Top 5 Scariest Songs In My Collection

(originally aired on Nov. 7, 2008 — the Halloween special)

Hi, everybody! (Hi, Dr. Nick!)

Did you all have a fun and romantic Valentine’s Day? Did you get to spend some quality time with your sweetheart? Take him/her out to dinner, maybe see a movie, trade cutesy little gifts, that sort of thing? Are you still on a high from a weekend full of love and happiness?

I hope so…

Because I’m about to completely obliterate that high.

For my Halloween special back in November (I would have done this on Halloween, but I was in Philadelphia for the World Series parade), I decided to count down the five scariest songs I possess in my collection. Some of these songs made the list for creating a spooky atmosphere. Other songs are here for their lyrical concepts. And there might be one or two that are able to effectively combine the two. Brace yourselves, everyone.

But first…

Honorable Mention: Radiohead, “Like Spinning Plates”

Picture this…

You’ve been dropped into a bottomless river — or at least, it seems that way. You keep sinking and sinking and sinking, deeper and deeper. There are no signs of aquatic life or any objects you can cling to in hopes of slowing your descent. Not that you’d know, because you can barely see past your own face. You have no idea how much deeper the water is, and frankly you don’t want to find out, but at the moment it would seem that you have no choice. You look down. Your feet are bound together, tied with a rope that extends farther downward where it is wrapped around a boulder. You try to swim to the surface, hoping you can overpower the weight of the sinking boulder as it drags you toward the bottom. You can’t. You panic. You bend forward and pull your feet as close to your outstretched hands as you can. Can you reach them? Yes! And so you begin frantically tugging at the rope, undoing the knots as fast as you possibly can, all the while envying the precious air bubbles that escape your nostrils and whoosh past your ears as they rush to the surface. Your lungs are throbbing, begging you to inhale. Soon you can no longer resist and fill them with the murky water. The coughing and gagging only makes things worse — your lungs still need air and now you’ve been distracted from your task. So you ignore the pain as much as possible as you get back to work. But now you’re weaker. Your fingers are slipping. You’re feeling dizzy. A little drowsy, even… and just as your feet finally come loose, you succumb to the overwhelming darkness. There are no black-eyed angels to swim with you, and all your lovers — past and future — are nowhere to be found.

Got all that? Welcome to the state my mind enters whenever I listen to “Like Spinning Plates,” a song so disturbing it manages to haunt you no matter how you try to approach it. The ominous backwards melody creates a constant mood of uneasiness. Thom Yorke’s voice is distorted to sound backwards as he delivers images of men being fed to lions and “bodies floating down the muddy river.” The strings in the background play a soft, melancholy melody. And even if you listen to the piano-only live version, it still sucks you in with pretty arpeggios and vocal lines so it can treat you to all the gruesome horror of Yorke’s lyrics. It’s beautiful and brutal and utterly tragic all at once. If ever a song existed that could aptly be described as “hauntingly lovely,” “Like Spinning Plates” would be that song. And it’s not even the scariest song from the Amnesiac era…

I’m just getting warmed up, people. None of the other write-ups will be that long, but still… here we go.

5. Queens Of The Stone Age, “Mosquito Song”

The acoustic guitar is usually associated with relaxing pop songs or charming ballads or sad and intimate songs. Queens Of The Stone Age don’t really do any of that stuff. Instead, they put together what is quite possibly the most morbid acoustic song you’ll probably ever hear, unless someone like Slayer or Cannibal Corpse agrees to do an unplugged set, which will probably never happen because it wouldn’t make any sense at all. The lyrics in “Mosquito Song,” the closing bonus track from Songs For The Deaf, are what “The Circle Of Life” probably would have been if Elton John wanted to scare the shit out of all the kids whose parents took them to see The Lion King. “We all will feed the worms and trees,” Josh Homme sings, “so don’t be shy.” In other words, you’re going to die, there’s not a damn thing you can do about it, and the only thing that happens after that is the worms making a meal out of your cold, dead, rotting flesh. How very pleasant.

4. Metallica, “Ride The Lightning”

The concept of a painful death via the electric chair is a pretty scary thought, unless you’re Marv from Sin City (famous last words: “Is that the best you can do, you pansies?”). James Hetfield’s narrator knows what’s going to happen and that he can’t stop it, but that doesn’t stop him from begging “PLEASE GOD, HELP ME! I don’t want to die!” Plus, this song always makes me think of that scene from The Green Mile where they don’t wet the sponge on that guy’s head AND HE CATCHES ON FIRE WHILE HE’S STILL ALIVE, which remains to this day one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever seen in a film. (Granted, I don’t watch a lot of scary movies, but still…)

Enjoy, everybody.

Also, I considered putting “One” on this list, especially because of this part: “DARKNESS! IMPRISONING ME! ALL THAT I SEE! ABSOLUTE HORROR!” You know how it goes, Metallica fans. And then I saw this picture…

I wish I could rock the flannel shorts as good as James Hetfield does.

I wish I could rock the flannel shorts as good as James Hetfield does.

…and suddenly it got a lot less scary. It’s still my favorite part of the song, though.

3. Radiohead, “The Amazing Sounds Of Orgy”

Remember when I said “Like Spinning Plates,” as creepy as it is, wasn’t even the scariest song from the Amnesiac era? Say hello to the scariest. And this is the era that produced the following…

  • “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors,” in which Thom Yorke is transformed into a robot who talks about “trapdoors that you can’t come back from” over a freaky electronic beat;
  • “Knives Out,” quite possibly the catchiest song ever written about cannibalism (it’s also my ring tone);
  • “Kinetic,” which prominently features a creepy backing vocal line;
  • “Life In A Glasshouse,” a jazzy funeral march which can be interpreted as Yorke either being too afraid to keep talking to you because “someone’s listening in” or knowing that you’ve been listening to him all along and being too afraid of you to talk anymore;
  • “Trans-Atlantic Drawl,” which begins as a fast-paced rocker and suddenly morphs into a haunting electronic instrumental

“The Amazing Sounds Of Orgy”? More like “The Amazing Sounds Of Your Worst Fucking Nightmares.” This is a song that you do not want to listen to with the lights off, because if you do THE MONSTERS IN YOUR CLOSET WILL JUMP OUT AND EAT YOU. Plus, there’s a line in there about “the amazing sound of the killing horde the day the banks collapse on us,” which almost sounds prophetic of the current state of the U.S. economy. Or at least it does if you think like Spin columnist Chuck Klosterman. In his book Killing Yourself To Live, Klosterman theorized that Radiohead accidentally predicted the 9/11 terrorist attacks with Kid A. Between Klosterman’s theory and my grasping at straws, it would seem that Thom Yorke is quite the accidental prophet, eh?

And while we’re on the subject of Amnesiac being scary, Last Plane To Jakarta has a series of interesting pieces analyzing the songs on Amnesiac that all come together to explain just how scary that album really is. Check it out…

1. Intro/”Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box”

2. “Pyramid Song”

3. “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors” (click the orange text for more)

4. “You And Whose Army?”

5. “I Might Be Wrong”

6. “Knives Out”

7. “Morning Bell/Amnesiac”

8. “Dollars & Cents”

9. “Hunting Bears”

10. “Like Spinning Plates” (click the pink text for more)

11. “Life In A Glasshouse”

2. Aphex Twin, “Come To Daddy”

Is it any surprise that the song that inspired quite possibly the scariest music video ever is on a list of the scariest songs in my collection? Chris Cunningham is a master at making disturbing music videos (“Rubber Johnny,” anyone?), and he’s at the top of his game here, what with all the identical midgets and the freakish monster crawling out of the TV. Oh, and the song’s freaky as hell too. Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin) wants to eat your soul. And I wouldn’t take him very lightly if I were you.

So now we’re down to the last song… the scariest in my collection. What could it be? Here, I’ll give you some hints…

Brutal thrashing drumbeats.

Morbid lyrics, each line filled with disturbing and hellish images.

Guitars that scream and shriek like victims in a slasher movie.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Hey, that sounds like a Slayer song!”

It is.

1. Slayer, “Raining Blood”

Sweet dreams, everybody.

*insert Vincent Price laughter here*

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6 responses

  1. evolkween

    Nice blog! Where the hell is that second Radiohead track from? I love it! I’ve never heard it before??? So hard to keep up with all their b-sides, bootlegs etc.

    February 20, 2009 at 1:29 am

    • colfrat

      “The Amazing Sounds Of Orgy” is a B-side on the “Pyramid Song” EP. You can find it on Amazon and iTunes. There are two versions of the “Pyramid Song” EP out there, and the one with “The Amazing Sounds Of Orgy” is album-only on Amazon.

      It’s also included in this absolutely massive bootleg compilation called “Towering Above The Rest,” which features tons of Radiohead B-sides, demos, remixes, live performances… you name it, it’s in there, and it’s available on a lot of torrent sites.

      February 20, 2009 at 3:00 am

  2. Jen

    Sufjan Steven’s “John Wayne Gacey Jr.” Scariest, song, ever. Again, amazing an acoustic song can make me want to cry a little.

    April 8, 2009 at 1:46 am

  3. Mad Bluebird

    BAD MOON RISING by CREDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL,GHOST RIDERS IN THE SKY,HOTEL CALIFORNIA by THE EAGLES,

    August 30, 2009 at 8:28 pm

  4. LONNIE D

    “CHUCKIE” – BUSHWICK BILL (GETO BOYS)

    “I HAVENT FIGURED OUT A WAY, TO GET MY FIST OUT YOUR FOREHEAD”. “INSIDE HER CHEST THEY FOUND 10,000 PENCILS”.

    April 30, 2011 at 11:31 am

  5. Matt

    If you hear “Burdensome Blood” or “Beetown” by Caroliner Rainow Open Wound Chorale, you will never view these songs you have posted the same. Caroliner makes those bands sound holy. “Burdensome Blood” is about a man in the Wisconsin Death Trip going out in kidnapping children and sawing off their limbs and sewing them to his own body so he would have more arms and legs. I can’t even tell you what Beetown is about. If you listen to those both, you won’t be disappointed. You may even hate the songs, but you’ll have respect for their scare factor and creativity.

    June 24, 2014 at 4:19 am

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