10 Most Haunting Songs In Rock Music

Haunting Songs In Rock Music

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Our 10 Most Haunting Songs In Rock Music article presents ten songs that one can easily use to make an argument to define the term haunting. In pop culture, especially in film, the word haunting is usually depicted by tales of horror or the supernatural. However, the term haunting should not just be defined by scary movies or books. Many people are haunted by memories of the past that they can’t let go of. These can be wonderful memories and, of course, indeed bad ones. The fact that one can’t let go of these memories lends to the term “haunted by the past.” The majority of rock songs are written about love lost or moments from the past, so we had to narrow this list down a great deal to songs that we felt defined the term haunting in more of its original definition.

The biggest challenge was finding the line between haunting and just downright terrifying, which we believe represents a separate category and would include songs like Black Sabbath’s 1970’s album title track. While lyrics played an essential role in our selections, a song’s melody, arrangement, and production played a significant factor, which can be seen immediately in our first choice at number ten.

# 10 – Wicked Game – Chris Isaak

Do you get goosebumps when you hear this song? You know you do, and that’s why we open up this haunting songs list with this very moody track. “Wicked Game” is a hauntingly beautiful track by Chris Isaak. The song, featured on Isaak’s 1989 album Heart Shaped World, explores themes of love, longing, and the vulnerability of falling for someone who might not feel the same way.  That is about as scary as it can get, and when it doesn’t work out, it will haunt you for the rest of your life. Its lyrical content delves deep into the emotional turmoil of engaging in a love as intoxicating as it is potentially destructive, encapsulated in the line “What a wicked game to play, to make me feel this way.”

The recording of “Wicked Game” was overseen by producer Erik Jacobsen, who helped craft the song’s distinctive sound, characterized by Isaak’s smooth, melancholic vocals and James Calvin Wilsey’s iconic, reverb-laden guitar riff that really lend their way to creating such a haunting atmosphere. Its chart performance was a slow burn, initially not making significant waves until it was featured in the 1990 David Lynch film Wild at Heart, which catapulted the song into the international spotlight. “Wicked Game” eventually climbed to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

# 9 – How Soon Is Now? –  The Smiths

If we isolated that Johnny Marr guitar part alone, it would still be enough to place this song on our list. There is something almost paralyzing about the guitar part on The Smiths “How Soon Is Now?  Originally appearing as a B-side on the 12” single of “William, It Was Really Nothing” in 1984, the song was later included on the American edition of the band’s second album, Meat Is Murder, in 1985. The song is distinguished by its haunting guitar riff, created by Johnny Marr, and Morrissey’s introspective lyrics, which delve into themes of alienation and longing for connection.

“How Soon Is Now?” captures a profound sense of existential angst and social isolation, with Morrissey lamenting, “I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does.” This stark admission of vulnerability resonated with a generation of listeners who found solace in Morrissey’s candid exploration of despair and the human condition. The song’s refrain, “How soon is now?” underscores the urgency and impatience of the desire for change and connection, making it an anthem for the disaffected youth of the era.

# 8 – No Quarter

When listening to many songs in putting this list together, it became apparent that an instrument used heavily in jazz fusion also lent itself well to haunting rock and roll music, which is evident in a few songs on this list. That instrument, called the Fender Rhodes, is magnificently played by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones in this stirring, haunting song called “No Quarter.” However, this one is all hands on deck as every member of the band lends their talents to this chilling song. It doesn’t even matter what Robert Plant is singing about, he just sounds really creepy on this one. I mean, for Pete’s sake, the band already had an unbelievable mystique about them.

# 7 – House Where Nobody Lives

We had to have at least one Tom Waits song in this collection of haunting songs list.  Honestly, we could have filled the entire list with Tom Waits songs. We could probably do a top 20 or 30 list Of Haunting Tom Waits songs. Nonetheless, this one here is a tough one to listen to. It’s tough because it never answers the question we never want to ask. Is the song really about a house, or is Tom Waits just using a house as a metaphor for an unfulfilled life or a once-happy life that has since faded away? The melody is sweet, but the lyrics are as haunting as one can write.

# 6 – Uninvited – Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette’s “Uninvited” opens up with a simple piano introduction that could be used to define the musical term for haunting. And that’s just the beginning of this compelling piece of music that conveyed an intense emotional and psychological experience. Recorded in 1997, “Uninvited” features Alanis Morissette’s passionate vocals and introspective lyrics. The song’s structure, with its gradual build-up leading to a powerful climax, mirrors the intense emotional journey conveyed in the lyrics. Alanis explores themes of vulnerability, desire, and the complexities of consent and emotional boundaries in relationships. She grapples with the intensity of an unexpected and perhaps unwelcome attraction, articulated in the refrain, “I need to be invited.”  That line always goes right through me every time I hear it. If ever there was a haunting line in popular music, that’s the one.

# 5 – Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd

Listen to that bass line at the song’s beginning. Talk about doom and gloom.”Comfortably Numb” has always stood as one of Pink Floyd’s greatest recordings. It is also perhaps their most haunting. Like Tom Waits, there were many Pink Floyd tracks we could have placed on this list. Pink Floyd’s entire catalog is filled with haunting songs.

For many “Comfortably Numb” is renowned for its two distinct guitar solos by Gilmour, which are among the most acclaimed in rock music. However, for our purposes in this list, the song features a haunting atmosphere, underscored by its slow tempo, minimalistic verses, and the stark contrast between Waters’ and Gilmour’s vocal sections. Waters sings the verses, portraying a doctor or a figure of authority. In contrast, Gilmour sings the chorus, reflecting the voice of Pink, the protagonist of The Wall, who is grappling with feelings of isolation and detachment. Being haunted by loneliness can be one of the most debilitating and life-threatening situations any man or woman can live with.

# 4 – Sisters of the Moon – Fleetwood Mac

While this may be a Stevie Nicks composition, the entire band plays a significant role in delivering one of Fleetwood Mac’s most haunting songs. Some may argue for including “Rhiannon” on this list, but this one fits better. “Sisters of the Moon” was featured on their 1979 album Tusk.  In “Sisters of the Moon,” Nicks’ haunting vocals are accompanied by Lindsey Buckingham’s distinctive guitar work that will blow your mind. Those two are so connected in such a haunting way which is so elevated on this track.

The song is characterized by its atmospheric and somewhat foreboding tone, with Nicks’ lyrics delving into themes of mysticism, darkness, and the feminine divine. The line “Intense silence as she walked in the room” captures the enigmatic presence of the song’s protagonist, adding to the track’s ethereal and otherworldly ambiance. While the song did not achieve significant chart success, it became a fan favorite, particularly for its live performances that often featured Nicks’ dramatic and captivating stage presence. The song’s lyrical content, rich in imagery and symbolism, has been subject to various interpretations.

# 3 – Funeral For A Friend/ Love Lies Bleeding

One of Elton John’s most significant compositions and recordings most definitely had to be included on this list. From the first sounds of the wind to that bone-chilling church organ that appears at the song’s start, this one is one of the most haunting songs in rock and roll history. Most will argue that it is only the first half of the song that is fueled by sadness and sorrow, but even in the transitions, there is still a feeling of loss and longing. You think it may resolve as Elton John shifts from his minor keys in the first half to the rocking major keys in the second half. However, Bernie Taupin’s lyrics keep it painful when Elton sings, “It kills me to think of you with another man.”

# 2 – Riders On The Storm

This one has everything you need. The song opens with the sound of rain and thunder that is soon overthrown by Ray Manzarek’s chilling Fender Rhodes electric piano playing and Robby Krieger’s creepy guitar licks. If that wasn’t enough to change your state of existence, Morrison’s deep, God-like Baritone sealed the deal. What is so haunting about this recording outside of the song itself is that it was one of the last songs recorded by The Doors before Morrison’s death in July 1971.

Lyrically, “Riders on the Storm” delves into themes of existentialism, life’s precarious nature, and the human condition, with Morrison’s poetry painting vivid imagery of a journey through a storm, both literally and metaphorically. The line “Into this house we’re born, into this world we’re thrown” echoes philosopher Martin Heidegger’s concept of ‘thrownness,’ which describes humans’ individual existences as being thrown into the world without their choice, highlighting the song’s deep philosophical underpinnings and haunting thoughts

 # 1 – The End

“The End” is the second of two Doors songs on this 10 Most Haunting Songs In Rock Music list. We could have easily added a few more from Jim and the boys, but we wanted to keep the spots open for other artists. This was the first one we thought of when the idea for this list was born. “The End” was featured on their eponymous debut album, The Doors, released in 1967.

Originally conceived as a breakup song, “The End” evolved into an 11-minute opus that blended elements of rock, poetry, and Indian raga, indicative of the band’s willingness to push musical boundaries. Morrison’s dark, poetic lyrics are central to the song’s narrative, exploring themes of love, death, and Oedipal conflict, culminating in a dramatic and controversial spoken word section. The song’s improvisational approach during recording sessions, particularly Morrison’s haunting delivery and the band’s atmospheric instrumentals, contributed to its mystical and timeless quality. The whole part about the snake still freaks me out, but not as much as what comes next.

10 Most Haunting Songs In Rock Music article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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