Music for the Apocalypse

Music for the Apocalypse #48: Belong, by REM

This is one of those odd songs that you can listen to and enjoy several times before you start listening to the lyrics and are startled into realising that it isn’t your typical pop or rock song. Unlike REM’s ‘It’s the End of the World as we Know it’,  ‘Belong’ isn’t gleefully belting it’s end apocalyptic credentials. It’s a quiet song with a soothing tone, offering us a mother’s mantra to her child:

[She] Stood and whispered to her child: belong
She held the child and whispered
With calm, calm, belong

The spoken lyrics are said in the same calming mode that we imagine the mother must be using with her child, and it’s easy to be soothed by them into not listening. But when one does, the words are striking indeed:

Her world collapsed early Sunday morning
She got up from the kitchen table
Folded the newspaper and silenced the radio
Those creatures jumped the barricades
And have headed for the sea, sea

There’s clearly a metaphorical mode to this. The video ties the song to a political message – the creatures jumping the barricades perhaps representing protestors fighting for freedom. But the song resists a direct, simplistic meaning. Such a broad, political meaning is contrasted with the deeply personal opening line. It is her world that has collapsed, and the little mundane details speak to a smaller, more personal event, the sort of thing that could go utterly unnoticed by the rest of the world. It is ‘early Sunday morning’ – a time evocative of peace and solitude: it’s early, before other people are up and moving about; it’s a spiritual time, in the Christian religion, and an empty time, in that (for Christians) work is forbidden – it’s evocative of the stillness and echoing quiet of churches. She gets up from the table, folds her newspaper, turns off the radio – the sort of details one would only put in a story – much less a song – unless they has some significance, and yet, there is nothing momentous in the actions themselves. Three lines are devoted to these very ordinary notes in a song that opens dramatically about the world (or her world) collapsing, yet fails to say why. What the barricades are. What the creatures are.

And we must note the oddity that it is not people who are describes jumping the barricades, but ‘creatures’. Even in metaphor, it is a startling phrase. If these are protestors fighting for freedom, it is strange that they should be cast in such an alienating light. But equally, if the creatures jumping the barricades is the cause of the world collapsing, it seems odd that they are headed to the sea, presumably away from the mother and child at home. And, moreover, the mother is inspired by them:

She began to breathe
To breathe at the thought of such freedom

It sounds as though she has been inspired to rebel, possibly against her own domesticity, the smallness of the details of her life. But then, one has to wonder, why does she tell the child to ‘belong’, which has such connotations of conformity, or repressing individuality?

I don’t think this song is meant to be open to an easy reading. I think it is meant to sooth us and wake us up at the same time. The calming voice of the spoken lyrics is contrasted with the hopeful (yet also somewhat melancholy?) wordless singing that rises up above the monotone, like a bird soaring to freedom. I suspect it is in part meant to express the unavoidable tension between our need to belong and our need to be free to express ourselves and control our own destiny. Which, of course, is central to the appeal of apocalyptic fiction. We imagine the apocalypse in part to scare ourselves – we depict it as hard and wild and dangerous – but also because we long for a peace and solitude that is unattainable in the press of rules and restrictions, and even the bodies of our fellow humans… the barricades can only hold for so long before we long to burst free.

I think this song shows the real genius of poetry in REM’s music, and I think, when the barricades break and the world collapses, this would be a very good song to listen to, contemplating the uncertain future. And I can’t help but not that it is particularly appropriate for the girls of the apocalypse, some of whom may be mothers with babes in their arms to care for.

– Apocalypse Womble out

Music for the Apocalypse #47: Radioactive by Imagine Dragons

I’m waking up to ash and dust

New on the Apocalypse Girls radar is the teddy apocalypse!  Yes, really! With cagefighting stuffed toys in a fun video from Imagine Dragons!

I’m breaking in, shaping up, then checking out of the prison bars
This is it, the apocalypse

Video aside, this is one of those great tunes that rocks an addictive beat with some cool melodies to get you into the zen zone when all about you is going a bit, well, apocalyptic.

 

battleaxebunny out

Music for the Apocalypse #46: Insect Nation, by Bill Bailey

Comedy, the most essential of tools in your survival kit. If you can’t keep your morale up, you’ll be lost, so keep this song from master musician and comedian, Bill Bailey, to hand. Especially if you find yourself to be a human slave in an insect nation.

And remember: the spiders are not insects, but in the war they will side with the insects.

- Apocalypse Womble out.

Music for the Apocalypse #45: We Are The Champions, by Queen

Not all songs suitable for the Apocalypse have to be depressing and downbeat. When the end comes I want to go out fighting – I want to cheer my sisters on and win the day. It’s impossible not to feel uplifted by this song. The slow, the swell of the melody, building throughout the song provides the perfect counter-point to the tired and plodding beat. This is a song for the downtrodden who are not beaten. This is a song for celebration in a hard world.

We are the champions, my friends. The champions of the world.

- Apocalypse Womble out.

 

Music for the Apocalypse #44: Till the world ends, by Britney Spears

OK, I don’t think this song is set to be an apocalypse classic, but you have to give her props for exploiting the 2012-Mayan-calendar-end-of-the-world theme. I’m surprised more pop-stars haven’t gone for it, to be honest.

The first half of this song is fairly standard mindless noise that doesn’t really seem to have anything to do with the apocalypse, but keep with it, around 2:35 it kicks off into something a bit different and more interesting:

See the sunlight, we ain’t stoppin’

Keep on dancing till the world ends

If you feel it, let it happen

Keep on dancing till the world ends

It’s still a pretty simple lyric, but the timbre shifts from the standard dance beat to a softer, more open sound as the melody rises to echo the rising of the sun in the lyric and I have to admit, I get a tingle. It is evocative of a survivor emerging from their hidey hole after some tumultuous disaster has swept over them, to see the still destruction in the dawn light. It’s not Mozart, but it earns it a place in our post-apocalypse playlist.

Credit is also due to director Ray Kay for creating a music video that is rather more spectacular than the song. This is a pretty stunning depiction of the apocalypse. I’m not quite sure what sort of apocalypse it is, but I’m also not quite sure that I care. It’s very pretty. Equally, the frenetic choreography of the dancers (who are maybe engaged in some kind of sex-death ritual, maybe zombies (probably sex-zombies, if there is such a thing), or just the world’s most committed ravers) evocatively capture what  all songs of this type are getting at: i.e. whether you’re dancing like it’s 1999 or like it’s the end of the world the music is taking you to a frenzied beat that shakes passion off it like sweat. It’s the ‘quick! The four minute warning! Find someone to screw!’ impulse mixed with dancing like your life depends on it. Both themes are exciting and evocative of the sex-death link that has fascinated theorists like Freud.

It’s a simple idea with no real distracting depth, but it’s nicely realised. It’s a 2012 themed song – I felt it did have to make the list before the year was out.

Music for the Apocalypse #43: Flash, by Queen

As a girl equipped to survive the apocalypse, I’m not generally inclined to wait around for a man to save me – chances are I’ll still be sitting there when the zombies eat me. Or the man will have been manfully hiding a bite and will turn into a zombie and eat me. But it’s hard not to hear this song and feel cheered. I feel it has a place in a post apocalypse world.

Also? The women in Flash Gordon are awesome. Especially General Kala. I mean, if the Apocalypse is coming, why not be in charge of its armies?

'What do you mean, "Flash Gordon approaching"?!'

General Kala

 

 

And as villains go, this is some kind of formiddable woman:

What do you mean, ‘Flash Gordon approaching’?!

Open fire! ALL weapons.

No half-measures with this lady. I challenge anyone to deny that this is a woman who commands respect with her every gesture, look, and tone.

General Kala: Apocalypse Girl extraordinaire.

Dale Arden

Dale Arden

And let’s not forget Dale Arden. Not without fight in her, and even as she calls out: ‘Flash! Flash! I love you’ She adds as though to call him back to the matter at hand: ‘But we only have fourteen hours to save the Earth!’

Yeah, I think, come the apocalypse, this’ll be one I’m glad to have in my record collection.

Music for the Apocalypse #42: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Theme

It’s number 42. It was mandatory.

For those not in the know, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the book you will need if ever the Earth is destroyed to make way for a hyper-spatial bypass and you are stranded, hitchhiking around space with your best-friend who turns out to be an alien, his double-headed cousin who’s sort of the President of the Universe, and someone you fell in love with at a party in Islington and then never saw again until after the end of the world. Alternately, it is a series of books, or a film, or a radio series, or a TV show about that book and a person who has just such an adventure. Or a website that was trying to do a light-hearted version of Wikipedia before there were wikis. This is the theme tune for the TV Show, and I think you’ll agree that it’ll help you not to panic when the Earth explodes.

According to the Guide, 42 is the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. So. You know.

Music for the Apocalypse #41: 13 Women

by Katemandi, Last Girl on Earth

What if they were 13 men, eh? I love how often men approach the apocalypse as the site for wish-fulfillment. Women tend to imagine worst case scenarios: perhaps those two tendencies are related…

Dig that high hat! The Renegades rock.

The earlier version by Bill Haley & his Comets

Music for the Apocalypse #40 Eye of the Tiger

Ok, this may seem like an odd one, it’s an 80′s power chord song we all associate with Stallone rather than the end of the world. The video I am linking to however is the end credits of an episode of Supernatural and Jensen Ackles having fun with the song.

Really, who knows more about the end of the world than the Winchester brothers. Embedding is sadly disabled, but here is Dean doing Eye of the Tiger

Also check out these lyrics, they may not be intended for the apocalypse but they still have value.

Risin’ up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance
Now I’m back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive

So many times, it happens too fast
You trade your passion for glory
Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive

[Chorus]
It’s the eye of the tiger
It’s the thrill of the fight
Risin’ up to the challenge
Of our rival
And the last known survivor

Stalks his prey in the night
And he’s watching us all with the
Eye of the tiger

Face to face, out in the heat
Hangin’ tough, stayin’ hungry
They stack the odds
Still we take to the street
For the kill with the skill to survive

[Chorus]

Risin’ up straight to the top
Had the guts, got the glory
Went the distance
Now I’m not gonna stop
Just a man and his will to survive

Music for the Apocalypse #38: Who’s Next, by Tom Lehrer

As pertinent today as it was in 1967:

The bombs at Hiroshima and NagasakiIt may seem like the days of the Cold War are long forgotten, and (as we’ve noted before) fear of The Bomb is not what it was… but we certainly still care about who’s allowed to have it. Now the worry is the Middle East and North Korea, rather than China, but as Tom Lehrer wisely observes, once one person has The Bomb it doesn’t stop nuclear proliferation, but simply prompts us to ask ‘Who’s next?’





Destruction at HiroshimaYou’re more likely to see zombies or pandemics as the source of the apocalypse in modern science fiction, but there remains something particularly chilling about the threat of global thermonuclear war. Because we’ve seen it. We’ve seen what we can do. And ever since the first bombs were dropped on Japan in 1945 the bomb has been as desired as it has been feared. Because it seems like the only way to be sure that no one will dare to drop a bomb on you is to make sure that you have one yourself.
Terrifyingly, having The Bomb seems to have been taken as a token of admission to being taken seriously on the world stage. Iran claims not to want The Bomb, and yet the ‘nuclear’ payload is still a political asset that Iranians covet: God willing, we expect to soon join the club of the countries that have a nuclear industry, with all its branches, except the military one‘  Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former president of Iran, has said. And yet the rest of the world looks on with anxiety at their nuclear progress, thinking to themselves, well, if Israel has the bomb… who’s next?
 - Apocalypse Womble out.

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