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Vinyl Tap: Bewitched, Bothered, and Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: Scaring Up the Spooky Stuff

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I raid my record collection and randomly rediscover the tracks of my years…
Music creeps me out. I find myself at times swooning with the vapors and calling for the smelling salts at the mere hum of a merry tune or a whistle while at work. Who knows the deep-seated causation? Sure, there have been some sharps and flats in my life that have held me bewitched, bothered, and bewildered, or fighting vainly the ol’ ennui. Perhaps I’m suffering a psychotic reaction, but then I count five and get myself back in the race, ignoring for the moment that as a boy Screamin’ Jay Hawkins put a spell on me, courtesy of border blaster XERB and Wolfman Jack. I even took my troubles down to Madame Rue — you know that gypsy with the gold-capped tooth? — to not avail, alas.

Now if I was to just drop in to see what condition my condition was in — to paraphrase Shockmeister Kenny Rogers — I too might find that I saw so much I broke my mind, and that certain songs have cropped up from time to time to further shatter my delicate sensibilities. Enough at least to compile this tragically inexhaustive and dispensable compendium of musical treats that scare me trickless. The Yardbirds‘ ’66 slice of embryonic but overawing psychedelia “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” takes full advantage of the fact and force corollary with stellar guitarists Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page being on hand to thrust and parry, or coalesce for sonic sense assaults that sink “deep into the well of time.” Even 45 years later! Good job, guys.

Peter Gabriel‘s third eponymous album from 1980, a masterwork chock full of shock and prescient paranoia that will melt your face off, kicks off with the tone-setting “Intruder” that triggers the right amount of menacing force and domino reaction. Moving on, “I Don’t Remember” gains a walloping sense of modern paranoia and privacy infringement from its stormtroopers-in-the-studio sound and what could be a precognitive TSA-on-Parade Day. Furthermore, if “All shades of opinion / Feed an open mind,” what does it mean when you’re — as the scabrous and exclusionary song title denotes — “Not One of Us”? The percussive beat, meanwhile, drums in the message, reiterating: “You’re not one of us/ Not one of us/ No you’re not one of us…”

The title song of Richard and Linda Thompson‘s 1982 album Shoot Out the Lights was inspired by the Russians’ 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, and so it makes sense that there’s a lyrical gloominess pervading the song: “In the darkness the shadows move/ In the darkness the game is real/ Real as a gun. Real as a gun.” But the power of the song and the album overall comes equally from Richard’s brilliant guitar work (second only to seeing him live). The two guitar solos he extends to the five-plus minutes of “Shoot Out the Lights,” cleanly angular yet tinged with an edgy apprehension, lends itself to the military theme while conveying broader tensions and moods.

The variously fluid and brittle-shards approach of guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd of Television, particularly on the poetic and proto-punkish cornerstone classic Marquee Moon (1977), is wonderously frightening. The tautly manic and riveting guitar frenzy of the aptly-titled and lyrically gothic “Friction” builds up after an unnerving “set-up” that places the listener a “little bit back from the main road/ Where the silence spreads and the men dig holes.” But it’s in the standout 10-minute title track’s non-stop flight of imagination, crescendoing instrumentation and evocative lyrics where the sense of intuitive seeking and heightened anticipation is more than accompanied in the interplay of Verlaine and Lloyd’s mesmerizing guitar surge and ascension.

I remember
how the darkness doubled
I recall
lightning struck itself.
I was listening
listening to the rain
I was hearing
hearing something else.

Life in the hive puckered up my night,
the kiss of death, the embrace of life.
There I stand ‘neath the Marquee Moon
Just waiting,
Hesitating…
I ain’t waiting…

If Television have mastered the sonics of whisper-to-a-scream escalation, P.J. Harvey displays the atmospheric evocation that a whisper alone can convey — especially coming after a powerhouse rouser “Long Snake Moan” — in “Down by the Water,” from one of her finest albums, the earthy and searching To Bring You My Love, from 1995. Whatever the details hidden from us in the enigmatic tale of a “blue eyed girl/ Became blue eyed whore” and the circumstances of a narrator who “had to lose her” under the bridge “To do her harm,” the song gains a wallop in its whispered fade-out, punctuating the foreboding, or maybe taking up nightmarish nail-biting a notch or two into mythopoeic songcraft (or in a more down-to-earth if forced sense, think Dr. Seuss meets [American] Southern Gothic, which is just as macabre), as the reiteration plays out:

Little fish. big fish. Swimming in the water.
Come back here, man. gimme my daughter.
Little fish. big fish. Swimming in the water.
Come back here, man. gimme my daughter.
Little fish. big fish. Swimming in the water.
Come back here, man. gimme my daughter…. 

Whenever “Down by the Water” pops into my head, of course, the closing incantation runs through my head, like it is now, and so it won’t be long now before I’m chilling myself out of my spine, however that works. The only thing I know to do to get rid of this preoccupation is to ponder my next holiday compendium, “Contemporary Christmas Creep-Out ‘Carols,'” and I already have my first entry: Mott the Hoople‘s “Death May Be Your Santa Claus.” Not your ideal stocking-stuffer, by any means…

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • http://cinemasentries.com/ El Bicho

    great job as always.

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thank you, sir.

  • JANK

    Not bad but I’ve been doing this sort of thing too:
    …13 Disturbing & Unsettling songs
    01) “Witches Song” Marianne Faithful – ‘Do you feel the panic, can you see the fear?’ The ever-increasing groaning and howling rising up in the background can’t be good….
    02) “The Wolf That Lives In Lindsey” Joni Mitchell – a killer in the Hollywood Hills chillingly described; More Howling. Extraordinary acoustic Heavy Metal ending
    03) “Moon Over Boubon Street” & “Sister Moon” Sting – more from the inside of a howling mind…
    04) “Psycho Killer” Talking Heads – ‘Can’t sleep ’cause my beds on fire…’ run run run away.
    05) “The Nile Song” Pink Floyd – describes being howlingly dragged into the Nile by a beautiful temptress. Early heavy metal 1967; Recommended.
    06) “Jackie” Sinnead O’Connor – literal chills as “She” walks the beach waiting and wailing all these long years for her sailor boy to come home; the ending wail is to be believed.
    07) “Wuthering Heights” Kate Bush – “She” is now pleading at your window and “She” used to be your lover. She’s cold Now what?
    08) “The Bogus Man” Roxy Music – the psychopath is chasing you and now is ‘clutching at your throat'; the sonics are truly disturbing and unsettling.
    09) “Season Of The Witch” Donovan – wonderfully satanical guitar riff & the organ fills accentuate a mood of ‘you looking in your window…’
    10) “Black Sabbath” Black Sabbath – Satan is facing you backed with awesome devil power chords known to have been banned since the 1600s; you can’t run
    11) “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” Pink Floyd. The Scream started here.
    12) “The Black Rider” Tom Waits. The devil is a carnival barker and he ‘Will drink your blood like wine’. No kidding.
    13) “White Blur #2″ Aphex Twin – play this at 2am and tell me the ‘laughing’ and disturbing effects do not unnerve you. Beyond spooky.

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Good list, though I would have opted for Kate Bush’s heart-pounding “Get Out of My House” (from The Dreaming), where emerging from the cacophony of chaos, someone would rather be a mule. Its also said to be based on The Shining, and I’ve always found Stephen King scarier than Emily Bronte.

    I had also considered “Psycho Killer” but dismissed it as too obvious, though if I was going for a more comprehensive list (I left a lot on the cutting room floor), I would have picked Elvis Costello’s version of Leon Payne’s “Psycho,” a creepy song from the perspective of Charles Whitman, the Texas Tower Sniper who killed 16 people and wounded many more in 1966.
    Sample lyrics:
    Oh you recall that little girl mama
    I believe her name was Betty Clark
    Oh don’t tell me that she’s dead mama
    ‘Cause I just saw her in the park
    We were sitting on a bench mama
    Thinking of a game to play
    Seems I was holding a wrench mama
    Then my mind just walked away

    You think I’m psycho don’t you mama
    I didn’t mean to break your cup
    You think I’m psycho don’t you mama
    Mama why don’t you get up?

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    I also hasten to add Tom Wait’s daunting version of “Heigh-Ho! (The Dwarfs’ Marching Song)” from Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films, which sounds just like you imagine it would.