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Deep Cuts: Songs that Give you the Creeps

Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)

Artist: Nancy Sinatra

Album: How Does That Grab You?

Released: January 1, 1966

     Originally written by Sonny Bono and recorded by Cher, this song has been covered by a number of great artists since then, but no version is quite so captivating—and unsettling—as Nancy Sinatra’s. Her vocals are languid and sultry, underpinned by a deep sense of melancholia. Though not necessarily creepy, the aura of nostalgic gloom in this song gets under one’s skin in an uncomfortable sort of way. The distorted guitar that echoes each line Sinatra sings, as if it was a mournful afterthought to her verse, accentuates this. This song resonates the deep violence that sometimes accompanies a broken heart.

John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

Artist: Sufjan Stevens

Album: Illinois

Released: July 5, 2005

When notorious serial killer and rapist John Wayne Gacy Jr.—responsible for the deaths of at least 33 young men—is the subject of a song, there’s no way that it could be anything but horrifying. However, Sufjan Stevens is not one for the cheap thrill, and his telling of the “Killer Clown” story is nuanced and thought provoking. The scariest thing about it is not the reference to the violence of Gacy; rather, that it forces the listener to empathize with him—however briefly. Stevens’ beautifully sung lyrics paint a rich snapshot into the psychology of a deranged murderer, and beg the listener to accept that although most people are not driven to commit the atrocities carried out by Gacy, we all have our own demons to battle.

Dead Hearts

Artist: Dead Man’s Bones

Album: Dead Man’s Bones

Released: October 6, 2009

“Dead Hearts” could be deemed a folksy lament: A song that seems to capture the chaotic and yet unbearably slow process of grieving for lost love. The nearly monotone vocals, repetitive strumming, and pulsing heartbeat throughout the song capture the monotony of grief; but the cacophony of exploding light bulbs somewhere in the middle serves as a reminder that it is not a smooth ride. The song builds slowly with an array of unusual sounds and then fades out with no real sense of closure, leaving the listener with a haunting feeling.

No Death

Artist: Mirel Wagner

Album: Mirel Wagner

Released: January 28, 2012

The endlessly recycled theme of undying love is darkly twisted in Mirel Wagner’s “No Death,” a song about a man, who, refusing to accept the passing of his lover, turns to necrophilia. The recording is sparse, nothing but her hypnotically repetitive acoustic guitar picking and haunting vocals. The raw bareness, rather than feeling incomplete, creates an uncomfortably intimate listening experience, allowing you to fully absorb the visceral imagery Wagner presents. Its story is bone-chillingly vivid with lyrics like, “Her hair is long/ Still smells like mud/ She answered to my kiss/ With a rotten tongue/ No death can tear us apart.”

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