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The 13 Scariest Rock Songs

on October 21, 2019, 10:10am
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10. Sonic Youth – “Death Valley ’69”


The strangely tuned clanging of Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore’s guitars sometimes qualified as eerie, but this Bad Moon Rising single is downright scary. Seemingly drawing inspiration from the Manson murders (he and his family lived out in California’s Death Valley, and their murder spree occurred in ’69), Moore moans out lines from the perspective of a man out in the desert, angrily compelled to “hit it” when a girl screams, blurring the lines of violence and sex. Add in some pained backing howls from guest vocalist Lydia Lunch and Kim Gordon’s propulsive bass, and you’ve got a dark ride through an isolated gulch under a burning sky.

Moment the Spine Tingles: When Lunch and Moore flat line the words “Deep in the valley/ In the trunk of an old car.”

–Adam Kivel


09. The Fall – “Hip Priest”

Forget the fact that the song echoes throughout Buffalo Bill’s underground bunker in the skin-crawling climax of The Silence of the Lambs. “Hip Priest”, which was released on The Fall’s brilliant 1982 album, Hex Enduction Hour, is utterly terrifying in itself. That’s because it’s unwavering. “Hip Priest” isn’t a short slash at the jugular, a “boo” from behind a brick wall. For seven, slow-burning minutes, it just lingers there, beginning as an eerily soft jazz shuffle that peaks with a noisy mess of atonal guitars midway before falling back into near-nothingness.

Moment the Spine Tingles: At one point, Smith mumbles: “He’s not/ Appreciated.” And that’s when Nosferatu appears from behind the door frame.

–Dean Essner


08. Radiohead – “Climbing up the Walls”

OK Computer is far from monotonous, but one thing that’s consistent is the underlying tension that surrounds the sonics and is carried by Thom Yorke’s voice. You’d expect that tension to leak through in certain cathartic moments, but that doesn’t make them any less compelling. There’s the exhale of the album-closing “The Tourist”, the euphoria of “Let Down”, and the lasting horror of “Climbing up the Walls”. The hollow percussion and those creeping sound effects tell the story of some sort of stalker, told by a regularly off-putting Yorke in a distorted falsetto that portrays him at his most psychotic. It could be a recount of a homicide, or it could be a suicide. Or maybe some deeper existential crisis. However you interpret it, that parting yell isn’t going to leave your head for a while.

Moment the Spine Tingles: Thom Yorke yelling at the end as if he’s in the process of actually getting murdered.

–Brian Josephs


07.  Primus – “Mr. Krinkle”

You know when a murderer serenely and matter-of-factly explains that a little voice inside his or her head told them to cut up the mailman and decorate the neighborhood with body parts? Well, I’m pretty sure the voice they hear sounds something like Les Claypool’s twangy, pipsqueak vocals from “Mr. Krinkle” over that ghastly, severing bass part. Congratulations, Mr. Claypool. I think you’ve just soundtracked insanity. Not disturbing enough for you? Peep the video some time. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s Animal Farm’s Napoleon playing stand-up bass in that abandoned warehouse. Makes me want to ask for a pork soda to calm my nerves.

Moment the Spine Tingles: That demented bass that opens the song. At least in my head, it sounds like a chainsaw cutting through human bone — and enjoying itself to pieces.

–Matt Melis


06. Nirvana – “Polly”

“Polly” was inspired by the rape and torture of a 14-year-old girl in Tacoma, Washington. And that’s not the scary part. What makes “Polly” so profoundly unsettling is Kurt Cobain’s perspective, which occupies the mind of serial rapist and kidnapper Gerald Friend (yes, that is his real name). Against the skeletal strums of a $20 junk shop Stella, Cobain merges real-life details (rope, knife, blowtorch) with avian metaphors (“let me clip your dirty wings”) using the kind of sociopathic deadpan that’s light years more menacing than a shout, scream, or growl.

Moment the Spine Tingles: “Polly says her back hurts/ She’s just as bored as me.” *shudder*

–Randall Colburn


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