Songs for the Apocalypse

David Byrne, Tom Waits, Bill Haley, David Bowie. Photos: Getty Images

Every Wednesday until the world ends, Douglas Wolk explores the people, places and coincidences that tie disparate musicians together. 

“It’s after the end of the world — don’t you know that yet?” There are plenty of songs anticipating the apocalypse, from David Bowie’s “Five Years” to Prince’s “1999” to Young Marble Giants’ “Final Day” (which I discussed here a few months ago) and they’re timely again at the moment, since the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar is supposedly this Friday. But the refrain that June Tyson of Sun Ra’s Arkestra chants below (in a clip from the 1974 movie Space is the Place) belongs to a curious strain of songs that suggest that the world has in fact already ended.
Decades before R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” Skeeter Davis had an enormous crossover hit with 1963’s “The End of the World” — it went high up on not only the pop and country charts but the R&B chart. Davis had a long, fascinating career, beginning with the Davis Sisters (who recorded the country classic “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know” in 1953) and continuing through a 1985 collaboration with NRBQ (whose bassist, Joey Spampinato, she subsequently married), but this song — in which she’s surprised that the rest of the world seems to be surviving after someone’s broken up with her — became her signature.

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