Spooky Tunes

Playlist: Terrifying Pop & Rock

by Florian Boberski (25.10.2021)
Translation by Edd Lee (25.10.2022)

So, you think that after Scary Classical and Freaky Film Music, nothing can frighten you anymore? You're probably right, since popular music tends to be more entertaining and generally tries not to be too disturbing. It's often the backstory that frightens us the most, like with the first song on this playlist…

“Gloomy Sunday” is the popular modern musical counterpart to Goethe's Werther. Just hearing the original version “Szomorú vasárnap” by Rezső Seress said to have triggered a wave of suicides in the first half of the 20th century, which is why it was banned by many radio stations. To be on the safe side, we're sticking with the English language version by Billie Holiday

What does a crossover of the “Wild Hunt”, , an ancient European legend of supernatural hunters sweeping across the sky, and the Wild West sound like? Just like the greatly-covered western classic “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”, originally sung by Burl Ives and originally written by Death Valley ranger Stan Jones.

Now for a true Halloween classic, Bobby “Boris” Pickett's Monster Mash from 1962. Beginning with the creaky sound of a coffin opening slowly, and boasting a dance of its own, adapted from the “Mashed Potato” dance popularised by James Brown, the scary swing song quickly became a No.1 hit in the US! Exactly 20 years later, another dance of its own leads to the success of what is probably the greatest pop horror classic of all time...

We jump forwards to 1970 when the world, or at least a part of it, seemed to have had enough of the friendly, jovial Beatles sound, and a counter-movement began to emerge. The song “Black Sabbath” by the band of the same name is considered to be the beginning of the heavy metal era. A spooky album cover and an upside down cross were enough to forge a raging path of fire into a whole new scene.

The song „The Ripper“ by Judas Priest, which is about none other than the famous London serial killer Jack the Ripper, is peppered with scary details such as ominous screams, “...you're in for a shock!”, and the musical accent for the presentation of the Ripper's knife, “...I'll attack!...” The song is a rock version of the Bertolt Brecht classic Mackie Messer, which became a world hit through Kurt Weill’s music.

Never turn your back on the ripper!

In AC/DC's “Hells Bells” (from Back in Black) we hear Satan scouring thunderstorms in search of lost souls to take to Hell, which is musically very convincing!

It's a short way from “The Ripper” and “Hells Bells” to ”Halloween” by the band Helloween, founded in Hamburg in 1984, who defined an entire genre with their power metal!

A trip into the world of musicals leads us to the Rocky Horror Show, where the music to “Sweet Transvestite” is so pleasant, that the conservative audiences of the 1970s were not afraid to sing-along with the flirtatious transvestite.

Let's move on to what is probably the greatest scary pop song of all time Michael Jackson's Thriller. Here, he got everything just right, and the video, which is over 13 minutes long, has become a milestone in the history of music videos. Howling wolves, elaborate scary make-up and costumes, a spooky cemetery in the fog of many smoke machines, creaking doors, the terrifying voice of horror actor Vincent Price, and a bloodcurdling laugh at the end... the absolute highlight, however, remains the genius zombie dance, which is still popular at parties today.

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In Germany, hardly anything comes close to the expressive voice of Rammstein- front singer Till Lindemann , , especially when he sings about a real, gruesome crime in “Mein Teil” with a song about the ‘Cannibals of Rotenburg’... Bon appetit!

The next song is taken from the album Nightmare Revisited, rearranged songs by pop and rock stars celebrating the 15th anniversary of Tim Burton's film The Nightmare before Christmas. Korn's “Kidnap the Sandy Claws” is a wonderfully off-kilter number that stays fairly true to the original.

Billie Eilish, along with her brother Finneas, launched her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? in 2019, which revitalised scary pop. The single “Bury A Friend” in particular provides a subtle chill as it confronts nightmares and incorporates sound elements such as breaking glass…

Hopefully, at the end of this playlist, Ray Parker Jr.'s“Ghostbusters will drive away any ghosts we may have inadvertently awakened, and help you sleep peacefully!

Why not search for our suggested bonus track: If you have an irrational fear of being attacked by Martians in this modern age of alien colonisation and never-ending sci-fi, listen to “Slim Whitman's Indian Love Call”. In the movie Mars Attacks, this song works wonders and is guaranteed to make you forget about any scary music!

More Spooky Tunes

Playlist: Scary Classical

Playlist: Freaky Film Music

Tunes - Three Eerie Musical Journeys

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