Zombie (song)

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"Zombie"
A black-and-white photo of the Cranberries
Standard artwork (CD and vinyl edition pictured)
Single by the Cranberries
from the album No Need to Argue
Released19 September 1994 (1994-09-19)
Format
Recorded1994
StudioWindmill Lane Studios
Genre
Length
  • 5:06 (LP version)
  • 4:11 (international edit)
  • 3:52 (U.S. radio edit)
LabelIsland
Songwriter(s)Dolores O'Riordan
Producer(s)Stephen Street
The Cranberries singles chronology
"Linger"
(1993)
"Zombie"
(1994)
"Ode to My Family"
(1994)
Music video
"Zombie" on YouTube
Audio sample
Zombie

"Zombie" is a protest song by Irish alternative rock[1] band the Cranberries, written about the 1993 IRA bombing in Warrington,[5] and in memory of two young victims, Johnathan Ball and Tim Parry. It was released in September 1994 as the lead single from their second studio album, No Need to Argue (1994). It preceded the release of No Need to Argue by two weeks.

The song was written by the band's lead singer Dolores O'Riordan and reached No. 1 on the charts of Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany and Iceland, as well as on the US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. It won the "Best Song" award at the 1995 MTV Europe Music Awards.[6] The song was voted by Triple J listeners as No. 1 on the Triple J Hottest 100, 1994 chart.[7][8]

In 2017, the song was released as an acoustic, stripped-down version on the band's Something Else album.[9] In April 2020 it became the first song by an Irish band to surpass a billion views on Youtube.[10][11] As of April 2020, Zombie has been streamed 472 million times on Spotify and has sold 778,942 copies in United Kingdom.[12]

Background and composition[edit]

During The Troubles, more than 3,500 died and tens of thousands were injured in more than 30 years of brutality and complexity.[13][14][15] The IRA, which are devoted both to removing British forces from Northern Ireland and to unifying Ireland, killed more than 2,000 people.[16][17] There were over 10,000 bomb attacks at that time, in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain, in an armed conflict between the Provisional IRA, Ulster loyalist paramilitaries, and the British security forces, which can be thought of as a struggle for identity.[18][19]

The song was written in response to the death of Johnathan Ball, 3, and Tim Parry, 12, who had been killed in the IRA bombing in Warrington, northwestern England, when two devices hidden in litter bins were detonated.[20][21] Johnathan Ball died at the scene of the bombing as a result of his shrapnel inflicted injuries and, five days later, Tim Parry lost his life as a result of fatal head injuries. 54 others were injured, some seriously.[22][23] The two boys had gone shopping to buy Mother's Day cards on one of the town's busiest shopping streets.[24][25]

There were a lot of bombs going off in London and I remember this one time a child was killed when a bomb was put in a rubbish bin – that’s why there’s that line in the song, ‘A child is slowly taken’. [ ... ] We were on a tour bus and I was near the location where it happened, so it really struck me hard – I was quite young, but I remember being devastated about the innocent children being pulled into that kind of thing. So I suppose that’s why I was saying, ‘It’s not me’ – that even though I’m Irish it wasn’t me, I didn’t do it. Because being Irish, it was quite hard, especially in the UK when there was so much tension.

— Dolores O'Riordan, speaking of the songwriting of the classic 90s rock song, "Zombie".[5]

The lyrics and chords of "Zombie" were written initially on an acoustic guitar in Ireland by Dolores O'Riordan alone late at night, during the Cranberries' English Tour in 1993. But then O'Riordan took it into rehearsals and it was translated onto an electric guitar.[26][27] The song was recorded at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin in 1994 with producer Stephen Street, and they spent a long time working on getting the guitar settings right to give a suitably expansive sound.[28] Dolores O'Riordan asserted: "The IRA are not me. I'm not the IRA. The Cranberries are not the IRA. My family are not. ... When it says in the song, 'It's not me, it's not my family,' that's what I'm saying. It's not Ireland".[29] The Cranberries' former manager Allen Kovac stated that Island Records urged them not to release the "politically urgent" song as a single, and that O'Riordan had ripped up a $1 million cheque the label offered her to work on another song. "Dolores was a very small, fragile person, but very opinionated," said Kovac. "Her belief was that she was an international artist and she wanted to break the rest of the world, and ‘Zombie’ was part of that evolution. She felt the need to expand beyond ‘I love you, you love me’ and write about what was happening in Ireland at the time", he said.[30]

On 16 January 2018, Colin Parry, father of IRA victim Tim Parry, thanked Dolores O’Riordan for the "both majestic and also very real lyrics".[31]

Voice[edit]

O'Riordan's mezzo soprano is not lilting when she does that sharp break from chest register to head register / falsetto in the second syllable of the word "Zombie." She's actually yodeling.[32][33] Mikael Wood of Los Angeles Times described O’Riordan "pushing her voice to a jagged extreme to embody the pain".[34] Sonia Saraiya, a music and TV critic from Miami Herald and Chicago Tribune, wrote for Variety that her voice "often seemed bigger than her petite frame", and also commented that the chorus "practically grunted out of her otherwise bell-like voice with a guttural vowel sound".[35]

They insisted on being genuine, original innovators, crafting their own place in the ethos of alternative rock. The Cranberries are masters of the craft. But O’Riordan’s voice is just in a league all its own. She makes no effort to hide her accent. In fact, it adds a richness and character to her voice. O’Riordan lays it all out on the table. Beautifully. Uncompromising and unrelenting. O’Riordan sinks her hooks into you and holds you hostage with her breathtaking vocal onslaught.

— Joe Hughes, Alternative Nation[36]

Music video[edit]

Synopsis[edit]

"I remember going to Belfast, when we were filming and I went out with a camera when it was still a city under siege and had a gun pulled on me by a soldier. I was in places that I really shouldn’t have been, but I was trying to immerse myself in what the Irish identity was about. The blood and the soul, the history and the pain of what that song was really about".

Samuel Bayer, cinematographer and director, in December 2017 speaking of the filming of the music video for "Zombie".[37]

"Zombie" was released with a music video in October 1994.[38] The video was directed by Samuel Bayer,[39][38] and produced by Doug Friedman[40] and HSI. Productions.[38]

The music video was filmed in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during The Troubles with real footage.[11][41] In the video, Dolores O'Riordan is covered in gold makeup and appears in front of a cross with a group of boys covered in silver makeup.[11][41] The video also includes clips of local children playing war games,[11][41] a performance by the Cranberries,[11][41] and of British soldiers from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (as evident from their thin red line tactical recognition flashes) on patrol in Northern Ireland.[42] It also features shots of various murals (IRA, UDA, UFF, UVF, Bobby Sands).[11][41]

The "Zombie" music video was banned by the BBC at the time of the release of the song.[43] What brought to an edited version instead, which focuses on colour performance images, filmed on a sound stage in Los Angeles over a period of 6 days.[29]

Reception[edit]

The song and the official music video reflected a time and place,[43] as well as an important piece of Irish identity,[43] which "resonated with millions of people all over the world".[43][44]

On 23 October 2019, "Zombie" was ranked No. 5 on a definitive list of the world's most-viewed rock music videos, released by Vevo.[45]

On 18 April 2020, the official music video had succeeded in reaching over 1 billion views and became the first female-led song, and sixth song from the 20th century to reach the milestone.[10][11]

On 20 April 2020, the video of "Zombie" was remastered in 4K resolution and officially released for YouTube, with previously unseen footage from the original video shoot.[46][47]

Critical reception[edit]

In a contemporary review, Hot Press hailed the song and its arrangements, saying that it was stylistically different from the band's previous works: "Staccato rhythms and subtle jerks and pauses in the music and the singing make this more than just business-as-usual for the Cranberries. A slow, brooding Siouxsie-like buzzing guitar melody and dirge-like bass and drums counterpoint the elliptical and impassioned vocals of Dolores O’Riordan as she works her way through the internal psychic and external human tragedies of The Troubles [...] ‘Zombie’ signals a growth in confidence".[48]

The Rough Guide to Rock identified the album No Need to Argue as "more of the same" as the Cranberries' debut album, except for the song "Zombie", which had an "angry grunge" sound and "aggressive" lyrics.[49]

Tedium's editor Ernie Smith said, "O'Riordan wrote it in a moment of anger and passion", and called the song "one of the defining songs of the alternative rock era".[44] In a different perspective, Rebecca Black of Belfast Telegraph described "Zombie" as an "outraged response to the Warrington bombs",[50] whilst music reporter Mark Savage wrote that "her pain was real", describing it as "a visceral response to the death of two children".[29]

AllMusic said the song "trivialized" the events of the Troubles, and that the "heavy rock trudge" of the song did not play to the band's strengths.[51]

Music critic Neil McCormick said this was the Cranberries' "fiercest rock song... An accusatory lament, it grapples with the endless recriminations of the Irish Troubles, with a slow rolling bass line and thumping mid-tempo beat, finding tension between melodic delicacy and introspection in the verses with a keening, wailing chorus charged with distorted grungy guitars".[52]

On 5 August 1995, Billboard stated that No Need To Argue was the top-selling album of the year worldwide, with 5.1 million copies sold in six months.[53]

Live performances[edit]

On 11 November 1994, the Cranberries featured as the musical guest on US talk show Late Show with David Letterman, performing the lead single one month after No Need to Argue was released. Jules LeFevre, Junkee's Music Editor, said the performance was "straight-up sublime".[54]

The Cranberries played the song on their appearance on the U.S. show Saturday Night Live in 1995, in a performance that British author Dave Thompson called "one of the most powerful performances that the show has ever seen".[55]

The Cranberries kept "Zombie", one of their signature songs, in their concert set lists throughout their career.[29] The song appeared on the set list of their 2017 tour, featuring acoustic versions of their hits recorded with the Limerick-based Irish Chamber Orchestra's string quartet.[56]

Track listings[edit]

UK and European CD1 single

No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."Zombie"Dolores O'Riordan5:06
2."Away" (Previously unreleased; later included on the soundtrack of the 1995 film Clueless)Dolores O'Riordan2:39
3."I Don't Need" (Previously unreleased)
3:31

UK and European CD2 single

No.TitleLength
1."Zombie" (Album version)5:06
2."Waltzing Back" (Live at the Fleadh Festival, 11 June 1994)3:45
3."Linger" (Live at the Fleadh Festival, 11 June 1994)5:25

UK and European 7" single

No.TitleLength
1."Zombie" (Radio edit)4:10
2."Away" (Previously unreleased)2:39

US two-track promo CD (PRCD 6857-2)

No.TitleLength
1."Zombie" (Edit)3:52
2."Zombie"5:06

UK VHS single (PRCD 6857-2)

No.TitleLength
1."Zombie" (Video version)5:11

Charts[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Certifications and sales[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[96] Platinum 70,000^
Austria (IFPI Austria)[109] Gold 25,000*
Belgium (BEA)[110] Platinum 50,000*
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[111] Gold 45,000^
Germany (BVMI)[112] Platinum 500,000^
Italy (FIMI)[113] Platinum 50,000double-dagger
New Zealand (RMNZ)[114] Gold 5,000*
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[115] Gold 25,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[116] Platinum 778,942[12]

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Bad Wolves cover[edit]

"Zombie"
Zombie (Bad Wolves).jpg
Single by Bad Wolves
from the album Disobey
Released18 January 2018 (2018-01-18)
Genre
Length4:15
LabelEleven Seven
Songwriter(s)Dolores O'Riordan
Bad Wolves singles chronology
"Toast to the Ghost"
(2017)
"Zombie"
(2018)
"Better the Devil"
(2018)

Bad Wolves released a cover on 19 January 2018 as the second single from their debut album Disobey.[118][119] The night of her death, on 15 January 2018, Dolores O'Riordan left a voice message to her friend, Managing Director of E7LG-Europe, Dan Waite, where she offered to "sing on it", on the cover that Waite had previously given O'Riordan to listen to and accredit. TMZ published this voice message on 5 April 2018.[120] The cover was released without her vocals as a tribute. Bad Wolves slightly altered the lyrics, inserting a reference to drones and replacing "since 1916" Easter Rising in Dublin, with "in 2018" which also refers to the release date of their debut album Disobey.[119] Bad Wolves also added two extra stanzas to the end of the song which were not present in the original song. The band's cover topped the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart in May 2018 for three weeks. It peaked at number 54 on the Hot 100.[121] In June 2018, at a concert in New York City, Bad Wolves donated $250,000 to O'Riordan's children.[122]

In an interview, bassist Kyle Konkiel shared his thoughts on the new cover's sound: [123]

[Our version] is kind of a darker more melodic feel than the original, which had a lot of heavy guitars and that legendary bassline and more focus on the actual instruments than the lyrics themselves

— Kyle Konkiel

Music video[edit]

The song's music video was directed by Wayne Isham and was released on 18 January 2018, the day before the band released the song as a single.[124]

The video begins with text discussing the cover's background and the passing of O'Riordan. The video then cuts to shots of the band performing the song in a black room, wearing black clothing and playing black instruments interspersed with close-up scenes of a woman being covered in gold paint. The video then cuts in between shots of the band performing and the woman interacting with vocalist Tommy Vext which mainly involves her smearing gold paint on a glass pane between the two of them. After the guitar solo, she etches "1-15-18", the date of O'Riordan's death, into the paint. The woman's appearance (gold body paint, gold dress, and gold beaded headdress) is nearly identical to that of O'Riordan in the Cranberries' original Zombie music video. The video ends with a quote by Vext.

Track listing[edit]

No.TitleLength
1."Zombie"4:15

Charts[edit]

Certifications and sales[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[136] Gold 35,000double-dagger
Canada (Music Canada)[137] Platinum 80,000double-dagger
France (SNEP)[138] Gold 100,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[139] Platinum 1,000,000double-dagger

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Notable covers[edit]

In addition to the Bad Wolves cover:

  • In late 1994, a cover version by Spanish mákina group Ororo was released in conjunction with the original version. This version reached No. 1 in Spain and No. 16 in Austria.[140][141]
  • In 1995, a Eurodance cover version by Italian quartet A.D.A.M. featuring Amy reached No. 16 in the UK Singles Chart,[142] No. 65 in Australia,[143] No. 20 in France, No. 7 in Ireland,[144], No. 9 in Italy, and No. 35 in Belgium.[145]
  • In 2011, Christina Parie covered the song on The X Factor Australia. After her performance, the song re-entered the ARIA Charts Top 100 at No. 69.[146]

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Bibliography[edit]

  • Fonseca A. J. «Zombie» (song) // Encyclopedia of the Zombie: The Walking Dead in Popular Culture and Myth: The Walking Dead in Popular Culture and Myth / eds. J. Pulliam, A. J. Fonseca. — ABC-CLIO, 2014. — 381 p. — ISBN 9781440803895. — ISBN 1440803897.