Arguably, some of the greatest hits of all time have been threaded with dystopian themes. It’s probably why they strike a proverbial chord with their audiences. Here are a select few from my own library that I listen too when constructing a scene in one of my books.
- Eve of Destruction, Barry McGuire.
The lyrics are bare, the music raw. One of the first songs to become a massive hit, this song invaded our homes in the mid-sixties as a protest song. Though multiple recordings have since been produced, and McGuire’s reluctance to perform the song after he became a born again Christian, the original chart topper still leaves a Dystopian taste in the mouth.
The lyrics are bare, the music raw.
- Radioactive, Imagine Dragons
Radioactive’s meaning has been debated since its release to the public. Both lyrics and clip present a picture of puppets and higher-ups pulling the strings. Staring Lou Diamond Phillips, the clip is one of the more intriguing of the 21st century music culture, proposing a place for revolution in our society to correct the injustice. The song was performed live by another popular American artist in Australia, where the lyrics “revolution” were changed to “resolution,” causing outcry in the alternative media world.
- Silent Lucity, Queensrÿche
Queensrÿche for years have bucked the system with their music. With one of their more popular hits from the Empire album, Silent Lucidity took on its own life in the dystopian genre as the band touched on more socially conscious lyrics
- Forever Young, Youth Group
A few versions of this song have been released over the years, but Youth Group’s haunting production of the song brings the story alive. Lyrics like “Hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. Are you gonna drop the bomb or not,” and putting our faith in our leaders reflects on the era when it was written and originally released: The not-so-Cold War.
- Comfortably Numb, Pink Floyd
Though rumored to have been written about Roger Waters’ experience with tranquilizers and show performance during a time he was ill, the lyrics have since become much more to those who listen to them. In keeping up with the Pink traditions, lyrics by this band have always presented the alternative views for those living under oppression.
- Room of Angel, Akira Yamaoka
One of the soundtracks to the online game Silent Hill 4. The haunting voice with dark undertones and soft but present piano leaves you wanting for more though your heart weighs heavily for the things missing in your life. “…so sleep in your only memory…here’s a lullaby to close your eyes, it was always you I despised.”
- Another Brick In The Wall, Pink Floyd
For any fan of music, this second choice from Pink Floyd comes with no surprise. After all, are we all not just “another brick in the wall?”
- The River, Good Charlotte
Be it a religious song or one reflecting on the disintegrating morals of society, the listener can’t help but hear the typical angst coming from the singer. The River reflects on society promising beauty and riches and delivering on only the bare minimum. Will our children return to us unscathed, is the question. Madden’s follow-up song years later, a self-confessed sequel to The River, is equally dark with its confronting almost biblical tones. City of Sin’s “There’s fires always burning, there’s war out on the street, in the house off evil she told me I could sleep…” reflects on the changing ethos in society today. Judge for yourself.
- Welcome to the Jungle, Guns N’ Roses
Is it about drugs or is it about war? With the repetitive theme of money, greed and suffering, does it really matter? Either way, the Gunner’s hit nailed the dystopian darkness that lurks beneath the city.
- Smoke and Mirrors Album, Imagine Dragons
I was hard pressed to decide which song to add here, and hesitant to add a second one from the same band again. However, when I discovered Imagine Dragon’s work, it hit me instantly just how provoking the lyrics are in terms of dystopian society, revolution, injustice, and sometimes the depression that can follow, perhaps from the conflicting issues surrounding us. In this case, selecting a song is impossible. Try the entire album instead. At least 95% of the songs have these themes.
And we can never forget the one and only Utopian song in the world known to all, Imagine.
John Lennon, we salute you.
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