I’ve been listening to a lot of music lately, as one might do if fortunate enough to work from home. Heck, I’ve even put together some Spotify playlists myself during the last few weeks.
However, during idle listening, there’s been a few songs that stood out for being…different than the rest. A little haunted. A bit dark. And, yes, quite the deviation from all the rest.
So, here is a list of 5 songs (so far!) from just casual normal music streaming with horror elements or bizarre implications.
5) Ma Baker by Boney M (found on “Boogie Nights” playlist)
In disco, there are usually the following as topics of interest: dancing, crying, loving, not feeling like dancing, getting a heart broken, and dancing once you find love again. Usually it’s not about a killer gangster from Chicago.
Ma Baker is about “the meanest cat in town” that, with the aid of her four sons, “really mowed them down” and “left a trail of crime across the U.S.A.”. The song was inspired by real-life criminal and public enemy Ma Barker, who actually committed crimes with her four sons, and was killed in a shootout with the FBI in 1935. Hence the line, “she knew how to die.”
While nothing is really offensive and is kind of comical to hear about a 30’s gangster in 70’s slang, it’s still not expected when I throw on a disco station to get down and boogie.
4) Child Molester by The Nuns
This one actually came as not quite a recommendation from a boss but kind of, in a much better way than I’m stating right now. A boss of mine is really into collecting vinyl (I have a mini-passion for it) and he was excited to be able to play records while working from home. I asked him what he played that day because I needed some new things to stream. The first one he mentioned was The Nuns. I was unfamiliar with them.
I am now familiar with them and find him a much more interesting person.
That said…Child Molester. I couldn’t even find lyrics on this beast because no one wants to pay it attention and for good reason. It’s about, well…It’s in the perspective of the child molester, with all anger and rage of being left behind (possibly by a parental figure?) and was turned into this monster due to this rejection. It’s not exactly sympathetic, but it’s not exactly…not, either.
I’m not a punk rock aficionado, but the little I own don’t have anything to do with “walking around like a fiendish ghoul, picking up little 9-year-olds from elementary school” and have a lot more to do with drinking and beating ass.
3) In a Week by Hozier
Hozier is a musician that was kind of in the back of my mind for a while. I have “Take Me to Church” from when it first came out in 2014 and enjoy it from time to time, but never really dove into his other songs. So, when idly jumping around albums, his name came up and I started listening.
In a Week is deceptive. I listened to it a few times actually before really listening to it. It’s a gentle lilt of a song between Hozier and Karen Cowley, slow and sweet like molasses. Soft guitar and gentle voices carrying each other, like walking down a sunny path.
Until you hear the lyrics. Then you realize it’s a soft and gentle song about two corpses – becoming food for the foxes, laid claim by insects, the birds nearing them, scaring the cattle, and decaying together before being found a week later. It talks about their heartbeats slowing and their flesh growing cold, becoming food for the land and animals.
In a way, it’s still beautiful in a death-positive view. It’s not a suicidal type song like Don’t Fear the Reaper, it’s just a calm song about the process of death and the acceptance of that. There’s no malice or fear, just acceptance. Hauntingly open acceptance.
2) Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday (JAM: Jazz Appreciation Month Playlist)
I am well acquainted with this song, as I think you should be, too. It is one of the most powerful songs ever written and performed.
If you are unfamiliar, this song was written originally as a poem, published in 1937. The poem was inspired by a black-and-white photograph of the murders of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. Both had been beaten and lynched on August 7th, 1930 in Marion, Indiana in front of thousands of people.
The poem was put to lyrics and was offered to Billie Holiday. She accepted after consideration and fought for the right to record it. And let’s think about that. She was singing this as a standard during the 30’s and 40’s (aka not a great time to sing about this). It’s a very powerful and straight-forward song against lynching and the treatment of Black people.
Again, to put into perspective, lynchings were most frequent from 1890 to the 1920s. From 1882 to 1968, nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress, and three passed the House. Seven presidents between 1890 and 1952 asked Congress to pass a federal law. Yet not one bill was approved by the Senate. Between the 1877 and 1950 over 4,000 African-Americans were lynched in the South, and that’s not even talking about the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, where Black activists were routinely attacked and murdered. And to put it in more recent terms, the last reported lynching happened in 1981.
So, when Billie was singing about “blood on the roots” and Black bodies “swinging in the southern breeze” just like “fruit for the crows to pluck” and for “the sun to rot” on that day she recorded in 1939, this was a world she grew up in. It was the reality. She chose to confront it and face any consequence.
Am I saying that it shouldn’t be on the Jazz playlist? No, it absolutely should. But from going from lighthearted songs about sunny sides of streets and pennies from heaven to something so full of raw emotion and so haunting, it’s jarring. Meaningfully so.
1) Ruby (don’t take your love to town) by Kenny Rogers (R.I.P.)
Okay, what the actual f—. I started listening to some Kenny Rogers streams because 1) RIP and 2) my grandpa was a big fan and I vaguely remember it in the background of my childhood. So, I thought it would be a good time of remembering – of recollection and reflection of “grandpa” and the general campy “Southern-ness” that I’ve always associated with Kenny Rogers.
And then I heard Ruby.
It only gets worse as it goes along, too, kind of like the joke-story that starts out, “I’m sorry about your dog.” Except darker.
The song opens to a man watching his domestic partner getting herself gorgeous, and it’s not for a make-up tutorial. She’s going to town and our narrator asks her not to go out and sleep around with anyone. Oof, okay, they’ve hit a rough patch in the relationship.
The next verse we learn he’s a veteran of “that crazy Asian war” and that he’s no longer “the man [he] used to be”, but he still wants her to stay home and be with him. Ouch, okay, so he is suffering from PTSD and she’s pulling away, that’s hard.
It was the next few lines that got me.
“It’s hard to love a man whose legs are bent and paralyzed” Oh…oh God…that’s…
“But it won’t be long, I’ve heard them say, until I’m not around” Holy crap! Ruby! Will you just sit your ass down and play checkers with him or something?!
But no, the narrator tells us, “she’s leaving now ‘cause I just heard the slamming of the door/the way I know I heard its slams one hundred times before”. So, this isn’t the first rodeo of adultery between the couple and it’s no wonder why he’s so depressed.
Man, poor guy, maybe he could-
“And if I could move, I’d get my gun and put her in the ground”
Oh….wow. Well, that escalated quickly.
And it basically just ends there.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around this song. It’s weird when it’s sandwiched in his most popular love songs, like this, too, is a love song. And weirder that it was penned by the guy that wrote things like, “Stomp Them Grapes” and “Loco Weed”.
And the ending seems like an inevitability between the two – he has a gun, he only has a limited time left, he’s got nothing to lose…it all spells a very dark end for what I thought would be a fun romp down memory lane.