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Title: ‘The End of the World’
Where to find it: ‘Skeeter Davis Sings The End of the World’ (1963, RCA)
Performed by: Skeeter Davis
Words by: Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee

This is truly a blast from the past and probably not going to happen often, as it’s only really newer songs’ lyrics that I take the time to really dig through. But it would have been my father’s birthday this Saturday, so I thought it would be appropriate to examine his favourite song of all time. I was very young when he told me this was his favourite and at the time, being young, I didn’t understand the heart-wrenching nature of the song. All I heard – and couldn’t get past – was Skeeter Davis’ country twang, still a kind of sound that bothers me to this day. It’s this part sentimentally adorable, part grating annoyance.

No, it wasn’t until the song appeared in probably the saddest scene in the Winona Ryder film Girl, Interrupted that the lyrics knocked me in the stomach. SPOILER ALERT: Brittany Murphy’s character Daisy Randone commits suicide when she finds she can’t cope being a victim of sexual abuse. It’s doubly sad that in real life, Murphy herself died in what looks to me as suicide. While a broken heart is nothing to kill yourself over, I admit crying far too many tears during a breakup over this song. Ironically, it’s what the protagonist admits, but may not accept yet at this time – that the world still goes on even after a relationship has ended. And as much as I’m groaning saying this, because I heard it too many times as I suffered post-breakup, yes. It does just take time. Sometime TOO MUCH time.

First, the words:

Verse 1
Why does the sun go on shining
Why does the sea rush to shore
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
Cause you don’t love me anymore

Verse 2
Why do the birds go on singing
Why do the stars glow above
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
It ended when I lost your love

Bridge
I wake up in the morning and I wonder
Why everything’s the same as it was
I can’t understand no I can’t understand
How life goes on the way it does

Verse 3
Why does my heart go on beating
Why do these eyes of mine cry
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
It ended when you said goodbye

“Verse” 4
(Why does my heart go on beating
Why do these eyes of mine cry?)
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
It ended when you said goodbye

Now, the analysis:

As most songs from the ’60s were, the structure of this song is pretty simple. I almost hesitated to mark where the verses were, because they’re not really verses in my eyes, because the song is so simple. But it’s the simplicity that makes this song such a timeless classic.

As sure as the sun rises and sets every day, nature always goes on without stopping, regardless what happens in the human world. The two absolute worst things of the natural world while I was still in the throes of a post-breakup situation: watching the sun rise in the morning and shine on everything in its path, and seeing the moon at night high above in the sky. Why? These are two constant things in all of our lives, regardless of where in the world you are. Both are things that us as humans are cognisant of almost every day. I think it would hurt me more that the sun was shining, people were happy around me, etc. while I was in severe emotional pain. And that’s what happens in a breakup: we are so focused on this acute pain we are feeling, things go on around us and we can’t even appreciate the little things in life like that fact that we have a sun. (And trust me, I have had it ingrained in my brain by my friends from England that seeing sun for the majority of the year in Washington DC is something that I have taken for granted!)

The first two verses discuss nature. And I won’t go into the scientific reasons why the sea keeps rushing to shore with the tides – that’s for a boffin blog. But what is more important is how the physical manifestations – the worry of a heart to stop beating, and actual crying – take over in verses 3 and 4. I see this as a shift from what is observed outside your life to what is happening now in your life. Not necessarily acceptance of the situation but acceptance that it’s real and she’s not staring out a window, completely disconnected from reality. There is also a spoken word bit, a device that isn’t used far enough in modern days. And it works brilliantly. (Don’t believe me? Go watch The Heartbreaks‘I Didn’t Think It Would Hurt to Think of You’; the band admittedly take cues from the girl groups of the same era from whence Ms. Davis came from.)

I also really admire the bridge. The protagonist wonders how it’s possible that she awakes in the morning, and nothing has changed, things are exactly as broken as when she went to bed the night before. I find it a very elegant way lyrically of saying she’s in a deep depression and trying to pass the time by sleeping. If you’re not awake, you can’t hurt, right? But trying to sleep it off only gets you so far. I know. I’ve tried. it doesn’t do anything. Nothing changes until you come to accept the situation for what it is. And the passage of time.

I never got to ask my father before he died why this was his favourite song. Did a woman hurt him, leading him to hold this song close to his heart? I’ll never know, of course, but for sure, it is a song that will always be part of my musical history.

Lastly, the song, performed live by Ms. Davis live on the Bobby Lord Show in August 1965.

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