Spooky Track Series 6: Shadowplay Uses You

Joy Division is one of those bands that I could choose many songs for spooky track series 6. But, the one that fits my bill the most is Shadowplay. From the opening bass riff, to the haunting smattering of the drums, this song oozes atmosphere. And let me tell you, that atmosphere is one of pain, fear, and isolation. The whole affair is very lo-fi, which really helps to bring about the creepiness factor in this song. It’s that bass that really does it. It drives the song, aurally assaulting the listener, creating stress and unease.

The image shows the cover to Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, which has the spooky track series 6 song Shadowplay on it.

When the vocals enter, things go to a whole new level. Ian Curtis‘s lyrics are byzantine and nearly impenetrable, offering up impressions with some vivid images. We have a man in search of something, or at least one who’s waiting for someone. He goes to the center of the city and the bottom of the ocean where all hopes sank. And if that isn’t a harrowing line, I don’t know what is. In a single line, we know that there is death and pain in this song, as well as confusion, so much confusion.

But wait, this spooky track series 6 gets even shadier and creepier:

In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more,
As the assassins all grouped in four lines, dancing on the floor,
And with cold steel, odor on their bodies made a move to connect,
But I could only stare in disbelief as the crowds all left.

What does the above mean? I don’t know, but it’s got death, assassins, and cold steel. Whatever it means, it’s not describing anything happy or hopeful.

To conclude, the whole ambiance of this spooky track series 6 is one of oppression, danger, and fear. What do you think?

Spooky Track Series 5: Whole Day Off Is A Wild Ride

Welcome to spooky track series 5 brings you Whole Day off by Oingo Boingo. Boingo has tons of spine tingling songs to choose from, and I might discuss another one at a future date. However, today I am talking about Whole Day Off because it hits all the cylinders.

Seriously, the opening heaviness of the bass, then the addition of the xylophone(?) and saxophone really gets the fear flowing. Using these instruments in this fashion sets the stage for the listener, informing them they are about to enter a strange and wild world. There’s almost a circus feeling to music, or at least some kind of twisted carnival.

Later in the song, when the 80s’ synth comes in, that feeling of being at some kind of reject carnival from Something Wicked This Way Comes shifts to a more industrial feeling. Instead of imagining a circus and all that weirdness, my mind calls forth a nightclub. Someplace seedy, with lots of smoke and mirrors. So sure, still a carnival, just a different kind.

But the music is only part what places this on the spooky track series 5 train. The lyrics are the other part, and howdy are they some weird and wild stuff. Elfman comes in on the vocals with his signature high pitched voice, providing a haunting melody. But then, when you listen to what he’s saying, your mind goes aghast at the images.

First, he’s singing about his lost girlfriend, asking if anyone’s seen her. He then tells us she lives in a pigpen and that he thinks maybe she’s hiding under a blade of grass. Then he just wants to take the whole day off because really, all of this is too much. And who can blame him?

Spooky Track Series 5 Whole Day Off Lyrics are terrifying nonsense

On the surface, the lyrics seem like nonsense. Or like they were written by someone who’d done too much acid and saw some shit. And who knows? Maybe they are nonsense words written by a drug addled mind. Or, maybe they speak to the near universal sensation of feeling overwhelmed. The narrator in the song goes through a litany of weird and terrifying situations. He is often confused, but like a carnival barker is always asking if people have seen something. Have you seen my girlfriend? My garden? My new house that looks like a dog house?

These are weird questions to ask listeners, which adds a sharp edge to the freaky nature of the song. This edge gets freakier when he starts describing the things he’s looking for. His girlfriend, as noted above, lives in a pigpen an can apparently hide under a blade of grass. Unsettling, this mental image is, even as it makes me smile at its absurdity. But I think that’s kind of the point of the song, and what really makes the terror sing in this spooky track series 5 entry.

And the absurdity continues. His house walks into the ocean and someone describes it as an ivory boat. It’s easy to read these as lyrical nonsense, word salad, jumbled. However, I still think they serve the purpose of presenting us with a stress addled man. Here is a person who seems to be slowly losing his mind because of one bad day. Nothing has gone right for him, and he just wants to take the whole day off. The refrain of taking the day off speaks to needing downtime, a reset of sorts, but he’s never going to get it.

Searching For Things That Don’t Exist Drives You Mad

This song, as ridiculous at the things described in it, bares forth a horrible truth. The modern life is killing us, and we can drive ourselves mad if we go searching for things that don’t exist. It’s an existential style of horror and its insidious.

This is evident in the bridge section when he describes his day. In this segment of the song, which is when the music leans hard into the synth styling of its time, we hear a man unraveling. He wonders if this is a bad dream but he knows it isn’t. Then he goes to a payphone on a bathroom wall but forgets who he wanted to call. It’s okay, buddy. Happens to us all.

The image shows a line of three payphones, which is what the narrator of Whole Day Off sings about in spooky track series 5

Then we finally get to the garden, and some real horror. Of the monster variety, not the oppression of the universe kind. See, his garden is a fucked up place. It has thing that grow in it, but they don’t look like plants, and he can hear their voices.

That is creepy stuff. Change my mind.

So that’s it for spooky track series entry 5. What did you think of the song? Of my thoughts? Let me know in the comments if you feel like chiming in and suggesting a song. Stay happy and healthy out there, dear readers. All three of you.

Spooky Track Series 4: Who Can It Be Now

For spooky track series 4, I have chosen Who can it be Now? Written by Men at work, and released in 1981, this song is a paranoid fever dream. The low bass and the saxophone set the tone for this look into a frightened man’s mind. Colin Hay’s vocals are low and subdued, almost sardonic, which act as a nice contrast to the subject matter.

The image shows the Australian cover to Who Can It Be Now, the track featured for the spooky track series 4 in this post.

So, right off the bat because of the sax and the vocals, listeners know we have entered an odd world. Perhaps, one that is two inches to the left of normality (whatever that is.) And sure, this song may not be creepy and haunting like Joan Crawford, but it’s still creepy.

This spooky track series 4 song gives us a glimpse of the paranoia of the 80s. More than that, however, it transcends its time, and is applicable to today’s world. We’re all a bit more paranoid now. Presenting the thought processes of someone who wants to be left alone adds a dimension to what could have just been a banging pop song. However, by adding this elements of agoraphobic paranoia, Men at Work treat us to morbidly funny tune that can still make our minds squirm with psychological fear.

Again, I realize this is probably an odd choice for a spooky track series 4, but at the same time I think it works. The lyrics are vivid and address one man’s fear of society. And that is what a lot of horror is: fear of the world around us. Rarely has there been a song that captures that thought with such a fun and upbeat soundtrack.

What do you think? Does this song deserve a listing on the spooky track series 4, or am I off my rocker? Let me know in comments.

Spooky Track Series 3: Joan Crawford is a Zombie

For spooky track series entry 3, I have chosen Joan Crawford by Blue Oyster Cult. This is one freaky song, and not just because of the allusion to the Phantom of the Opera.

Now, what makes this song a worthy spooky track Series 3 installment is the horror Eric Bloom describes. Here we see a world where junkies in Brooklyn go crazy and laugh like dogs, while policemen hide behind the skirts of little girls. These first images set the stage for the rest of the song, and let the listener know all is not well.

The image shows the cover of Blue Oyster Cult's Fire of Unknown Origin which spooky track series 3, Joan Crawford comes from

To be fair, and to repeat myself, the intro piano sets the stage for the fear to come. But then the drums, guitar and bass kick in, thumping and thudding. Finally, the vocals start, and they are full of the whining plea of someone who has seen horrors beyond imagination. Throughout the song the drums and bass keep a refrain that almost feels like the jerky movements of a zombie. This is fitting, as the song is about Joan Crawford’s return from the grave. And really, that’s what makes this song so unsettling. The driving percussion of the band helps us visualize Joan’s rotting corpse, moving twisted and jagged as she searches for her daughter.

As for the lyrics, schoolgirls throw away their mascara and chain themselves to big Mac trucks. This is not rational behavior, further solidifying the creepy factor of the song. Near the end, there is a cacophony of noise that threatens to overwhelm the senses, before that thrumming bass beat returns. And with that bass beat comes the gravelly whisper: “Christina, Mother’s home. Come to mother.”

Guaranteed to give you goosebumps. I hope this spooky track series 3 selection surprised you. Let me know what you thought. Leave a comment.

Spooky Track Series 2: Prince and Old Lady Shade

Today’s installment, spooky track series 2, brings you The Prince and Old Lady Shade. This Peter Murphy song may not be one you’d expect to be on my list of songs to make you poop your pants, but here it is. Sure, there were other more obvious choices, such as Bela Lugosi’s Dead. However, that one is too obvious and expected. And while there will be some predictable songs in this series, I’m trying to keep things fresh.

Today's Spooky track series 2 song is from Peter Murphy's album, Ninth, which the image shows the cover of.

So, what makes The Prince and Old Lady Shade worthy of a spot on my spooky track series 2? First, that violin introduction. It gives a promise of something upbeat, but also off. To me, it evokes a haunted wood, or a fairy land. In fact, the violin transitions from a soft, rising melody into heavy bass and guitar. The haunting and lovely strings take us from the land of humans and into the world of the fairies.

The heavy beat and the driving force of the rock instruments become oppressive and overwhelming. Couple this feeling with Murphy’s low and subdued vocals and a vivid picture comes into view. Such a picture includes Princes being birds and Old Lady Shade turning into a bat. None of this is odd in fairy tales, but it’s still pretty creepy. Enhancing the creep factor is the line: “She has a fair eye/She takes her fair share of the city’s mid day/ That lunch lady’s glare.”

What does the above mean? I don’t know, but it calls forth an image of giant vampire bat feasting on a small English village. It’s a terrifying image, and I love it.

So that’s today’s entry for spooky track series 2. What do you think? Any other suggestions for songs to discuss? Leave your thoughts in the comments, please.

Spooky Track Series 1: Is There Anybody Out There?

With Halloween approaching, I’ve decided to make a spooky track series of posts. “What is that?” you ask. Well simply, I will write about a scary song a day for 31 days, and give my reasons why it’s creepy. Is it an original idea? No. Do I care? also no. I’m trying to bring a little joy to myself as well as to anyone who reads this. And I am talking about people readers, not the bots.

The image shows Pink Floyd's the Wall, the album which this first spooky series track is from

Without further ado, my spooky track series kicks off with Pink Floyd’s “Is There Anybody Out There?” from their album The Wall. At first glance, this might seem like an odd choice for this series. Especially, when one considers it’s a song from a commercial band. How can it possibly be unnerving?

From the very beginning it is easy to hear why this song deserves a spot on my list, even if you don’t know its context on the album. It opens with a click and some chatter from a television. Then, gradually, an oppressive bass cloud rises and holds while the vocals come in with the title lyrics. These vocals do not screech or scream, but rather come off as sedate., at least on the ‘Is there anybody” portion. However, when vocalist Waters hits the “out there” is voice rises. Which, sure, it’s a question, and questions tend to raise the inflection of our voice. Additionally, though, this uptick at the end illustrates fear and uncertainty.

Spooky Track Series Is There Anybody Out There Is an Unheard Cry for Help

This man is obviously in trouble and needs help. He’s calling for help from anyone who might be out there? Out where? Where is this man that he is calling for people who are out of his sight? Is he in a box, a dungeon, holed up in the walls like some victim of Poe’s devising? Why else would he repeat the same refrain over and over, wondering if someone will save him?

We don’t know the answers to these questions, (well we do if we’ve listened to the album) and that makes it scarier. All we know is that the vocalist is somewhere that seems dark, damp, and oppressive. Enhancing the oppressive mood of this entry into the spooky track series is the music. It starts with that heavy sound, and continues to drag the listener to the ground. When the guitar enters with a flighty bit of chord progression, there is a moment of short lived optimism. But, by the end of the song, the oppressive noise returns, crushing that little ray of hopeful guitar.

And it’s that oppression and the trap of isolation that makes this a scary song. It’s an existential crisis in 2:41.

So there’s the first entry of my 31 day spooky track series. Let me know what you think, and if you have any suggestions for the series, let me know that, too.