper-related songs in (relatively) recent memory.

So what happens when it's all over? Your guess is as good as mine, but back here on Earth, music should be an integral part of how our friends and loved ones remember us. And, morbid as it sounds, there's no better place to ensure that than your own funeral.

Few funerals take place without some kind of music, but how exactly does it get there? Noise rang up Joe Earthman, a member of local groups the Allen Oldies Band and Governor's Chair — and a funeral director at Bradshaw-Carter Funeral Home (1734 W. Alabama) — for some answers.

If the deceased does not leave specific funerary musical instructions behind, Earthman says that task, like so many others, falls to the family.

"Usually you would sit down and the director would go over it with them," he says. "Sometimes, if it's easier, we'd just have them bring CDs in and we would put them on the CD player here. Or if the family would prefer live music, we'd arrange for a vocalist or a piano player." (Mariachi bands are a fairly common sight at Latino graveside services, Earthman notes.)

Provided the family decides to hold the ceremony at a funeral home instead of a church — where Earthman says someone on staff (musical director, organist, choir soloist) generally advises the family on musical selections — the circumstances determine the musical accompaniment.

"If you've got a person who lived to the ripe old age of 100, generally it's going to be, you know, I won't necessarily say festive, but it's not something that was unexpected," Earthman says. "For example, instead of having classical music in the background, we might have '40s and '50s jazz to have a little bit more of an upbeat mood."

"If it's not somebody who lived a long life, you exercise sensitivity, but you want to put something together that's very memorable," he adds. "I always start by just asking."

On occasion, those questions result in some unusual answers. Earthman recalls playing Kid Rock at one graveside service, so it hardly takes "Amazing Grace" or "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" to choke up a funeral audience.

"We had [another] service where a young man in high school passed away who was a big Metallica fan," he remembers. "I can't remember which song it was specifically, but the family requested it. The chapel was primarily high-school kids, and I remember they were very, very, very affected by it. You could really tell they were very moved by the selection."

So Metallica or Mozart? Schubert or the Staple Singers? In honor of Saturday's Day of the Dead, Noise polled a cross-­section of Houston music types (and himself) for some grand-finale playlists.

Quinn Bishop, owner, Cactus Music

Charlie Rich, "Don't Put No Headstone on My Grave": "I am married to a wonderful woman, and I think people would appreciate the irony."

Boyd Rivers, You Gonna Take Sick and Die": "Y'know, just to shake things up a bit and make people uncomfortable."

Bob Dylan, "Every Grain of Sand": "My favorite modern spiritual."

Rolling Stones, "Moonlight Mile": "I lost a great friend shortly after high school.  Her mother asked me to help select music for the service. Christy was a huge fan of the Rolling Stones, and she loved this album [Sticky Fingers]. At the time, it seemed like one of the only options that might straddle the fence of soothing attendees while honoring her good taste. I have connected with this song ever since."

Dan Castillo, poster artist, Mr.Castillo Design

Link Wray, "Rumble": "My wife, Kate, and I walked down the aisle last year to '­Rumble.'"

Reverend Horton Heat, "Big Sky": This is the first song I ever heard the Reverend play live. By far, one of my all-time favorite Reverend songs."

Cramps, "The Strangeness in Me": "Bad music for bad people."

Sisters of Mercy, "No Time to Cry": "First and Last and Always is my favorite Sisters album."

Joy Division, "A Means to an End": "If someone happens to be put in a position to pull the plug on me, be it my wife or one day our kids, I'd like them to be reminded that I put my trust in them."

Ceeplus Bad Knives, DJ and promoter

Flipper, "That's the Way of the World": "Because 'there are hearts no longer beating, and there are entrails spilled on the floor.'"

Belle and Sebastian, "Don't Leave the Light on Baby": "Because I mentally cry when I hear this song and think to myself, 'I want this played at my funeral.' One of the most beautiful songs ever written — a song about love, life and honesty."

Neil Young, "Old Man": "I never knew my dad, but I am going to make sure my son knows me. When I hear this, it makes me raise a glass and think about being a father, a son and a man."

XTC, "Dear God": "I have felt this way about the belief in God/gods since day one. Being an atheist in a world of religion makes a song like this heartfelt."

Miss Leslie, fiddle/vocals, Miss Leslie and Her Juke-Jointers

Sergei Rachmaninoff, "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini"/"Piano Concerto No. 2": "Beautiful melodies, rich harmonies — darkness and beauty all in one."

Bill Monroe, "My Last Days on Earth": "Bill Monroe wrote [this] for his own funeral. The recording is arranged with an orchestra and the sound of birds — it's not a song that would make you instantly think of Bill Monroe. But it is a beautiful melody, and very much a song that makes you think of your last day on earth — your funeral."

Jerry Ochoa, first violin, Two Star Symphony

Iron Maiden, "Hallowed Be Thy Name": As it turns out, this one song goes through all five stages of grief. Plus, I have signed drumsticks from Nicko McBrain!"

Tupac Shakur, "Thugz Mansion": "This one is to make my mama feel better. I also really, really hope that a) there is a heaven, and it's cool; b) Tupac is there, hanging out with Billie Holiday and drinking peppermint schnapps; c) I'm there, too."

Billy Joel, "Only the Good Die Young": "Assuming, of course, I die before losing the last bits of my youth. Is it tempting fate to add this one?"

Tom Waits, "It's Over": "Simply the greatest, most dour, resigned, hilariously wonderful song about passing on I've ever heard."

Tim Pitts, principal double bass, Houston Symphony

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, "Adagio," Grand Partita in B-Flat

Antonín Dvorák, "Poco Andante," String Quintet in G

Johann Sebastian Bach, "Adagio," Concerto in C minor for Violin and Oboe

Ludwig van Beethoven, "Adagio Molto e Cantabile," Symphony No. 9

Brad Turcotte, president, Compadre Records

Billy Joe Shaver, "Live Forever": Although the title says it all, it's a touching tribute among parents and their children.

Traditional, "Amazing Grace": "It's not a funeral without the classics."

Vince Gill, "Go Rest High on the Mountain": "'Son, your work on earth is done. Go to heaven a shoutin'.'"

Traditional, "This Is My Father's World": "I requested it at my father's funeral and have always remembered the lyrics from when I sung it in church."

Noise

AC/DC, "Hell's Bells": To mark a life well spent in rock and roll, with few (if any) regrets.

The Band, "The Shape I'm In": "Out of nine lives, I've spent seven. How in the world do you get to heaven?"

The Pogues, "Sally MacLennane": Once introduced thusly on the BBC's Old Grey Whistle Test: "Brace yourself for a tender ballad of drunken eternity"; not exactly a "tender ballad" at all, but plenty drunken. Noise expects those he leaves behind to throw one hell of a wake.

Ludwig Von Beethoven, "Marcia Funebre: Adagio assai," Symphony No. 3 in E-Flat ("Eroica"): Elegiac and mournful, then uplifting and triumphal.

The Rolling Stones, "Dead Flowers": A little bitter — okay, a lot — but there's real warmth at the heart of the Stones' drug-addled Sticky Fingers country ballad. "I won't forget to put roses on your grave" is one of the most haunting lyrics in the band's entire catalog.

U2, "Bad": Tough call over "One" and All That You Can't Leave Behind's "Kite," but Bono's yearning epitaph for Dublin's fallen heroin addicts, borne aloft by Edge's spiraling guitar and the increasingly urgent rhythms of Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr., sounds like a sublime way to greet the hereafter.

chris.gray@houstonpress.com

Don't Fear the Reaper:
16 Great Songs about Death

Johnny Cash, "The Man Comes Around" (American IV: The Man Comes Around, 2002)

Ralph Stanley, "O Death" (O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, 2001)

White Stripes, "Death Letter"

(De Stijl, 2000)

The Cure, "Lullaby"

(Disintegration, 1989)

Bob Dylan, "Silvio"

(Down in the Groove, 1988)

Depeche Mode, "Fly on the Windscreen" (Black Celebration, 1986)

Highwaymen, "Highwayman" (Highwayman, 1985)

Metallica, "Fade to Black"

(Ride the Lightning, 1984)

Mission of Burma, "That's When I Reach for My Revolver"

(Signals, Calls, and Marches, 1981)

Bauhaus, "Bela Lugosi's Dead"

(Bela Lugosi's Dead EP, 1979)

The Band with Emmylou Harris, "Evangeline"

(The Last Waltz, 1978)

Blue Oyster Cult, "(Don't Fear) the Reaper"

(Agents of Fortune, 1976)

Elton John, "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding"

(Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, 1973)

Black Sabbath, "Children of the Grave" (Master of Reality, 1971)

J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, "Last Kiss" (Last Kiss, 1964)

Lefty Frizzell, "The Long Black Veil" (Columbia Records single, 1959)

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