Since, it’s October now, it’s never too early to celebrate the greatest holiday ever. No not Thanksgiving, pilgrim! No, not Christmas you elf. Halloween! So, cottagemixtape.com has assembled the Top 10 Greatest Rock Songs About Ghosts!
Eagles – “Hotel California”
Maybe one of the most popular rock songs of all time and a staple of rock radio, love it or hate it, it’s the Eagles’ “Hotel California“. Now, it has been discussed at length that the song is about the excesses of the L.A. scene and in some ways America as a whole. Lyrically, The Hotel California seems to be haunted with restless spirits. These debauched souls indulge in one depravity or another, and are discussed at length like a “Monster Mash”-style laundry list. The song describes a weary traveller who stops at the hotel, who hears voices down corridors:
So I called up the Captain
“Please bring me my wine”
He said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969”
And still those voices are calling from far away
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say
“Spirit” of course here being a double entendre for a drinking spirit or a ghost. However, the whole scene has a ghostly quality, like The Shining. Later on Don Henley sings: “And she said, “We are all just prisoners here of our own device.” No not a literal device (like your phone), but you do get some sense that this is a kind of purgatory, a prison of their own making. Like Dante’s Inferno, where the hero moves through a kind of shadow world. Regardless, ever since its release “Hotel California” has haunted rock radio.
Listen To The Eagles’ “Hotel California” on Cottage Country Mix Vol. 7:
The Specials – “Ghost Town”
Ghost cities, clubs closing down, financial crises?! Sounds like 2020 but these are the broader themes of the Specials’ “Ghost Town” from 1981. A rugged UK ska/punk track from the 80s that has long been the staple of Halloween playlist and horror movie soundtracks alike, including Shaun Of The Dead. Here, the Specials were singing about their experiences of touring and seeing first hand of the plight of cities across the UK under Thatcher’s rule, and on top of this the band themselves were unravelling. Currently, under Covid, “Ghost Town” has become as relevant as ever.
The Ramrods – “Ghost Riders In the Sky”
Sometimes referred to as simply “Riders In The Sky“, the original composition was by Stan Jones and his Death Valley Ranchers and featured lyrics and vocals. Inspired by the Native American concept of “spirits in the sky”, the song has has been covered numerous times. Here, as instrumental track by the Ramrods, that slows the tempo down and builds it to a Morricone-esque crescendo. Admittedly, it sounds a bit more like a cattle rustle, than a rock and roll haunting but there is definitely a spooky quality to this early rock instrumental version of “Riders“. Although the original version has been cited as the inspiration for The Doors’ “Riders Of the Storm“, the Ramrods version from 1962 must have been fresh in their minds. Interesting for us at cottagemixtape.com (dedicated to rock and roll and the great outdoors) the original creator, Stan Jones, use to work for the parks department.
Gordon Lightfoot – “Ghosts of Cape Horn”
Ghosts in the sky, well if you want ghosts on the water you need not go farther than Canada’s own Gordon Lightfoot. Sea shanties and sailing life are always popular subjects with the legendary singer/songwriter, including the “Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald“. Here, “Ghosts Of Cape Horn” talks about the ghost ships and crew that journey through Cape Horn, a once popular passage for trade near Haiti. Although, the language is a bit ambiguous. Are they weary travellers, worn down by the strains of travel or are they full-fledge ghosts?
See them all in sad repair
Demons dance everywhere
Southern gales, tattered sails
And none to tell the tales
R. Dean Taylor – “There’s A Ghost In My House”
Sometimes a “haunting” is the grief of losing a loved one. I know: “sounds real scary doesn’t it, kids!?” Well, in the case of R. Dean Taylor’s song, “There’s A Ghost In My House” it is just that. Born in Toronto, Ontario, R. Dean Taylor got his first big hit with “There’s A Ghost In My House”, which was written by the legendary team of Brian Holland, Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier from Motown for the Motown label but when it came time to promote the song, the label “ghosted” as it were. The song eventually became a big hit in the UK in the Northern Soul circuit and in Canada, as well. In the 80’s, UK experimental punk band, The Fall, would cover the song.
Suicide – “Ghost Rider“
One of the most iconic punk rock bands in history, never played guitars but used cheap electronics, raw emotion and a rockabilly beat. Yes, we are talking about NY punk rockers, Suicide. The song “Ghost Rider” was inspired by the Marvel comic book character of the same name. The story goes Johnny Blaze a stunt driver sells his soul to the devil, which in many ways draws parallels to Robert Johnson’s mythology and thus, rock and roll itself. However, Alan Vega (RIP) and Martin Rev transform the idea into something more foreboding and visceral than any comic. With it’s combination of cosmic spirituality and nighttime travel, you could say it’s very much in the tradition of songs like “Ghost Riders In The Sky“.
Ghost rider motorcycle hero
Hey, baby, be be be be, he’s a blazin’ away
Like the stars, stars, stars in the universe
Suicide’s “Ghost Rider” appears on Cottage Country Mix Vol. 21:
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – “Spirits In The Night”
When they weren’t “Blinded By The Light“, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band were experiencing other supernatural phenomenon with “Spirits In The Night“. Both songs were originally written by Bruce Springsteen, who coincidentally was also friends with the band Suicide (whoa, weird). Here, “Spirits In The Night” talks about Wild Billy, who convinces some friends to go a place called Greasy Lake to party. Sounds like the making of horror movie,(so maybe don’t bring ‘Killer Joe’). Evidently, the group of friends party throughout the night near the lake like restless spirits as it were.
King Diamond – “The Family Ghost”
Some people have a family cat or dog, or maybe even a family gerbil not King Diamond, he has a family ghost and family ghost problems. The ex-Mercyful Fate singer with his characteristic banshee falsetto, delivered this heavy metal gem from the Abigail album, along with this wicked video. Manic vocals and manic facial contortions relate this Edgar Allen Poe-style gothic story about a ghost that haunts an old castle. Personally, in his life, Diamond was a member of Anton LaVey’s Church Of Satan, which (amongst other things) got him in the bad books of the religious right during the 80s. Do you think it bothered Diamond? Nah, he probably laughed it off like the court jesters in this video.
Brian Eno & David Byrne – “The Jezebel Spirit”
When two musical forces get together, you know something supernatural is going to happen. From the album My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, this is Brian Eno & David Byrne’s “The Jezebel Spirit“. It contains audio from an actual exorcism, but exercised over some groovy bass and percussion work. The album was light years of everything and its influence could be heard on various styles preceding from experimental dance to Industrial music later (e.g. Ministry’s Land Of Rape & Honey (1988), especially on the deeper cuts).
Black Sabbath – “Black Sabbath”
Probably the most famous ghostly encounter ever in rock history (that seems to escape every list) the monumental, macabre song, “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath from the 1969 album…. Black Sabbath. “Black Sabbath” was an early defining song for the band not just because it shared the band’s name, but stylistically the song was macabre, dramatic, and drawn out in its brooding manner. So, sonically it defined them as well, as they turned over to the dark side, (dropping their first name Earth) and delving further into the heavy dark sound more than any other band at the time. For many “Black Sabbath” is the first Heavy Metal song, so in that respect, it is not only a defining moment for the band but the heavy metal genre as well. The song, “Black Sabbath” was inspired by real life supernatural events that happened to bassist Geezer Butler. He claims that after reading an occult book (borrowed from Ozzy, of course), he saw a looming figure in his sleep at the foot of his bed. When he awoke the book was gone. My theory, Ozzy ran out of papes and smoked it, although this cannot be confirmed.
Any ghost songs we missed? Comment below!