Festering hordes of shambling undead monsters may not seem like a good subject for music but zombies have inspired many great songs. While thousands of songs have been written about the undead, most are about death, the afterlife and revenge. Zombies, on the other hand, have inspired love ballads, protest songs and pop hits. It seems that musicians have found the shambling hordes to be quite adaptable as subject matter.
This is not meant to be an inclusive list but inspiration for your own zombie themed playlist for your upcoming Halloween parties and zombie walks.
1. Re: Your Brains by Jonathan Coulton:
Jonathan Coulton is best known for two songs: Still Alive and this one. Re: Your Brains is about a zombie named Bob singing to a human survivor named Tom trapped in mall, asking him to open the doors so he can eat the human’s brains. The zombie is extremely articulate for the undead and makes a convincing argument for Tom to just let the undead in:
I don’t want to nitpick, Tom, but is this really your plan?
Spend your whole life locked inside a mall?
Maybe that’s OK for now but someday you’ll be out of food and guns
And you’ll have to make the call
I’m not surprised to see you haven’t thought it through enough
You never had the head for all that bigger picture stuff
But Tom, that’s what I do, and I plan on eating you slowly
The song has become a major hit in geek circles. It was included in the game Left 4 Dead 2 as an Easter egg. Cycle through the songs on a jukebox in the game and it will eventually land on Re: Your Brains.
Because Coulton released it with a Creative Commons license, anyone can make a derivative work based on it as long as they credit him and don’t make money off of it. This has led to multiple music videos and fan works across the Internet. I even used it as the song for an episode of my podcast Role Playing Public Radio. If you ever want to create a zombie themed Youtube video, Re: Your Brains is the perfect go to choice for music.
2. Zombie by The Cranberries:
Despite the title, it’s not really about the undead. It’s about the Troubles in Ireland:
It’s the same old theme since nineteen-sixteen.
In your head, in your head they’re still fighting,
With their tanks and their bombs,
And their bombs and their guns.
In your head, in your head, they are dying…
The Cranberries berate the leaders causing the troubles, comparing their mindlessness to zombies, hence the title of the song. Still, given how incompetent the military is portrayed in zombie genre stories, this song could be applied to the forces in World War Z or the Governor in the Walking Dead.
3. East Hastings by Godspeed You! Black Emperor:
The zombie genre was brought back to (un)life with the release of 28 Days Later in 2002. Its vision of a post-apocalyptic England dominated by the infected captured the imaginations of millions. It was also my introduction to the post-rock group called Godspeed You! Black Emperor. East Hastings was the only GYBE song included in the film’s score but the entire soundtrack is heavily influenced by its brooding, unrelenting style – a postmodern orchestra of doom. The director, Danny Boyle, admitted that GYBE influenced his work on 28 Days Later.
” I always try to have a soundtrack in my mind. Like when we did Trainspotting, it was Underworld. For me, the soundtrack to 28 Days Later was Godspeed. The whole film was cut to Godspeed in my head.’
The version in the film is cut. The full length version is 17 minutes and 58 seconds long and samples field recordings of a street preacher, distorted electronic noise and quiet singing. It gives the impression of a transmission from a dystopian future where only a few radio signals can be picked up – the sounds of a dying civilization. It’s the perfect music to listen to late at night when contemplating what a zombie apocalypse would actually be like. Many of their concerts are available for download at Archive.org.
4. The Living Dead by Phantom Planet:
Stubbs the Zombie was a minor classic for the original Xbox. In a Populuxe-stylized 1950s city, one zombie named Stubbs is determined to get revenge on the man who killed him. Stubbs has to raise an army of the undead by infecting the living and fighting off cops and soldiers. His only weapons are his unique zombie powers. It’s a fun game still available on Xbox Live.
The soundtrack is the real draw though. Modern bands covered a dozen hit songs from the 1950s and 60s along with a new song, The Living Dead by Phantom Planet. The entire album is worth getting even though the other songs don’t have much to do with the walking dead. The cover of Earth Angel by Death Cab for Cutie is particularly great.
5. Blood Fever by Send More Paramedics:
The entire discography of the UK thrash metal band Send More Paramedics could qualify for this list so I just chose this song as a representative of their music. Formed in 2001, the band based their songs on 1980s zombie films and related themes. It’s great listening for any metal fan and dedicated horror fans will pick out numerous references and samples from zombie movies.
Their name comes from the film Return of the Living Dead. In the movie, the zombies are intelligent and able to talk. So after ambushing and devouring several paramedics, the zombies use the ambulance’s radio to contact dispatch and “send more paramedics.”
The band produced three albums until their breakup in 2007. Their last album, The Awakening contains a second disc that has a score for a nonexistent zombie film – ambient electronic music similar to Goblin’s work in Dawn of the Dead. Even if you’re not a metal listener, the movie score is worth a listen. Dark, moody and filled with a bit of a radio play at the end that really captures the mood of a zombie apocalypse.
6. When the Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash:
The Man in Black produced more than a few songs appropriate for a zombie apocalypse but none more than this one (Ain’t No Grave and God’s Gonna Cut You Down come to mind) Cash sings of a man that brings the apocalypse and visions of angels heralding the end of the world. It became a part of zombie pop culture when it was used as the opening song for the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. Cut to a montage of news footage showing the collapse of civilization, the song takes on a new level of intensity. You can practically feel the shambling hordes approaching.
7. Zombie love song by Your favorite Martian:
A shamelessly geek pandering (not that there’s anything wrong with that) virtual band, Your Favorite Martian is a side project from Youtube vlogger Ray William Johnson. Zombie Love Song is about a lonely undead bachelor looking for that special someone. Unfortunately, she’s still alive and a bit nonplussed about animate flesh eating corpses. The music video is animated and fun though so it’s worth a listen or two.
8. Thriller by Michael Jackson:
No zombie song list could be complete without the pop masterpiece that is Thriller. One of the biggest hits in the history of recorded music, Thriller is an excellent song in its own right, but the spoken word part and epic 14 minute music video make it the epitome of all zombie-based music. It took a choreography genius like Michael Jackson to make the dead dance and have it look good but they have become an inedible part of popular culture. Even today, people around the world still dance as zombies. You can see it in America or as far away as a prison in the Philippines.
As mild as this song seems today, back when it was released, it drew some criticism for its horror imagery and content. No matter how happy or harmless we try to make the undead seem, they still find a way to terrify us.