Scary Songs

With Halloween looming I racked my brain to think of five really scary songs.  Sure, there were multiple fifties death ballads aimed at tapping into teen insecurity and novelty songs like Purple People Eater and Monster Mash for kids, but chilling pop songs that really rattle your cemetery gates?  There are but few like this frightful five that marry unsettling words and sounds to spooky effect.

David Essex – Window

On the B side of one of the gypsy boy’s many heyday hits was this proper chiller.  It has the same dub rock formula he favoured but now with a strange faltering rhythm and falling cadences of cries and whimpers.  The lyrics viewpoint switches from victim to stalker and back again as doomy keyboard notes begin to swell up and then a child begins screaming with terror.  A work of evil genius and bizarre item to find in a teen idol’s back catalogue.

Special AKA – The Boiler

Carry on screaming…after the original Specials line up split Jerry Dammers took time out and then came back with this utterly harrowing tale of violent rape.  It plays out over an almost jaunty ska backing but what makes this probably the most nerve-wracking few minutes you will ever sit through is Rhoda Dhakar’s matter of fact narration of a girl who meets a detestable psycho for a date.  The notes of self-loathing add to an oppressive atmosphere of misogyny and when things get ugly, you need nerves of steel to make it through to the end.  Powerful and diabolical – this record made the top 40 despite a blanket airplay ban!  WARNING: NOT FOR THE NERVOUS

Kim Wilde – Child Come Away

The first flush of Kim’s success was waning when her brother and dad presented her with a tale of a young smalltown teen kidnapped and returned with her memory and personality wiped.  It’s this sinister touch that puts this just the right side of creepy and Kim delivers it with admirable maturity.  It was not what her fans wanted and was a flop, yet shows how early 80’s pop was always reaching for something beyond the obvious.  The video reminds me of Broadchurch rewound thirty years.

The Cure – A Forest

After three strong post-punk singles the Cure got their unlikely breakthrough with a lengthy and moody soundscape that drifts across the speakers in the manner of a certain ad man’s nightmare darting from tree to tree in thick woods.  The simple impressionistic lyrics tell of a boy lured by siren voices into the gloomy forest but it’s the dark music that makes this one a forbidding listen.

Tubeway Army – Down In The Park

Before Pte Numan struck out on his own, he enlisted in the army and was sent to fight robots in the late 21st century.  Or rather skulk about in the shadows trying to avoid becoming techno kill fodder in a neon and concrete playground for machine bloodsports.  This has every dystopian Ballardian cliche thrown into the mix but still paints an icy fearful scene with lots of menacing synths layered over the stately melody.


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