Marvel’s first full-length Eternals trailer doesn’t reveal much about the plot, but it sets a mood. The film is directed and co-written by Chloé Zhao, who won Best Picture and Best Director for Nomadland, a heart-wrenching journey through a desolate landscape. The song featured in the Eternals trailer has been evoking tragic isolation for years. It played on an endless loop in 1999’s Girl, Interrupted. It foretold the zombie apocalypse in the first teaser trailers for The Walking Dead. But the song has even sadder roots than that.
“Throughout the years we have never interfered, until now,” we hear a disembodied female voice (likely Salma Hayek’s Ajak) observe in the trailer. If gods or goddesses stopped bad things from happening to good people, a lot of great music may never exist. The music for the song “The End of the World” was composed by New York City-born Arthur Kent. The lyrics were written by Sylvia Dee, a steady musical partner, who is best known for writing the words to Nat King Cole’s hit, “Too Young.”
Dee was 14 years old when she wrote the lyrics to “The End of the World.” In interviews, she said she drew on the sorrow of her father’s death. The song was written for Skeeter Davis, a country singer who joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1959, and hit the pop charts in 1960 with the song, “(I Can’t Help You) I’m Falling Too.” She would go on to score 41 country hits and eight pop smashes.
Skeeter got her childhood nickname because of her boundless energy. She was born Mary Frances Penick in a two-room cabin on a farm in Dry Ridge, Kentucky. She was the oldest of seven children, and wanted to be a country singer since birth. Her first success came early when she met Betty Jack Davis at a singing session at the Dixie Heights High School in Edgewood, Kentucky. They were only related by a shared love of music, but Penick took on the last name of Davis and they formed country duo the Davis Sisters in 1947.
After a short stint with Fortune Records, their very first record for RCA, “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know” was rated the top country song of 1953. It was the last time a female duo would hit the top spot until 1984, when The Judds’ landed their first No. 1 on the country charts, “Mama He’s Crazy.” The Davis Sisters’ song was still riding an eight-week run at No. 1 on the country charts on Aug. 2, 1953, when the two singers were involved in a head-on car crash. Skeeter was seriously injured. Betty Jack died in the accident.
Skeeter continued The Davis Sisters with Betty Jack’s sister, Georgia, until 1956. Davis moved to Nashville to record for RCA and had her first solo country hit in 1958 with “Lost to a Geisha Girl.” She also hit country’s Top 10 with “Set Him Free” in 1959, an “My Last Date with You,” and “Optimistic” in 1961.
“The End of the World” was recorded on June 8, 1962 at the RCA Studios in Nashville. Guitar virtuoso Chet Atkins produced the song, which featured Floyd Cramer on piano. When the song was released, radio disc jockeys favored the B-side, a pop standard called “Somebody Loves You.” But the legendary New York City DJ Scott Muni, one of the WABC “good guys,” flipped it over on the air, and listeners flipped over it.
The song was a historic crossover hit. It remains the first and only time a song cracked the Top 5 on all four Billboard charts. It peaked at No. 2 on The Billboard Hot 100 and Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart, No. 1 on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart, and No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot R&B Singles chart. Billboard ranked it the No. 2 song of 1963.
The song has been covered hundreds of times by artists as diverse as The Mills Brothers, The Andrews Sisters, Bobby Darin, Dion, Twiggy, Patti Smith, The Carpenters, Nina Gordon of Veruca Salt, and “Misty Blue” singer Dorothy Moore. “The End of the World” has been cited as an inspiration by Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Lou Reed, and Lana Del Rey.
Skeeter Davis continued scoring hits, including a 1969 cover of The Kinks, “I’m a Lover (Not a Fighter),” and the gospel song “We Need a Lot More of Jesus,” which made the charts in 1970. She also recorded a version of anti-war song, “One Tin Soldier” in 1971. The song was also the theme to Billy Jack. It was sung by Jinx Dawson, who led the first satanic metal band Coven, which made the first public recording of a Satanic Ritual.
Davis also continued working with singing partners, scoring hits with songwriter Bobby Bare, Porter Wagoner, Don Bowman and George Hamilton IV. In 1973, Davis was suspended by the Grand Ole Opry for over a year. During a performance at the historic venue, she criticized the Nashville police for arresting a group of “Jesus people” at a local mall.
Davis died of breast cancer on Sept. 19, 2004. “The End of the World” was played at Davis’ and Chet Atkins’ funerals.
Marvel’s Eternals release date is Nov. 5, 2021.