The end of the world, or the apocalypse, is something that people have talked about for centuries. Most religions have some sort of mythology describing what the end will be like. Many intellectuals think we’ll take ourselves out eventually. In the end, the real end of the world is totally unknown, but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating.
In this article, we’ll look at 25 songs that do just that, from literal Earth destruction to a person’s world crashing down around them.
1. It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) – R.E.M.
R.E.M. debuted this song on their 1987 album Document, featuring it as the second single from the album and producing one of their bigger hits. It wound up reaching number 69 on the Hot 100. It’s a very out-there track, more of a stream-of-consciousness than an actual story.
The song itself was inspired by a time when Michael Stipe was watching the news and a couple of choice dreams he had been having. In fairness, it’s hard to turn on the news at any time and not see the apocalypse coming with all the conflicts that go on in the world.
2. 1999 – Prince
Older computers only used the last two digits of the year to mark the date. For whatever reason, a lot of people thought the turn of the century would cause them all to glitch out and cause a computer virus that would end all technology. This of course didn’t happen, but the scary nature of the century turning over did inspire one of the best party tracks of all time.
The song 1999 by Prince was the title track of his 1982 album and was insanely popular. The anthem about partying like it’s the end of the world made it to number two on the Hot 100 and is recognized by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
3. Until the End of the World – U2
Until The End Of The World by U2 was a very interesting take on the Biblical betrayal of Jesus Christ. Taken from the perspective of a guilty-hearted Judas, he’s essentially waiting for the end of the world and the ultimate judgment he deserves. It was one of the top songs to come from the band’s Achtung Baby album as well.
4. Five Years – David Bowie
You’ve probably heard over and over that the end of the world is coming because we keep stripping the Earth of natural resources. In a lot of ways, it’s a very true thing since we’re going through the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history.
Five Years by David Bowie takes on that narrative, from public panic to the apathetic ‘I-told-you-so’ people. While the story in it is a continuation of the storyline running through The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars album, it remains a relevant thought process to this day.
5. Idioteque – Radiohead
Radiohead had a few different songs that really had staying power. Idioteque was one of them, and it had a few different potential meanings. While some fans thought it was about a natural disaster, others thought it was a war or technology ending us all. Either way, there’s no doubt it was about some apocalyptic event.
6. Doomsday Clock – Smashing Pumpkins
The Doomsday Clock is an interesting theoretical clock that tells us how close we are to the end of the world based on global events. Doomsday Clock by the Smashing Pumpkins was the opening track on the band’s Zeitgeist album in 2007, painting a classic kind of apocalypse that gave the album its overall theme.
7. Dancing With Tears in My Eyes – Ultravox
Nuclear war is something that has and is still hanging over a lot of people. The Cold War was probably the biggest period of fear over it, and this song coming out in 1984 lines up perfectly with that timeline. In the event of a nuclear exchange between major powers, like the one feared in the Cold War that the track discusses, there’s nothing to do but cry.
It would essentially be the end of everything, and the hopelessness and helplessness of the situation come through very clearly in Dancing With Tears In My Eyes by Ultravox.
Recommended: Songs about war and/or anti-war songs
8. London Calling – The Clash
There’s no shortage of ways the world could end. From natural disasters to nuclear war and climate change, there’s something out there that will seem likely to anybody. Like a few other songs on the list, London Calling by The Clash was inspired by an artist watching the news.
After seeing that London could potentially flood, talks of the Cold War, worldwide starvation, and even climate change, this track was born. The one takeaway from this song that should make you feel less anxious about the end is really that if it’s ending—you can’t stop it anyways, so why worry?
Recommended: Songs about London
9. Everyday is Like Sunday – Morrissey
Sunday is a boring day for a lot of people. Sure, many go to church, and others watch sports, but generally, it’s a pretty slow day. Morrissey uses that as a theme to talk about how close to death being bored has put them, but it’s not just Sunday. Every day is boring and gray and lame—a tie-in for the apocalypse?
10. 3rd Planet – Modest Mouse
The song 3rd Planet talks about the Earth, as it’s the third planet from the sun but also discusses a third child in a family unit that has apparently passed on. You can also look at it like this. There is no other planet for us. If we mess it up here, it could be the end of everything.
11. 2012 (It Ain’t The End) – Jay Sean feat. Nicki Minaj
We had a Y2K song already, but what about 2012? The Mayans supposedly predicted the end of the world in the year 2012, but as the calendar was a circle, I think they ran out of space. The track 2012 by Jay Sean was essentially the same kind of track as Prince’s 1999. It’s a party anthem meant for the end of the world that basically makes fun of people believing the Mayans accurately predicted a humanity-ending cataclysm.
12. Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival
If you’ve ever lived through a hurricane as I have, you know good and well that it can feel like the end of the world. A town-destroying hurricane from The Devil And Daniel Webster was the inspiration for Creedence Clearwater Revival to write Bad Moon Rising.
While the lyrics are rather bleak, its upbeat music will have you happily singing along to the disastrous weather that’s raging outside. Pro-tip, don’t go outside in a hurricane, it’s really not safe.
13. Survivalism – Nine Inch Nails
If ever there was a band I’d want to sing about the apocalypse, it would probably be Nine Inch Nails. Survivalism was their take on the end of it all from their 2007 Year Zero album. The album as a whole is great, talking about what the future might look like after the US and Iran go through a nuclear war.
Recommended: Songs about the future
14. Waiting for the End of the World – Elvis Costello
One of the very basic parts of Christianity is that the world will end one day and we will all meet God and face his judgment. For those who believe they are right with the Lord, this is a joyous day that they impatiently wait for. Waiting For The End Of The World by Elvis Costello is on the side of those optimistic and ready for God to end His creation.
15. We Will Become Silhouettes – The Postal Service
After the US dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world actually saw what such a powerful weapon could do. It essentially deletes what it hits, save for some small signs left behind. One of those is the shadows of real people, burned onto the ground after their lives were cut short.
Those kinds of silhouettes are the ones The Postal Service is talking about in their song We Will Become Silhouettes. Overall, it seems like a happy track, but the joy comes from the apathy that takes over when facing the barrel of nuclear annihilation.
16. One Last Time – Ariana Grande
One Last Time might not be about the entire planet dying or the end of humanity, but the end of a great relationship can surely feel that way to the people involved. Ariana Grande nailed that kind of feeling in this song, seeing her apologizing for ruining such a great thing and begging for one last chance to be with her partner before it’s over for good. Maybe when the world ends, we’ll be asking to make the same bargain.
17. Apocalypse Please – Muse
It’s hard to say someone is wrong for wanting everything to end. For the nihilists especially, there’s so much that you can pick apart and use as reasoning for the world to end. From society as a whole to the destruction of the planet, sometimes, you just sigh and wish for an apocalypse.
If that’s ever you, then Apocalypse Please by Muse is the song for you. Criticizing wars, political leaders, and the suffering of every living being on the planet for the sake of greed, it asks for something to finally happen and wipe us all out.
18. 4 Minutes – Madonna feat. Justin Timberlake and Timbaland
The actual ‘four minutes’ in Four Minutes by Madonna is a hypothetical situation you’d probably see in some super spy movie that has a villain trying to kill everyone in the world. The song is a call to action and a very pointed one. The only way to get the things you want in life is to act, and you shouldn’t wait until the last minute to do something. Waiting only makes it take longer to achieve anything good for yourself, so don’t wait until the last minute and do something now.
19. Invisible Sun – The Police
Invisible Sun is a bit of an apocalypse song, but it’s also meant to have some level of hope stored inside of it. It was written about the hunger strikes in Belfast that were happening while Sting was in Ireland, but instead of writing about the hopelessness of the situation on its own, he added a bit of positivity to a track that would otherwise have a bleak outlook.
20. The Final Countdown – Europe
The Final Countdown by Europe is one of the songs on this list that I’d find hard to believe you haven’t heard before. A smashup of sci-fi and romance, it’s about a couple who leave Earth and head to Venus together to live alongside each other for eternity. However, if you’re looking closely at the lyrics, it could also totally be about the Earth dying and the couple leaving because of how bad it’s gotten.
21. The End – The Doors
Here’s one that’s a little less on the nose about the end of the world. The End by The Doors is open-ended in its meaning, leaving the true ‘end’ in the song up to the individual listener. The general consensus is that it’s about the end of life as we know it. It was also one of their coolest tracks to listen to in concert, as many lyrics got ad-libbed in different ways at different shows.
22. Doomsday – Ryan Adams
The ‘world’ doesn’t always have to be the planet we inhabit. Everyone has their own world that’s made up of the things they care about and what they know. It’s definitely smaller, but it’s still invaluable. Doomsday by Ryan Adams looks at the end of the world like that, where a personal world is shattered by a broken heart.
23. Earth Died Screaming – Tom Waits
Bone Machine was a pretty dark album from Tom Waits, but his song Earth Died Screaming was even more so. In classic style, it had a dual meaning. It was both a warning about an impending apocalyptic end of the world and a wonderful image of how devastating it can be to lose true love.
24. the Apocalypse Song – St. Vincent
St. Vincent’s take on the apocalypse isn’t a stark warning or an illustration of annihilation. Instead, it’s more of a sarcastic take on the apocalypse that almost makes fun of religious beliefs containing those scenarios.
25. The End of The World – The Cure
The End Of The World by The Cure is another song that falls into the earth-shattering, world-ending feeling of the end of a relationship. While the lyrics are supposed to be about a couple who both fell out of love at the same time, it seems as though the narrator wasn’t really feeling the same as the partner who was ready to leave.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.