# 10 “Paint it Black” – The Rolling Stones
On a holiday that decorates orange and black… “Paint it Black” celebrates the darkness that the color represents. The song opens and is immediately recognizable. The hammering beat leads to Mick Jagger’s voice undulating the lyrics, “I see a red door and I want it painted black”, accompanied by the sinister acoustic guitar tabs performed by Keith Richards, and already the song is both mysterious and captivating. The famous track is said to have been influenced by the mounting depression and anger felt by Vietnam Vets upon their return home in 1975. Indeed, we can hear the heaviness, the eeriness of the song through both its music and lyrics.
Arguably the most thought-provoking (and subsequently, creepy) line of the song concerns “girls…dressed in their summer clothes” and the narrator of the song having to turn his head from them in order to wait for his “darkness” to go. What exactly that means could be open to the song’s interpreter, whether the narrator is afraid of his sexual desires, or perhaps his inability to control them, or simply an inability to face something pure, innocent or beautiful as its such a contrast to himself. It’s perhaps, the not knowing for sure what is meant by the line that gives it an eerie tone because so much is implied.
At a particular interval of the song, Jagger sounds as if he’s possessed, moaning along to the tune, as the bass and drums beat along angrily and ominously. It isn’t enough, Jagger attests, to paint everything black, even the sun must go. “Paint it Black” is a classic rock song that many know and love, but combined with its message – nay, demand! – for a colorless world and its heavy inspiration, it’s also one of the creepiest rock songs ever conceptualized.
Creepiest Lyrics: “No colors anymore, I want them to turn black / I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes / I have to turn my head until my darkness goes”
# 9 “Something in the Way” – Nirvana
Only Nirvana can bridge the gap between creepy and beautiful within one simple, repeating verse, and a hummed hook. “Something in the Way” comes from the infamous Nevermind, showing up as the final track on the 1991 album. While the lyrics to the song are said to be inspired by Kurt’s personal experiences with homelessness, the tone of the song – its mellow acoustic strumming combined with low notes that seem to droop into deep valleys of hopelessness – is particularly eerie.
Even just the opening line, “Underneath the bridge” in Kurt’s drawling, almost emotionless, voice brings about an image of a dark, damp, unwelcoming place. We learn that the subject of the song is not only living under a bridge but “living off of grass” and “drippings from the ceiling”. The hook of the song features ghostly singing and humming; it’s almost angelic, but still can’t quite take away the ominous nature of the song.
Creepiest Lyrics: “And the animals I’ve trapt / Have all become my pets”
# 8 – “Climbing Up the Walls” – Radiohead
If there’s anything to be said about Radiohead, other than their illustrious career, it’s their frontman, Thom Yorke’s ability to somehow tell a story without you totally understanding every word. Such is true with “Climbing Up the Walls” where that instantly recognizable voice comes out muffled and covered under gracious amounts of feedback and synth; it makes you want to lean in, to try and understand the utterances, yet you’re afraid of what you might hear. Freakish, ethereal noises are spread throughout the track giving you the sense that you’re being watched, perhaps by an extraterrestrial being.
The feat Radiohead accomplishes (indeed, not just with “Climbing Up the Walls” but the entire album it comes from, OK Computer) is emitting much more than sound – but a strange ambience that follows you long after you’ve finished listening. At the song’s end, a raucous guitar solo, as well as Yorke’s guttural yell give the track a spooky, possibly grotesque ending.
Creepiest Lyrics: “So lock the kids up safe tonight / Shut the eyes in the cupboard” & “And either way you turn / I’ll be there / Climbing up the walls”
# 7 – “Fire” – The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
It’s musicians like Arthur Brown who are the reason others such as, Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, or Slipknot, aren’t included in this list. If it weren’t for the strange fusion of dark, gothic subject matter and the psychedelic subculture of the late 1960’s – a clashing of worlds that many could pinpoint within the frustration, tragedy, darkness, and absurdity that expanded out of the Vietnam War – there may not even be a Manson or Zombie.
If the iconic rock organs of the 1960’s don’t creep you out, they certainly will in this song. That odd, distinctive sound many classic rock lovers would commonly associate with Jim Morrison is almost carnival-like within The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s “Fire”. Visions of creepy clowns and whirling carnival rides bloom into the mind while listening to the song. If the opening of the tune with lead singer, Arthur Brown claiming: “I am the God of Hell Fire” isn’t enough to put you on edge, just wait for the sadistic breakdown in which Arthur Brown swears he will “take you to burn”.
It doesn’t hurt this song’s creepiness factor that Brown, a rock star of showmanship if ever there was a word for it, is an astoundingly creepy human being himself. Don’t believe us? Look him up.
Creepiest Lyrics: “Fire, to destroy all you’ve done / Fire, to end all you’ve become / I’ll feel you burn”
# 6 “Ava Adore” – The Smashing Pumpkins
Billy Corgan and his shiny, pale head could have made this list a number of times – how can you not with lyrics such as “The world is a vampire / Sent to drain”? – but we think he sits pretty just here with the track “Ava Adore” off the Smashing Pumpkins’ Adore album. And even though this is a love song, one that’s indubitably written by someone as dark and solemn-toned as Corgan, it’s both provocative and eerie. In other words, when Paul McCartney wrote “Silly Love Songs” we don’t think these are the kind he was singing about.
Creepiest Lyrics: “In you, I feel so dirty in you I crash cars / In you, I feel so pretty in you I taste God / We must never be apart”
# 5 “St. James Infirmary Blues” – The White Stripes
This is a classic song. It’s been covered by dozens of artists, yet its precise origin is unknown. It definitely has its jazz-blues, folk-Americana roots, however, and from there we can trace it all the way up from Cab Calloway to Louis Armstrong to Janis Joplin, and The White Stripes. The song tells the story of a man seeing his wife/girlfriend/lover cold and dead on a “long white table”. Her untimely death causes him to consider his own and naturally leads to a melancholy realization we must all eventually face – our mortality.
Jack and Meg craft the song well to match its antique roots, keeping true to its original sound. Jack even takes on a distinctively familiar style of singing which early jazz pioneers and performers, such as Cab Calloway, emulated – stretching out certain notes, utilizing sprechgesang (or, speak-singing) with the utterance of “God bless her”. All combined – the thud-thud-thud of a piano and Meg’s drumming, Jack’s intentionally discordant voice, and the thematic element of the lyrics – give the song a strong sense of foreboding.
Creepiest Lyrics: “She was stretched out on a long white table / So sweet, cool and so fair”
# 4 – “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” – Pink Floyd
What else can you expect from Pink Floyd other than songs that fill up space like a cinematic, epic presence, such as with “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”? Spooky sounds emitted through the mic from Waters – it sounds like wind, it sounds like hollow nothingness. And then – he stutters and whispers, with the distinct presence of fear, “Careful”, and then “Careful with that axe, Eugene”. With screeching guitar solos, Floyd-distinctive-synth, and Roger Water’s screaming, listening to this track will take you on a journey as your mind imagines the worst.
There’s a reason Pink Floyd is typically categorized with the words: psychedelic, art rock, and avant-garde. As storytellers, they have a keen ability to transcend the spoken word. In fact, this track features very little words, perhaps reminding us all that our greatest enemy is ourselves and our imagination.
# 3 “Subway Song” – The Cure
If anyone defines creepiness it’s The Cure. There was a plethora to choose from looking into their discography, but “Subway Song” features some key elements other songs didn’t. Listeners lean in to hear Robert Smith’s vocals as he whispers, sings, and warns in his iconic voice: “Turn around!” Smith’s omniscient perspective in the song illustrates a woman using public transportation by herself late at night – a setting utilized often in horror films and in the horrors of the nightly news, as well. It’s easy to feel as if you’re being stalked by a shadowy figure hell-bent to harm you while listening to this track.
It’s easy to feel as if you’re being stalked by a shadowy figure hell-bent to harm you while listening to this track. The song is fairly short, but its length doesn’t impair its impact, especially with its brutal end.
Creepiest Lyrics: “Midnight in the subway / She’s on her way home / She tries hard not to run / But she feels she’s not alone”
# 2 “Polly” – Nirvana
We’re not ashamed to put more than one Nirvana song on here, and you shouldn’t be surprised, either. It’s a wonder we don’t just slap “In the Pines”, the Leadbelly cover made infamous by the band’s performance of it on MTV Unplugged, on here as well. If it has anything to do with macabre subject matter and acoustic guitars with drop D tunings, chances are Nirvana’s afoot.
This track may be a step up in tempo compared to “Underneath the Bridge” but it doesn’t make it any less disturbing. This track was inspired by the rape and torture of a young girl not far from the grunge-hub of Seattle. Perhaps taking a note from Nabokov, Kurt wrote this song from the point of view of her rapist and torturer. Without the back story, “Polly” may still entice a few chills with its stripped-down sound – just Kurt’s hauntingly beautiful voice and a cheap acoustic guitar.
Creepiest Lyrics: “She asks me to untie her / A chase would be nice for a few”
# 1 – “Up Jumped the Devil” – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
While we are purposely avoiding “Monster Mash” by the Misfits, no Halloween song list would be complete without something from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Floating somewhere in the world with the likes of Tom Waits, Nick Cave is one of those musicians who defines the term “gothic” and “creepy” without having to wear makeup and leather. “Up Jumped the Devil” sounds like a band of skeletons got together; odd inclusions of a xylophone sound like bones being utilized as instruments, and deep hollow chorus sound as if death was given a voice. A frightening piano trills throughout in accompaniment with a growling voice and deep, dark electric guitar only adding to the song’s sinister tone.
If “Up Jumped the Devil” doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, look into any of the band’s other songs, especially “Red Right Hand”.
Creepiest Lyrics: “Who’s that hanging from the gallow tree / His eyes are hollow but he looks like me / Who’s that swinging from the gallow tree / Up jumped the Devil and took my soul from me”
10 Creepy Rock Songs to Get You in the Halloween Spirit
Written by Candice Littleton
Yes we know Tom Waits fans will argue that the man’s music is loaded withe horrific sounds and prose. Well Tom Waits will be getting his own creepy list. Coming soon…..