Perfect Sound Forever


by Trevor K. McNeil
(August 2013)

Goth music really came into form in the late-1970's. Bauhaus (originally Bauhaus 1919) had formed, prominent acts such as Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division were already making waves and a three-year-old combo previously known as The Easy Cure dropped the 'Easy' and released their debut album Boys Don't Cry (Three Imaginary Boys in the U.K.). It was an auspicious start but as with all things musical, this beginning had its roots reaching back over a decade before. Just as grunge sprang up in part from the Pixies and there could not have been a punk movement without the Stooges, The MC5 or The New York Dolls, the Goth sound has its own set of proto progenitors.

A British Invasion band with traces of the music that would become Goth is the Fab Four. Despite their wholesome, slightly goofy public image, the Beatles could have a bit of a dark side. This tip towards the morbid is most clearly evident in the "A Day in the Life". As the final song on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), it has a morbidly ironic execution, telling the story of someone dying in a car crash, one of the first things the narrator saying being "I could not help but laugh" upon hearing about it. The song also features a thunderous piano part at the end that sounds like it could well be a precursor to the keyboard/synthesizer parts utilized by bands such as Bauhaus and The Cure.

As one of the first bands to break out of the typical '60's rock sound both musically and in terms of style, the Velvet Underground were also one of the first bands, along with The Doors, to incorporate darker melodies into their sound- if not as a permanent feature then at least one that was used often. This is most strongly demonstrated on the song "Venus In Furs" (from their debut album, which came out a few months before Pepper), though the ones with the most similarity to what would become goth are "All Tomorrow's Parties" at least in terms of instrumentation, leaving aside the abysmal "vocals" groaned out by Nico and the glum abyss of "Heroin." In addition to the music, there is reason to think that Velvet's front man Lou Reed likely inspired the look of some famous goth practitioners, Sisters of Mercy front-man Andrew Eldritch in particular.

At about this time, Iron Butterfly were unleashing the mammoth epic, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" from the album of the same name released in 1968. At 17 minutes and 3 seconds in its full version, it was the only song on side-B of the original vinyl release. While not often thought of in the same context as the likes of Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus, the song, particularly at the beginning, has many of the hallmarks that would come to be associated with the genre, some of the exact instrumentation being approximated due to cruder technology, such as the electric organ, later replaced by the synthesizer.

The early seventies would see the release of Pink Floyd's Meddle, which has a sound distinct from later, better known Floyd albums such as Dark Side of the Moon (which itself has some goth leanings) and The Wall. With a driving, almost aggressive bass-line, other-worldly synthesizer effects and wavering guitar sound, I still half expect Peter Murphy to start singing at anytime, despite the album being mostly instrumental.

Though mostly thought of as an '80's band because their first album was not released until 1977, Suicide was formed in 1970, with their notoriously bleated debut actually being recorded in 1972 and is widely regarded as one of the most influential underground bands ever. Perhaps the closest relative to contemporary goth, their electro-punk sound consisting of vocals, synthesizer and drum machines is known to have influenced acts as diverse as Joy Division, Sisters of Mercy, Steve Albini of Big Black and accordionist Angel Corpus Christ who has made something of a career of covering Goth, Punk and metal bands.

Compiled by Jason Gross, Eric Kauz and David Welch
Notes by JG; special thanks to Robin Cook & Reuben Cervera

But wait, there's more... Collecting every sad, depressed song out there is a massive encyclopedia-length project but what we're interested in here is extreme, pathological misery, gruesome, blood-curdling tales, the bleakest of outlooks or ideally some combination of all of these which would later somehow manifest itself as what we know and love as 'goth.' Our other qualifier was chronological- the song or album had to come before Bauhaus' landmark 1979 debut single, which basically kicked off the whole genre.

Granted that the assembled performers below usually didn't wear black fingernail polish and moan about dead spirits always (though some of them actually did) but the spirit is there. Even with seventy-plus selections, we've definitely missed many goodies (not to mention classical, world music) and we'd like to hear about which ones you would have included here. Note that we purposely missed out on the many sappy '70's ballads that might qualify- if you must, you can get a whiff of some of those drippy dirges from that decade right here.

Two interesting trends to note here. First off, a lot of the album tracks come from debut records- ah, the young overly sensitive and dramatic years... Also, many other songs are title tracks, maybe meaning that the artists probably thought enough of them to make them into a major statements (or they couldn't think of another title).

And this really is a playlist so you use Spotify to listen and get your gloom on below.

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