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. From Prince to Good Charlotte, Imagine Dragons and Bright Eyes, here are a select few from my own library that I listen to when constructing a scene in one of my books.
- Eve of Destruction, Barry McGuire.
The lyrics are bare, the music raw. One of the biggest dystopian tunes to hit the radio, this protest song invaded our homes in the mid-sixties as a reminder of the things we risk losing. Despite multiple recordings been reproducing this warning, 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.
So tell me, are we on the eve of destruction?
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 their strings. Staring Lou Diamond Phillips, the clip is one of the more intriguing to be released in the early 21st century. With 999 million hits on this Vevo clip, the music culture strikes a proverbial chord; proposing a place for revolution in our society once again, it serves as a reminder to correct the injustices and pay attention to the inequities of what we call civilisation.
- Silent Lucity, Queensrÿche
For years, Queensrÿche have bucked the system with their music. With one of their more popular hits from the Empire album, Silent Lucidity took on a life of its own, reflecting the dystopian genre as the band touched on more socially conscious issues with their 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.
- Old Soul Song (For The New World Order), Bright Eyes
An incredibly potent song, these lyrics serve to remind us of the importance of freedom and truth. All too poignant in today’s censored world. From the “old song on the clock radio” to “the barricades” keeping us off the street, Bright Eyes’ NWO song has a dystopian distance to it that we’d all do well to remember.
- 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.
- Another Brick In The Wall, Pink Floyd
For any fan of music, this 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.
- 1999, Prince
I know. Like me you’ve probably been bopping around to this song in your underwear, singing into a hairbrush since the song’s conception . . . ugh, bad image. But have you ever given some thought to Prince’s party lyrics? They’re quite the dire warning. “Party like it’s 1999” folks, because according to this song, we’re outta time. After all . . .
“Everybody’s got a bomb
We could all die here today.”