The dark retro age of danceable desperation

Amongst the fluoro colours of the 80s there were delightful glimpses of black. While Prince prowled in purple and MC Hammer glittered in gold (and don’t get me started on his ultra-baggy pants), there were also musicians who smeared themselves in black makeup, teased their hair to Tim Burton-esq heights, and dipped themselves in tar and feathers (I’m thinking of the underrated Fad Gadget – for example, check out his song Collapsing New People).

Some might associate retro music with Madonna and Boy George, but for me 1979 to 1990 was a beautifully dark age of danceable desperation: an age where there was no such thing as too much hairspray or angst, and self-consciousness was a dirty compound word. And on that note, here are my top 10 dark (arguably goth) retro songs:

1) Spellbound – Siouxsie and the Banshees

Frenetic, frantic, fevered and fantastic. That’s all I’m going to write about this classic. Actually, that’s a lie. I also want to be nerdy enough to suggest you listen to the guitar. John McGeoch is considered one of the best guitarists of all time due in large part to his work on this song.

2) More – by Sisters of Mercy

You’ve got to love a swaggering operatic rock song that contains lines such as “There are parts of me that don’t get nervous – but not the parts that shake.”

3) Charlotte Sometimes – by The Cure

Just as Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights was inspired by the book of the same name, Charlotte Sometimes was inspired by a children’s book written by Penelope Farmer and its lyrics follows the book’s plot (and even wording) closely – and is just as haunting.

4) Bloodletting – Concrete Blonde

Following the literary theme, this is based on the Anne Rice vampire novels (such as Interview with a Vampire) and is a rollicking goth anthem with a chorus you can chant to while shaking your crucifix.

5) She’s Lost Control – Joy Division

I adore everything about this song – but especially the line (in the extended version): “I could live a little … in a wider line”.

6) Blue Monday – New Order

An odd cross between Kraftwerk and disco, this was one of the best selling singles of all time and had a generation of people popping ecstasy while dancing to the sound of a man singing in monotone. Orgy made a goth cover in the 90s that was also a hit – but in this case, I prefer New Order’s versions (they redid this several times).

7) Are Friends Electric? – Gary Numan

We sometimes forget that before there was Nine Inch Nails – or industrial music for that matter – there was an odd, pale guy with a synthesiser writing extremely creepy and beautifully unique songs such as Are Friends Electric? This was one of the first songs to use a synthesiser to provide rhythm – but I have to admit I prefer Numan’s recent cover of his own song that uses distorted guitars and a highly aggressive drummer instead:

8) Policy of Truth – Depeche Mode

As someone who’s obsessed with words, I’m usually disappointed with song lyrics – after all, they’re usually banal at best and often border on the ludicrous. But then, once in a while, I’ll come across a song like this:

9) Killing Moon – Echo and the Bunnymen

Ok, this isn’t a song to dance to at all, but I wanted to add it to the list because it is so restrained – and I love the line “fate up against your will”.

10) She Sells Sanctuary – by The Cult

This is actually an optimistic, rather than desperate, song. Quite frankly, I’m just including it because it rocks.

Do you think I missed any songs that should have been on this list? Then you can bugger off. Alternatively, you can list it below in the comments section. Whatever floats your boat.

5 Comments The dark retro age of danceable desperation

    1. Dan Kaufman

      You know, I’ve listened to Nag, Nag, Nag a few more times since writing my last comment and I must admit: it’s (slowly) growing on me …

      Reply
  1. TheLadyHamilton

    I dance crazed my way in the mid 90s through too many German discotheques to these songs. Good selection, but what about … Visage, ‘Fade to Gray’; Bauhaus ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’?

    Reply
    1. Dan Kaufman

      As someone who’s never been to a German discotheque, I’m jealous.

      Fade to Grey is a good suggestion – the older I get, the more I like it.

      I thought about Bela Lugosi’s Dead, simply because it is such a seminal track. I was in a frenetic state of mind when I wrote this feature, though, and in retrospect the songs I chose reflected that … but if I were to write a top 10 atmospheric goth songs list, this would be at the top of the list.

      Reply

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