Music for the Apocalypse

Music for the Apocalypse #39 I hold your hand in mine Tom Lehrer

I had to follow up who’s next with this little love song for serial killer/zombie fancier types. It’s not really an end of the world track, but it has a suitably sinister note in spite of the chirpy piano playing.

On a personal note, I will always associate this song with Newcastle train station and my old uni flatmate Jolanda. Enjoy.

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.

Music for the Apocalypse #37: It’s Not the End of the World, by Lostprophets

A song called ‘It’s Not the End of the World’ might seem incongruous on an apocalypse themed blog, but this song is somewhat duplicitous. The singer calls out in the chorus:

It’s not the end of the world now, baby, 
So, c’mon, dry those tears
It’s not the end of the world now darling, 
But I can see it from here

This song has a delightfully unreliable narrator. One senses the classic metaphor of the end of a relationship being likened to the end of the world, and the undercutting of such hyperbole by the unsympathetic boyfriend. Yet what the chorus gives with one hand, it takes back with the other – ‘It’s not the end of the world’ he says, ‘But I can see it from here’. He sets himself up as the one with clearer sight, but he contradicts himself, and the verses suggest that whatever is ending, whatever is upsetting his partner so much, he’s not entirely innocent:
My soldiers march tonight in the city of your dreams
This beautiful army are tearing at your seams
Down on your knees, cure this disease
I’ll take it all, everything I see
Oh, can’t your hear this symphony?
He’s at fault for her pain; he enjoys her devastation and destruction – he finds it beautiful, symphonic. Yet he sadistically mocks her for expressing the despair he has caused. At the same time, the tone of the song is one of protest against destruction. In confessing that he can see the end of the world from here – screaming it at the climax of the song – one senses that this isn’t really what he wants, but he can’t stop himself, anyway.

There’s something delightfully maverick, here. Of course, it’s all metaphor for a relationship, but the imagery is evocatively apocalyptic, as is reflected in the rather wonderful visuals of the music video, where the buildings are seen to disintegrate around the band. At the same time, we see an interesting angle on the appeal of apocalypse in art. The common impulse to destroy things because you want to see them burn, even though you actually value the things you are destroying. The fear and exhilaration of losing control – of letting yourself go even though you know the ultimate consequences will be contrary to what you desire. Lost prophets indeed.

You can download this song in a whole host of places:

Visible Noise

And hey, this is a relatively recent tune, released in 2009, so why not give some young artists some love? You can visit them at their website, here: .

 – ApocalypseWomble out.

Music for the Apocalypse #36: God Save the Queen, by The Sex Pistols

Queen Elizabeth II
God Save the Queen (but if he can’t, dibs on that hat)

Liz X from The Beast Below, Doctor Who
“I’m the bloody queen, mate.”

As the second longest reigning monarch of these isles of Britannia (the longest reigning being the formidable Victoria), there’s a lot to admire in Liz II. In fact, the queens of Great Britain have a lot going for them altogether. Pope Sixtus V said of Liz I: “She is only a woman, only mistress of half an island, and yet she makes herself feared by Spain, by France, by the Empire, by all”, and the success of both Liz I and II’s reigns inspired the rather wonderful Liz X, in one of the most marvellous episodes of the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who, ‘The Beast Below’. Liz X saves her people from the death of the Earth by whisking them away on Staship UK.

And yet, although any girl with what it takes to survive an apocalypse has to admire these ladies, the apocalypse is rarely kind to royalty. James Herbert’s ’48 begins with the protagonist occupying Buckingham Palace – deserted after the end of the world. In I, Zombie, by Al Ewing, the palace becomes a pulsating incubator for horrifying insectoid aliens. And, even though the human race survives in her hands, The Beast Below is hardly uncritical of monarchic rule, as the police state she has created and allowed to continue appears dangerously restrictive, culturally stultified, and is founded on the enslavement and torture of a wondrous sentient being: a star whale.

As a nation the UK sustains ambivalent feelings towards the monarchy. We enjoy the spectacle (and the bank holidays) that they bring, and the queen remains a global icon, but we mutter darkly about our tax money being spent on them and wonder about the place of a monarch in a 21st Century democracy. As in our post-apocalypse fiction, royalty hold a tension between fascination and the desire to overthrow the ruling class. What better way, then, for a blog about the apocalypse to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, than with ‘God Save the Queen’, by The Sex Pistols?

It is rumoured that the song was written to coincide with the Silver Jubilee, although Paul Cook has denied this. It has been rereleased to coincide with the Diamond Jubilee. The anarchic lyrics equate monarchy with a ‘fascist regime’, describing a society with ‘no future’, where the population has become moronic from over-regulation, and where people are ‘Potential H-bomb[s]’ – fuelled by pent up anger and frustration, threatening to explode and either destroy us all or clear the way for some new anarchic future. In a genre that places the downfall of civilisation as we know it at the centre, apocalypse and political commentary go hand in hand of necessity, and what could better symbolise this than The Sex Pistol‘s vibrant and violent corruption of the national anthem?

God save the queen.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

Music for the Apocalypse #35 Experiment IV

Ah Kate Bush purveyor of excellent and unusual music offered us this little piece of awesome. I can’t help but think it’s fitting. Here’s a vision of a possible apocalypse for you all.

Experiment Iv
We were working secretly for the military.
Our experiment in sound was nearly ready to begin.
We only know in theory what we are doing.
Music made for pleasure
music made to thrill.
It was music we were making here until –

But they told us all they wanted was a sound
that could kill someone

From a distance
so we go ahead

and the meters are over in the red.
It’s a mistake in the maklng.

From the painful cries of mothers to the terrifying scream

We recorded it andIput it into our machine.
But they told us all tney wanted was a sound
that could kill someone
. ..

It could feel like falling in love
it could feel so bad

But it could feel so good
it could sing you to sleep

But that dream is yaur enemy.

We won’t be there to be blamed
we won’t be there to switch.
I iust pray that someone there can hit the switch.
But they told us all they wanted was a sound
that could kill someone

From the distance
so we go ahead

and the meters are over in the red.
It’s a mistake we have made.
And the public are warned to stay ofF.
And the public are warned to stay ofF.

Music for the Apocalypse #34: Brave New World, by Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden have been suggested to me several times for this series, and this song in particular. I was waiting until the moment was right, and I feel the time has come. Rock out, ladies!

I did wonder whether ‘Brave New World’ really counted as apocalyptic. The lyrics certainly have an apocalyptic ring:

Dragon kings dying queens, where is salvation now
Lost my life lost my dreams, rip the bones from my flesh
Silent screams laughing here, dying to tell you the truth
You are planned and you are damned in this brave new world

But the book on which the song is based, Brave New World is more dystopic than apocalyptic, and this comes out in the lyrics, too: ‘Dying to tell you the truth / You are planned and you are damned in this brave new world’. This is clearly about trying to get a message of warning (the truth) out about the dangers of the dystopic society – nobody really lives in a world where their lives are ‘planned’ out for them by the state.

Of course, there are a lot of songs in this series that are not strictly apocalyptic in nature, but which we have recommended to you as a good soundtrack for the apocalypse nonetheless. However, it seemed an interesting question to me: just what is the relationship between the dystopic and the apocalyptic. They certainly share key themes. Brave New World is concerned with the apparent dichotomy between civilisation and nature. The old theme that the civilised world corrupts, that technology that seeks to interfere too much with nature risks ‘damning’ us, either because it is seen as an attempt to interfere with God’s plan, or because nature itself is venerated. Apocalyptic fiction, art, and music is similarly concerned with the themes of civilisation and nature. Where dystopia explores this by positing ‘over’-civilised worlds, apocalypse does so by destroying civilisation and forcibly returning us to a state of nature. In this case, however, nature is rarely kind. There is usually some descent in to barbarism as warring tribes battle it out for resources and territory.

And yet, I suspect this dichotomy of apocalypse and dystopia is as artificial as that between nature and civilisation. They idea that anything could become ‘unnatural’ has always puzzled me – after all, human beings are natural creatures; why should their actions in some cases be deemed natural and in others (typically those concerned with creating advances technology or novel political systems) not? Close examination of apocalyptic texts reveals that they are usually more complex and nuanced. In The Stand after the initial outbreak of looting and vandalism, most survivors seem concerned with rebuilding civiliastion – regardless of whether they side with Abagail Freemantle or with Randall Flag. The factionalism arises because of differing ideals of what it is to be civilised. Even in films like Mad Max II and III, which might seem archetypal of the descent into barbarism and ‘state of nature’, the tribes war over possession of gasoline, which is itself a product of and enabler of civilised technologies (chiefly, transportation – so crucial in the barren Australian environment for people unused to surviving in the Outback*).

Equally, in dystopic fiction, the dystopia is often set against the backdrop of a savage outside world, from which the inhabitants are walled off for their own safety. Thus, in Logan’s Run, the world outside the domes is an overgrown wilderness that had been abandoned following some catastrophe. The rigidly stratified world where people are killed once they reach 30 has come into existence in order to deal with the constraints on resources forced by the retreat into the domes. Brave New World similarly suggests a world where a happy, comfortable life is preserved via population control and a rigid caste system, but a ‘savage’ world still persists outside the boundaries of that system. Moreover, a recurring theme of dystopic fiction is a sort of stagnation born of such oppressive societies that might be seen as the end of one sort of world: the death of imagination.

Are dystopic and apocalyptic fiction the same? No, but they are flip-sides of the same coin. Dystopia can arise out of apocalypse and apocalypse can ‘free’ us from dystopia, but in such cases the one hangs in the background of the other, asking questions. Is it really that awesome to be ‘freed’ from responsibility? Is it really so great to be ‘freed’ from civilisation? 

Play this song when you’re feeling sad about the world that has been lost. If you’re stuck in a post-apocalypse world it can be good to blast out a song with an angry beat to remind you that not everything that’s gone was good.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

Music for the Apocalypse – Special Edition: RIP Peter Jones

Peter Jones, the drummer from Crowded House, has died, at just 45 years of age.

Here at The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse, we know the value music has in human survival – pretty much anywhere – and would like to do our bit to honour his passing.

I first came in contact with Crowded House via that apocalypse classic, The Stand. Their song, ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ was part of the superb soundtrack of the 1994 mini-series (the same year Peter Jones joined the band). It is haunting, beautiful, hopeful and sad. Perfect for two survivors to listen to by candlelight, to dream that the world isn’t over just because everyone has died, to contemplate beginning a journey, battling for a new future. Or awkwardly exchanging mixed signals.

I loved this song so much I taped it off the telly. Of course, it wasn’t written for the apocalypse, but the same messages of hope in the face of a difficult world ring true. In playing songs like this, Peter Jones performed true works of art. His presence in the world shifted the balance towards the positive, and that’s the best that any of us can hope for.

Don’t Dream it’s Over is available on Amazon for £0.89.

Rest well. We loved your music, and we will take it with us, to the end of the world, and whatever may happen after.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

Music for the Apocalypse #33 The Shouting End of Life

Celebrating living your life in full and dying with your (zombie stompin’) boots on I offer you ‘Oysterband’

I don’t know about you, but I want to go at the shouting end!
Here are the lyrics
Some died in ecstasy… some died in poverty …
but they all die with their boots on at the shouting end of life

Roll me out a barrel, I’ll toast you to your knees
Take away this safety net, bring me my trapeze
Order me a stretcher, for midnight if you please
Give me sweet music and strife;

Anything could put me in that long black wooden box
Gunpowder, whisky or the two-tone Chinese pox
But I’m not going quietly, I do not feel the call
I want to stay at the shouting end
So honey, let’s not go at all


Tea-time with the vultures, drinking with the press
Never trust a vulture that wants you to confess
Me, whose only problem is an excess of excess
They might as well hand you the knife

Gunpowder, whisky, falling off the wire
Anything could put me in that ever after choir
Hacks that want to see me shuffle off the shelf
I hand them each a bottle, I say:
Go f*ck yourself

Music for the Apocalypse #32: When the Levee Breaks, by Led Zeppelin

by Apocalypse Womble

When you start compiling a list like this, you check out the competition. Sad but true, we at The Girls’ Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse cannot claim to be the first to try and create a music collection for it. It’s one of those things, as Mark Owen said:

Four minute warning,
Everybody wants to know,
What should we do?

Which song or songs do you pick to go out to? It’s a bit like Desert Island Discs, only more frantic. So, yeah, I ran across a few in my travels in search of the very best music to see out the end of the world by, and I was a little surprised to see that ‘When the Levee Breaks’ featured more than once. This guy has measured out songs for your last 51:35 minutes of life, and for points of predicted population loss. ‘When the Levee Breaks’ comes in at T-minus 35:01 and 84,375,000 people left – the point where those on the coast or below sea level will find that the end has come.

OK, so, yeah, water can kill, but is it really apocalyptic? ‘When the Levee Breaks’ is just about a flood, right? I wanted to put it in because I loved Led Zeppelin, but did it really count? Well, those who live in the UK or who follow people in the UK may have had reason to contemplate such matters this week. Very, very shortly after the dreaded hose-pipe ban was declared the heavens opened and the UK Twittersphere began to mutter about collecting the animals two-by-two. At the time of posting, there are 31 flood warnings in effect.

A still from Waterworld.
I liked this film. So there.

It got me thinking, and I think perhaps floods do come under the umbrella (sorry) of traditional apocalypse after all. I mean, wiping out everything except Noah and his menagerie is pretty extreme. And although it’s really about polar ice-caps melting, you can’t deny that Waterworld has a place in the apocalypse-o-sphere, and focuses similarly on the consequences of excess of water.

And then I began to look into the song, and, as is so often the case, reality can come up with more terrifying things than the imagination. The Led Zeppelin version is a cover. The original was first recorded in 1929 by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie, based on the events of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. That alone is interesting. Sure, rock bands reworked old blues songs all the time in the sixties and seventies, but why did this one have such longevity? What drew Led Zep to it for the close of their fourth album, joining immortal tracks like ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in what is widely regarded as their best work?

The answer is that the song achingly depicts a truly catastrophic event at least as worthy of being called a historical apocalypse as the eruption at Pompeii. On Good Friday of that year 15 inches of rain fell in just 18 hours, and the rain just kept on coming. Until June. Levees were built and raised: ‘from two feet to 7.5 feet to as much as 38 feet’ and they could not contain the water. 13 levees broke, flooding 26,000 square miles. Figures vary from 246 deaths to over a thousand, but seem to agree that somewhere between 700,000 and 1 million people were displaced. The black community was hit particularly hard, as whites were rescued as a priority and given higher standards of aid. This account describes ‘concentration camps’ where refugees were held in squalid conditions. At Greenville the refugees were put to work to reinforce the levees, and were caught as water ‘more than double the amount of Niagara Falls’ poured through it. Shockingly, in the panic, one man reportedly suggested cutting free an entire boat full of black people.

The Wikipedia article on the flood cites it as a spark-point for the Great Migration of African-Americans away from Southern States like Mississippi towards more northerly cities, although the article on the migration itself suggests a more disparate number of sources. What is certainly true is that there was a large migration of poverty stricken refugees (especially African-Americans) away from the desolate landscape that had once been farmland and towards the cities, and, as the song records, Chicago in particular.

And so. I have a new found respect for this song, and the pain it depicts. Global destruction, in an objective sense? No. But for those people whose lives were lost, or irrevocably ruined, who were cast forth as destitutes upon a world that had little sympathy for them or aid to offer them. ‘Apocalypse’ almost feels like a small, tawdry word.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.

Music for the Apocalypse #31: Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Theme), by Brad Fiedel

by Apocalypse Womble

Please go view the original footage here – it’s just too awesome, but they don’t allow embedding with that video, so I used the above.

Anyway, this may be the very greatest music ever to have been written for the apocalypse. Terminator 2: Judgement Day is my very favourite film, and this music is a significant part of the rich tapestry that forms one of the most evocative apocalypse movies ever to have been created.

It is, simply put, a masterpiece. It starts out with the distinctive drums. Big and martial and regular, and combined with the visual on a slow zoom in, first to the fire of apocalypse itself, and then to the name of the film, rendered in cold steal – the approach of war, the approach of the end. And that drum beat combining with the harsh metallic clang that forms the palpable presence of a Terminator within the theme – its regular beat underscores the martial human drums with something more relentless. We hear the measured pace of a killing machine in that sound, recalling the terminator’s relentless pursuit of Sarah Connor from the first movie, as well as Kyle Reese’s relentless, beat-driven warning:

It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

 Yet, even as these beats tell us of the approaching war, of the terminators, of Judgement Day, this incredible, melancholy swell of hope rolls out along with the fire. Because this is not just about the killer robots that are coming to get you, it is also about John Connor – the boy Skynet is trying to kill, the boy who may one day be the man who will be our hope, who will form a rallying point for the resistance. And more than that, because in this film the question is also raised of stopping the war before it even begins – of defying Skynet and avoiding that bleak future altogether.

This whole film is written on the edge of a knife – on the edge of night – on the edge of possibility. The main lighting state is one of eternal sunset, echoing and reinforcing these two notes in the theme: of the hope and fear that an unfated life, a self-directed life, may take. A life of responsibilities – those of the whole world, in the case of John Connor, and the woman whose responsibility is to raise him and hone him into the weapon he must be; and also for Miles Dyson, too, who must face his own responsibility in helping to create that terrible future. The weight of responsibility is there in those heavy beats as well, and in the minor notes of the (synthesised?) strings that form the hopeful swell and fall back down into sad, laden, low notes again.

This film is called ‘Judgement Day’ and so it opens with the judgement itself – the flames of thermonuclear war – and in the slow-motion pan over burning play equipment the weight of responsibility could not be more palpable. It also puts up front the relationship that is at the centre of this movie: that of a mother to her child, and that same mother to all other children. She is haunted by visions of children who ‘look like burnt paper’ as they are torn apart by the coming apocalypse. As a mother herself, the vision is unbearable, and yet to stop it she has robbed her own son of a true childhood, burdening him with truths few adults could sanely believe. The music combines with these images of burnt innocence to form our opening impression of both a great and terrible moment approaching – a tipping point, where the world will be lost, or saved – and the terror and wonder that must face the people at the centre of that storm.

So, yeah, I think it’s pretty good. If ever I’m travelling down a black-top highway towards the unknown, this is the music I want playing.

The Terminator 2 soundtrack is available from Amazon.

 – Apocalypse Womble out.