There is a recent Rolling Stone article titled The 50 Best Goth Songs Of All Time making the rounds, and my goodness are people pissed off about it. The main reason being that the author of the article is a noted historian on the goth subculture, Andi Harriman. Personally I think she is full of shit, based mainly on the fact that she writes for post-punk dot com, a very problematic website that I have covered on here before. It is run by a trust fund guy who is actively buying his way into the subculture. You are the company that you keep.
I read somewhere yesterday that dearest Andi has claimed that she was told by Rolling Stone to expand the list with famous bands that maybe weren’t goth in order to appease their audience. Instead of having standards she gave in and wrote it. I guess getting her name on the byline of a Rolling Stone article was more important than telling the truth of things. Go figure. So, come wander down this path of half-truths and outright lies with me. This is going to be fun! I will quote sections of the article and then give my response.
‘The scene was a torch passing of sorts. Murphy’s Bauhaus had helped invent goth during the early Eighties; Way had brought it to stripmalls and arenas in the 21st century. And, still, neither could answer a question that has haunted people for decades: What is goth?‘
Woman, My Chemical Romance is not a goth band. I repeat, My Chemical Romance is not a damn goth band. Just because a band dresses in black does not automatically mean that the band makes goth subculture music. It wasn’t passing a torch from Murphy to Way, it was more like Murphy spitting up in the air and his phlegm landed on Way. What is goth? A question that she sure as hell also doesn’t know how to answer.
Let’s travel back to 1983. A time when London’s Batcave club was in its infancy. There, the aesthetics of goth were cultivated—a love for horror movies and Gothic novels, a sickly pallor and a koosh ball of hair, pointy winklepickers and a mish-mash of fetish materials, and most of all, a romance with melancholy. ‘83 was also the year that vampire-thriller The Hunger, co-starring David Bowie, hit the big screens. Vampires, Bowie, Bauhaus – it was the perfect trifecta, beautifully bound in an orgy of tragic eternity.
Um…on the US West Coast during the same time there were bands doing the exact same thing. The Batcave was not the only place where goth music came into being and was born; it’s just the obvious easy answer that people repeat over and over and over….again. So much of this is repeated elsewhere that there are tons of people who weren’t even alive during the 80’s running around wearing Batcave shirts and patches right now. I was a teen in the 80’s in the San Francisco Bay Area and even though I was alive during those Batcave years I wouldn’t sport a shirt or patch of a place that I never went to. An orgy of tragic Eternity? It’s not an orgy if it is only attended by three people. Just saying.
The first batallion of dark 1970s post-punk bands fed off the energy of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character, an androgynous creature who didn’t quite seem human. The allure of Ziggy, mixed with the magnetism of Dracula (namely Christopher Lee, Udo Keir, and of course, Bela Lugosi) helped to assemble the essential iconography of the subculture– at once dreadful and oozing with sex appeal.
A whole lot of those bands came out of Los Angeles and not the Batcave; specifically Christian Death and 45 Grave, who both used darkly themed aesthetics in their stage performances. Alice Bag, who was in the early Los Angeles punk band The Bags with Patricia Morrison, actually goes into detail in her book Violence Girl as to how everything creatively morphed after the early punk scene there imploded due to the violence that was happening at shows. I highly recommend her book, because she was best friends with Morrison and her insight is very valuable.
And the sound? It’s atmospheric. Somewhere between a banshee scream or a bellowing, reverberated howl that could part the Red Sea, goth began as a transition point from the jaggedness of punk’s confrontational simplicity into an elegant darkness, one cloaked in sorrow and so much emotion. In order to achieve goth status, there must be as much drama as possible: the music, in true Hitchockian fashion, must be as frightening as a spiral staircase in a creaking haunted house.
Again, a whole lot of early goth bands were anything but elegant. Sex Gang Children, Virgin Prunes, Christian Death, etc…were all very confrontational and anything but elegant, but that was the appeal. You could speak up about how fucked up the world was along with looking like you were mourning it. Personally, that is one of the reasons why I have always been into goth music along with punk; they can be on different sides of the same coin.
Think of this list as a roadmap to that sound—from B-movie horror thrills, to reanimated rock and roll rituals, to complete sacrilege, bulging with blasphemy, bondage, blood and lots of bats. It’s a history that touches on subgenres like dream pop, hard rock, synthpop, and glam, that makes pit stops in Spain and Germany, pays homage at the doorsteps of black-clad country heroes and spooky blues legends, and dives into seedy art rock grottos and DIY punk venues. So pour yourself a goblet of red wine and hold your rosaries tight. It’s gonna be a long, dark night of the soul.
A roadmap to the sound? Then why the hell would you call this list ’50 Best Goth Songs Of All Time’? It should have been titled ‘music that influenced goth bands’ instead then. She should know better than to mislead people with this article, because right now there is a ton of misinformation about it. So much so that teens, and even adults, are running around calling themselves goth without listening to any of the actual music. Instead of trying to stop this crap she is doing her part to perpetuate it. Awwww…….how peachy-keen of her!
I am now going to briefly comment on each band on that list that are in no way goth, and give my reasoning for my opinion on each.
50. Strawberry Switchblade They were basically a pop band who happened to dress in a lot of polka dots. Seriously, that’s it. Plus, Rose McDowall got all cozy with Death In June, a very problematic band. A big huge thumbs down from me.
49. AFI This one is a huge WTF. I actually used to go to the punk club Gilman in Berkeley during the same years that Havok went there before he got famous. I just remember that he had the cover of TSOL’s album Dance With Me on the back of his leather jacket. The dude does like some deathrock music, but that doesn’t mean that he actually makes deathrock music. Their sound has morphed multiple times over the years, but it has never been strictly goth.
47. She Wants Revenge Members of this band have been accused of sexual assault. They opened a ‘goth’ club in Los Angeles and preceded to do nothing about their workers being sexually assaulted by their guests. Fuck this band up the ass with no lube. I guess our friend Andi is perfectly okay with all of this. Good to know.
45. My Chemical Romance Not a goth band folks. A band isn’t goth just because they dress in black and whine about their lives. The song she chose sounds like straight up pop punk, which is a music genre that really needs to jump off of a cliff.
44. Type O Negative This is one of the big bands that is always called goth by people who don’t know any better. Andi should know better, but apparently she thinks misinformation is okay as long as she gets the clicks. They are straight up metal and that is it.
43. Echo And The Bunnymen If I had a dollar for every single time a misinformed kid calls this band goth I would be a wealthy woman. They were never goth….at all. I actually saw them live in 1987, so I was around when they were big, and they were never called goth. The internet has been spreading this misinformed crap for the last decade. Sorry kids, just because a post-punk band made maybe one or two sad songs in the 80’s doesn’t make the band goth. Period. Thanks Andi for perpetuating this bullshit.
41. Suicide They have always been considered punk. That’s it.
38. Fad Gadget Their songs used to be played in the alternative/goth clubs I went to over 30 years ago, but that doesn’t mean the band was goth. I have always considered them to be a new wave band more than anything else.
36. Nine Inch Nails Seriously? Wahahahaha!!!! Industrial music, maybe, but definitely not a goth band. Nope, just a trust fund dude whining about how shit his life is while playing a keyboard.
33. Depeche Mode I have always loved their album Black Celebration, but is it a goth album? Synthpop definitely, but not really goth. They were an important goth gateway band for me in the 80’s, but they themselves were not a goth band. They could lead you down a road of discovery if that is where you wanted to go. A lot of people would just stop at them and not go any further, and I found such people to be boring as hell.
32. Johnny Cash I love some Johnny Cash, but was the dude goth? Nope, he was solidly a country musician who sang about dark subjects. Then again a lot of old school country bands did the same sort of thing and they don’t appear on this list. I think Andi only included him because of his Nine Inch Nails cover song, a band who is also not goth. Way to go Andi!
21. The Velvet Underground Definitely a proto-punk band, that is in no way goth.
12. Iggy Pop Again, a proto-punk band and not goth….at all. Iggy Pop’s music isn’t goth just because Ian Curtis hung himself while listening to one of his albums. I saw Iggy perform in the late 80’s and it sure as hell wasn’t a dark romantic performance; it was aggressive, energetic and punk as all hell. If he tours near you go and see him, he puts on an excellent show.
7. Joy Division They were a solid post-punk band and that is it. Ian Curtis killed himself before the subculture was even fully formed so I think sticking the music of the band into a goth box does it a disservice. Retroactively calling bands goth is just lazy and trite journalism. I wrote a whole article about how they were never a goth band. The only people who think they are goth are the kids running around who think that all sad songs must be goth. They couldn’t be more wrong.
6. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins Not a goth musician at all. I wouldn’t even call him proto-goth. However, I think the dude influenced the hell out of horror punk and shock rock. The Misfits even played some shows with him over forty years ago. Just because a musician uses dark theatrics doesn’t make said musician goth. That is unless you want to call both the Misfits and Alice Cooper goth.
4. David Bowie Again, yet another musician who was in no way goth but whose music influenced both punk and later goth musicians. His music is very important but it just isn’t goth, and that’s okay.
Well, that’s it folks. What lesson can we learn from this whole mess? That to some people getting an article in a mainstream music publication such as Rolling Stone is more important than actually telling the truth. Sad but true, and it is this attitude that is really hurting the subculture right now; fame at all costs, and if you have to step over people and lie to achieve it then so be it.