The Ultimate ‘Dark Tower’ Playlist

One of the first things I did when I set up my Spotify account was start putting together themed playlists based on my favorite books and movies.  Some were better represented than others, and I was surprised to find how much material there was for what is, in my estimation, Stephen King’s literary masterpiece, the multigenre mash-up series The Dark Tower. Apparently I am far from alone in my adulation for these works because several musicians have written songs–and in some cases entire albums–devoted to them.  And if you include songs that aren’t about the books exactly but embody their atmosphere, not to mention all of the songs that get a nod in the books themselves, the possibilities are nearly endless.  But for our purposes we will stick (mostly) with songs that reference the series directly.  These aren’t the only songs out there that are pertinent to the books, but they’re the best.  All of these tracks are of course available on Spotify.

{{{Warning: List May Contain Spoilers}}}

Heinrich XIII and the Devilgrass Pickers – In a World That Has Moved On – When not only the song but the name of the band itself makes reference to books, you know you’re off to a good start.  You might describe the music of Heinrich XIII and the Devilgrass Pickers as dark country and bluegrass, which makes perfect sense when you find out that this band is German.  That’s right, a German country band, and why not?  So sit back, pop open a frosty dunkel and let the grim, twangy beauty of this song set the scene for the best post-apocalyptic fantasy/horror western series this side of Mid-World.  Yeehaw!

Bright Giant – Jake & the Gunslinger – The band Bright Giant is named after a class of star, and that is the extent of my knowledge of them.  Of all of the songs on this list perhaps none come so close to capturing what the series is about as this one.  The slow, gritty, grinding rock conjures the books’ atmosphere splendidly while the lyrics, sung from the perspective of the young Jake Chambers, tell the tale of his meeting with the gunslinger Roland Deschain and the events which culminate in his death in the first book, making it a good choice for an early track in our Dark Tower playlist.  This is actually one of two songs Bright Giant produced with respect to the series; the other is Kings & Queens of Air (also the name of the album on which both songs appear).

Aiming for Aurora – The Way Station – Okay, I know I said all these songs were available on Spotify, but I must now eat those words.  For some reason this grungesque rocker has been removed from Spotify’s database, which makes no sense to me.  The Way Station is a remarkable tune and a solid choice for our list for a couple of reasons.  First, it is one of the few Dark Tower songs that concerns a specific event in the books, namely Roland’s stop at the way station in volume one where he first meets Jake.  Second, it has one of the catchiest choruses in the whole lot.  It’s a damn shame that it’s been pulled from Spotify.

Southern Train Gypsy – The Man in Black – Metal band Southern Train Gypsy’s Hallelujah in the Fire is a concept album dealing with the Dark Tower universe, and any track from it would be at home on this playlist, but for my part I think this song is one of the better selections from it.  Randall Flagg, a.k.a. the Man in Black, is a rather important character in the series.  Although a servant of the Crimson King, he is really the primary antagonist of the entire series (not to mention a few of Stephen King’s other stories, including my favorite King novel The Stand).  This song is conveyed from Flagg’s point-of-view as he thunderously vows to destroy Roland and his ka-tet!

Daisy Blue Gröff (Daisy Blue) – Gunslinger – This is unquestionably the most upbeat of the songs on our list; it’s also notable for its outstanding female vocals.  The countrified rock music is rollicking and fun, and the harmonica is a nice touch too.  All of its references to trains place it sometime around The Wastelands (indeed, the lyrics mention the Wastelands specifically), so if you care about continuity you may want to stick this one near the middle.  Oh, and . . . holy crap, this song is awesome!

The Crüxshadows – Roland – Alright, this one isn’t about the Dark Tower series exactly; however, it is about one of the oldest extant pieces of Western literature, the long heroic poem The Song of Roland (penned sometime in the late Medieval era), which was an influence on Robert Browning’s own 1855 poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, which of course was one of the central inspirations for King’s books.  And anyway, there is nothing in the song’s lyrics that cannot be applied just as easily to Roland Deschain, so it is in no way an uncomfortable fit for our playlist.  The Crüxshadows play a thematically and musically grim sort of synthpop (think Erasure gone goth)–not exactly my favorite musical genre, but given the band’s obvious intelligence and a song that displays an uncommon penchant for a literary and historical subject that I’ve never seen addressed by even the most cultured of rock bands, this gets a pass.  Stick this one in somewhat early; it smacks of the eighties and Roland’s visit to NYC in The Drawing of the Three.

The Thick – Big Coffin Hunters – Primarily interesting because of its focus on a group of lesser villains in the series (Eldred Jonas, Roy Depape and Clay Reynolds, a.k.a. the Big Coffin Hunters, a gang of thugs working as Regulators under John Farson).  While the backing music is somewhat forgettable, it is the vocalist’s tendency/ability to mimic Danzig that really heightens the atmosphere here and gives this song its eery edge.

Dan Brusseau – Gunslinger – Dan Brusseau (who ironically has an album called Talisman, although this particular song comes from 2007’s I See Faces) here constructs a folk-myth that fits snugly into the world of the Dark Tower.  Brusseau’s vocals effectively call up the sweat-drenched desperation and delirium of Roland’s quest for the tower while the music appropriately harkens back to the soundtracks of TV westerns of yore like Rawhide.

Nostradameus – Randall Flagg – I suppose it was inevitable that heavy metal would be overrepresented in this playlist.  As I find the great majority of metal to be disappointing, and because I don’t want a playlist that is ninety percent metal, it does present something of a problem for me.  Luckily, I don’t mind prog metal, for the most part.  Nostradameus’s tribute to Roland’s main antagonist isn’t a great song in my estimation, but the fact that it identifies Flagg by name (even if he doesn’t appear in the Dark Tower series under that moniker–Randall Flagg is the name he uses in The Stand) means that it is pretty much a shoo-in.  I mean, it is still about the Man in Black after all.

Common Anomaly – Ka-Tet (op. 19) – Common Anomaly’s low-key psychedelic tribute to Deschain and co. makes a nice cushion to some of the harder-edged tunes on this list.  The lyrics are often hard to make out, but it’s pretty obvious from the title alone that this is all about the Dark Tower, and the psychedelic sound is a welcome counterpoint to all the harder-edged stuff on the list.

Blind Guardian – Carry the Blessed Home – Prog metal band Blind Guardian’s trilogy of Dark Tower songs (the other two are Somewhere Far Beyond and Mordred’s Song) may be the best known of all music inspired by the books, and of the three this is my favorite.  It isn’t quite as heavy as the other two; that’s not a demerit in my opinion, but your mileage may vary.  Yet there is a pride and power here that surpasses mere speed and volume.  That’s something I wish more heavy metal musicians understood: being fast and obnoxiously noisy doesn’t automatically equate to being powerful; real power comes from the ability to evoke the proper mood and convey something transcendental, not just incite the listener to base, capricious emotionalism.  Anyway, Blind Guardian understands this fact well, and as such Carry the Blessed Home sounds like some kind of fantastic battle hymn.  And even though it never mentions any of the characters or settings from the story outright (we know the song is about the Dark Tower because the band has said as much) and alludes to the story only in the vaguest of ways, the mythos is well-served nonetheless.

Gang of Thieves – Gunslinger – Burlington, Vermont natives Gang of Thieves give Roland Deschain the funk metal treatment in this well-crafted song that sports some memorably evocative turns of phrase (“The air I breathe has poisonous authority”; “Ignorant son,  our palaver is done–the tower calls and I obey”) and a dust-churning wallop of a guitar riff.  The song even references Stephen King himself, or rather the character of Stephen King as he appears in the series, characterizing him as a “lazy writer”–if you’ll recall, the King character exists in an alternate timeline where he has only written the first book in the series.  Yep, someone in the band clearly knows the books well.  Sweet!

Red Light Survival – Gilead – Let me say up front that this soft rock song needs work, particularly the vocals.  Yet even with its weaknesses the song is compelling and catchy enough to warrant a space here.  Still, I would like to hear the piece rerecorded in a few years, when the band has honed and strengthened its skills.  Until then, think of this less as a fully ripened song and more of a musical cushion to wedge between a couple of the heavier songs.

Nightwish – 7 Days to the Wolves – This is without question the best of the heavy songs on the list.  The music is highly accomplished, and the vocalist is female.  It’s irritating that there aren’t more women making this list, but we shall make due with what we have.  Not that I am including them just because they have ovaries–believe me, my standards are generally pretty high and I rarely make allowances in the name of political correctness.  No, the bands on this list with women at the fore earned their place here just like everyone else.  Now that that’s settled . . . actually this song is not only one of the best heavy metal tunes in the queue, it’s one of the better songs period.  And it’s about those robotic wolves who steal children in The Wolves of the Calla.

The Dropa Stone – Other Worlds Than These – The Dropa Stone’s contribution to the Dark Tower playlist is a fairly conventional rocker, but as such it’s a solid tune.  I’m not sure why but for some reason, although the title comes from a phrase uttered by Jake as he is falling to his death in book one, this song feels to me like it belongs near the end of the list, so that’s where I am sticking it.  Bonus: the four band members are all vegans and vegetarians and are passionate about animal rights.  I tried to find out more about the band but unfortunately their website seems to be down at the moment.

The Dukes – Low Men – There are and have been too many bands called the Dukes, and keeping them sorted is a task that surpasses my endurance.  Even so, with a modest bit of digging I was able to discover that this band hails from France.  It isn’t much to go on admittedly, but no matter.  These Dukes create pop-oriented rock songs, and they are decent enough at what they do.  This particular song is the opening track from their 2011 album Victory and its subject is the Can-Toi, or Low Men–you know, those creepy guys with a fondness for garish clothing whom Ted Brautigan was running away from in the Dark Tower-related short story Low Men in Yellow Coats (later made into the film Hearts in Atlantis).

Ether Drift Theory – Beamquake – Ether Drift Theory’s Other Worlds Than These isn’t the only concept album about the Dark Tower books, but it is my favorite.  I really wanted to add several songs from the album to this list–The Prisoner, The Pusher, Song of Susannah and Death, But Not for You were all good choices–but in the end I decided on one song per band.  As for why I chose Beamquake, if I were to give you the thoughtful reply, I would say it was because it has an urgency and immediacy lacking in some of the other songs or some such nonsense, but the truth is, I just think “Beamquake” is a cool freakin’ word.  I couldn’t find this one (or any songs by Ether Drift Theory) at YouTube, so this one is strictly a Spotify selection.

Frontier Ruckus – The Tower – At long last we have arrived at the Pylon of Creation.  It’s been a long, hard journey, but here we are.  There is joy and triumph, of course, but that is really a thin veneer we wear over our true feelings, for all of the death, suffering and hardship has left a hollow place inside of us and worn us to the bone with sorrow and weariness, and maybe even a touch of regret that we have come to the end of our voyage. Frontier Ruckus understands: you can’t have come this far, experienced all that you have, without feeling these feelings.  But in the end we have a duty to fulfill.  We have remembered the faces of our fathers, and so we climb the winding steps of the tower only to find . . .

Heinrich XIII and the Devilgrass Pickers – In a World That Has Moved On – Call it my little joke.  Those who have read the series through to the end will get it.  Oh, and I know I said each band gets only one song.  Technically I am not breaking that rule; I never said you had to put each band’s song only once in the list!  Anyway, there were only eighteen songs and we needed a nineteenth.  That was important, wouldn’t you say?

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