There have been popular songs with creepy or spooky lyrics since the beginning of rock music. Sure, entire subgenres are intentionally dark and scary, but when you filter out songs by shock-rockers, heavy metal bands and gothic groups, we are still left with plenty of songs that seem a little "off" in disturbing ways.
8. "Wildfire,"Michael Martin Murphy (1975) This gentle-sounding '70s soft-rock tune is a weird one for sure. The lyrics:
She comes down from Yellow Mountain On a dark, flat land she ride On a pony she named Wildfire With a whirlwind by her side On a cold Nebraska night
Oh, they say she died one winter When there came a killing frost And the pony she named Wildfire Busted down its stall In a blizzard he was lost
She ran calling 'Wildfire!' [x3] By the dark of the moon I planted But there came an early snow There's been a hoot-owl howling by my window now For six nights in a row She's coming for me, I know And on Wildfire we're both gonna go The rest of the lyrics
If I read this right, "Wildfire" is about some spooky ghost and her undead pony, coming down off a mountain in Nebraska to claim the soul of a hard-working farmer. The farmer appears to long for the sweet embrace of death, so it seems as if the spectral killer is something he's welcoming. That's pretty scary subject matter for a lilting '70s tune. Great song to listen to right before bed.
7. "D.O.A.," Bloodrock (1971) This is one example of a song that was written by a band that was probably trying to be spooky. I include it here because as far as I know, it was Bloodrock's only truly scary song, and the band itself is still a relatively obscure one that scored a hit with this creepy oddity. They were a Texas band from the Dallas area, so a lot of radio stations will play this tune around Halloween in our neck of the woods.
I remember, we were flying low, And hit something in the air
Laying here, looking at the ceiling, Someone lays a sheet across my chest. Something warm is flowing down my fingers Pain is flowing all through my back.
I try to move my arm and there's no feeling And when I look, I see there's nothing there. A face beside me stopped the totally bleeding The girl I knew has such a distant stare. The rest of the lyrics
Cool, I'll remember that stuff about flying low and hitting something in the air the next time I board a plane. Thanks, Bloodrock!
6. "Obsession," Siouxsie and the Banshees (1982) This is another case where some people might cry foul and say that Siouxsie and the Banshees were a gothic band and it makes sense that their songs are creepy. However, they carved out their own identity and were never really cookie-cutter "spooky" goths. They don't have a lot of songs specifically about death or vampires, or any of the cornier themes that many gothic bands seemed to gravitate towards.
No, what makes this song creepy is that it describes a person obsessed with another. Anyone who used to date within his or her local gothic scene would probably find a lot to relate to and to be creeped out by in this song.
Do you hear this, breath it's an obsessive breath Can you feel this beat? It's an obsessive heart beat Waiting to be joined with its obsession
I close my eyes but I can't sleep The thin membrane can't veil The branded picture of you
The signs and signals show, the traffic lights say, go Again you baffle me, pretending not to see, oh, me
I broke into your room, I broke down in my room Touched your belongings there and left a lock of my hair Another sign for you
You screamed into my face, get the hell out of my place Another sign for me, can you forgive me? For not understanding your ways The rest of the lyrics
5. "Can't Stand Losing You," the Police (1978) The Police started out as a relatively edgy band, but there's something incongruous about the generally nonthreatening and happy image of the band and this dark song about some guy about to kill himself to guilt-trip his recent ex.
I've called you so many times today And I guess it's all true what your girl-friends say That you don't ever want to see me again And your brother's gonna kill me and he's six feet ten
I guess you'd call it cowardice But I'm not prepared to go on like this
I can't, I can't, I can't stand losing I can't, I can't, I can't stand losing I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't stand losing you
I can't stand losing you I can't stand losing you I can't stand losing you
I see you sent my letters back And my L.P. records and they're all scratched I can't see the point in another day When nobody listens to a word I say
You can call it lack of confidence But to carry on living doesn't make no sense The rest of the lyrics
Yep, that's some pretty dark subject matter, and particularly dark delivered in the context of a catchy pop song.
Story continues on the next page.
4. "I Don't Like Mondays," the Boomtown Rats (1979)
Here's another innocent-sounding song. After all, who DOES like Mondays?
The silicon chip inside her head Gets switched to overload. And nobody's gonna go to school today, She's going to make them stay at home. And daddy doesn't understand it, He always said she was as good as gold. And he can see no reason 'Cause there are no reasons What reason do you need to be shown?
Tell me why? I don't like Mondays. Tell me why? I don't like Mondays. Tell me why? I don't like Mondays. I want to shoot The whole day down.
The telex machine is kept so clean As it types to a waiting world. And mother feels so shocked, Father's world is rocked, And their thoughts turn to Their own little girl. Sweet 16 ain't so peachy keen, No, it ain't so neat to admit defeat. They can see no reasons 'Cause there are no reasons What reason do you need to be shown? The rest of the lyrics
Hmmm, there are a few weird lyrics about killing and shooting in this pop tune. What's up with that?
The song is about the 1979 school shooting committed by a teenager named Brenda Ann Spencer in San Diego, who managed to kill two men and wound eight students and a police officer before being stopped. When asked what her murderous motivation had been, Spencer replied:
"I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day."
3. "Brown Sugar," the Rolling Stones (1971) My mom used to dance her butt off to this song when I was growing up, and it's a pretty good tune. I could never understand the lyrics, and I'm sure my mom couldn't, either, because if she had, she might have chosen a different song to dance to.
Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields Sold in a market down in New Orleans Scarred old slaver knows he's doing alright Hear him with the women just around midnight
Brown sugar How come you taste so good? Brown sugar Just like a young girl should
Drums beating, cold English blood runs hot Lady of the house wonderin' where it's gonna stop House boy knows that he's doing alright You shoulda heard him just around midnight The rest of the lyrics
Ah, the realization that for most of your life you've been jamming to a song that seems to be about a scary old slave owner raping his female slaves. Priceless. Makes a nice segue into my next creepy picks, which are of a similar theme.
2. "You're Sixteen, You're Beautiful, and You're Mine," Johnny Burnette (1960) Okay, I'll admit that this one is more a matter of contextual creepiness based on the passage of time. I hear this song on the radio at work about once a day, and its happy-sounding delivery is not the problem. It hails from an era when most of the people listening to rock and roll were teenagers, and in 1960, it was still relatively common for girls to get married at that age.
The song gains extra creep points from Ringo Starr's cover version, released in 1973 when the ex-Beatle was 33 years old.
You come on like a dream, peaches and cream lips like strawberry wine you're sixteen, you're beautiful and you're mine
you're all ribbons and curls, ooh what a girl eyes that sparkle and shine you're sixteen, you're beautiful and you're mine
you're my baby, you're my pet we fell in love on the night we met you touched my hand, my heart went pop ooh, when we kissed i could not stop The rest of the lyrics
Seems pretty innocent, and I guess it was. But Johnny Burnette sounds like an older guy to me, and there's something distasteful when I hear this song with modern ears and sensibilities. It's like I almost hear an additional line in there:
"You're sixteen, you're beautiful, and you're mine. Now get in the van and take off your dress."
1. "Going Blind," KISS (1974) I like a few of KISS's older songs. They're not high art or anything, but a few are catchy rock tunes, and sometimes that's enough. But that doesn't change the fact that the band is now composed of senior citizens who dress like clowns and sing about sex with teenagers, making "Going Blind" hit a little close to the mark than is pleasant.
And I know how it should be There is nothing more for you and I Some are young and some are free But I think I'm goin' blind
'Cause I think I'm goin' blind And I know how it should be, yeah
Little lady, if only [Incomprehensible] You're so young and so much different than I And I know how it's to be Can't you see I'm goin' blind? The rest of the lyrics
The 1970s were a..."unique" decade, and rock stars in their twenties and thirties writing songs about sex with teenage girls were commonplace. Jimmy Page was famously in a "relationship" with a 13-year-old at one point, and I'm sure that kind of thing happened all the time.
Still, "Going Blind" is a standout creepy song among many creepy songs by KISS. It's made creepier still since they still perform it live, and are all hitting their golden years. And I guess that makes a fitting note to end this article: old men wearing clown paint, singing about molesting teenage girls.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism