Top Rock Playlist: End Of The World Edition

Doomsday Cat has the right idea, if not a little late

How’s it going, music fans!? It’s December 20th, 2012, so you all know what that means! The Mayan Calendar ends tomorrow so if you have any Mayan friends, a new calendar would make a great Christmas gift. Anyways, in the spirit of all of this apocalyptic hooey, let’s take a look back at some of the best “end of the world” rock songs that are sure to keep you banging your head while the world around you meets its bitter end.  And when our eventual robot successors find our mangled, fetal-positioned corpses grasping our iPods along with our favorite edition of Guns and Ammo – the one with Ted Nugent on the cover, thank you very much – let them know that if anything, we knew how to rock! Alright, let’s get started!




Tom Waits – Earth Died Screaming

Most of you probably remember this little end-of-days number when it was used in the soundtrack for the equally apocalyptic movie “Twelve Monkeys” but the actual inspiration for the song probably stems from another, equally doom-filled film of which it takes its name, 1965’s The Earth Dies Screaming. For those of you unfamiliar with this UK movie, let’s just say that the first few minutes are filled with trains derailing, cars crashing into walls and plenty of people falling to their deaths. Along with this song, a perfect movie for the end!



R.E.M. – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It

Alright, we all knew this one was coming. Possibly the most well-known end-of-the-world song in recent history, this R.E.M. jam is almost as perfect for tonight as the words are confusing. In an interview with Guitar World magazine published in November 1996, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck mentioned that "End of the World" was in the tradition of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," which might explain why the words are sung as they are. As far as that Leonard Bernstein lyric is concerned, in a 1990s interview with Musician magazine, singer Michael Stipe claimed that the reference came from a dream he had in which he found himself at a party surrounded by famous people who all shared these initials, proving that the inspiration is actually much stranger than the resulting song. 



Nena – 99 Red Balloons 

Bet most people didn’t realize that this song was about the nuclear annihilation of the world – maybe they should try listening to the lyrics sometime as it makes that point pretty clearly. Although the original German version of Nena’s hit differs slightly in its intro from the English translation, both versions tell the story of faulty radar equipment mistakenly confusing balloons for bombs of sorts which then causes an unnamed government to send fighter jets to intercept them, ultimately triggering nuclear war. The song ends with the narrator standing in the ruble of a city and finds a single remaining balloon. Pretty pessimistic lyrics for such an upbeat sounding song – maybe that’s why the original German version actually charted higher here in the states than the English one.



The Postal Service – We Will Become Silhouettes 

And yet another end-of-the-world tune disguised in the form of a very pretty pop song. While the Postal Service is probably best known for their lighthearted love songs, if you listen to the lyrics on this one, there’s nothing romantic about it – unless preparing for the inevitable end is your kind of thing. The video itself is actually just as campy and cheerful as the music, which makes it all the more striking seeing Ben Gibbard singing “we will become silhouettes when our bodies finally go” looking like he just got out of church, complete with a dorky haircut. 



Johnny Cash – When The Man Comes Around

Cash himself once described this piece as a beautiful song about the chilling elements of revelations alongside the second coming of Jesus. The inspiration for writing the song at the time was his newly discovered relationship with Jesus Christ. Both sung and spoken, the song makes numerous Biblical references, especially from the Book of Revelation, aka, the one about Armageddon. Just take a listen to the intro to the song and you’ll agree that few songs hit the end of the world feel as much as this one!



David Bowie – Five Years

Leave it to Bowie to pen a song as catchy as it is pessimistic. The song tells of an Earth doomed to destruction in five years due to depleting natural resources and the aftermath of this knowledge. Bowie is rumored to have chosen the length of time, five years, as a result of a dream in which his deceased father told him he must never fly again and would die in five years. Although the song’s message itself is a positive one of enjoying life and love before we all go, the lyrics itself suggest that it still won’t end well. 



The Clash – London Calling

This apocalyptic, politically charged rant features the band's famous combination of reggae basslines, punk electric guitar and Joe Strummer’s signature every-man vocals. Inspired in part by the Three Mile Island nuclear accident that occurred a few months earlier – along with plenty of other UK-specific happenings – the Clash sing about a "nuclear error" in this punk classic which also lists starvation and war as causes for humanity's ultimate demise. The title itself is alludes to the BBC World Service’s station identification, “this is London calling...,” which was used during World War II. While its feel and sound is definitely signature British punk, there is still plenty of apocalyptic references that we can all relate to in less than 24 hours.

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