When I was a kid, I had an album called Sounds To Make You Shiver. It terrified me and ever since, I’ve been painfully aware of how much sound could create a mood. These, for the most part, aren’t “scary” songs but for some reason they’ve scared me. Some have scared me in the past and still raise the hairs on the back of my neck a little when I hear them today, and some are more recent creepers.
Disclaimer: Audience discretion advised. The content featured below may not be appropriate for all audiences.
BOC is one of my top five favorite bands of all time. They’re musically clever, write great songs, and are amazing live. They also don’t get a whole lot of credit. Sadly, it seems that a lot more people know them because of the SNL cowbell sketch than for their music. I’ve loved them since I was a kid. “Joan Crawford” was released in 1981, the same year as the film Mommie Dearest, which chronicled Crawford’s abuses toward her daughter Christina. The verses don’t make a ton of sense. They’re vaguely apocalyptic and contain the line “Their eyes have turned the color of frozen meat” which I think about every time I pick up hamburger from Kroger. In the chorus, however, we learn that Joan Crawford has risen from the grave. The spookiest part starts after some random sound effects. A ghostly voice whispers “Christina… mother’s home. Christina… come to mother” as a low moan echoes in the background. Terrifying!
In this day and age of digital music, it’s great that everything is so convenient but I’m kind of sad the visuals and presentation that once existed in album packaging are lost. It used to be really enjoyable to open a record up, take out the sleeve (oooh, lyrics!), and look at the artwork while listening to the vinyl. I know, “Nice rant Pop Pop. Tell us about the trolleys!” My fear of “Get Down Make Love” stems from the artwork to the Queen album News Of The World. The cover depicted a giant placid robot who had apparently just killed the band, their bodies falling from his hands. It was the gatefold that scared me. In it, the same robot, with the same calm expression, reached into an arena of horrified concert goers (or, at least that’s what I thought they were). In the song, right after some random sound effects (again?), a creepy robot voice sings “Make love make love make love.” In my head, that was what the robot was saying as he was crushing those people! He just wanted to love them, like Lennie from Of Mice And Men! As a side note, the sound effects were all made by Brian May using only his guitar and some effects pedals, which is incredibly impressive, but doesn’t make ten-year-old me any less scared.
3. “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” by Mayhem
The title track to the album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas is sublimely horrifying to me. I’ll talk about that, but first I want to tell a little bit about the album itself. The Norwegian Black Metal scene isn’t super well known here, but people probably know at least a little about the more sensationalistic things that mark it. A lot of those stem from this album. Shortly before it was recorded, the original vocalist committed suicide. They recruited a new vocalist from a Hungarian band and recorded an album. Then the bass player killed the guitarist after they had burned down some of Norway’s ancient churches. It was a whole thing. When the album was finally released three years later, it became a landmark of the Black Metal scene. People revere the original vocalist, but it’s his replacement that makes the song so scary for me. Attila Csihar sings in the usual Black Metal rasp but on the choruses sung in Latin, he launches into this keening operatic falsetto and it sends chills down my spine each time.
More operatic vocals! More album covers! This one has it all! I absolutely loved Ozzy’s first solo album, Blizzard Of Ozz. His guitarist, the late Randy Rhodes, is so amazing on it and the songs are all fantastic. I couldn’t wait to get the follow-up. Unfortunately, it was released at the height of the “Satanic Panic” of the ‘80s. People were finding the devil everywhere, but it seemed that his favorite place to lurk was in metal albums. Or beloved classic comedy themes. If you played the Mr. Ed song backward, it was a hymn to ol’ Scratch. Or so some folks thought. It was a crazy time. When my folks saw the cover to Diary Of A Madman, with its bloody Ozzy in full on Dwight Frye, vampire’s assistant mode and upside down cross in the background, I was informed that I was not gonna bring that into their house. So, I secretly bought it at Camelot Records the next time I went to the North Towne mall with my friends. I listened to it for the first time that night with the lights out and loved it too. But the title track, the last song on the album, really got me. The ominous riff, the strings in the middle, the chanted soprano vocals, and Ozzy’s plaintive “Ohhhh” towards the end of the song, creeped me out but good. I still have no regrets sneaking that one home. Years later, my dad would end up laughing himself silly when he saw the evil Prince Of Darkness yell “Sharon” and fall over backwards in a chair on his TV show.
The Geto Boys are my favorite rap group. They’re funny and clever and write some wonderful songs. I wanted to put one of their songs on here, but wasn’t sure which. “Chuckie” is just over the top cartoonish violence, not very scary. “Geto Boys And Girls,” a tale of how Geto Boys member Scarface got into the drug game is almost too realistic and is super scary (at least his verses are). The happy medium is “Mind Playing Tricks On Me.” The album cover is a photo of Bushwick Bill, another group member, in the hospital after getting shot in the eye. That’s some really dark humor there, and that sense of humor permeates “Mind.” Starting with a reference to the band War’s “Four Cornered Room” it tells a tale of how paranoia can destroy your life. Scarface tells about a woman he drove away because he didn’t trust her, but now realizes that he loves her. Willie D has a story about thinking a gang is after him, but it turns out to be a group of senior citizens. Bushwick raps about trick-or-treating, a tale that starts with the line ‘This year, Halloween fell on a weekend’ which sets the stage beautifully for my favorite verse in the song. It’s spooky fun!
I’m not sure why this song scared me. Maybe it was the ominous electric piano at the beginning, maybe it was the line about Andy lying in a puddle of blood, maybe it was because the nice lady from the Carol Burnett Show was singing about killing people. She was death in a gingham shirt. Although I could never figure out how they hanged her brother so quickly. It would have at least taken a day to go to trial, right? Did the judge and executioner happen to be at city hall at probably 10 or 11 o’clock at night? Why did little sister not have time to speak up? Or didn’t she want to and justified it by saying there was no time? Am I putting too much thought into this? Oh, Mama.
The Cure have never really sounded the same on any of their albums. Not at first, anyway, although they did find a formula to stick to right around The Head On The Door album. But their earlier records ran the gambit from Joy Division influenced post punk to beautiful psychedelia to dance music. All done very well too. “Subway Song” is from the first album, the Joy Division-esque one. It’s the shortest song on there, running only about two minutes. Set to a stripped down beat with a loping bass line and harmonica, it tells the tale of a woman who thinks someone may be following her in the subway (or Tube. British!). She doesn’t want to turn around, though, even though the singer, Robert Smith, tells her to. She finally does, and, as the song fades, there’s a sound buried in the mix which tells us what happens. You may have to turn up your speakers to hear it, but once you do, you’ll never forget it.
Wooley Swamp, quite possibly the only swamp the Scooby Gang haven’t slopped through to catch a counterfeiting riverboat captain, is haunted by the ghost of Lucius Clay, who hailed from the Booger Woods area. How he got to be a haunt is quite the tale. I loved how, on the spoken verses, Daniels’ voice rises in intensity as the music does too. And the spot on the ground that’s always wet creeped me out too.. I was always curious though, in the chorus, he says that he just had to find out for himself, but he never says whether he did. Wooly Swamp 2, perhaps?
You’re thinking – “Why? Those sweaters O’Sullivan used to wear are scary but not this song!” And it’s not a scary song! Depressing as all get out, but not scary. Here’s why it scares me: Ages ago, my family used to subscribe to a thing called Channel 100. It was a pay channel, one of the first. One night, they decided to watch the original Omen. Being an impressionable ten year old, I was sent into another room to listen to records while the movie played. Which I did. For a while. Finally unable to contain myself, I snuck into the TV room just at the moment David Warner is decapitated by some flying glass in an alley. Stunned, I walked back to the stereo and listened to this song on 45 over and over in the dark. Later, I told my brother about it, and every night, in our room, he would tell me that the window over my bed looked pretty loose and could fall on me at any time. Thanks, man.
10. Someday This Could All Be Yours, Vol. 1 by the pAper chAse
Released in 2009, Someday This Could All Be Yours Vol. 1 is an album of pure terror. The brainchild of producer John Congleton, the pAper chAse had been released four records before this, all of which were pretty scary. This one just got me though. The songs are loosely connected by being different ways the world could end, made personal. Lyrically, it’s a bit too obtuse to be to scary, and musically it’s interesting, even catchy. The production, on the other hand, is brutal. Smothering and claustrophobic yet somehow vast at the same time. In the first track, “if nobody moves nobody will get hurt” (I know, they have a thing about capital letters), you never really notice that the drums are slowly getting louder and louder until they drown out everything. It’s pretty disorienting and it’s just one of the weird things going on here. I bought this for a friend’s birthday one year, and she later hit me on the arm and said “Why would you buy me such a scary album?” Because it’s awesome!