“A smoothly apocalyptic little ditty from that latter part of Harry Nilsson‘s career when folks had pretty much written him off – all that boozing and drugging and hanging with John Lennon (among notable others) having blown his once beautiful voice to smithereens. And he was wrong about the future, too, how we were running out of air, and oceans, and pills and trains of thought even. But for whatever reason, I do like the song. Because, paradoxically, it gives me hope. Because if it didn’t happen in 1975, then why’s it going to suddenly happen now? Or something like that.” (Philip Random)
“It’s true. I wouldn’t be compiling this list if it wasn’t for Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone. Push comes to shove, it’s probably the single record I’d grab if the house was burning down (which it is, by the way). Because it marks the moment at which the Apocalypse got interesting to me, when the big story I care about kicked into gear. It’s the snare shot to be specific, the one at the very beginning. That’s what did it – kicked the proverbial door wide open, and it’s all been wild urgency ever since. But you’ve already heard that record at least a thousand times, so it doesn’t qualify for this list. But I bet you haven’t heard the live version, from 1974’s Before the Flood, Dylan and the Band raving it up like the anthem it is, saving the world one night at a time. Because everything just keeps on exploding. Same as it ever was.” (Philip Random)
Come the mid 1980s, Shriekback were doing two things very well. Dark and funky rave-ups that could seriously move a dancefloor, and dark and smooth little dreamscapes, that felt equal parts seductive and apocalyptic, rather like the world in general. Like looking your loved one in the eye and hearing a serpent hiss back. Creepy stuff.
In which Aphrodite’s Child (featuring a young Vangelis among other Greek psyche-prog weirdos) deliver a nugget of pop drama that’s equal parts syrupy and creepy in all the right ways. Come, child, to the end of world which is not all fire and brimstone, plagues and pestilence — it’s just a quiet little place I know about, far, far away from your parents and your friends. Where nobody will hear our ecstatic screams.
“In which young Elvis Costello smartly, smugly reminds us of what we were all doing back in 1977, and probably last week for that matter. For me, it started when I was maybe seven, flipping through one of those Time-Life picture books about the planet Earth. It told me the world was going to end in about four billion years. An inconceivably long time for sure, but still The End. In a small, yet significant way, everything suddenly changed, such that a few years later, when I started getting clear on things like the arms race, the Doomsday Clock, global thermo-nuclear war, Apocalypse in our time – well, it wasn’t such a big deal, I was already waiting for it.” (Philip Random)
Killing Joke were mixing metal with repetitive beats with their own unique apocalyptic take on life-the-universe-everything long before it was a thing, and to solid, intense effect as Wardance makes abundantly clear. “It’s a 1980 track but I didn’t hear it until 1982, with the Falklands War in full weird roar far, far away. An apparently civilized nation going enthusiastically to war for a more or less random chunk of rock in the remote South Atlantic. It had to be a joke, definitely a joke. And it would kill almost a thousand people before it was done.” (Philip Random)
Leon Russell, everybody’s favourite underappreciated genius of the past fifty years, takes Bob Dylan’s surrealized hymn to ongoing apocalypse and renders it soulfully, gospelly, funkily (almost) fun. So much so that Dylan would be following that road himself in a few years … but first he’d have to find himself some Jesus.
Second of two in a row from Midnight Oil, who by the mid-80s weren’t just wearing their progressive politics on their sleeves, their front man Peter Garrett was actually running for office (no he didn’t win, but he would eventually). Red Sails At Sunset was their album of the moment (telling big scary, ugly truths about racism, nuclear apocalypse, environmental meltdown), with Best Of Both World standing tall as a possible alternative Australian national anthem. “I’d stand for it.” (Philip Random)
As debut albums go, the Violent Femmes gave us one of the all time best – teen angst cranked to eleven, nothing held back. But their second album Hallowed Ground was probably even better; certainly bigger, darker, more dangerous. Yeah, they were still all horned up, but now there was also the very real problem of apocalypse, which in the mid 1980s was never further off than the edge of town. Or were those just rain clouds?