Fallout 4's music shows how pop culture coped with nuclear terror

How are there so many songs in Fallout 4 that fit into the games’ theme?

“Crawl out through the fallout, baby, when the drop…” I hear that line out of my Pip-Boy radio as I wander the wasteland. Fallout 4’s world is a blast, a unique rendering of a wasteland future after the golden atomic age. The game’s soundtrack features tracks like “Crawl out through the Fallout” by Sheldon Allman – a song whose lyrics fit almost too well to the tone of the game – yet it was written over 50 years before Fallout 4’s release.

The game’s theme itself is taken from the atomic age: After the first nuclear bombs were dropped at Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945, the world’s population got the image of a huge mushroom clouds embedded into our brains.

Pop culture was quite different then to as it is now. The most popular medium in terms of reach was radio and music, and artists back then reacted on the historical development in their works. Jon Savage, author and music journalist wrote an interesting article for The Guardian that summarises pop music in the atomic age:

“Nuclear terror dominated the 40 or so years of the cold war. It ebbed and it flowed, but it was always there in the back of people’s minds, like climate change and jihadist terrorism today.”

Living in the fear of atomic annihilation while at the same time optimistically striving for the american dream is a defining characteristic of the times back then and Fallout universe alike. The featured songs reflect this in the game as well as the time they originate from. Bob Crosby cheerily sings how great it is “Way Back Home”. Then the Five Stars serenade about their “Atom Bomb Baby” – using the might of the atomic bomb as a sexual metaphor. The aforementioned “Crawl Out Through The Fallout” was a novelty song written by Sheldon Allman in 1960 for an album full of songs revolving about science fiction. Some other songs like Sam Hinton’s “Old Atom Man” were more critical and protested the political developments. As a result the song was soon pulled from stations and it’s writer branded as anti-American.

In the world of Fallout, the nuclear threat became real and changed the world forever. The American dream was bombed to hell, civilization as we know it ended. The player actually has to crawl through the fallout on occasion and daily life is mostly about survival. Having seen its power, some characters actually start to worship the atomic bomb fanatically.

Fallout 4 is a virtual world that features real music – from a time where nuclear power was new and terrifying. The fact that inhabitants of the wasteland continue to listen to music that portrays the nuclear terror the way it does, while themselves have to live in the ruins, makes Fallout all the more cynical.

Guardian article by Jon Savage