A Soundtrack for the End of the World

26 Nov

Counting down to the release of The Girl at the End of the World, I’ve been thinking more and more about apocalypses. When people contemplate the end of the world, they often wonder how it could happen and what they’d do to survive.

But have you ever thought about what would be on your iPod at the end of the world?

Here are a few songs that might get you through the apocalypse:

441px-Four_Horsemen_of_the_Apocalypse_by_Dürer1. The Man Comes Around–Johnny Cash. This title cut from Cash’s fourth collection of covers and revisions is straight-out Biblical Apocalypse, Four Horsemen and all. A great track, even if you have to look past the whole chicken gender confusion about the “father hen.” You can check the song out on YouTube.

2. Re: Your Brains–Jonathan Coulton. A bit less traditional fare, this one. If your version of the apocalypse involves zombies, people hiding out inside a mall, and worrying about having your brain eaten, then this song’s for you. Coulton manages to invoke the best tropes of the zombie genre while also sending up corporate culture. You can find the song here.

Decca_9-29124_-_ThirteenWomen(AndOnlyOneManInTown)3. Thirteen Women–Bill Haley and the Comets. I usually play this song for my Science Fiction students when we get to the 1950s and begin reading post-WWII stories built around nuclear paranoia. Haley manages to come up with a humorous song about The Bomb and its aftermath, all set in the context of a dream that builds on the fantasy of being the last man on earth–with multiple women, of course. Have a listen.

4. Peace in the Valley Once Again–The Handsome Family. This may not technically be post-apocalyptic, as it’s about what happens after the closing of “the last shopping mall,” but the ensuing imagery captures a world without people by using typical Handsome Family (dark) humor. Here’s a link to a live performance. In the same vein would be “Nothing but Flowers” by The Talking Heads, which you can find here.

800px-R.E.M._(25)5. It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)–REM. I suppose this one has to be here. Too obvious? Still a great song, and the “I Feel Fine” aspect of it adds some ironic flavor to the cliché line we might expect to find in bad science fiction films and television. The fragility of the world is offset by the silver lining–at least the last person on earth can get some time alone. Here’s the YouTube video.

There are a handful of others where “end of the world” comes into play–U2’s “Until the End of the World” or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “I’ll Love You Till the End of the World” and (cringe) Skeeter Davis’ “End of the World.” But what other songs are out there that are more specifically about the world coming to an end?

The Girl at the End of the World is now available in paperback and e-book formats.

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3 Responses to “A Soundtrack for the End of the World”

  1. Johnny Ojanpera November 26, 2013 at 8:06 am #

    These are great picks. I love the way Mikey Mills says “fine”. REM is always subtley ironic.

  2. Mark Walsh November 26, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Great list! Johnny Cash should just be declared the “Official Voice of Apocalypse”

    On this topic I’ve got my head filled with late 70’s/early 80’s Punk & New Wave and their progeny.

    “London Calling” -The Clash about a “nuclear error” and a variety of fears and end of the world scenarios. This song, and the double album under it’s name, was the peak expression of Punk as an art form.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Calling_(song)

    “Kill The Poor” – The Dead Kennedy’s Might be read as a Nuclear Apocalypse for the poor. In the context of the song, the rich basically use war, and specifically the neutron bomb, to eradicate the poor without damaging property values.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kill_the_Poor

    “Waitng for the End Of The World”- Elvis Costello
    Aside from the clever main hook, referencing biblical Armageddon, the song is mostly abstract surreal cynical vignettes of various characters and events.
    http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/131781/

    “Cities in Dust” – Siouxie and the Banshees
    Just a gorgeous song reveling in the horrible details of the destruction of a city, ostensibly about of Pompeii and the people within, but it really extends beyond that in the imagination.

    And then we jump to Grunge rock
    “Black Hole Sun” – SoundGarden is one of the most beautiful songs about the urge to wipe out the corrupt human race.

    I could go on …

    • richardlevesqueauthor November 26, 2013 at 10:04 am #

      I almost included “London Calling” but decided it was too specifically grounded in 1970s politics. Still, the minor key and overall feel of it definitely fit the theme.

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