From songs of great floods to dust-bowl ballads, songwriters have long been giving voice to the destructive power of nature. The best have a way of comforting and healing our hearts in a way nothing else can. For some heavy contemplation, here are the six best songs on the worst possible topics.
1. "My Oklahoma Home," Pete Seeger: Seeger and pal Woody Guthrie recorded a catalog of songs about the Great Dust Bowl of the '30s. The live version you see here is an excellent cover of the tune by the Boss off his album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.
2. "97 Flood," Tom Brosseau: Miraculously, there were no fatalities when Brosseau's home town of Grand Forks, North Dakota, was submerged by the waters of the Red River in 1997. The flooding stretched all the way into Manitoba, and caused an estimated 3.5 billion dollars in damages.
3. "New Madrid," Uncle Tupelo: New Madrid, Missouri, sits on a major fault line that in 1812 destroyed the town completely and was estimated to have been strongly felt across 50,000 miles--all the way to New York and Boston. This is Jeff Tweedy's song about Iben Browning's panic-inducing prediction of a earthquake of a similar magnitude that failed to happen in 1990.
4. "When the Levee Breaks," Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy: This song was penned by the blues vocalist and her husband in reaction to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Led Zeppelin famously covered the tune, as did Bob Dylan, who reworked the traditional song as "The Levee's Gonna Break" on his album Modern Times, released nearly a year to the day after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005.
5. "Wasn't That a Mighty Storm," traditional: This American folk song concerns the disastrous hurricane that leveled Galveston, Texas, in 1900, which, according to the Galveston County Daily News, is considered the deadliest natural disaster to hit the United States, with casualties estimated between 6,000 and 8,000. Not the happiest of subjects, but at the 4:13 mark in this video, folk singers Tom Rush and Emmylou Harris perform a lively version.
6. "Helplessness Blues," Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes' new single captures the existential despair of folks like us in today's disaster-prone world. But cheer up! The vinyl test-pressing of the forthcoming new album Helplessness Blues is still up for grabs on eBay, with all proceeds going to Japan disaster relief. (If you're looking for more music-related ways to donate, just hit up your iTunes store--you can contribute directly from there.)