The end tunes
Eleven songs for the end of the world.
Let’s take on the impossible here: Offer a list of end-of-the-world tunes without choosing R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” In the world of end-of-the-world songs, that’s an easy one. Too easy, in fact, so let’s offer an eclectic mix of 11 other tunes for the end times:
March from “Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary”
The end of the world needs some classical music, and English composer Henry Purcell wrote this bit of music in 1695 for the funeral of Queen Mary II of England. Music good enough for a queen’s funeral is good enough for the world’s funeral. Electronic music composer Wendy Carlos (then known as Walter Carlos) famously re-imagined Purcell’s “March” as “Title Music from A Clockwork Orange” for the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The Moog synthesizer version plays in the film’s introduction, when we meet Alex and his droogs before all of the ultra-violence commences.
“Hellhound on My Trail”
Uncle Ellis says in No Country for Old Men, “You can’t stop what’s coming.” The protagonist of this blues tune believes he can outrun the end. He keeps on moving as the blues fall down like hail, dreaming of Christmas Eve and a better time. But the wind starts rising and the leaves trembling, and then the end arrives.
“The End of the World”
What’s the end of the world without a little Nashville Sound country music from the early ‘60s? Skeeter Davis might have been singing about the world ending because she lost her beau’s love, but there will be no sun shining and no sea rushing to shore when the end does come.
Okay, this is a Rolling Stones tune. One of their best. A titan of a tune. But Merry Clayton is the guest vocalist on the Stones track, and a year after the Stones released “Gimme Shelter” on Let It Bleed, Clayton, a New Orleans-born soul singer, released her version, with her gospel howl giving the tune an extra dose of the afterlife. A funky, horn-filled afterlife.
“The Four Horsemen”
Besides the blues, metal probably has the best collection of end-of-time tunes. Metallica, a group with several end-of-the-world song choices, turned to the Biblical reference of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for this heavyweight, thrash metal workout from their debut album Kill ‘Em All. “You’ve been dying since the day you were born.”
“The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”
Think this is some kind of college graduation anthem? Sorry. No, the future is so bright in this song because in the ‘80s there was the possibility the future would end with a few thousand nuclear blasts; hence, the shades protecting the singer’s eyes from flash blindness.
“Street Spirit (Fade Out)”
The final tune of Radiohead’s 1995 album The Bends sounds like the end. The music, a rising-and-falling guitar melody complemented by cello and violin, sounds like sunlight being snuffed out, and then there’s Thom Yorke’s yelps of “fade out, again” along with lines such as “I can feel death, can see its beady eyes.” When the world ends, this will be its whimper.
“24 Hours to Live”
Finding a good hip-hop tune for this list was difficult, and this Mase tune is actually asking a group of rappers (including DMX and Jadakiss) what they would do if they “had 24 hours to live.” Responses range from passing out blunts to giving bums cash to shooting dealers who gave them fake cocaine to shooting basketball to spending time with children. There are some good end-of-the-world tips here. Well, except for the blowing up Wall Street bit.
“God’s Gonna Cut You Down”
Near the end of his stellar career, Johnny Cash, under the direction of Rick Rubin, underwent a revival, recording his American series of albums. His version of this traditional folk song is found on Cash’s posthumous American V: A Hundred Highways. The track is a reminder none of us are escaping. Other versions of this traditional tune worth checking out are Odetta’s mournful take and Elvis Presley’s peppy version, known as “Run On.”
Elvis Perkins in Dearland
Though this tune begins with doleful second-line horns, Elvis Perkins, who lost his father, Anthony Perkins, to complications of AIDS in 1992 and his mother, Berry Berenson, in the Sept. 11 attacks, turns tragedy into triumph, noting that he doesn’t “let Doomsday bother me” and he doesn’t “plan to die.” It’s an optimistic sentiment, akin to Dylan Thomas’ “rave at close of day.”
“The World (Is Going Up in Flames)”
Although it sounds like some kind of ‘60s soul anthem, this tune from soul singer Charles Bradley is actually from his 2011 album No Time For Dreaming. With the assistance of the Menahan Street Band, Bradley recreates a classic Southern soul/R&B sound while singing of the end of the world and no one taking the blame.