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The Final Countdown: An Apocalyptic Top 40

By Mike Breen · December 12th, 2012 · Cover Story
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It’s probably one of those things that’s impossible to know without being in the situation, but when the world ends on a pre-determined date like, say, Dec. 21, how you will spend that last day? Will you do a power-bucket list? Bunker up with family and loved ones? Weep uncontrollably?

Will art play a role? Will you spend those last moments watching your favorite movies, absorbing your favorite paintings and books, listening to your favorite albums and songs? 

Or will you go the Prince route and party, literally, like it’s the last night on earth? 

Peruse the club listings and ads on Facebook and in the pages of your favorite altweekly and you’ll notice that dance clubs — always suckers for a good theme night — have taken to the apocalyptic theme particularly strongly. If you attend such a shindig, the last music you will ever hear will be some other dude or dudette’s playlist. A DJ not only has lost the capability to save your life, but now also has the power to make your final moments shitty-sounding. 

I offer to you these suggestions as a gift to make your final few hours alive a little less annoying. Mix and match as you wish — it’s your doomsday party and you can listen to what you want to. (Visit this story at citybeat.com for audio/video clips.)


10) The Postal Service – “We Will Become Silhouettes”

This little Synth Pop ditty bops along with peppy glee and the music video only half-panders to the very descriptive doomsday outcome in the lyrics — the first half is a rec room karaoke session; the second is a bare-bones post-apocalypse snapshot of the hipster survivors, part Slacker, part The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. The lyrics tell a different, even bleaker tale.

Crap-Your-Pants Lyric: “I wanted to walk through the empty streets/ And feel something constant under my feet/ But all the news reports recommended that I stay indoors/ Because the air outside will make/ Our cells divide at an alarming rate/ Until our shells simply cannot hold/ All our insides in/ And that’s when we’ll explode/ And it won’t be a pretty sight.”

9) Ultravox – “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes”

Pop star Ke$ha has a song by this name that’s like a suicide note, but Ultravox’s ElectroPop 1984 hit “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” was a yearning goodbye to everything in a different way, thanks largely to the music video. The clip depicted a nuclear plant meltdown and explosion, featuring Ultravox’s Midge Ure and his family in their final moments before disappearing in a flash of apocalyptic dust. Separated from the very “of its time” video (which preyed on still-very-real fears of Cold War nuclear actions), the song’s less cheap and far more emotionally resonant.

Crap-Your-Pants Lyrics: “It’s 5 and I’m driving home again/ It’s hard to believe that it’s my last time/The man on the wireless cries again/ ‘It’s over, it’s over.’ ” 

8) Madonna and Justin Timberlake – “4 Minutes”

Some people might just want to dance their short lives away and maybe peripherally think about the grand finale … but not to get too stressed. And that’s fine. This mindless but fun nugget is more 2:25 a.m. pickup-line “Hail Mary” than “We’re all gonna die … let’s dance!” but the music video played up the doomsday-clock scenario (with sexy choreography and flashing lights, of course). Like Bing and Bowie singing that Christmas song, these two generations teamed-up for some apocalyptic fun for Madge’s 2008 album, Hard Candy (which, in retrospect, is a hilarious album title for an aging Pop star; I heard it beat out Halls Mentho-lyptus by a nose).

Crap-Your-Pants Lyrics: “Keep it up, Kidz Bop, hey/ You gotta get in line, hop/ Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.”

7) Midnight Oil – “Minutes to Midnight”

Australian band Midnight Oil often sang of social and political issues during its illustrious history (which peaked in the U.S.

in the ’80s with hits like “Beds Are Burning”). Singer Peter Garrett gives us one less minute than Madonna and JT on “Minutes to Midnight,” a song referring to the Cold War-era “Doomsday Clock” charting nuclear war’s possibility. “War” was at midnight. This song urgently spotlights being “three minutes” from doomsday in 1984 (the same year the song was issued), the closest the clock came to midnight since the early ’50s. The “Doomsday Clock” has been an easy poetic device in a lot of Rock lyrics, most recently referred to by Linkin Park. Midnight Oil is a bit more poetic, referencing H.G. Wells, missile types and a champion Australian racehorse in its protest against nuclear arms. And it ends on a note of complete hopefulness. 

Crap-Your-Pants Lyrics: “Remember your childhood/ Remember the journey/ Hope is what you say and do.”

6) Peter Gabriel – “Here Comes the Flood” 

As Gabriel so often does, this song’s melodic and aural magic is one of melancholy spun into a romantic surge. The lyrics are a bit more complex. Gabriel has said the song is a glimpse of a future where we can read everyone’s thoughts and only the honest survive. But the moving, biblical imagery of an oncoming flood and saying “goodbye to flesh and blood” certainly have apocalyptic indications. 

Crap-Your-Pants Lyrics: “The jaded underworld was riding high/ Waves of steel hurled metal at the sky/ And as the nail sunk in the cloud, the rain/ Was warm and soaked the crowd.”


5) Blue Oyster Cult – “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”

Yes, this 1976 hit is just as obvious as R.E.M.’s “End of the World” song and “The End,” yet it contains that one secret weapon — persistent cowbell. I think it will help to have that steady cowbell ring to keep us focused as the world crumbles around us. And lyrically, it’s a great song to go out on for those taking the whole “blaze of glory,” debauchery train. 

Crap-Your-Pants Lyrics: “All our times have come/ Here, but now there, gone.”

4) Tool – “Ænima"

This one’s even more for those taking a nihilistic approach to the end, announcing its intentions with the opening salvo, “Some say the end is near/ Some say we’ll see Armageddon soon/ I certainly hope we will/ I sure could use a vacation from this.” Tool’s “fuck the world, anyway” anthem is a comical dress-down of a society, culture and world that deserves to die. Singer Maynard James Keenan takes Travis Bickle’s Taxi Cab rant that “someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets,” and blows it out to apocalyptic proportions. Still, it’s delivered with a slicing wit that shows influence from late, great comedian Bill Hicks. 

Crap-Your-Pants Lyrics: “Fuck retro anything/ Fuck your tattoos/ Fuck all you junkies and/ Fuck your short memory … Learn to swim.”

3) Carter Family – “When The World’s On Fire”

Gospel songs about the end are what religion is all about — comfort in the face of the “big unknown.” There are dark Gospel songs, but most about death offer a sense of something transcending fear, going to a better place, etc. This song about redemption and solace in the face of death was based on a Baptist Gospel hymn (“Oh, My Loving Brother”) and recorded by American music’s influential Carter Family in the early 20th century. There’s an eerie quality to the melody, part of which (quite noticeably) Woody Guthrie repurposed for “This Land Is Your Land.” 

Crap-Your-Pants Lyric: “Oh my loving sinner, when the world’s on fire/ Don’t you want God’s bosom to be your pillow?”

2) Elvis Perkins In Dearland – “Doomsday”

Gospel tunes can be enjoyed by atheists, but they don’t quite have the same weight of salvation. For the non-believers preparing to tun into a pile of dust through a mix of apathy and humor, check out this fantastic New Orleans-brass-on-speed tribute to just not caring that we’re all going to die. Perkins — an acclaimed Indie Folk rocker who put this out in ’09 — sings “I don’t plan to die/ Nor should you plan to die” with a defiantly laisez faire sense of freedom.

Crap-Your-Pants Lyric: “Not in all my wildest dreams it never once was seen/ That doomsday might fall anywhere near a Tuesday.”

1) Tom Waits – “Earth Died Screaming”

With Waits’ wounded howl and the minimalistic, percussive sound of a post-apocalyptic band with only spoons, pots and pans with which to perform, this song should be the universal religious hymn for any survivors of the world’s last congested gasp. Waits takes on impending doom with a shrug and a draw of a cigarette. 

Crap-Your-Pants Lyric: “There was thunder, there was lightning/ Then the stars went out/ And the moon fell from the sky/ It rained mackerel, it rained trout/ And the great day of wrath has come/ And here’s mud in your big red eye/ The poker’s in the fire/ And the locusts take the sky.” 


THE REST OF THE END: 

40) Lupe Fiasco – “The End of the World”
39) Metallica – “Blackened”
38) Skeeter Davis – “The End of the World”
37) Craft – “Fuck the Universe”
36) Jay Sean and Nicki Minaj – “2012 (It Ain’t The End)”
35) Alkaline Trio – “Armageddon”
34) Nena – “99 Red Balloons”
33) Johnny Cash – “When the Man Comes Around”
32) Fishbone – “Party At Ground Zero”
31) Misfits – “Don’t Open Til Doomsday”
30) Muse – “Apocalypse Please”
29) Barry McGuire – “Eve of Destruction”
28) Lenka – “The End of the World”
27) Bright Eyes – “Four Winds”
26) U2 – “Seconds”
25) I See Stars – “The End of the World Party”
24) Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “(I’ll Love You Till) The End of the World”
23) Bad Religion – “Fuck Armageddon ... This Is Hell”
22) The Eels – “End Times”
21) Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Bad Moon Rising”
20) Pink Floyd – “Goodbye Cruel World”
19) Siouxsie and the Banshees – “The Rapture”
18) The Thermals – “Here’s Your Future”
17) XTC – “This World Over”
16) Adele – “Skyfall”
15) Waylon Jennings – “Revelation”
14) Elvis Costello – “Waiting For the End of the World”
13) Steely Dan – “King of the World”
12) Time Zone (Afrika Bambaataa with Johnny Rotten) – “World Destruction”
11) Nine Inch Nails – “The Day the Whole World Went Away”

 
 
 
 

 

 
12.12.2012 at 01:39 Reply

So you came up with 40 "end of the world" songs and NOT ONE of them was "It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine) by R.E.M.?  That's a miss.

 

12.12.2012 at 02:15
Jac

Too easy, natidread, way too easy.

 

12.12.2012 at 02:22

Too easy?  You mean compared to the FOUR songs listed with the title "End of the World?"  Weak. Hey, at least Nena made the list.

 

12.12.2012 at 04:40

It was my dying wish to be the only person on our soon-to-be-gone planet to make an end-of-the-world playlist that DIDN'T include that REM song or The Doors' "The End." Bucket list, fin. I will now die in 9 days a happy man. 

 

12.12.2012 at 04:59

Ah, got it.  That would have made an excellent "editor's note" in the story (seriously).  So, you were going for the "deep cuts," eh?  In that case I offer, The Clash's "Armegeddon Time" or Billy Idol's "The Dead Next Door."

 

12.14.2012 at 09:51 Reply

For your consideration: The Last Night of the World by Bruce Cockburn. 

 

 
 
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