From Maybe by The Ink Pots to Easy Living by Billie Holiday, Fallout games have always featured fantastic music. The steampunk aesthetic meshes surprisingly well with the 30s and 40s jazz of the soundtracks. However, there are some great folk songs out there that evoke a real sense of Fallout when I listen to them. Maybe it’s something about the journey, or perhaps it’s the lingering nostalgia that’s so often imbued in folk music; either way, here are 10 folk songs that I think would lend themselves well to a Fallout 76 playlist, which you can listen to as you wait for the game to be released next month.
1. “Ocean City” – Kurt Vile
Ocean City is a song from Kurt Vile’s Square Shells EP. It’s not jazz, but it’s so distinctively Fallout it hurts. From the lyrics—”they say Ocean City’s the place to be, but can you get me there for free?”— to the lo-fi nature of the song, it screamed Fallout the first time that I heard it, and it continues to remind me of Fallout 3 to this day. This is the kind of song that would keep the Lone Wanderer in high spirits as he traversed the desolate and barren Wasteland.
2. “Somebody That I Used To Know” – Elliott Smith
The lyrics from the second song of Elliott Smith’s Figure 8 album are concerned with an upset nostalgia, commenting on a friendship or relationship that died in the past. This kind of confused nostalgia is bittersweet, but warm. It’s the musical embodiment of some of the emotions that keep Fallout‘s world from completely crumbling. This nostalgia, known but not fully understood, allows one to reminisce on the good times, even if they’re long gone and out of reach.
3. “Milk And Honey” – Nick Drake
Round and round the burning circle
All the seasons: one, two, and three
Autumn leaves and then there’s winter
Spring is born and wanders free.
This song sounds a lot older than it is, mostly due to the fact that it was produced to be lo-fi. This makes it seem like something from long ago, and its heavy lyrics resonate with a sort of forgotten wisdom. Thematically, it is consistent with the idea of a world in which the seasons are reborn over and over again, even if its inhabitants “fade and die.” It is somber in both tone and content, yet it offers a quiet warmth—something every Vault Dweller could benefit from.
4. “Ballad of a Thin Man” – Bob Dylan
Dylan’s eponymous ballad features a descending instrumental progression that’s a perfect backing track to the player who trudges through the irradiated Wasteland. Many lines in the song resonate with the player’s role in the post-apocalyptic world of the Fallout games, but the following lyrics are perhaps the most appropriate to mention in relation to the player’s solitary and seemingly impossible quest:
And you say, “Oh my God, am I here all alone?”
But something is happening and you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
5. “Terrapin” – Syd Barrett
Syd Barrett, famous for being one of the founding members of Pink Floyd, led a short-lived yet fantastic solo career in the years after he left the infamous British rock band. His psychedelic folk music is chaotic and brilliant. “Terrapin” is the first track on his 1970 album The Madcap Laughs, and its bluesy rhythm resembles the tempo of a certain Courier emphatically couriering through the massive barren expanses of the Wasteland.
6. “Midnight Special” – Leadbelly
This song is probably the song in this list that is most similar to the kind of music that’s actually featured in Fallout games. Recorded in 1934 at Angola Prison, Leadbelly’s version of the traditional folk song is quietly upbeat and uplifting, and the idea of Eddie Boone taking you down if you ever go to Houston seems downright Fallout-esque to me. This is the kind of song you can imagine hearing on an old transistor radio in Megaton, juxtaposed beautifully with the Pip-Boy’s vibrant green UI.
7. “Dirty Old Town” – The Pogues
The Pogues’ frontman Shane MacGowan’s Irish twang is a perfect fit for the Fallout franchise. On top of that, the traditional Irish instrumental section in the middle of this song serves as a fantastic accompaniment to players as they trek through post-apocalyptic Boston, which is a place that has been heavily impacted by Irish culture. Fallout 4‘s Cait had potentially the worst Irish accent ever, so Shane MacGowan’s Dublin accent would do the franchise a world of good.
8. “Wish You Were Here” – Pink Floyd
The intro to Pink Floyd’s iconic song is processed to sound as if it were playing directly from an old AM radio, and fits Fallout‘s steampunk juxtaposition of old and new wonderfully, falling in line with the fact that the series’ music usually constitutes a part of the former. The start of the song is most evocative of a particularly Fallout ambiance, yet the song as a whole is lyrically perfect for Bethesda’s franchise. The idea of the Lone Wanderer being one of “two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl” resonates with the lonely, isolated, and confused existence of the solitary player, in a world of chaos, fit to be compared to something as arbitrarily ordinary as a standard fish bowl.
9. “Needle and the Damage Done” – Neil Young
The sheer rawness of Young’s live acoustic performance of this song, included on the 1972 album Harvest, is incredibly heavy. This stripped back, hard-hitting, and encapsulating performance is the kind of song that would capture the full attention of somebody in a world that has been destroyed. Its thematic focus on drug abuse also resonates with the fact that an incredibly high amount of Fallout‘s population has turned to drugs in order to escape from the pain of an existence without hope. The last lines of the song cast a sorrowful outlook on the Wasteland and its issues with drug abuse:
I’ve seen the needle
and the damage done
A little part of it in everyone
But every junkie’s
like a settin’ sun.
10. “Hurt” – Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash’s heartbreaking and breathtakingly raw cover of the infamous Nine Inch Nails classic is a song that Bethesda should absolutely use for a black-and-white Fallout trailer some day. The emotion attached to this song is present everywhere in the barren Wasteland. For the same reasons as the Neil Young song above, this song carries particular weight in relation to the series’ population of addicts and self-destructive escapists, and just how tragic their situation is. The saddest song on the list, but one that fits the world of Fallout like a glove.
The 10 songs mentioned above are as Fallout as it gets. Hopefully someday Bethesda will decide to make a Fallout game in which the music is derived from more of a folk origin, as the genre perfectly suits the player’s solitary and dangerous journey through unknown yet beautiful territory.