It's Halloween week, which means I start thinking about freaky things like ghosts and things that go bump in the night and, yeah, serial killers. When it comes to writing music about murderers and psychotics, pop's songbook has quite a lot of offerings, so I give you my Top 10 Songs about Serial Killers. No, "Every Breath You Take" isn't on it. But feel free to add your own favorites in the comments.
10. Interpol, "Evil"
The puppet in the video gets into a fiery car crash, but the subject matter of "Evil," the best song on Interpol's 2004 release, Antics, is even more gruesome. The aptly titled "Evil" seems to have been inspired by the true story of the English serial killers Fred and Rosemary West, a married couple who tortured and murdered at least 12 females in the 70s. With that background knowledge, "Evil" becomes a freakish kind of love song from Fred to Rosemary -- "Rosemary/ Heaven restores you in life/ You're coming with me/ Through the aging, the fearing, the strife."
9. Neko Case, "Deep Red Bells"
Case wrote "Deep Red Bells," off 2002's dark-country-noir Blacklisted, as a recollection of being a young woman in Seattle while the Green River Killer was at large. Case's booming vocals are made even more haunting by chilling lyrics like, "Does your soul cast about like an old paper bag/ Past empty lots and early graves/ Those like you who lost their way/ Murdered on the interstate/ While the red bells rang like thunder."
8. Warren Zevon, "Excitable Boy"
From Zevon's 1978 macabre album of the same name, "Excitable Boy" tells the story of a boy who takes some poor soul named Suzie to the junior prom before killing her -- possibly to make her into a pot roast -- and then digging up her body ten years later to make a cage out of her bones. And I thought my prom was sucked. In the above video, another excitable boy, Patrick Bateman, makes a bloody mess in American Psycho to the tune of Zevon's bloody song.
*This video is gross and bloody.
7. The Beatles, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer"
John Lennon reportedly hated this song and initially refused to record any part of it, but Paul McCartney has defended the bouncy but murderous "Maxwell Silver Hammer" by saying, "If it's good enough to take to your psychiatrist, it's good enough to make a song of." In the famously twisted tune, the fictitious medical student Maxwell Edison kills his date, Joan, by whacking her in the head with his favorite silver hammer, the same weapon that eventually ends his own life. Bang bang, clang clang, indeed.
6. Talking Heads, "Psycho Killer"
1977's "Psycho Killer" was the Talking Heads' first big hit -- the song's lyrics are written from the perspective of a serial killer. (David Byrne has said that he was inspired by movie bad guys like the Joker and Hannibal Lecter.) The song made a catch phrase of the line "psycho killer, qu'est-ce que c'est?" and in its climax features some very good advice for anyone who has the bad luck to be faced with any of these evil Lecter types -- "Run run run run run run away!"
5. Bruce Springsteen, "Nebraska"
Springsteen's seminal 1982 record Nebraska was themed around the story of 19-year-old Charles Starkweather, who in late 50s took a road trip around Nebraska and Wyoming with his 14-year-old girlfriend, murdering eleven people along the way. (He was eventually caught and executed). "Nebraska" the song is a rambling first-person narrative in which Springsteen -- as Starkweather -- sings, "I can't say that I'm sorry for the things that we done/ At least for a little while sir me and her we had us some fun... They wanted to know why I did what I did/ Well, sir, I guess there's just a meanness in this world."
4. Sonic Youth, "Death Valley '69"
1985's "Death Valley '69" is a wailing, horrifying, and ultimately unforgettable song -- Charles Manson-themed, the lyrics go, "I didn't wanna/ But she started to holler." It was also Sonic Youth's first music video, and the clip is as terrifying as the song. In it, members of the band, along with Lydia Lunch (who co-wrote the song with Thurston Moore), are shown lying about a house gruesomely dismembered. You'll see some intestines.
*This video is gross and bloody.
3. The Rolling Stones, "Midnight Rambler"
The dark and rollicking "Midnight Rambler" (off 1969's Let It Bleed) tells the sordid story of a rampant rapist and killer -- purportedly the Boston Strangler, who killed 13 single women in the early 60s by strangling them with their nylon stockings. In "Midnight Rambler," Mick Jagger sings, "honey, it's no rock 'n' roll show." Well, you got that right. Of the tune, Keith Richards once said, "[Violence, it's] just something that's there... I'd rather play it out than shoot it out."
2. Elliott Smith, "Son of Sam"
Elliott Smith was never one for traditional song topics. 2000's Figure 8 included the spirited "Son of Sam" -- despite its title and lyrics like, "couple killer, each and every time," Smith always insisted that the song was not directly about the real life Son of Sam, dog-conversing David Berkowitz, but rather inspired by some of his dream sequences. Regardless, it's a creepy song, and as with many Smith songs, the most stunning moment comes at the end of the song, which closes with Smith admitting, "I don't know what I am/
I'm a little like you, more like Son of Sam."
1. Sufjan Stevens, "John Wayne Gacy, Jr."
The song that sold me on Illinois -- yeah, it's a gimmicky album, but with a song this poignant, who really cares? And who knew your heartstrings could be tugged so by the story of a psychotic killer-rapist also horrifyingly known as Pogo the Clown? That part about Gacy's mother folding his t-shirts? Oh my God! Stevens really shows the extent of his boldness as a songwriter here -- by humanizing someone who really doesn't deserve to be humanized.