Monday, April 20, 2009

Scene Of The Accident

The recent (April 15) ninety-seventh anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic reminded me of the many popular songs written about disasters. There’s a long tradition in popular music of disaster songs, in which the terrible event serves as a sort of cautionary fable, having a homiletic value (“the story teaches us that…”). I can’t say definitively how many songs have been written over the years about the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, probably over two dozen, but the Titanic event became indelibly associated in the popular imagination with industrial or “man-made” disasters of all kinds—songs about shipwrecks, plane crashes, automobile accidents, and derailed trains, all of which comprise a long precession of misfortune and disaster. And, of course, there are songs about so-called “natural” disasters, such as floods, droughts (Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads), hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. Probably one ought to include as well the many murder ballads (“Tom Dooley” being a famous example) among disaster songs.

Thus disaster songs form a rather heterogeneous genre, largely about Fate, and hence really about the human response to adversity: courage and cowardice, the instinct for survival and heroic sacrifice. I’ve listed below a few representative songs, and also the amazing soundtrack to the must-see film ATOMIC CAFÉ (1982), which includes songs such as the Golden Gate Quartet’s “Atom and Evil” and the Slim Gaillard Quartette’s “Atomic Cocktail.” According to information at on ATOMIC CAFÉ, some songs the producers wanted to include on the soundtrack, but couldn’t find, included “Atomic Polka” and “Atomic Boogie,” and a song titled “Fallout Shelter” in the “Tell Laura I Love Her” vein, a song about a father telling his son that he can’t bring his girlfriend into the family fallout shelter, so the boy and girl abandon the shelter only to die in the streets.

A Lethal Mix Of Disaster Songs:
Atomic Café (Soundtrack)
The Band – The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
The Bee Gees – New York Mining Disaster 1941
Bloodrock – D.O.A.
The Buoys – Timothy
Johnny Cash – The Wreck of Old ‘97
David Allan Coe – Widow Maker
Jimmy Dean – Big Bad John
Elvis – In the Ghetto
The Everly Brothers – Ebony Eyes
Lefty Frizzell – Long Black Veil
Jan and Dean – Dead Man’s Curve
The Kinks – Life Goes On
Led Zeppelin – When the Levee Breaks
Gordon Lightfoot – The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Don McLean – American Pie
Randy Newman – Louisiana 1927
Procol Harum – Wreck of the Hesperus
R.E.M. – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
Porter Wagoner – The Carroll County Accident
J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers – Last Kiss

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