TOP TEN: Songs for The World’s End

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This summer’s cinema slate has been backended by two apocalyptic-minded comedies from both sides of the pond. From This Is The End to this week’s The World’s End, it seems like today’s comedic talents might be trying to tell us something. Let Major Spoilers figure it out for you… in song.

Major Spoilers won’t let you go quietly into that good night – not without some tunes, at least (and helpfully curated by type of apocalypse). So here are Major Spoiler’s Top Ten songs for the world’s end, in honor of The World’s End.

10. “The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash
Album: American IV: The Man Comes Around
Type of apocalypse: Biblical

This song is so good and so easy to apprehend, it’s become something of a cliché. I’m pretty sure I have heard this in at least four separate TV shows and movies (best use goes to: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles). But this track’s ubiquitousness is no knock on its quality. The Man in Black makes the end of days sound positively rollicking, and that’s no easy trick. It might be scary, what with whirlwinds in thorn trees and whatnot, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a good time. Right?

9. “Survivalism” by Nine Inch Nails
Album: Year Zero
Type of apocalypse: General purpose, biblical/climate change

Nine Inch Nail’s Year Zero is a concept album that draws liberally from all sorts of dystopias – it’s a world of climate change, social repression, theocratic rule, time travel and Book of Revelations-style terrifying angelic beings. Sort of a cluttered mess, really. Reznor’s lyrics here evoke the futility of an “I got mine” mentality in the face of societal breakdown. The much vaunted survivalism trumpeted by the song’s protagonist isn’t worth much, in the end.

8. “The Great Atomic Power” by the Louvin Brothers
Album: The Weapon of Prayer
Type of apocalypse: Nuclear

And you’ll never hear a jollier depiction of nuclear destruction in your life.

7. “Idioteque” by Radiohead
Album: Kid A
Type of apocalypse: Ice age

Thom Yorke’s made a mint from trafficking his frenzied, paranoid vocals, but nowhere does he deliver them quite as convincingly as in “Idioteque.” His wailing, frenetic voice soars above a grinding cacophony of digital noise, laying out some horrible event that, he assures us repeatedly, “is really happening.” When Yorke’s vocals get chopped and sampled and laid against themselves, the effect is unnerving, almost hypnotic. It captures the horror of the apocalypse, as well as its unrelenting inevitability.

6. “Canvey Island” by British Sea Power
Album: Do You Like Rock Music
Type of apocalypse: Bird flu, flood

Ostensibly about an actual flood that took place on a small British island in 1953, the opening lyric about the H5N1-infected bird makes the apocalyptic trappings immediately apparent (although I’m not sure about the connection between a flood and avian flu). The lyrical juxtaposition of “many lives were lost/with the records of a football team” is a stunning example of how people will mourn the loss of the trivial, even in the face of death. Supposedly, after the flood in which many people died, someone really did lament the loss of their soccer team’s historical records. The repeated lyric “I can’t believe it’s happening” dovetails nicely with the previous song’s focus as well.

5. “Every Day Is Like Sunday” by Morrisey
Album: Viva Hate
Type of apocalypse: Nuclear

Morrisey’s famous for being a sad bastard, but does it get any sadder than his chant of “come Armageddon, come Armageddon!”? What a downer. It’s a beautifully written song that hides a terrifying depiction of fallout blanketing a sleepy seaside community. Yet it is still somehow less depressing than that music video where Morrisey goes to rural Indiana to lay roses on James Dean’s grave and drink coffee at the town diner. As another stupid aside, I loved when the NFL used to run this song during football season a few year’s back, which is like a Reagan/”Born in the USA” level ignorance of lyrics. “Every Day Is Like Sunday,” not in the sense that NFL football is a week-long activity, but in the sense that everything is quiet as a church ‘cause we’re all dead. From the radiation.

4. “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire
Album: Eve of Destruction
Type of apocalypse: General purpose, anthropogenic

It’s Barry McGuire’s gravel-voiced folk singing that really makes “Eve of Destruction.” To me, this is the zenith of the hippie protest song, buoyed by McGuire’s growling, righteous fury and his howling harmonica. The third verse, strung together with a series of rhyming verb conjugations that McGuire just bites into, is the real deal, son. What’s perhaps depressing is how familiar some of the sentiments still are today. At least the threat of nuclear immolation isn’t quite so everpresent now as it was in the hippie’s heyday.

3. “Five Years” by David Bowie
Album: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
Type of apocalypse: Unclear

The opening track from Ziggy Stardust presents a dying Earth, with only five years left to go. Bowie uses that incredible beginning to paint a scene of humanity’s varied reactions to the news – weeping, kissing a priest’s feet, beating up small children (???), blithely drinking milkshakes. Somewhere along the way, the song transforms into a crazy, desperate sing-along as Bowie and the Spiders from Mars belt out “five years” with an increasing fervor. It’s all that we’ve got.

2. “Tupelo” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Album: The Firstborn Is Dead
Type of apocalypse: Flood, biblical, Elvis-based…?

Something about the end of the world brings out the best in certain bands (cf. Radiohead). Nick Cave is at his best when he’s doing his raving, Southern-cum-Australian, fire-and-brimstone preacher thing. Against the loping, insistent rhythm section, Cave snarls and yowls about a terrifying flood sweeping across Tupelo, Mississippi. With references to all sorts of apocalyptic signs, the Beast of Revelation, and, um, Elvis, Cave is covering a LOT of ground in this track, and I’m not really sure if he’s trying to claim that Elvis Presley is the Antichrist. All I do know is that when Nick Cave shrieks about the sandman’s mud against that predatory drum beat, I’m chilled to the core.

1. “Robots” by Flight of the Conchords
Album: Flight of the Conchords
Type of apocalypse: Robot 

The fourth-most-popular folk duo in New Zealand paint a picture of the future in the year 2000 that’s actually better off without us, what with the lack of unhappiness, mistreatment of elephants and a unified system of dance. Robot Overlord would be so proud. Gotta look on the bright side of the end of all things, y’know?

And there you have it, ten songs to take you all the way to the world’s end. Got your own picks? Let us know in the comments.