Natural Hazards in Songs: Top 5!

The Premise

Hearing about natural hazards in songs solicits a giddy amount of geek pleasure, so I thought I’d share. In keeping with the current academic zeitgeist of random numbers assigned to work that took a long time to do  (e.g. UK’s forthcoming REF and any review of a research proposal that comes back from RCUK) I’ve chosen my top 5 songs in two categories of natural hazards: storms and flooding and geophysical hazards. This also nicely mirrors some of the chapters in the forthcoming Foresight Review of Anticipating Disaster and Resilience, but contains a lot more singing and a bit less clever stuff.

Narrowing it down to five makes it more subjective and perhaps more interesting to read. Usually the hazards are used as metaphors (listen up girls this is the analytical bit!); generally it seems storms are a metaphor for being a bit miserable and generally full of woe whereas volcanoes are quite good for being cross.  The choices try to focus on songs where it stretches a little further than that. There has been some cheating of course and I’ve missed many out. I’m always interested to hear of more.

One of the boundary conditions was that I could only include songs that can be found and sampled on iTunes. This arbitrarily wiped out a swathe of great songs that actually talk about the real feelings induced by real natural hazards. Never mind. This particularly applies to the many songs in response to the eruption of the Soufriere Hills.

Songs about Storms and Flooding

  1. Cloudbusting. Kate Bush (1985). The only real no. 1 choice to be made in this category. Not only is it about making nasty weather; its about scientists and inspiring childhood heroes. In the bonkersly fabulous video Kate Bush points an instrument so marvellous at the clouds I still want one even today, despite the fact I am not 15 anymore.
  2. Under the Weather. KT Tunstall. (2005) This song seems to wonderfully capture the national gloom that descends in the UK when the weather is a bit rubbish for weeks on end and its dark at breakfast and dark again when you finish work. Oh and wet, very wet. Yet, somehow she makes it seem like this is perfectly fine because its still home. A little bit of resilience of thinking there from KT, perhaps. I don’t think she is really singing about that, but that’s not the point.
  3. Hurricane Drunk. Florence and the Machine (2010). Florence is not so big on resilience thinking in the face of hazards. She is more the standing-on-top-of-the-hills-egging-the-danger-on-type. She is the hurricane; the eye of her storm is a big bottle of vodka. Fair enough Florence, some days are a bit like that.
  4. Storm. Gregory Isaac. (1977) In this song although there is a storm, there is a very strong belief too that things will get better and it will pass. Even if it doesn’t its still going to be OK. There is no giving up and going somewhere else in this song. Gregory, you are a resilient man.
  5. Sometimes (Lester Piggott). James. (1993) The kid in this song was up there egging on the danger quite some time before Florence got there. This is by far the most destructive storm in this quintet and kind of gets to some of the excitement that comes from witnessing a natural hazard in full flight. Full marks to James for recognising the relationship between the speed of light and speed of sound and how it can be used to determine the relative movement of the storm. Top of the science lyric class.

Rejected Runners Up: Weather with You, Crowded House (only one good line Re: storms); Stormy Weather, Etta James (too mellow). Riders on the Storm, The Doors (not my thing), Jesus do your Hands still feel the Rain, Deacon Blue (too Scottish; although admittedly usually one can never be too Scottish); Electrical Storm (but U2 off the top of their peak); Shelter from the Storm, Bob Dylan (nice resilience thinking, just didn’t quite make it in the face of the nutty kids jumping around amid the lightning).

Songs about Geophysical Hazards

  1. Earthquake. Labrinth feat. Tinie Tempah. (2011) You’ve got to love this song. Not least because Labrinth claims he can predict earthquakes, which most seismologists say is absolutely not going to happen. Yes it will; if you go to one of Labrinth’s parties; these seismologists need to get out more!
  2. Volcano. Red Plastic Bag. (?1999) An actual song about a volcano erupting and putting ‘ash in the air’ not someone using it to discuss an outpouring of emotion. Hooray. During the Eyjya airspace lockdown I was ‘stuck’ in Antigua overnight and was treated to the surreal sight of 10 or so British kids doing the actions to this song while their parents morosely watched them while sulking over their pina coladas about being stuck in paradise for too long. Not very resilience thinking mummy and daddy. My husband’s fave.
  3. Earthquake. Little Boots. (2009) Although she uses the standard metaphor of an earthquake causing cracks to her breaking heart, full marks to Little Boots for multi-hazard awareness. She recognises that with too many heartbreak earthquakes a little emotional landsliding will surely follow. Correct, Little Boots, correct.
  4. Volcano. Damian Rice.(2003) Not quite sure what is going on here, but the volcano has erupted and nobody is very happy about it. Not much sign either of people picking themselves back up and getting on with it. Lots of surveying the volcano-blasted wreckage of ones life and moaning gently. Where’s your resilience thinking, Damian?
  5. Oh My God. Mark Ronson. (2007) A very dodgy connection here and this isn’t even an original song but a trumpety re-imagining of a song by the Kaiser Chiefs. Still, its not often you find someone brave enough to find a rhyming couplet for plate tectonic, and that deserves some credit. It was either that or Rock Lobster because it has the word rock in it, which is clearly pushing it.

Rejected Runners up: Volcano Girls, Veruca Salt (too awful despite a useful song title with some promise); Little Earthquakes, Tori Amos (too much complaining); Volcano, Jimmy Buffett (not quite right) and Magma Mama by Ramasutra (too obscure). I did come across a song called ‘Landslide’ which had variously been done by Fleetwood Mac; Dixie Chicks and laterally by the cast of Glee with Gwyneth Paltrow. Hadn’t heard it before so it didn’t count; the intervention of Gwynnie was also a little offputting.

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