The top scariest songs of all time

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

From your worst nightmares to your Halloween playlist

  1. Suicide – “Frankie Teardrop” (1977)

Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop” follows the 20-year-old titular character from his mundane factory job to his tumultuous home life. Vocalist Alan Vega details how Frankie kills his wife, child and self in the midst of a complete breakdown from his routine life. The scarce, rigid song is a nightmarish narrative pushed to a halting climax by Vega’s blood-curdling screams. Pure nightmare fuel.

  1. Throbbing Gristle – “Hamburger Lady” (1978)

Nothing too out of the ordinary for art noise collective Throbbing Gristle, but the title alone is enough to induce out-of-whack mental images. The lyrics are indecipherable, fed through a choppy, deteriorating vocoder underneath instrumentals that land somewhere between an alien abduction and the apocalypse.

  1. Tom Waits – “What’s He Building In There” (1999)

This dramatic monologue from the uneasy perspective of a nosy neighbour is set to the tune of a subdued instrumental soundscape. Tom Waits’s barking voice wheezes with a mildly inflected delivery, which comes off like a protective dog warning you not to come any closer.

  1. Pharmakon – “Body Betrays Itself” (2014)

“Body Betrays Itself” exhibits the overwhelming claustrophobia of Margaret Chardiet’s brand of noise music. The song’s disfigured aesthetic puts to sound the sight of a body slowly disintegrating over time, and how there’s no way of controlling imminent death when stricken by illness. Chardiet fully embraces the tenets of noisiness, letting the music slowly build to a dissonant crux that offers a brief peek into a climax the listener will never recover from.

  1. Slint – “Good Morning, Captain” (1991)

Just a casual reading of the lyrics is enough to send shivers down your spine. The build-up is excruciatingly tense, with meandering guitar riffs rotating in a never-ending cycle that jolts into an anguished scream of “I Miss You.” The last song on Slint’s masterpiece, Spiderland, “Good Morning, Captain” pieces together a narrative of a captain who has lost everything at sea. The song’s explosive coda literally drove singer Brian McMahan toward the brink of insanity, to the point where he had to enroll in a psychiatric hospital a few days after the song’s release.

  1. Marilyn Manson – “Prelude (The Family Trip)” (1994)

The opening track on Portrait of an American Family is a cartoony spoof of the boat scene from the 1971 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, written by children’s novelist Roald Dahl. Marilyn Manson wanted to capture the fear a child feels at a carnival, and revamp those untapped feelings for an adult audience.

  1. Primus – “Mr. Krinkle” (1993)

You know that moment when a serial killer matter-of-factly consults that little voice inside his or her head; the voice that told them to paint the neighbourhood red? Well, I’m pretty sure the voice they hear is akin to the traumatizing sounds that emit from Les Claypool’s southern drawl on “Mr. Krinkle.” Not to mention that petrifying bass.

  1. Black Sabbath – “Black Sabbath” (1970)

Once described as metal’s “most evil track” by Judas Priest’s Rob Halford, Black Sabbath’s eponymous song propelled heavy metal as a menacing new subgenre. The occult song about Satan ending humanity was inspired by an ominous riff that some say literally pulled Lucifer from the depths of hell.

  1. The Doors – “Not to Touch the Earth” (1968)

“Not to Touch the Earth” is a paranormal hellscape in audio that captures Jim Morrison at his most confident and lyrically unhinged. The song’s piercing organ morphs in and out of frame, expressing the song’s complete and total devolution into depravity. Lamenting the stark polarity between heaven and hell, Morrison drops clever allusions to necromancy and politics, concluding with a heartstopping crescendo.

  1. The Jesus Lizard – “Then Comes Dudley” (1991)

The Jesus Lizard is simultaneously one of the funniest, smartest and most incredibly off-the-wall bands in history. If it weren’t for their endearingly deranged sense of humour and self-deprecating lyrics, they’d probably be more inclined to crossover into the mainstream à la Nirvana. No wonder they were Kurt Cobain’s favorite band. The prickly guitar riff on this track, which was sampled from Miles Davis’s “Great Expectations,” and David Yow’s devilish howl culminate in an experience that makes you feel truly violated.

  1. The Body – “Hallow/Hollow” (2016)

“Hallow/Hollow” comes from No One Deserves Happiness, with Chip King’s ear-shredding guitar and shrieked vocals impacting like a car crash when matched against Lee Buford’s body-quaking drums.

  1.  Joy Division – “Heart and Soul” (1980)

The bass-and-drums intro sets up a hypnotic rhythm that leaves plenty of space for Ian Curtis to insert his brooding, barely active voice. Curtis died just as Joy Division’s 1980 swan-song album, Closer, was released. While the layers of guitar start to dissolve into the mix around it, the stagnating rhythm further heightens the song’s incredibly unnerving restlessness.

  1.  Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – “I Put A Spell On You” (1957)

A spooky joint that’s just as sensational as the allusion to voodooism implied in the title, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s “I Put A Spell On You” is one of music’s most seminal songs, and served as a precursor for rock-and-roll upstarts using supernatural imagery and shocking visual elements. Easily one of the great vocal performances of all time, it’s also a prime validation that the premature seeds of rock and roll were just as dangerous as the general public initially thought.

  1.  Kate Bush – “Under Ice” (1985)

In “Under Ice,” Kate Bush vividly details a dream about a person skating on a frozen river that’s buried under snow. As the person skates along, they look down at the ice and spot an obscured object moving underneath. As they follow the object moving under the ice, they come face to face with themselves in the water, drowning.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

Related Posts