Dec. 21 marks end of the world, according to some interpretations of the Mayan calendar. Doomsday preppers may be stockpiling gas masks and Velveeta, but what about some tunes to go along with that paranoia?
A playlist for the End Times from the music writers of the Los Angeles Times includes:
Skeeter Davis, “The End of the World”: Yes, we know it’s technically a song about how the world is actually not ending, despite the doom feelings after a breakup. A Mayan apocalypse might finally make us feel justified for acting as if it’s all going to hell every time we’re dumped. So if we’re all going down in flames, at least we’ll have some sweet and funny classic country to see us through to the end.
Rage Against the Machine, “People of the Sun”: What better comeuppance could there be for an ancient civilization than if the Maya were right all along about Earth exploding in a sulfurous inferno? Granted, everyone else is going down with it, but we’d put this funk-metal classic one on to remind ourselves that the Maya saw this coming (or at least ran out of calendar space in a way that coincided with the end of days).
The Dirty Three, “Great Waves”: When the apocalypse comes, just how long will it take? For Australian violin-gloom trio the Dirty Three and guest vocalist Chan Marshall, just over three minutes. Delivering a harrowing account of gas hurricanes, exploding bodies and gravity’s release over a spiraling melody, Marshall sounds achingly calm, even soothing. “The world is gone, did you know it would last this long?” she asks, somehow capturing that while the end is tragic, it’s also a poetic release.
Britney Spears, “Till the World Ends”: Faced with the unpleasant prospect of death by solar flare, Spears escapes to a subterranean dance club in the remarkably sweaty music video for this cut from last year’s “Femme Fatale.” It’s a place of positive thinking for the teen-pop titan, who promises over a hard-thumping groove by her old pal Max Martin that she’ll “blow your mind tonight.” You know a better way to go?
Young Marble Giants, “Final Day”: Young Marble Giants’ 1980 gem “Final Day” is a little haiku of a song about the End. Above a softly plucked guitar rhythm and a few poked notes on a cheap organ, singer Alison Statton offers a scary vision that arrives as a whisper but lands with a wallop. “Put a blanket up on the window pane, when the baby cries, lullaby again,” she plaintively suggests as doom hums around her. She describes noise, heat, “and the living floor throws you off your feet.” The end has come — softly — and as the song nears conclusion, a sense of tranquillity drifts in.
Sister Mary Nelson, “Judgement”: Don’t say you weren’t warned: Sister Mary Nelson bellowed, “You better get ready for judgment” when she recorded “Judgement” in Chicago, and the echoes of her prediction are still sustaining. A haunting gospel number that appears on Harry Smith’s “Anthology of American Folk Music,” the song calls out “the gamblers, the drunkards, the liars and the adulterers, too/ Well all these false pretenders and all them hypocrites too,” warning them that the Final Judgment is afoot. Eighty-five years later, that day is (maybe) finally (but probably not) coming.
Carpenters, “Top of the World”: Why so glum? Judging by this breezy classic, looking down on (what’s left of) creation doesn’t sound all that bad. It’s a love song, yes, but don’t overthink it. The out-of-body message and relentless cheer make it a shoo-in for your aftermath playlist. Besides, we’ll need Muzak for that ride in the handbasket.
Elvis Costello, “Waiting for the End of the World”: What is it with rock singers and apocalyptic explorations on debut albums? The English singer-songwriter did it on his 1977 album with this eerily atmospheric tale of celebrity nuptials, media hounds and vagabonds on a train ride to who knows where. “They shut down the power all along the line/ And we got stuck in the tunnel where no lights shine/ They got to touching all the girls who were too scared to call out/ Nobody was saying anything at all/ We were waiting for the end of the world/ Dear Lord, I sincerely hope you’re coming, ’cause you really started something.”
The Doors, “The End”: This 11-plus-minute track that closed the Doors’ 1967 debut album felt and sounded like a grand farewell. Singer Jim Morrison’s dark-poet tendencies run wild (“my only friend, the end”), culminating in his spoken-word interlude complete with a full-blown Oedipal outcry.