Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Zombie" - The Cranberries

 I confess when I first heard this song in the mid-'90s, I found it a little grating. So: from grate to great. "Zombie," The Cranberries' signature hit, has grown and deepened with time. It's striking how often I hear it blaring from radios and stereos when I travel the world, from Africa to Asia to Latin America. This brassy, psychologically insightful hymn to peace has become truly universal.

We have something of a "Zombie" invasion on this list, with two songs bearing that title (see Fela Kuti's  Nigerian anthem for the other). The Cranberries' contribution is also one of two songs, together with U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday", inspired by the Irish interethnic "Troubles" that began in the 1960s. The only specific reference to the Irish case, however, is to "1916," the year of the Easter Uprising against British rule in Ireland. For our purposes, this could just as easily be incorporated as a reference to the First World War (which witnessed its most infamous and iconic battle in that year, at the Somme). Oddly, I always heard the keening chorus as "ee-ar-ay," and interpreted it as a denunciation of the IRA (Irish Republican Army, the main Catholic armed force in the Northern Ireland conflict). But what Dolores O'Riordan is declaiming instead is "In your hea-a-a-d" -- and it's the heart of the song's message, conveying how hatreds and conflicts endure by being inculcated anew in impressionable young minds:

Another head hangs lowly, 
Child is slowly taken. 
When the violence causes silence, 
Who are we mistaken? 

But you see, it's not me, it's not my family. 
In your head, in your head they are fighting, 
With their tanks and their bombs, 
And their bombs and their guns. 
In your head, in your head, they are crying ...

In your head, in your head, 
Zombie, zombie, zombie, 
Hey, hey, hey, what's in your head, 
In your head, 
Zombie, zombie, zombie? 

Another mother's breakin', 
Heart is taken over. 
When the violence causes silence, 
We must be mistaken. 

It's the same old theme since nineteen-sixteen. 
In your head, in your head they're still fighting, 
With their tanks and their bombs, 
And their bombs and their guns. 
In your head, in your head, they are dying... 

With its insistent, chanted vocal, and a timeless folk melody that's hard to get out of your head, "Zombie" is an ideal anthem for antiwar demonstrations -- particularly those with a feminist/maternal bent.

Here's the powerful official video for "Zombie". What a titanic voice Dolores O'Riordan summoned for this song -- surely one of the great female vocal performances of the 1990s, even if it took me a while to appreciate it:

Here's a live version from London in the mid-nineties. Tragically, O'Riordan died in an accidental drowning in January 2018:

Other Resources

Thanks to Catherine Novak for suggesting this song.

Available on The Cranberries, No Need to Argue (1994), track 4.

Full lyrics here.

There's a Wikipedia stub for "Zombie."


  1. Just an FYI... the original is by Fela Anakalopu Kuti..(Fela) on his 1977 album by the same title. Cranberries are a cover and the Fela version is so much better!! This was Fela's 27 album and it's release in 1977 likely led to the NIgerian Military to ambush Fela's compound Kalakuta (which he declared an independent republic from the corrupt Nigerian government. When Kalakuta was storm, his mother was murdered, which led Fela to write his next album, Coffin for Head of State/Unknown Soldier which was dedicated to his mother's death. He wove his sorrow into the lyrics...

    Nice blog!

  2. Same title, very different song. The only songwriter credited on the Cranberries' "Zombie" is Dolores O'Riordan.


Please be constructive in your comments.