Top 10 Songs About the End of the World

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Currently, there’s a rather unpleasant radio commercial for some Chipotle sub which talks about some promotion being available for an “unlimited time only.”  That’s not the problem: there is a disclaimer used in the ad that goes something like, “If the world does end in 2012, according to Mayan calendar predictions, due to worldwide earthquakes, the sun exploding, or the earth getting sucked into a black hole, then the promotion obviously can’t go on.  So, we can’t guarantee it will last forever-forever, but we can guarantee it will last as long as humanly possible.”  While it is most likely meant less than seriously, the rhetoric is just a little too disturbing to be used for a fast food ad, it’s just a little too heavy if you will.  After all, who wants to contemplate the relative proximity of the apocalypse during their lunch hour?  It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t just so ill-placed, not meaning on the radio; in fact, the pending demise of our mortal landscape isn’t really anything new or all that out of place on the radio.  While lately there has been a  lot of buzz with the approaching of 2012, in radio ads and terrible John Cusack movies, plenty of songs have tackled the topic over the years.  Here are the top ten songs ostensibly about the end of the world:

10. “When the World Ends” by Dave Matthews Band

Never has the end of the world sounded so breezy, as Dave sings in as laidback a vocal posture as possible, “When the world ends, we’ll be burning one…”  Here, he is breathing in the jam band-friendly assistance that makes the even the most grim prospects nothing much to worry about, even as the chorus crashes into a sonic ferocity full of “crumbling buildings,” weighty timbres, and saxophone.  “The day the world is over, we’ll be lying in bed…” He seems to assure that as long as he’s got his acoustic guitar and sandals close by, the transition should be mellow enough.  Yeah…

9. “Armageddon It” by Def Leppard

This song is really as much about Armageddon as is not about sex.  This quintessential 80’s hair/pop-metal band doesn’t supply much depth in lyrical content, mostly just crude come-ons and sexual innuendo (“Pour Some Sugar on Me”…), the rest just filler and empty words to put a catchy melody to.  But everything is subjective; even if it is an obvious stretch, some possible thematic tie-ins to the Armageddon idea exist with lyrics like “oh come on, live a bit” and “never want it to stop.”  Well, it would certainly be bad if it did stop…

8. “Four Horsemen of 2012” by Klaxons

This song off Klaxon’s debut album Myths of the Near Future as danceably dramatic, surreal and overbearing as everything else on the album, right up there with the sci-fi-disco-epic “Gravity’s Rainbow” which seems to feature laser pistols as necessary instruments.  “Horsemen,” in a similar fashion, gallops with rattling post-punk low-end as a demonic chant seems to prescribe an inevitable fate, complete with “red skies” straight out of Revelations.  The refrain is a slow crescendoing “Horse-men of 20-12!”  Really this song would be best played, if not at the very last dance party, during a fight scene between Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless.

7. “I’m Gonna DJ” by REM

Not R.E.M.’s first song about the end of the world, or the first to endorse the same “live for today” mentality, Michael Stipe reveals that the topic is something he often dwells on as he sings “It’s on my mind, it’s in my mind/It’s what I’ve found, It’s what I find.”  Even if it does concern him, he doesn’t sound concerned; he sounds ready to party: “If death is pretty final, I’m collecting vinyl/I’m gonna DJ at the end of the world!/‘Cause if heaven does exist with a kickin’ playlist/I don’t want to miss it at the end of the world!”  Save the date!

6. “Soldier On” by the Temper Trap

From their debut album Conditions, this song is a lugubrious, solemn contemplation of finiteness, with a babbling guitar-driven melody and frontman Dougy Mandagi cooing lyrics like “no one will know/when seasons cease to change/and how far we’ve gone/how far we’re going.”  He offers the only advice he can, “don’t think about it at all, just keep your head low, and don’t think about it all…soldier on…”  A very nonconfrontational, spiritually-indifferent coping mechanism, but whatever works.

5.  “Four Chords of the Apocalypse” by Julian Casablancas

“Anything to watch while we are waiting for this apocalypse?” sings Strokes frontman and principle songwriter Julian Casablancas.  “What more is there to do?”  He seems at once uneasy lying idle and waiting for the end to come and skeptical of, unfulfilled by, living a decadent lifestyle to escape the inevitable:  “Oh time is over/don’t you know that/ if a time won’t burn or pause/I’ll stay right in my place/now worry’s over.”

4.  “Idioteque” by Radiohead

Thom Yorke’s lyrics have a tendency to be two things: dark and ambiguous.  And it is to greater artistic ends.  The surface layer is replete with sullen imagery, probably a dog being drowned and mutilated, while subliminally is a world of interpretative meaning.  He is the modern epitome of poet as lyricist as consummate songwriter.  This song is especially concept-heavy as it is just one well-placed part of a greater electro-atmospheric concept album in Kid A.  The undercurrent of the album seems to be something like a simulation of a national disaster, sonically and lyrically.  For an in-depth piece-by-piece analysis of the album as it syncs up with the events leading up to and following 9/11, check out Chuck Klosterman’s brilliant piece in Spin (you can find it online or in his self-titled editorial collection).  This song is quite clearly the album’s climax, the moment in which the “worst of it” happens.  It seems to perfectly align to apocalyptic circumstances as pithy lines come off as mere sound bites and thought capsules from assorted victims in the heart of it all:  “Who’s in a bunker?/Women and children first…/I’ll laugh until my head comes off/I’ll swallow till I burst…/Ice age coming/Ice age coming/Let me hear both sides…/We’re not scaremongering/This is really happening…/Take the money run/Take the money/Here I’m allowed/Everything all of the time…”  Here you hear the collective voices, of all walks of life, operating in a state of sheer panic.  The hypothetically question posed is, ‘what would you do?’ Keep a cool head? Go insane? Loot? Riot?  Who can know until the time should actually come.

3. “It’s the End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M

This song has to be the premiere example of overcrowded lyrics, words as overpopulated as a fallout shelter.  Stipe’s cheeky enthusiasm and Peter Bucks carefree guitar-jangle make you feel “fine” as well when that chorus comes and allows for an irresistible sing-along.  Or you could do what Chris Farley and David Spade did in Tommy Boy and just make-up the words leading up to. Depends on how excited you are about the end of the world.  Shout out to Nadan10 for his original video of a song that didn’t have an original video.

2.  “Kingdom’s Coming” by Bauhaus

The best thing about Peter Murphy’s lyrics, other than their ghoulish charm, is their melodramatic contents.  This is almost to the point where singing about the end of days comes off as shtick. “Sky will open soon, could be today/Your kingdom is coming, coming today.” The cold, biblical nature of these sentiments is what adds that classic gothic kick, supplying a creepiness compacted by time, fermented in the sin and stone of a medieval torture chamber.  “Madness in the wind’s got something to say/It ripped you apart/It will always be that way.”  That’s a slice of fear that can only be enjoyed in moderate doses or when dwelling in an abyss is all that’s left.

1.  “The End of the World” by The Cure

Robert Smith wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t focus on the absolute worst.  It’s only surprising that this song is actually so recent (from the 2004 self-titled Cure album), only after so many upbeat pop-albums spent defying that “goth” typecast.  While the Cure sound exists in many forms, and is recognizable is being more than just the contents of 17 Seconds or Pornography (where the best downer sentiments can be traced, lines like “It doesn’t matter if we all die” from “A Hundred Years”), it seems that Robert Smith has become okay with returning to his gothic roots on occasion, lyrics always best when depressed.  As it turns out, the lyrics concerning the end of the world happen to appear in the most upbeat song on the album, a highly contentious, yet underrated gem in a beautiful catalogue.  Maybe it’s not fair to include this obvious love song on a list of songs about the end of the world, let alone put it at number one, but who best to lead us all to the gates of eternal dusk?


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22 Comments

  1. Back in 1983, Prince wrote and performed “1999”, about partying before nuclear armageddon. Prince thought Reagan’s anti-Communist stand would result in a nuclear holocaust.

  2. What about “The Final Countdown” by Europe? I would think that “The Final Countdown” should be in the top ten somewhere.

  3. If you’re going to choose a Def Leppard song off of Hysteria to talk about the end of the world, rather than choosing the one about sex, choose the one that’s actually about the end of the world – “Gods of War”.

    Plus, you forgot Christian rock and metal – perhaps the biggest source of music about the end of the world.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHmdFy14iZg
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IaRoq7fXt0
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WW92LzNueAo
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2j22cfUd3hw

    • Is 99 Red Balloons about the end of the world?

      *sods off to Wikipedia*

      Wow. It’s amazing how many times I’ve listened to that tune and not paid attention to the lyrics.

      • Hahahaha this is AMAZING

        VH1 Classic, an American cable television station, ran a charity event for Hurricane Katrina relief in 2006. Viewers who made donations were allowed to choose which music videos the station would play. One viewer (Jonathan Harchick) donated $35,000 for the right to program an entire hour and requested continuous play of Nena’s “99 Luftballons” and “99 Red Balloons” videos. The station broadcast the videos as requested from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. EST on 26 March 2006.

  4. Metallica’s Fight Fire with Fire

    Iron Maiden’s When the Wild Wind Blows

    Haendel’s “Hallelujah” is a chant to arms for the apocalypse

  5. I feel like REM should have been #1. Also, would have liked to have seen Let’s See How Far We’ve Come by Matchbox 20 (I think).

  6. It is a huge fail that Tool’s “Ænema” is not on this list. Some lyrics:

    “Some say a comet will fall from the sky.
    Followed by meteor showers and tidal waves.
    Followed by fault lines that cannot sit still.
    Followed by millions of dumbfounded dipshits.

    Some say the end is near.
    Some say we’ll see Armageddon soon.
    I certainly hope we will ’cause
    I sure could use a vacation from this…”

    Not to mention the fact that the entire song is framed around an excerpt from Bill Hicks’ standup routine where he talks about the vapidness of LA culture, and his desire to see the Southern California coastline washed into the sea, creating a new “Arizona Bay.”

  7. There is actually a video to R.E.M.’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It”, it’s just so unrelated and uneventful that everyone’s forgotten it. It consists of a teenage boy and a dog in a trashed room doing pretty much nothing for 4 minutes.

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