In earlier posts, I suggested Five Songs to Inspire Writers and Five Songs to Inspire Fantasy Writers, but sometimes, you’re trying to scare the pants off your readers. Or, to paraphrase Steven King, if you can’t scare your readers, you can always gross them out. In any case, sometimes you’re looking for songs that’ll pump you up to put the wickedest, scariest, most horrifying imagery on the page you can think of. When that’s what you need, try one of the following songs for inspiration.
5. Number of the Beast, Iron Maiden (1982)
This one’s just a classic, and really has the vibe of some 1970s Satanic cult exploitation movie. When I hear this song, I always picture the narrator as a teenager stumbling across a cult in the woods some night on his way home, staring wide-eyed as they prepare a human sacrifice, only to make a noise and everybody turns and notices him, and he has to run. Basically, that’s inspiration for a story right there. Give it a listen and see if it inspires you the same way.
4. Bloodletting, Concrete Blonde (1990)
Darkly atmospheric, this is definitely the best vampire song out there. What I like about this song is how specifically you can picture the scene. The narrator has just been turned to a vampire and they need to think about their next move: I got the ways and means to New Orleans/ I’m going down by the river where it’s warm and green/ I’m going to have a drink and walk around/ I guess I got a lot to think about. If your aspiration is to be the next Anne Rice, this is the song for you to listen to.
3. I Put a Spell on You, Screaming Jay Hawkins (1956)
This has been covered by other bands a few times, but the original is still the best. Once, when my daughter was four years old, my music was streaming on random and this song came up, and my daughter remarked that the singer “sounds like a bad guy.” And it’s true, he does sound like a bad guy! If you need to get in the mindset of a horror villain, this is a great tune to get you there.
2. Howl, Beware of Darkness (2012)
I know the traditional song for werewolves is Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London, but as much as I love that song, I have to say Beware of Darkness is who you want to go with for authorial inspiration. It’s aggressive and really taps into the bestial, even erotic appeal of the werewolf. Plus, you just can’t top the lyrics: Catch me if you can/ I’m a hungry man. Yep, if you’re writing a werewolf story, Howl is the song to put on to put you in the mood.
1. State Trooper, Bruce Springsteen (1982)
I mentioned I Put a Spell On You as a good song to put you in the mindset of a villain. But if you need to get into the brain of a psychopath-I mean a real Hannibal Lector type–then this is the song to go with. Written from the perspective of a serial killer driving the New Jersey Turnpike on a rainy night, this one still scares me every time I listen to it. In fact, it gets into the serial killer’s viewpoint so well, it really makes you wonder about Bruce Springsteen. Use that to your advantage, and listen to this song when you need to write a character who’s a real nasty piece of work.
Honorable Mention: What’s He Building, Tom Waits (1999)
I originally meant for this to go somewhere on the list, but couldn’t quite justify it, as it’s more a spoken word thing, a poem with sound effects maybe, than an actual song. Nevertheless, it’s creepy as hell and deserves a place here somewhere. After you listen to it a couple times, you start to realize that it’s not the guy in the garage you need to watch out for, it’s the narrator who lives across the street and is watching his neighbor’s every move. The song is not really about the garage guy, whatever it is he’s up to–it’s about paranoia. Brilliantly done, and this should be inspiring for somebody.