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A look at some of the best disturbing songs.

Best Disturbing Songs

This subjective list, focusing more on lyrics than on music, is in no particular order.

1. “Hurt” – Nine Inch Nails

Covered by Johnny Cash, I get a shiver each time I hear this song so full of despair and pain with classic lines like “everyone I know goes away in the end.”

The song has taken on added meaning as the last hit of Johnny Cash before he died, with a harrowing video made not long before Cash’s wife, June, died. The video went on to win a Grammy.

Best verse:

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hold
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

2. “World Destruction” by Time Zone

This song is much less well known but I used to request this to dance to while in high school. It’s sung by Afrika Bambaataa and John Lydon of Sex Pistols and Public Image Limited fame.

It’s got a good beat, you can dance to it and the lyrics name-drop Nostradamus, talk about third-world governments, brainwashing and other issues.

My favorite line: “Fascist, chauvinistic government fools.”

My favorite moment, when Bambaataa asks: “Who wants to be a president or king?” and Lydon shouts, “Me!”

This from the same guy who sang “God save the queen, the fascist regime” while leading the Sex Pistols.

3. “Family Snapshot” by Peter Gabriel

This song captivates and engages me every time I hear it and I’ve listened to it hundreds of times.
This is a song about an assassin waiting for the president to drive by so he can kill him:

The streets are lined with camera crews
Everywhere he goes is news
Today is different
Today is not the same
Today I make the action
Take snapshot into the light, snapshot into the light
I’m shooting into the light

The music speeds up as the moment of violence comes closer…

They’re coming ’round the corner with the bikers at the front
I’m wiping the sweat from my eyes
-It’s a matter of time
-It’s a matter of will
And the governor’s car is not far behind
He’s not the one I’ve got in mind

And then the music slows down again at the key moment:

Holding my breath
Release the catch
And I let the bullet fly

The listener can imagine the visual slow motion as he shifts from his actions to possible causes of his distress:

All turned quiet-I have been here before
Lonely boy hiding behind the front door
Friends have all gone home
There’s my toy gun on the floor
Come back Mum and Dad
You’re growing apart
You know that I’m growing up sad
I need some attention
I shoot into the light

4. “I Don’t Like Mondays” by the Boomtown Rats

Speaking of possible causes of action, this song’s title comes from a famous exchange. Asked why she went on a 1979 shooting spree at a San Diego elementary school 16-year-old killer Brenda Ann Spencer famously said, “I Don’t Like Mondays. This livens up the day.”

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.

All the playing’s stopped in the playground now
She wants to play with her toys a while.
And school’s out early and soon we’ll be learning
And the lesson today is how to die.
And then the bullhorn crackles,
And the captain crackles,
With the problems and the how’s and why’s.
And he can see no reasons
‘Cause there are no reasons
What reason do you need to die?

I remember the song’s catchy chorus was stuck in my head on a day when I had a college English assignment to write about three songs that were on my mind. I wrote about this song. The teacher never treated me quite the same after that, perhaps thinking me psycho by association.

I did not realize, until reading the Wikipedia link above, that Spencer has been in prison since 1979 in Corona, Cal. I spent the first 25 years of my life living and working in that region, including for a newspaper in Corona.

5. “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd

As with Hurt, this song packs so much emotion into such a short period of time that one can’t easily listen to it without being affected. I know I never am.
The song, from the Wall, includes these lyrics:

When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse,
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone.
I cannot put my finger on it now.
The child is grown, the dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.

Runner-Ups:
“Folsom Prison Blues” – Johnny Cash (mostly for the classic line of “I shot
a man in Reno just to watch him die)

“Intruder” – Peter Gabriel – What can I say? Gabriel has a gift for getting in the head of disturbing people, in this case, that of an intruder.

Between “Family Snapshot,” “Intruder” and “Lead a Normal Life” (about living in a mental hospital) Peter Gabriel III is probably the most disturbing album I listen to on a regular basis. And why? Listen to a song like “Biko” – about the slain South African civil rights leader – and you should understand why I have so much respect for this artist.

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And, yes, I’m sure I’m overlooking some of your own personal favorites so feel free to tell me which ones I left out.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin.He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one.He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle.He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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