Readers recommend playlist: songs about doom

Our reader plumbs the depths of despair to deliver a playlist that is doomed from the start. Kate Tempest, King Tubby and Alice Donut join us on the way

Here is this week’s playlist – songs picked by a reader from your suggestions after last week’s callout. Thanks for taking part. Read more about how our weekly Readers Recommend series works at the end of the piece.

I have little doubt that this will be a fairly unpopular playlist, but we wanted songs about doom – so you’re getting doom! We’ll make it through this, though first I must tell you: there is no happiness here...

I had a couple guiding principles: the first was to pick only the songs that were actually about doom, which I interpreted as an expression of some sort of profound existential dread. This meant that lots of great songs had to be denied – some were too focused on a single apocalyptic event; some were, in this guru’s opinion, merely terribly, terribly sad. The second principle was to tend toward the lesser known, less obvious songs, where there was a toss up.

The list starts with Ennio Morricone’s Silhouette of Doom. The song starts off terrifying, and then somehow gets even darker, even more foreboding. We know that something is coming. We don’t know what it is, exactly, but we know that it is coming to destroy.

The playlist on YouTube.

And what is it that’s coming for us first? Well, it’s Kate Tempest with Europe is Lost. Tempest gives us a litany of the ways western society is failing, dying, falling apart. The wealthy are corrupt, our social supports have collapsed, life has fallen into a meaningless rut of dead-end jobs and getting wasted, and on and on it goes. She doesn’t miss a trick; and she’s not wrong.

Next up is King Tubby with Great Stone. This song is about Armageddon, really, and that was outside the parameters of this playlist (End of the World had already been done, in 2013), but it’s King Tubby. I love King Tubby, and I’m the guru, so it’s in.

After that comes Rudimentary Peni with Bequest. This was actually the very last nomination before the deadline. Harsh, repetitive guitars, snarled vocals, sung from the point of view of a son to a father, then the father to the son. First the son complains that all his father has given him by his birth is entry into a world of death. Then the father replies, reassuringly, that the child is absolutely correct. He lives in a world of death, and that’s it. That’s his bequest.

We need a break. How about a nice, poppy number? Scott Walker will fill that spot nicely, with Little Things (That Keep Us Together). Something this upbeat sounding can’t be about doom, right? Oh. Turns out it’s about little things like a neighbour’s suicide, a plane crash, children starving, the “little things that keep us together, while the war’s going on”. Yeah, that doesn’t help ...

So how about a Christmas song? This one was popular in the UK a couple years ago: We’re All Going to Die, by Malcolm Middleton. When I first posted about the parameters of this playlist, I asked for songs where hope itself is weeping, befuddled with drink. I live in the States and had never heard this song or seen the video, but it’s almost as if I had put out a call exactly for it: “There’s a ‘when’ not an ‘if’ inside everybody / We’re all going to die alone.” Oof.

Classical music! That’ll provide some relief, surely? “No!” says Benjamin Britten. He wrote an accompaniment to the poem The Sick Rose by William Blake (O Rose thou art sick / The invisible worm / That flies in the night / In the howling storm ... ) And Britten somehow managed to make it even more depressing, hopeless, and doom laden.

So let’s go to 90s rock (and I defy you to find another person who would think Benjamin Britten into Alice Donut is a good idea). The Son of an X-Postal Worker Reflects on His Life While Getting Stoned in the Parking Lot of a Winn Dixie Listening to Metallica makes the cut on its own merit – great song, great lyrics – the life he is reflecting on will, in all likelihood, be put to an end by his father, along with that of his mother and everyone his father worked with, and no one will lift a finger to stop this from happening. But it also makes it because Alice Donut is one of my all-time favourite bands.

OK, so this point we’ve been focused on doom, but we’ve almost been nibbling around the edges. Everything is horrible, yes. All is lost, yes. But shall we go all the way in? Down to the blackest reaches of the soul? Yes. Yes we shall. Your version of a doom playlist might not include Funeralopolis by Electric Wizard, but mine sure does. Many of you will not be able to make it through this monster, but please do take a gander at the lyrics if you can: it’s an almost perfect exemplar of doom, both sonically and lyrically. There is hope here, it’s true. But it’s the hope that Donald Trump pushes the button as soon as possible, and scrubs this damned planet clean.

Before we get to the final song, and as if I haven’t ruined your day enough, I will give you the gift of the worst joke in the English language: How do you turn a duck into a soul singer? You put it in the microwave until its Bill Withers. And that takes us to Better Off Dead. And better off dead is a sentiment some of you surely are agreeing with about now. You can quibble with/complain about any of my other choices, and you’d probably be right, but you will never find a better track to end the doom playlist than this. The narrator is drunk, alone, abandoned – and he has a gun. “She’s better off without me / and I’m better off dead.” It will not end happily, but it will end.

And that is that. The playlist of doom. Thanks for your suggestions, apologies to all of you whose great songs I didn’t include. It was fun.

Not all songs appear on the Spotify playlist as some are unavailable on the service.

New theme: how to join in

The new theme will be announced at 8pm (GMT) on Thursday 26 January. You have until 11pm on Monday 30 January to submit nominations.

Here’s a reminder of some of the guidelines for RR:

  • If you have a good theme idea, or if you’d like to volunteer to compile a playlist from readers’ suggestions and write a blog about it, please email
  • There is a wealth of data on RR, including the songs that are “zedded”, at the Marconium. It also tells you the meaning of “zedded”, “donds” and other strange words used by RR regulars.
  • Many RR regulars also congregate at the ’Spill blog.

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