Updated: Jan 30, 2022
By Bob Deakin
Halloween is almost here. Just two days until the big day, and who knows what’s in store this year.
I was researching some of the most frightening songs in my memory the other day. Some were composed as such; others just worked out that way. A couple are predictable, like “Welcome to My Nightmare” by Alice Cooper or “Creep” by Radiohead. The rest on my list evolve from sounds and moods.
Title or lyrics never hit me as frightening, and sometimes the feeling comes from hearing the song at a particular moment in my life when it just happened to spook me out. I’ll start with “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” by The Beatles.
My older sister was called Chrissy as a kid, and I had a terrifying dream when I was about three or four, set at night in our backyard. She was up in the sky with shiny things around her, hence, Chrissy in the Sky With Diamonds.
It wasn’t a good dream. Chrissy is stuck in the clouds with John Lennon and his old lady glasses, and I didn’t want her up there with him. The rest of the family was on the ground staring up at her as other images popped up all around. Lennon’s voice on the recording spooks me too with that Leslie speaker effect. The attempt at an eerie sound worked.
There are no lasting psychological effects, but I always skip over this one when I listen to the album.
“Pigs (Three Different Ones)” by Pink Floyd from the Animals album.
Anything by Pink Floyd works at Halloween, but this one in particular.
The song starts with grunting pigs leading into a bass, organ, and synth, with lead vocal by Roger Waters and guitar by David Gilmour. It’s saturated with dastardly minor chords and starts and stops and starts and stops.
Then they turn up the macabre with more pig noises and heavy breathing that must have freaked the stoners out of the fetal position they were stuck in on any given night back in 1977 when this was released.
The song lasts 11 minutes and takes a bewitchingly groovy turn at 5:20 that lasts for two minutes (or is it two hours stoners?) dominated by Gilmour’s layered guitars. He uses the talk box with an undead effect, seemingly emulating the weeping sound I associate with ghosts.
After a couple more dramatic starts and stops, Mr. Gilmour rides the song off into the moonset with some ultra fine guitar work as the song slowly fades into the fog and darkness. It’s all done at 11:25, and the stoners are left unnerved and wondering how they’re going to get home again, let alone face their parents.
That must be how it was on Halloween in 1977, right? Now that I think of it, these songs would be a better fit for Devil’s Night, Mischief Night, Hell Night, Corn Cob night, or whatever you call it in your part of the world.
“Ashes to Ashes” by David Bowie.
I always enjoyed this song. It’s a recording masterpiece with a great groove and clever hook, probably ahead of its time in 1980. It’s the video that gets me, though. I can’t begin to analyze the photoplay other than images within images touching on all sorts of themes, including religion, time, and space; all in a burned color scheme mixed with black and white.
The scariest part, of course, is the middle freak-out section with ghosts and goblins and low-pitched screams. You hear it on the album version but not the shorter single version used for the video, so there is no imagery to go along with it. I always wondered how it would look.
Just as creepy as the rest, I’m sure.
As I researched, I saw that the album’s name is Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). What a coincidence. How did I not know that? I guess I never had the album.
What’s this bit about “We know Major Tom’s a junkie” in the song? Wasn’t Major Tom an astronaut a decade previous?
At the end of the song, Bowie repeats the line over and over:
“My mother said, to get things done
You’d better not mess with Major Tom.”
I guess it didn’t work out for him in the space program after all. Those guys had it rough.
Also, what a great combination of piano with a swell of synthesizers and effects at the end to mimic underscoring of old horror sounds.
The more I look at this video and listen to the song, the more I’m compelled to try and describe it. Somebody get me out of here!
I’m going to have to stop at three songs to save you from a long blog - those of you who read past the first sentence.
I call the songs frightening, but that’s a compliment. There is a lot of well-composed tension in each of them and an odd assortment of instruments and strange vocal effects. It’s not a stretch to assume that horror film scores inspired each in some way.
As a bonus, each of the lead singers is straight out of central casting for any horror film. Just stay away from my sister next time, Lennon.