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Soundtracking the Apocalypse

28 Days Later Empty London

During this time of global crisis, I work from home–and it’s amazing I can do that because my boss is a total asshole. I try not to leave the house, and I realize I’m lucky I can manage that. But when I do go out, I try to do something to keep my mind focused on the task at hand–namely doing what I need to do and getting home safe. Whether you go out rarely, or if you’re stuck having to go out for your own job, here’s the one safety tip a pop culture site can offer you.

I make a point of choosing some appropriately apocalyptic/dystopian music for the journey. Why? Well, as I’ve said elsewhere: if we simply taught more horror and science-fiction in schools, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in right now. Because those genres, perhaps more than any others, teach you to A) respect the evil invisible whatever-the-hell-it-is that wants to kill you and 2) distrust authority. And also III) it’s the people that usually get you killed in those sorts of things. So to remind myself of that as I go along, I pick a soundtrack that will put me in that mindset.

Here are some that I have road-tested during the pandemic and how effective they can be in your arsenal of sounds for the apocalypse.

Wait. Before I do, here’s one safety tip, both for this apocalypse and countless others.

In the upcoming Walking Dead After School Special spinoff, World Beyond, one of the characters, named Silas, wears headphones around his neck. In one of the trailers (which I couldn’t find just now…but there are about seventeen to wade through), he’s shown putting the headphones on.

Walking Dead World Beyond Silas and his Headphones

Please do not wear headphones during a zombie apocalypse. Same thing goes for a pandemic apocalypse. You can’t hear a zombie come up behind you, nor can you hear some coughing idiot without a mask come up behind you. Honestly, if that kid is still alive at the end of the first episode, I will not be able to take that show seriously.

The Omega Man soundtrack

First up, an amazing filmed version of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. It’s not faithful to the book, but it does give us Anthony Zerbe and some monks, it’s 70s-tastic, and Charlton Heston being Charlton Heston. The Omega Man. If you haven’t seen it, please do. Some notes.

It opens, like the film does, with “A Summer Place”–which I think might be one of the most versatile pieces of music ever created. Then you get into the score by Ron Grainer proper, which is quite good. It’s punctuated by furious, obviously 70s runs of vibraphones and strings, and at times seemingly random peals of the Cowbell of Doom (or whatever that sonically altered sounding bell thing was supposed to be). This is actually a very effective apocalypse trip soundtrack because if you’ve seen the film (and you really should–it’s just $2 on Amazon Prime Video), you can picture Heston in his gigantic boat of a car driving through the empty streets. And that Cowbell of Doom will also remind you to stay alert for danger. If you want to sample the period goodness, try the version of “All Through the Night.” 

I rate this soundtrack 4.5 out of 5 monks that aren’t vampires.

You can find it on Spotify. Or snag it for yourself from Amazon

Next we come to Colossus: The Forbin Project, with a score by Michel Colombier. Long before Skynet was cool, there was Colossus: a supercomputer designed to protect America. And…well, you can deduce where things go from there. While this is a great score, it is less suitable for apocalypse wanderings. And yes, it is still a gloriously dated score, though while listening to it I got less of the feeling than I did with the above Grainer score. Indeed, some tracks I wondered if I had flipped over to a 70s cop TV show score. It seems to bounce around genres.

As a result, it’s not as effective. I rate it 2 out of 5 VHS copies of WarGames.

It’s available on CD from La La Land Records.

David Bowie Outside

Next, one of my favorite David Bowie albums: 1. Outside. Yes, I leave the one at the beginning of the title because I had always hoped for a continuation of the story. Even with Bowie gone, I still hope that whatever they had lying around will get released. The album is…weird as hell. A dystopian, bleak future world in which a crime has been committed and our “hero?” Nathan Adler is trying to decide if it’s art or not. I think that’s what it’s about, anyway. Regardless, it is a choice album filled with Bowie doing the characters in different voices. The sample I put over there is the Trent Reznor remix of “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson,” which is available on the extended edition of the album but I had to originally get as a B-side off a single (kids, ask your parents). It is perfect for keeping the mood of existential dread necessary to stay safe while going to the grocery store in a pandemic world.

As an apocalypse soundtrack, I rate it 5 out of 5 spiders from Mars

It’s available (in the Expanded Edition apparently just on MP3) from Amazon or you can listen via Spotify.

Run The Jewels 4

Not the album we deserve, but certainly the album we need. RTJ3 was my favorite album of 2016, and RTJ4 is going to rank at least very high on the list if not at the top. They had no idea what state the world was going to be in when they put this together, but you’d think they did based on how well this works as an apocalypse soundtrack. This isn’t exactly post-apocalyptic, but it’s perfect to listen to while going down in the handbasket. It’s a flawless choice to drive around to, and it has just enough balance of smirk and fury to keep you on your toes. And bits of it are devastating. I don’t know what Mavis Staples can win for her appearance on the sample track here, “pulling the pin,” but Jesus, she needs to win something.

As a soundtrack for screaming along with the apocalypse, I rate it 5 out of 5 Buick Grand Nationals.

You can snag it via their site.

More soundtracking will occur because I think we’re in this for the long haul. Stay safe out there. Only wear headphones when it won’t kill you to do it. And wear a goddamn mask.