According to the Mayan calendar of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, the world is scheduled to end this Friday, December 21. Which is a pisser if you believe in that sort of thing – basically you get to your last day of work and won’t get Christmas.
Aside from making the most of the party season, thoughts now turn inevitably to the soundtrack. So we’ve compiled a list of ultimate songs for the End Of Days. Stretching across the whole history of popular song, these come in shapes, sizes and styles. From protest jams forseeing nuclear winter, to biblical mysticism, to good old-fashioned heartbreak-as-armageddon. After you’ve battened down the hatches, have a listen to our extended Spotify playlist, and then tell us whether you agree.
Deap Vally – ‘End Of The World’ (2012)
The newest addition to the canon, this doesn’t quite portend a plague of locusts descending. But set against an alternative world filled with hate and fighting, its bruising blues-grunge puts forward a heartswelling message of ‘life is very short so let’s all be nice to each other’. Which is pretty much the same thing when you think about it. And if we really are going to burn, we can’t think of much better company than these ladies of Silverlake.
Doomwatch: “There’s no time like the present to open up our hearts and let love shine in.”
The Clash – ‘London Calling’ (1979)
The Clash’s calling card speaks of apocalypse as way-of-life. The ‘nuclear error’ of Pensylvania’s Three Mile Island that same year led to paranoia about the Thames barrier breaking, the submersion of Albion, and more fantastically, the collision of the sun with the Earth. But The Clash transpose all that with street-level concerns of cops with that ‘truncheon thing’, ‘yellowy-eyed’ junkies and professional paranoia about the decline of ‘phoney Beatlemania’. Just as Plan B did with ‘Ill Manors’ this year, here was a worrying state-of-the-nation address to a society they saw as on the brink, set against an anxious, rising musical panic.
Doomwatch: “The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin A nuclear error but I have no fear, ‘cause London is drowning and I, I live by the river.”
One of the prettiest songs ever to be set amid a post-apocalyptic wasteland, this German protest song from 1983 plays the most potent card in the arsenal of the peacenik: children. In West Berlin, two young friends buy a bag of balloons, release them into the air, flying over the wall into the Soviet sector, radar equipment is confused, troops are put on high alert and nuclear war ensues. And there was you thinking it was just a lovely song about a bank holiday.
Doomwatch: “Ninety-nine dreams I have had, every one a red balloon. Now it’s all over and I’m standin’ pretty, in this dust that was a city. If I could find a souvenir Just to prove the world was here And here is a red balloon I think of you and let it go…”
Prince – ‘1999’ (1982)
We’re all gonna burn: let’s dance! That’s the not-unreasonable course of action put forward in Mr Rogers Nelson’s robotic funk classic, as he trades the mic with members of The Revolution as the skies turn purple, coming to the conclusion that the party at the end of the world should indeed go off with some wallop. This is Prince at his febrile best, and as Y2K paranoia approached when that year came, it took on an even greater significance.
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Doomwatch: “I was dreamin’ when I wrote this, so sue me if I go too fast/But life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last/War is all around us, my mind says prepare to fight/So if I gotta die I’m gonna listen to my body tonite.”
David Bowie: ‘Five Years’ (1972)
What would happen if the Mayans were right and there really was a Doomsday clock with a cut-off date in sight? Would we turn on each other or just take all the meds we could find and go round fucking wildly? When Bowie asked that question of himself, it set the stage for the events of his glam fable ‘Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’. In his eventuality, a louche sex alien would come down with a message of hope for the doomed humanity, only to be destroyed by his own excesses and something to do with black holes. The song itself unfurls with a grand majesty suiting such big events, while building to a suitably apocalyptic climax.
Doomwatch: “A soldier with a broken arm, fixed his stare to the wheel of a Cadillac. A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest. And a queer threw up at the sight of that.”
Johnny Cash – ‘The Man Comes Around’ (2002
The Man In Black’s twilight ‘American Recordings’ might be best known for his crushing version of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’. But this original composition, one of the last songs he ever wrote, is just as deserving of iconic status. It qualifies because the latterly Christian-converted Cash drew lyrical inspiration from the events of the Book Of Revelation, but, much like a lot of the series, it drew an almost unbearable sense of portent from the perspective of a man fully aware that his own Endtimes could not be far.
Doomwatch: “And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts, And I looked and behold, a pale horse, And his name that sat on him was Death, And Hell followed with him.”
The desolation in heartbreak, being the oldest trigger in the pop canon for the signal that Doomsday must have already passed. But this early sixties staple puts it as simply and poetically than it has ever been put, the originator to the much-covered classic Davis wondering alone how nature has the tenacity to just go about its business as normal with her lover gone. And haven’t we all been there? One of history’s most iconic apocalypse tunes, and one of country’s most enduring-ever torch ballads.
Doomwatch: “Why does the sun go on shining, why does the sea rush to shore? Don’t they know it’s end the of the world, cos you don’t love me anymore?”
The end of the world is more likely to come in the form of a noxious nuclear winter that will see most of us off before noticing. Or a meteor shower and a load of out-of-work actors if you’re the sort to fall for a Derren Brown stunt. But it’s nice to think that there might be some other way, some sort of woozy, skunk-scented rapture where everything just kind of goes a bit blurry. That’s the eventuality conjured by this awesome prog staple from the band who birthed both Vangelis and Demis Roussos. And that’s despite its lyrics being a rather literal take of the onslaught on the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse from the Book Of Revelation. But it makes the whole business sound rather enjoyable, certainly if you were stoned. Here is some proper whoosing psychedelic vibing for the Endtimes.
Doomwatch: “And when the lamb opened the third seal, I saw the third Horse. The Horseman had a balance. Now when the lamb opened the fourth seal, I saw the fourth Horse. The Horseman was the Pest.”
Muse – ‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable’
Matt and Co. are surely the ultimate End Of Days band. But while we all laughed about their kind-of dubstep makeover, and ‘Apocalypse Please’ might have been the obvious choice here, this latest Panic Listening Post is at least based upon real science. It’s actually the same principles as used by the Occupy lot, or indeed any activist who’s done a bit of reading to back up their doom-mongering. The second law of thermodynamics simply states that an organisation in an isolated system (that’s us), basing a future on endless growth with finite resources at their disposal shall inevitably career towards impending doom. Enter Shikari’s ‘System’ / ‘Meltdown’ segue puts it more poetically, but that’s kind of two songs so doesn’t really count.
Doomwatch: “The fundamental laws of thermodynamics will place fixed limits on technological innovation and human advancement. In an isolated system; the entropy can only increase.”
An obvious choice, but the only one we could end on. Released just as they were on the verge of mandolin-related hugeness, this impossibly lively Armageddon jam has gone down not only has the ultimate party track for doomsayers everywhere, but the defining signature song of the band’s entire career. Good to know that post-apocalypse, the indie discos will still be thriving. Right? Right!
Doomwatch: “World serves its own needs, Listen to your heart bleed. Dummy with the rapture. And the revered and the right, right. You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light, Feeling pretty psyched.”