Preparing for the end of the world, scheduled for Friday according to some interpretations of the ancient Maya calendar, is a tricky business. Unfortunately, there’s just no such thing as a fashionable haz-mat suit. Obamacare is vague on the co-pays for apocalyptic mishaps. And there’s simply no way to foresee the tax consequences of Armageddon until Congress and the White House resolve this fiscal-cliff business.
But whether we go by fire or ice, famine or pestilence, one thing is clear: We need to have the appropriate music on hand well in advance. The iTunes help desk is not all that great even when zombie hordes are not rising from their graves to eat the brains of the living.
So here’s a helpful playlist, an unlucky 13 songs to ensure that whatever unpleasant side effects the end of the world may have, it will still rate at least an 85 and have a beat you can dance to.
13. The End of the Run, Deborah Harry (1989).
Blondie lead singer icily delivers Rule No. 1 of the apocalypse – no whining: “That end of the run. We almost won. The end of the run. We had our fun. The end of the run.”
12. Eve of Destruction, Barry McGuire (1965).
This record reached No. 1 on the Billboard chart despite being widely banned as too morbid, with lyrics about “the poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace/You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace/Hate your next-door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace.” The tune’s writer, P.F. Sloan, always said he considered it a love song. Maybe, if you’re dating a Manson girl.
11. The Final Countdown, Europe (1986).
The bleating synths! The big hair! Go out in Big ’80s style. Plus, the Swedish rockers helpfully suggest a new destination to start all over: “We’re heading for Venus/And still we stand tall/’Cause maybe they’ve seen us/And welcome us all.” The Maya calendar, unfortunately, is silent on that possibility.
Harvard mathematician by day, satirical folk singer after dark, Lehrer was always one to look on the bright side. And the end of the world, he noted, would be a triumph of egalitarianism and world harmony: “We will all go together when we go/Every Hottentot and every Eskimo/When the air becomes uranious/We will all go simultaneous…” And Tweeting it, no doubt.
9. Armageddon It, Def Leppard (1987).
Sure, the song’s about sex: “Are you gettin’ it? Armageddon it!” But you might as well go out with a bang.
Though John Fogarty’s diction was clear enough as he sang lyrics like “hope you got your things together, hope you are quite prepared to die,” the tinny AM radios of the day often made his refrain – “there’s a bad moon on the rise” – sound like “there’s a bathroom on the right.” Which, probably, would be pretty helpful to know as the giant fire-drooling face of Beelzebub thrusts itself through your living-room window.
Admittedly, this is a song about a lovers’ Romeo-and-Juliet suicide pact rather the end of days. But it makes oblivion sound so damned romantic — “Seasons don’t fear the reaper/Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain/We can be like they are” — that it was the soundtrack for the opening scenes of the TV miniseries of Stephen King’s apocalyptic novel The Stand.
6. Apocalypse Please, Muse (2003).
There’s always one guy who, as the 300-foot-high tsunami crashes over the seawall, holds out hope for a happy ending: “It’s time we saw a miracle/Come on it’s time for something biblical/To pull us through/…this is the end of the world.”
5. When the Man Comes Around, Johnny Cash (2002).
For one of his last songs, written a year before his death, Cash drew from the Bible’s Book of Revelation to hail the Second Coming. Cash, as close to the voice of God as you’ll get, goes out strong right until the end. “The whirlwind is in the thorn tree/It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”
4. The End of the World, Skeeter Davis (1962).
The question Davis asked in her plaintive soprano — “Why do the birds go on singing?/Why do the stars glow above/Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?” — was about the aftermath of a broken romance. But to a planet that just a month earlier had been holding its collective breath over the Cuban Missile Crisis, the lyrics resonated in a different way.
3. The Merry Minuet, Kingston Trio (1959).
A jolly ode to man’s inhumanity to man: “The whole world is festering with unhappy souls/The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles/Italians hate Yugoslavs/South Africans hate the Dutch/And I don’t like anybody very much!” But don’t worry, help is on the way: “For man’s been endowed with a mushroom shaped cloud/And we know for certain that some lovely day/someone will set the spark off and we will all be blown away.”
Michael Stipe’s chipper tumble of words begins, “That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane.” And by the time you finish singing along four minutes and seven seconds later you’ll be so breathless the end of the world will feel like blessed relief.
At the height of the Cold War, Buffalo radio station WBEN had one of its announcers cut a record that the DJ could slap on the turntable if he saw a mushroom cloud outside the station: “We interrupt our normal program to cooperate in security and in civil defense measures as requested by the United States government … . Normal broadcasting will now be discontinued for an indefinite period…” Happily, it was never used, but Bear Family Records found a copy a few years ago and included in the CD box set Atomic Platters: Cold War Music From The Golden Age Of Homeland Security. Not too danceable, but it’s great for makeout sessions if your honey is a nihilist or necrophiliac.
Anyway, good luck on Friday. Normal newspaper feature-writing will now be discontinued for an indefinite period.