When one is a young, impressionable child, many things such as movies, TV shows - even commercials - and of course songs, can have an extraordinary effect on us. They can take us on Looking Glass trips that upset us and shake up our cloistered view of the world. They can be unsettling and scary, but can also open our eyes and free us to become more daring and creative. Here are ten songs that for various reasons disturbed my complacency as a child/adolescent and made the world seem both more frightening and more interesting. The title of this post comes from a Doors song (not on this list):
'In Every Dream Home a Heartache' - Roxy Music.
The sinister music pulled me into a dark world. The lyrics (about a sex doll) are darkly comic, but the music is pure horror.
'Woman Is the N%^&#$r Of The World' - John Lennon.
This appeared on his infamous 'protest album' The title itself seemed so audacious; I couldn't believe someone would write something like that. And the lyrics, about worldwide female oppression, really opened my eyes.
'Ticking' - Elton John.
Very jarring to have a song about a guy that snaps and shoots 14 people to death (based on a true event in Queens) appear on an Elton John song that I purchased because of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me". Not ready for that one! It frightened me so much I avoided listening to the album. I wasn't quite ready to deal with the horrors of this world.
'American Pie' - Don McClean
Long before I had any idea what the song was really about, the references to 'Satan laughing with delight' and the Holy Trinity catching 'the last train for the coast' made it seem so apocalyptic and sinister that it absolutely transfixed me.
'Eleanor Rigby' - The Beatles.
What else to say? I can still remember the puddles of tears that flowed from my eyes the first time I reaallly listened to this song.
'Aqualung' - Jethro Tull.
The song - or the whole album. The album is an existential, atheistic manifesto of sorts. But the title song's brash imagery; 'snot is running down his nose', 'eyeing little girls with bad intent', etc., pushed boundaries, and changed my ideas about what it is 'okay' to say in a song
'Don't Fear The Reaper' - Blue Oyster Cult.
Pretty obvious. This song weirded everybody out.
'A Day in the Life' - The Beatles.
The strange, eerie melody and skewed arrangement sets this song apart, and of course raises it to the pantheon of all time great rock songs. But the lyrics, 'he blew his mind out in a car' which had been preceded by 'but I just had to laugh; I saw the photograph', made the Beatles seem very dangerous and scary to me.
'Angie Baby' - Helen Reddy.
This wasn't a song I liked by any means, unlike the others here. But it got a lot of radio play when it first came out, and I was quite young. The story of a strange 'special' lady, who captures a man and shrinks him into her radio, where he remains her prisoner, really creeped me out, and I remember that creepy feeling returning each time the song happened to come on the radio.
'Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner' - Warren Zevon
This song introduced me to a world I didn't even know existed as a budding teenager, the world of mercenary soldiers. The proper nouns in the song, 'The Bantu', 'The Congolese', 'The Land of the Midnight Sun', 'Biafra' etc. spoke of a world so much bigger than I had ever considered from my shelter in Columbus Ohio. And the story of a ghost, moving over the landscape of the various insurrections and civil wars taking place all over the world (which I had thought/known very little about) was so absurd and surreal that it was truly unlike any song I had ever heard before. What sort of mind creates a song like this? I wondered.
Part of the reason I am an artist today, and one who creates in the way I do, is attributable to the effects these ten songs had on me.