13 Best Zombie Tunes in Pop Culture

Tonight I felt like combining my love for music along with my appreciation for the zombie genre in all media forms such as: film, TV and video games. I will be counting down the thirteen best songs and scores from those platforms that I believe are the best. I am doing the top thirteen because that is usually considered an unlucky or lucky number, depending on your beliefs, religion or superstition. This is music that was used to either promote the media in a trailer or commercial or was part of the actual soundtrack. I will not be putting Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ on here because it differentiates from modern pop culture and because it has been widely overused and overplayed. Your list may be similar or entirely different. And it doesn’t matter. For Halloween I posted a similar countdown titled, ‘Top 10 Scariest Video Games I’ve Played’, you can check that out here, https://anthonyvecch.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/top-10-scariest-video-topgames-ive-played/. So let’s begin the countdown for telling the story of survivors in a world overrun by the flesh-eating corpses and decaying undead; enjoy.

Number 13 – ‘The Blue Wrath’ by I Monster featured in Shaun of the Dead

This tune takes straight from Shaun of the Dead‘s original trailer and appears in a brief period at the beginning of the film when Shaun is living a dull and boring life. I Monster tackles the British quirky and dry humor in this comedic zombie film. Shaun of the Dead starring comedic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost gives a spoof on the entire zombie genre. This song begins with a light constant melody. It progresses with backup vocals that could be compared to the mindless zombies or singing cats. There are martian whammy sounds along with bits from the film. It is just over 1 minute and a half and finishes with Ed played Nick Frost giving Shaun played by Simon Pegg some girl advice. It is on the list because the minute I hear this it brings me to this movie and thus is nostalgic of a zombie comedy classic that already is a decade old.

Number 12 – ‘Mansion Theme’ by Masami Ueda, Syusaku Uchiyama & Shin Nishigaki from the first Resident Evil video game and Resident Evil Remake. 

The Mansion Theme from the original Resident Evil video game on the PlayStation and Gamecube ports was the first thing players would hear and get goosebumps when they started playing inside the ominous and dark disturbing mansion equipped with countless zombies, other mutant enemies and puzzles. This song spawned a generation of 3-D survival horror video gaming and remains today as a huge factor for the fear installed in our minds. The three Japanese composers were pioneers in creating music that added to an already creepy atmosphere and game-play. I would say that music is the ‘icing on the cake’ when fulfilling a scary video game. Disturbing tunes such as this one immerses the player into the nightmarish world closing them out from reality. It was the first thing you heard before entering the dining room, the eloquent upstairs or the painting room with the map to the first floor. This dark score plays its melody in a low pitch, gradually rising and falling creating an affect of anxiety and paranoia. Putting this song to the game will really give you the full picture of a world introducing you to the first video game pix-elated zombies.

Number 11 – ‘Mad World’ by Gary Jules featured in the trailer for The Crazies (2010 Remake)

‘Mad World’ which only appeared in the trailer for The Crazies (2010 Remake) left a big impact on my view of a zombie apocalypse. You might not know this but the original The Crazies film was directed by George A. Romero and came out in 1973. I included this song because the lyrics fit perfect for describing a world gone to hell. The somewhat zombie flick The Crazies tackles an even bigger issue than the crazy infected people, the government and its attempts to eradicate its own faults through any means necessary. Gary Jules’ cover of ‘Mad World’ which was originally recorded by Tear for Fears takes a solemn approach towards the melody.  As I listen to this song I feel like I’m losing everything and I’m alone in tears. It is a sad song with a background light piano vibrating while the vocals are sung by a worn out soul who reaches the heart. I am floating in a endless orbit as chaos looms around me.

Number 10 – ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ by Blue Oyster Cult which appeared in Zombieland

This classic rock song was never used in any horror or zombie flick until the 2009 non taken seriously undead film Zombieland. This film just like Blue Oyster Cult had several classic rock throwbacks featured throughout. Besides ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ being an awesome choice for a zombie film, it also makes for an amazing song and is one of my favorites. The rock riffs, guitar solo and soft vocals makes this a masterpiece. The song constantly urges the listener to not be afraid of death while death lingers in hind sight. I get a positive outlook on a situation for impending doom. Zombieland encompasses a perfect interpretation of this tune because throughout the entire film the main character Columbus (played by Jesse Eisenberg) is consistently relying on his rules of survival, not skipping a beat nor making a mistake while his polar opposite ally Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) plays by no rules and survives based on brutal instinct or serendipitous outcomes. Blue Oyster Cult is a great band for horror media use and should be adopted into further adaptations. Try not to fear the reaper dude.

Number 9 – ‘The Man Comes Around’ by Johnny Cash taken from Dawn of the Dead Remake (2004)

‘The Man Comes Around’ by Johnny Cash is featured in the intro credits to the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead directed by Zack Snyder. Cash’s lyrics in this apocalyptic tune dictate lines from the Book of Revelations in The Bible.  In the film the song ensues during a montage of a world collapsing to the flesh eating runners, a virus spreading throughout the world without any preparation or understanding as the authorities fail to suppress the contamination. Johnny Cash who usually composes country and folk ballads jumps from his norm to create this eerie take on Armageddon. The end of days has a feeling of judgement when the ‘man comes around’ otherwise known to others as God. As it states, the good will rise to the heavens while the immoral bad will stay on the earth that has been engulfed in hell. “When there is no room left in hell, the dead will walk the earth”. That phrase was used in the trailer and is a theme to describe the biblical nature towards the cause of this films zombie outbreak, possibly. This song does not only make me think of a zombie apocalypse but brings a slight feeling of foreboding.

Number 8 – ‘The Last of Us Main Theme’ by Gustavo Santaolalla from critically acclaimed video game The Last of Us

Unlike the composers who make dramatic ballads of their undead interpretations, Gustavo Santaolalla takes a simpler approach at creating a melody that puts the listener in a barren world, a wasteland worn out by twenty years of plague, war and decay. The ukulele highlights the roots of an inspirational story. The Last of Us combines this tune to form a symbiotic relationship that describes a world about to be overturned and taken back by mother nature. This the perfect song to describe a post-apocalyptic universe that has lost hope in everything. It is as if the main characters of the video game, Joel and Ellie are jamming together during a peaceful night in the woods over the fire to create this tune. What comes to mind in this song is the game and not so much the infected enemies you come across. The Main Theme does a fantastic job of painting a beautiful picture behind the horrible circumstances that lie ahead for Joel and Ellie.

Number 7 – ‘Dead Island Trailer Theme’ by Giles Lamb from video game Dead Island

This tear-jerking piano instrumental appeared in the initial trailer to Dead Island which sold more copies than it should. Unfortunately, the video game never lived up to its hyped up trailer. Regardless, this Lost inspired score nails you right in the heart, unknowingly producing memories of people who have came and gone throughout your life. This simple piano riff plays throughout its 2 minutes and 55 second length. In the trailer, the music is placed to contradict the disgusting gory images, making the viewer care about a family who clearly has been massacred by a violent gang of zombies. The video even plays in reverse and in slow motion to stay with the pace of the slow melody. Let me know when it’s time to cry, because this piece by Giles Lamb is really getting to me.

Number 6 – ‘An Ending (Ascent)’ by Brian Eno from 28 Days Later

Brian Eno’s masterpiece ‘An Ending (Ascent)’, originally appeared in Traffic (2000) until making the experimental decision to put it in a zombie horror two years later. 28 Days Later has done an amazing job of making a soundtrack that was both scary and worldly. I think this is the first song on the list that I can apply to several other zombie films, horror movies or other apocalyptic themed genres. Brian Eno is known for collaborating with well known artists such as U2 and Coldplay. The hidden instruments in ‘An Ending (Ascent)’ combines to create a dream landscape. The melody flows like a endless current. A current I just want to be floating and riding on. The word ‘Ascent’ means to climb to the summit of a mountain or to fly through the air. And ‘An Ending’ can be interpreted as a potential outcome to a situation that may also be a beginning. I find myself surrounded by emptiness as I climb the ladder of life leaving behind negativity while searching for hope. Unlike the last song which brings tears to my eyes, this one puts a smile on my face.

Number 5 – ‘East Hastings’ by Godspeed You Black Emperor used in 28 Days Later

‘East Hastings’ is the second song from 28 Days Later to be included on this list which is much more menacing than Brian Eno’s ‘An Ending (Ascent)’. This score which is actually just shy of being 18 minutes long was greatly shortened for the film and appeared during the whole sequence when Jim wakes up in a hospital to an abandoned London, exactly 28 days after an infectious pandemic. This kind of reminds me of the story-line to another zombie conglomerate, The Walking Dead where Officer Rick Grimes wakes up in the hospital to a zombie apocalypse. Anyway, I’ve listened to this song several times while reading The Walking Dead comic books. Godspeed You Black Emperor takes you on a horrific journey. It starts from a maniac screaming about the end of times when it jumps to bag pipes. Then the score is distorted with an out-of-tune guitar. This guitar riff gives a feeling of terrible omen as it gradually gets louder until descending into piles of violins. The slow guitar riff restarts over until escalating to its quick electrical guitar and drum beats at 11 minutes in. This is the climax of the song as the instruments seem to collide and explode. A sense of either fighting or running away ensues. The final segment of the score encompasses a dreary synthesizer ending with eerie loud screams, the sound of a helicopter and a man in a gas mask. This is one creepy tune that will surprise you with each turn of the clock. You can listen to both the full length version or the film shortened version up top.

Number 4 – ‘Isolated System’ by Muse from World War Z

Alternative rock band Muse diverged from their norm to create this surprising gem. With the combination of a steady alluring piano melody and sporadic drum lines, this score really hits the film’s core. United Nations agent Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) literally has the world on his shoulders as he races against time to find a cure to the ever growing population of zeds. The song picks up towards the end giving you the feeling of being at the edge of the world a midst the increasing destruction. Radio broadcasts and news reports play throughout the track to highlight the sense of urgency. It finishes off with a background chorus. This score could easily be used in a highly action packed zombie flick, one in which the main character performs fetes that are almost superhuman. It displays a zombie outbreak that has spread globally with the hope of being salvaged by sacrifices. World War Z was not my favorite zombie film but the movie and main score come together beautifully.

Number 3 – ‘Resident Evil Main Theme’ by Marilyn Manson from the Original Motion Picture Resident Evil 

With an already astounding video game soundtrack, Marilyn Manson’s approach to the Resident Evil franchise trumped all those former tunes. It took a few minutes for me to realize that it was Marilyn Manson who composed this, because in my opinion he usually comes out with explicitly vile musical content. He should compose on a daily basis because the Resident Evil movie theme is awesome, frightening and spot-on. Every time I listen to this all I can think of is a character covered in an arsenal of weaponry from head to toe kicking some zombie ass. I picture a laboratory at Umbrella, the video game of the same name’s antagonist, sporing a hive of inbred bio-weapons and mutant monsters. The harsh synthesizer beats, keyboards and minor drums give the listener a sense of paranoia as if the zombies are about to arrive at any moment. This song can be played from any classic zombie lineage because it brings back the essence of cult horror classics. This could easily be used in any of the Resident Evil video games. Good job Marilyn Manson, in my eyes this is your proudest moment and peak in musical artistry.

Number 2 – ‘The Walking Dead Theme Song’ by Bear McCreary from AMC’s The Walking Dead 

This should come to no surprise as it spawned an entire generation of zombie loving fans and character fan bases. I believe The Walking Dead TV Series would have not been as successful if Bear McCreary did not compose such a poppy and grueling theme. The ensemble of violins, string instruments and piano come together to form a score that combines a contemporary horror cliche with an archaic western feel. Whenever I listen to this, it feels like I’m covered in mud eating the grim and dirt. It even feels a bit like pulp action. The short theme does everything it needs to do in its 51 seconds to set the viewer up. When I heard this I am immediately immersed into The Walking Dead universe and can recall all the episodes and scenes throughout the years. It is a theme that will never get old nor be forgotten. At the moment it stands the test of time for creating the most watched television show in history even beating out the NFL. The NFL better hope the Super Bowl is televised before the The Walking Dead comes back in February, or else they will be at a loss. This song will live out to create anxiety as a herd of walkers come marching through. However, it still does not beat the number one song on this list which is the perfect theme for the zombie genre in every way.

Before we reveal the number one I want to mention some songs that missed the final cut. First off we have Bear McCreary’s other score from The Walking Dead titled ‘Mercy of the Living’ which appeared at the end of the pilot episode. Then we had a song from The Walking Dead official Season 1 trailer, ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ by The Walker Brothers. Was that a coincidence or unintentional? A few other honorable mentions included ‘Happy Together’ by Turtles, a song used in the commercial for Xbox One’s Dead Rising 3, Z Nation’s Main Theme titled ‘Have Mercy On Me’ by The Black Keys and Stewart Copeland’s soundtrack theme to Alone In the Dark: The New Nightmare. They were all good songs but did not compare to the ones featured on this list. Now for my number one best zombie tune in pop culture is…

Number 1 – ‘In the House – In a Heartbeat’ by John Murphy from 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later

The third and final song from 28 Days Later also happens to be the best zombie song to date in my opinion. It was then used again in its sequel, 28 Weeks LaterJohn Murphy does a perfect job of bringing the feeling of doom with its explosive drums and electric guitar while polishing off the tune with a creepy melody on acoustic. ‘In the House – In a Heartbeat’ starts out very slow as it gradually settles into chaos. This tune is the embodiment of a transformation that goes on when a human turns into a zombie or an infected being and when civilization goes to mayhem. There is no other comparison as the tune could be applied to every known zombie flick or even thrillers out there. It gives the consistent feeling of dread, hopelessness, sadness, rage and horror all wrapped in one. ‘In a House – In a Heartbeat’ has been used several times in other films and media platforms to tell an intense story moment. For example, there is a scene in the movie Death Sentence in which ‘In the House – In a Heartbeat’ plays out after Kevin Bacon takes revenge on a gang of thugs for murdering his son. This tune leaves a zero chance of survival as if the zombies have taken over and won. It can also mean the end to one’s own humanity, someone losing sight of who they are as they squander in savagery.  It is the ultimate zombie song and apocalyptic theme. This song gives me a horrifying depiction of an inevitable zombie apocalypse or similar pandemic plague.

How far will this Ebola strain go? Can we stop it or will it take hold of humanity like the black plague? Provide your thoughts in the comments below. After listening to it a few times, do you agree with it being the number one selection? Train as a zombie slayer and be prepared for a dystopian future. I’m just kidding, enjoy your life and do not be scared but entertained. Thank you. Never forget to embrace life and take hold of creativity.

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One thought on “13 Best Zombie Tunes in Pop Culture

  1. Hi Anthony!
    My name is Olivia and I am the Chief Writer at FDRMX (http://fdrmx.com), an online music publication. I came across your blog and really enjoyed reading your reviews. We were wondering if you would be interested in writing for our website? We are looking to expand our team and we think you would be a great fit. You can contact me at o@fdrmx.com if you would like to get involved.
    Looking forward to hearing from you!
    Olivia

    Like

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