"Hey! Here's a fun song to sing when people die!"
stalling for time at a wake in the iCarly
Written in 1772 by John Newton, "Amazing Grace"—what with its positive messages of freedom and safety—is one of the most popular hymns in the Christian faith. It's so popular, in fact, that some people forget its religious context altogether. It's a standard at funerals
, and for this reason is highly likely to trigger cases of Tender Tears
or Manly Tears
, especially for police, firefighter, and military funerals.
And since it's not under copyright
, and everyone knows it, it's one of very few songs you're ever going to hear at a funeral on TV or film. (It's this or Danny Boy, people.) On a bagpipe
("One of the three songs that sound good on the bagpipes," it's been called.)note
No ifs, ands, or buts. Or in any other situation that requires a hymn, for that matter. Even though almost every other
hymn in is the public domain, too.
Fun fact: Amazing Grace, like many hymns, was not married with the tune it's sung to now until sometime in the mid-19th century.note
Any example of it being sung to the same melody before then
is an (admittedly understandable) case of artistic license. On rarer occasions, the final verse ("When we've been there ten thousand years…") may be heard in a setting before it was actually added in the late 1800s. To hear what it would have sounded like in its old tune, check out this link
of Sacred Harp singers (who also sing a lot of other old-timey hymns in a much more lively and bombastic fashion than what you might picture as typical dull church music).
Another fun fact: It uses the Common Meter
, which is, naturally, very common. As such the same lyrics can be sung to the tune of The Beverly Hillbillies
, Gilligan's Island
, "Camp Town Races," or "House of the Rising Sun," along with many other songs. The song is also written completely on the pentatonic scale, which means you can impress your friends by playing it on a piano using only the black keys.
And another fun fact:
The song is occasionally shown as being sung by American slaves prior to the Civil War, it being far more recognizable than any true "slave songs." Appropriately, it was written by a slave trader
after he gave up the business
and became a minister
, which is the reason for the line "That saved a wretch like me."
Compare Small Reference Pools
. Not to be confused with The Amazing Race
. Nor with the film Amazing Grace
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Anime and Manga
- Parodied in The Simpsons Movie. They play a funeral version of Green Day's "American Idiot".
- This is actually a plot point in Maverick: someone works out that two characters are related when they both sing "Amazing Grace" and get the same words wrong.
- Famously used during Spock's funeral at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Presumably it was Scotty's request that it be a part of the service to allow him to say his goodbyes to an old friend.
- It is used in the William Wilberforce biopic movie Amazing Grace. Since the original tune of the song is unknown, this is perhaps more an example of artistic license than a mistake.
- Averted: "Abide With Me" (itself a popular funeral hymn) is also used in the soundtrack for 28 Days Later during the scene where they find Jim's dead parents, mostly because using "Amazing Grace" would make whoever chose the soundtrack sound like a colossal bastard. It's sung by a female soloist. No bagpipes in sight.
- The 1978 remake (the one before the re-remake and the even more recent re-re-remake) of Invasion of the Body Snatchers uses Amazing Grace (the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards version, which shot them to stardom) when Matthew runs towards a ship, seeing it as a means of escape. The music here represents hope that he will get away. However, as he approaches, he sees that the ship is being loaded with pods-and the music stops as someone changes records.
- The Nixon-parody film Hail (AKA Hail To The Chief) has Judy Collins' version of the song playing as the (fictional) President's army of paramilitary thugs storm a colony of hippie protesters. The song cuts off when a Jesus-lookalike is shot dead.
- In the 2012 film "Chronicle", this is played at the funeral of Steve, one of the central characters in the story to this point.
- American Gangster: A choir sings "Amazing Grace" while drug lord Frank Lucas and his brothers are arrested in a "round-em-up" montage.
- Memphis Belle: Bomber crews sing "Amazing Grace" as they drive out to their planes on jeeps. It segues into a military march arrangement, and a montage of the ground crews preparing the bombers for takeoff. And to make sure they were making full use of the trope, they sing "Danny Boy" as their plane is going down in a Dark Reprise of a big band jazz version of "Danny Boy" at the hangar dance, sung by none other than Harry Connick Jr.
- Played during Tommy Callahan Jr's funeral in Tommy Boy, on bagpipes. Tommy III (Chris Farley) walks off into the distance after the funeral while the song plays.
- The revised cut of Highlander II: The Quickening inserts a bagpipe version of Amazing Grace during Ramirez's final moments. Considering he IS played by Sean Connery...
- The "New Britain" tune is used in Braveheart during the funeral scenes. Considering the timeframe, probably a case of artistic license.
- An alien rendition is performed during Zed's funeral in Men In Black III.
Live Action TV
- Parodied in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "Touch of Satan"; after a torch-bearing mob sings the song for a second time, Tom Servo sings, "This song is in/the public domain/that's why we used it twice!" Then it gets sung a third time.
- Even though Firefly is set in the year 2518 and almost everything about Earth That Was is lost, guess what they're singing at the funeral at the end of "Heart of Gold"?
- Used at a mass in a recent Eureka episode.
- Used in the horror series Night Visions, in one of the episodes made into the Made-for-TV Movie Shadow Realm, wherein an entire town with a pathological fear of music for fear of a man-eating monster known as The Beast, which can only be awakened by music, is convinced by the newcomer outsider that this monster is a superstition, and the entire town sings it. The Beast, apparently a giant ghost head, comes and presumably eats them all in the funniest bit of tragic irony you ever saw. The female lead's last words were "Why did I ever listen to you?!"
- Played with in Judging Amy, where Amy and her partner go to the funeral of a colleague that no one really liked. When they get there, they find that the funeral is attended by only three relatives, who are all in deep grief. To cover the inevitable silence, Amy's partner starts singing "Amazing Grace", which deeply touches the relatives.
- Reese sings an out-of-tune version of it in one Malcolm in the Middle episode. As quoted below, he doesn't know the right lyrics.
Amazing race, how sweet the taste
That saves a wrench for me,
I once was in the lost and found
Was blind but found my keys
- In the Bones episode "The Double Death of the Dearly Departed", guess what they sing at the wake? And then there's an interesting aversion when they're loading the casket into the hearse and they begin singing his favorite song. The song? Lime in the Coconut.
- Sung at a memorial service for three murdered teenagers on Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
- A truly unfortunate example from Sliders: washed-up R&B singer Rembrandt Brown is practicing for his "big comeback" (scat-singing the anthem at a Giants game), when his car intercepts a runaway wormhole and crashes on a parallel Earth. The initially self-absorbed character learns a lesson in patriotism when he's caught up in the war between the occupying USSR and the American underground — and at the end of the show, over the bodies of slain rebels, delivers a sober, heartfelt rendition of... Amazing Grace. (Word of God says that he would have performed the anthem in a less crucial scene that had to be cut for time.)
- iCarly: Sung at the pie maker's funeral in the episode "iPie". Carly sings it to distract from the fact that her friends are trying to steal his pie recipe.
- On The Mentalist, it's to be assumed Amazing Grace was played at a funeral, judging by the way they sing it afterward. Bagpipes are mentioned.
- Some ads for LOST season six revolve around the Willie Nelson version.
- Cold Lazarus by Dennis Potter. A boy runs away from church where the choir is singing Amazing Grace — the sweet music continues poignantly over the reveal that all these are memories a semi-revived frozen head, far in the future is being forced to relive: ironically reaching "was blind but now I see."
- The Amazing Race:
- In the Season 15 finale. By an Elvis impersonator. In a wedding chapel. In Las Vegas. Seriously.
- Season 17 includes a pair of college students/a capella singers, and their introduction clips showed them singing "Amazing Race".
- Performed during a proposal on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. The groom requested it because the bride's name was Grace.
- Diane calms a crowd of angry mourners of one of Coach's friends in a second-season episode of Cheers, "Coach Buries a Grudge" with it.
- It gets sung by Maria at Alex's funeral in Roswell, although the writers did at least use some of the less well-known verses.
- The end is played in an early episode of Dexter when LaGuerta goes to the funeral of the suspected Ice Truck Killer, who turned out to be another victim. Only the end is heard, though, and the words "Amazing Grace" are never actually spoken.
- A Cherokee version is used in the Wonderfalls episode "Totem Mole". The situation fits the song's lyrics very well, since a tough, cold-hearted lawyer has just found her way to spirituality.
- Used in General Hospital, when Brenda Barrett returned from the dead, as she encountered former lover Sonny in a church courtyard during a rainstorm.
- In the Criminal Minds episode "A Real Rain," "Amazing Grace" is played on the bagpipes at a police funeral. Officer Nora Bennett, watching this on television, says, "I can never get that sound out of my head. It wakes me up at night. If there was any justice, cop killers would have to hear it for an eternity."
- The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.: Lord Bowler sings Amazing Grace to Brisco as he's dying, after being shot in the gut. (He gets better.)
- Rescue Me: Amazing Grace is played on bagpipes for several funerals, Tommy lampshades it during his father's funeral.
Teddy: That sounds beautiful.
Tommy: I've heard that song a million times. If they could play In A Gadda Da Vida, then I'd be impressed.
- In the ''Death Valley" episode "Partners", "Amazing Grace" is played on the bagpipes at the funeral of the cops killed in the siege.
- Amazing Grace with Bill Moyers is an 80-minute documentary about the song and its impact on American culture. Many different performances of the song are included. It aired on PBS in 1990 and is available on DVD.
- "Sakura" by Nirgilis inserts a few bars prominently into the beginning, middle, and end of the song as well as having the same line repeated in the background now and then.
- Judy Collins reached #15 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1970 with her a cappella version of this song.
- An instrumental version by the band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards was a huge international hit in 1972. In the UK, it was the best-selling single of the year and was in the UK's all-time top 100 best-sellers list until 2004.
- In BioShock, the Rosebud Splicer model sometimes sings the song to herself.
- A choral hymn in 8-6-8-6 meter greets you when you first walk into a church-with-a-capital-C? Must be "Amazing Grace"... wait, what's that? "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" Bioshock Infinite, you sly dog, you! You distracted me with all the pretty shinies - I didn't even notice you were using trochees!
- In Deadly Premonition, the song plays during the Original Raincoat Killer sequence.
- The Game Over screen in Wild 9 has a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace playing over it. Followed shortly by the laughter of the little green men.
- Yakuza plays this song during the credits sequence.
- One of the trailers for Assassin's Creed III features a version of this.
- Mass Effect 3: In the Citadel DLC, Mordin's repertoire of songs and entertainment includes a rendition of Amazing Grace. He comments that he prefers patter songs.
- Ted sings it in episode 8 of Ambition.
- Not sung, but quoted in Chapter 7 of Broken Saints, when Raimi is going crazy due to a constant stream of lucid dreaming.
- Paw plays this song on a kazoo during Ma-Ti's funeral in Suburban Knights.
- Aversion: Clone High substitutes Franz Schubert's Ellens dritter Gesang (a.k.a. "Ave Maria"). It turns out that Genghis Khan is an amazing tenor.
- Parody: in Futurama, Fry's imagined death has his favorite song "I'm Walking On Sunshine", also played by the bagpipes.
- Used hilariously in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, where the Joker eulogizes the believed-to-be-dead Batman, and decides to murder his supposed killer by sealing him into a coffin and rolling it into an acid pool. The end of the scene is accompanied by Harley Quinn playing the song on a kazoo. Given that this is Joker, both conveying genuine sadness and savagely funny mockery of funeral tropes at the same time was likely his intended goal. When they recorded this scene, they were only able to do one take because when Arleen Sorkin (Harley) had finished, everyone was laughing too hard to do another take.
- Parodied in the South Park episode "Ike's Wee Wee": At Ike's funeral, conducted by Father Maxi dressed as a rabbi, the piper plays "Hava Nagila." As the boys walk away from the funeral, Kenny falls in an open grave and is crushed by the tombstone, and the funeral reconvenes around the grave, the priest changes to his normal appearance (Kenny's Catholic), and the piper plays... "Hava Nagila."
- Bottomtooth (the guy from Family Guy with the huge underbite) sings the song after he refuses to sign Brian's petition to legalise gay marriage in Rhode Island.
- In Drawn Together, an instrumental version plays in the background any time a character delivers a moral of some sort.
- The Ren & Stimpy Show played the song in, appropriately enough, "Terminal Stimpy".