The Cranberries’ “Zombie” Lyrics Meaning

“Zombie” is a song performed by the Irish rock band The Cranberries. This song is widely considered to be one of the most famous protest songs of all time. It’s lyrics are primarily about the infamous Warrington bombings and the innocent victims it left behind.

The bombings, which took place on 26th February and 20th March, 1993 in Warrington, England, claimed the lives of two children (Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball) and left as many as 56 people injured.

The militant group the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) was responsible for planning and carrying out these horrific bombings.

Meaning of “Zombie” Lyrics

Like was said above, the Cranberries came out with this song in memory of two individuals, Jonathan Ball and Tim Parry. The former was 3-years old and the latter 12 when their lives were taken via a bomb the IRA planted in England. 

Thus the song begins when the band referencing a “child” being “slowly taken”. In this particular case, they may be speaking specifically of Tim. Tim didn’t die immediately but was taken off of life support about a month after the incident.

Pre Chorus

The singer starts off the pre-chorus by exclaiming that “it’s not me; it’s not my family”.  The idea these statements are actually meant to point to is that despite the fact that The Cranberries are from Ireland, they do not support the actions of the IRA. And the rest of the passage seems to buttress the notion that the “fighting” the IRA is engaged in is based on their own group ideologies, not those of the Irish masses.

Chorus

And that brings us to the chorus, where the title of the song comes into play. The metaphor which prevails throughout, as you’ve probably already guessed, is that The Cranberries are exclaiming that the people who engage in activities like the aforementioned bombings are indeed ‘zombies’. Or stated otherwise, they are behaving mindlessly in the pursuit of their goals. And of course referring to someone as a “zombie” is in fact a diss and is reflective of the band’s disdain towards the IRA.

Lyrics of "Zombie"

Second Verse

And given the nature of the second verse, which once again speaks to innocent children being killed, we can easily deduce what is at the source of the band’s anger. And that is lives have been lost, in the name of Ireland if you will, as the result of an ultimately senseless, indeed even terrorist act. 

Second Pre-Chorus

And in the second pre-chorus, they reference that this beef between the IRA and the UK has been going on “since 1916”. But once again, the band states that this ongoing conflict is more ‘in the heads’ of the IRA as opposed to being something that’s going on in real life, so to speak. Or another way of looking at it is that once again the masses of Irish people do not actually support the actions of the IRA, even though said organization is supposedly fighting in the name of all Irish people.

In Conclusion

So conclusively, “Zombie” has been classified as a protest song. But perhaps a more accurate way of describing it is as a diss song. And why? Because given its background, it is clear that the band is taking a stance against the IRA.  And in doing so, they are unflatteringly referring to the members of this organization as ‘zombies’.

Facts about “Zombie”

“Zombie” was written by Dolores O’Riordan, the lead singer of The Cranberries. O’Riordan died unexpectedly at the age of 46 on January 15, 2018.

The production of “Zombie” was handled by renowned English music producer Stephen Street. In addition to being noted for his work with The Cranberries, Street is also known for working with famous British bands such as The Smiths and Blur.

The song was released on September 19th, 1994. It was the first single from the band’s second studio album. That album was titled “No Need to Argue“.

The band performed the song at the 1994 Woodstock music festival about a month before its official release.

According to O’Riordan, she wrote the song’s lyrics as well as its chords while the band was touring England in 1993.

The song reached the number 1 spot on the charts in many countries across the world, including Australia, Belgium, France and Germany. In the United States, the song peaked at number 22 on the Hot 100 Airplay (Radio Songs) and number 14 on the UK Singles Chart.

Since “Zombie” wasn’t released as a single in the United States, it was not legible to enter the US Billboard Hot 100. The band’s record label deliberately decided not to release the song as a single in the United States for the sole purpose of increasing album sales there. The album (No Need to Argue) went on to sell over 7 million albums in the United States alone, making it one of the most successful albums ever.

Did “Zombie” win a Grammy Award?

No, it didn’t. However, at the MTV Europe Music Awards in 1995, the song was the recipient of an MTV award in the “Best Song” category.

Did Eminem sample “Zombie”?

Yes, he did. Eminem sampled this song on his 2017 song titled “In Your Head”, which was included in his ninth studio album titled Revival which came out in 2017.

In addition to Em, several other artists have sampled “Zombie”. In his 2011 song titled “In Your Head”, Mohombi also sampled this Cranberries classic. Singer Colbie Caillat also sampled it in her 2007 track “Feelings Show”.

Bad Wolves’ cover of “Zombie” 

The original version of this song, as rendered by an Irish group known as The Cranberries, was inspired by an incident in 1993 whereas a couple of children ended up being killed by Irish Republic Army extremists. That is to say that the lyrics are founded in a longstanding beef between England and Ireland. 

But Bad Wolves are a crew from L.A., far removed from Western Europe. And their take on the song, though fundamentally the same in sentiment, centers on a more macrocosmic approach.

For instance, one of most-notable lyrical changes between the original and their rendition is that a line pointing directly to the feud between Ireland and Britain was rather changed to have a global outlook. Or stated differently, The Cranberries focused on hostilities between two particular entities. But Bad Wolves are pointing to warfare in general, and how such tends to devastate those directly affected. (A move which, by the way, Cranberries’ frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan definitely approved of.)

So yes, the original and the cover may share the same first verse for instance. But the point is that whether we’re talking about Ireland versus England or any two warring parties, a child dying as a result of the associated violence is still a bothersome, even shameful, event. 

And this assertion is buttressed in the second verse, where the listener is introduced to the mother of one of such children who subsequently and understandably is suffering from a broken heart.

Who are these “Zombies”?

Meanwhile whereas there are various theories of whom the titular “zombies” may refer to, the most widely-accepted notion is that the term alludes to those who are actually doing the killing. They are the supporters and initiators of the bloodshed. 

Indeed going back to the original version of the song, part of the reason O’Riordan wrote it was to point out that even though she was in fact Irish, she did not support the actions of the IRA. Or as she put it in her own words, she deemed them as “idiots living in the past”.

So it is logical to conclude that the less-than-flattering classification which this song is named after would be applied to such individuals. Or put differently, whereas “Zombie” may have been a “song for peace” in the hands of The Cranberries, it becomes more like an actual anti-war song in the hands of the Bad Wolves. 

So if nothing else, we can see that they are not too fond of those who use ‘their tanks and bombs and guns and drones’ to carry out their ambitions. For doing so results in the loss of innocent lives, even the most-innocent of all, which are children.

Summary

All in all, Bad Wolves take a tune originally speaking to a particular beef and transform it into more of a general anti-war song.

Facts about Bad Wolves’ “Zombie”

This is a song that was originally released by The Cranberries in 1994. In fact the original writer of Zombie was the former frontwoman of that crew, the late Dolores O’Riordan (1971-2018).

Bad Wolves’ version was also co-written by Philip Naslund, who was a member of the group at the time. He slightly altered the lyrics. And their cover was produced by Kane Churko.       

Said cover served as the second single from Bad Wolves’ maiden album, “Disobey” (2017). And the song was officially issued as such by Eleven Seven Music and Better Noise Music on 19 January 2018.

At first Bad Wolves were hesitant to cover this song, considering it, in the words of Tommy Vext, as ‘sacred art’. 

However, doing so proved to be a wise decision. And why? It went to become the band’s most-successful single as far as the first few years of their existence (i.e. from 2018 to 2020) is concerned. For example, the track has been certified platinum in both the United States and Canada. 

It also topped Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. But concerning their hesitancy in tackling it, it should be noted that the tune was even a much-bigger hit for The Cranberries.

And just to note, Miley Cyrus also achieved a little bit of chart success covering this song in 2020.

Bad Wolves' cover of "Zombie"

Bad Wolves sought the Permission of O’Riordan to cover this Classic

Before releasing their cover, Bad Wolves sought the approval of Dolores O’Riordan herself. And as the story goes, not only did she deem their rendition “f—ing awesome” but also intended to participate on it vocally, which Tommy Vext described as “a dream come true”. 

However, such never came to pass, as she passed away on the very day she intended to record said vocals, which was on 15 January 2018. In fact the very last message she left while alive was partially in admiration of the Bad Wolves’ cover. 

And you may have also noticed that their version came out just a few days after her passing. 

Moreover, the Bad Wolves went on to donate the proceeds of the single to the late singer’s children, of which she had three.

7 Responses

  1. Nick says:

    I’m convinced that though the above is a plausible interpretation the song is broader than that. Zombies are more likely and people who feel untouched by violence and justify their own dismissiveness of horror with “But you seen it’s not me it’s not my family.” Just a thought. As one who has witnessed first hand the horrors of two IRA bombings in London, surely I know the Ira is not known for their use of tanks. Just sayin.’ Peace be with us all.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’m from Belfast and it’s more to do with the violence that the British brought upon the Irish people. They were defending their freedom and civil rights, they weren’t even allowed to work without discrimination. That is the simple fact.

    • annon says:

      This song was written in anger at the IRA for the Warrington pub bomb. The IRA are terrorists. Let us never forget that!
      God save the Queen

      • Anonymous says:

        The English, their monarchy from “”Henry the eighth” to present, and the protestants were and are all Terrorists. Lol dumba-s redcoat

  3. Sarah T says:

    I remember the interview when she very briefly talked about the horror and insanity of those who blindly felt their ’cause’ was justification to murder, and yes it was about the delusional zombie state of the IRA and supporters mindset. She was very clear that they didnt represent the ordinary irish person. I remember listening to the lyrics properly after that and thinking what a brave lady for speaking out.

  4. Anonymous says:

    what dose “the same old them of 2018” mean

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