Rob Crow shivers his way through the scariest songs he knows
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In I Made You A Mixtape, we ask our favorite musicians, actors, writers, directors, or whatevers to strut their musical savvy: We pick a theme, they make us a mix.
The mixer: Rob Crow is a little bit of an indie-rock renaissance man. He’s fronted all sorts of bands, from Goblin Cock to the DevFits, a band that played mashed-up Devo and Misfits tracks. He’s managed to find time along the way to also release solo records and form the math-rock duo Pinback with Zach Smith. Pinback has been together since 1998, but its albums have crept into the market at an almost glacial pace. More than five years passed between the band’s last record, 2007’s Autumn Of The Seraphs, and its latest, 2012’s Information Retrieved; but listening to the records, it’s clear where all that time has gone. The songs are intricate and deliberate, the musicality lush and layered. Pinback records are as much labors of love as they are expressions of art.
When Crow’s not nerding out musically, he’s geeking out over even more obscure topics. He’s a big Star Wars fan, knows an intense amount about obscure metal records, plays videogames, and is a regular attendee of San Diego Comic-Con. He’s also a big horror buff, so The A.V. Club asked him to put together a mix of the scariest songs of all time. Some of his answers may frighten you.
The Moody Blues, “In The Beginning”
Rob Crow: My first memory of ever listening to music—and it’s one of my first memories ever—would be when my dad propped me up in between a couple of his stereo speakers, and he handed me the album cover to The Moody Blues’ On The Threshold Of A Dream album. And the album cover is a swirling, black-purple-brown painting of a dying tree with a human eye and an ear, holding hands or roots or whatever with a big black vacuum-cleaner robot with a huge blue iris. And this robot, with its weird head or dome thing—it’s holding a giant rose in the clamp of its elongated telescopic arm. And this would be weird enough for a little kid.
So my dad puts the record on—this is the early ’70s—and the first thing you hear is like the sound of dread. I don’t know how to explain it without making sounds, but that doesn’t do much good. And from that moment on, I was just instilled with a sense of dread and kind of understood the infinite nature and uselessness of everything.
It sounds like what the space on the record looks like. It’s this high-pitched, electronic sound mixed with some roaring sounds, and low, eerie organ notes. And within the stereo image, you start hearing some voices come, and it sounds like they’re traveling all around the stereo image, until they just start coming at you really bad in the face, until it gets really, really scary—and then it stops. And then there’s nothing, except that one sound again. And there’s this voice, from out of nowhere—like an adaptation of René Descartes—saying, “I think I am, therefore I am, I think,” and all of a sudden this crazy sound comes on, and there’s a clicking and words, and it sounds like a killer giant robot coming at you, yelling at you for no reason. Then that stops, and then this guy starts talking again.
This hippie voice comes along, trying to reassure you—“Hey man, it’s all cool; everything is wicked and awesome” or something. And even as a child, I could tell that it was disingenuous. [Laughs.] And a lifelong distrust of the hippie culture was affirmed right then.
I found out later that until right before my birth, I was to be named after Justin Hayward, which is the guy whose voice it was in the darkness.
The A.V. Club: Not the hippie voice.
RC: Not the hippie voice. Although he was quite the hippie. [Laughs.]
Seals And Crofts, “Summer Breeze”
AVC: This one doesn’t seem like a scary song, but you think it’s scary.
RC: Oh yeah, this one’s just creepy. But I was about 3 years old, living in New Jersey. There was a commercial with this song that used to come on every night in the room next door right at dusk, when I was trying to go to bed. This was the creepiest time of night for a kid. The creepiest song. It still gets to me. That line, “Blowing through the jasmine in my mind?” I didn’t know what that was talking about; that was heavy. And then I thought jasmine and jism were the same thing, and that was weird. I don’t know. I was a little kid.
Terry Jacks, “Seasons In The Sun”
RC: It’s just constant melancholy, death, and depression. And the whole time the guy’s just, “Hey, goodbye, I’m dying!” And it’s terrifying. I’m 3 years old, and this is on every radio. I don’t want to hear that shit. What was the purpose of this song? Just to bum everyone out.
David Geddes, “Run Joey Run”
RC: There’s a theme in these songs in that I don’t know if they’re necessarily creepy to anyone else, but they’re creepy to me, because they all came out in the early ’70s when I was just a lonely, terrified kid. And a perfect example of that is “Run Joey Run,” one of those teenage tragedy songs. Where an assumed—I assume, at least—pregnant girl calls her boyfriend to say not to come over, because her dad is pissed and has a gun. So he comes right over. [Laughs]. And the dad shoots her by mistake and she dies while singing the song. She’s all, “Daddy, please don’t!” And it’s horrible.
Lil’ Markie, “Diary Of An Unborn Child”
RC: This song pisses me off and makes me sick, but at the same time I am completely fascinated by it. Christian children’s albums are creepy just by definition, but this one is especially so. He’s a Little Marcy rip-off, this guy Mark Fox, and when he performs he doesn’t even use a doll, he just stands there and does a voice.
AVC: Which is creepy enough.
RC: Yeah. And he has this huge intro from the point of view of a fetus, until all of a sudden all the music goes dark, and he says, “That day my mother killed me.” So bad.
I almost don’t want people to hear the song, but at the same time I want a lot of people to hear the song and go, “Yeah, you’re right, that was bad!” I don’t know why, but I have that impulse to drag somebody down with you. [Laughs.] I guess it’s not like Mark Fox is going to make any cash off this. I’m not going to support his congregation any further by putting him on a list.
AVC: It has to take balls to pretend to be an unborn child in a song without a puppet, even.
RC: [Laughs.] Although I would be afraid of what the unborn-child puppet would be. Hey, I never thought about that! Is the unborn child supposed to be Markie?
RC: I don’t know. Then the listener would live in a world without Lil’ Markie. [Laughs.]
Apollo 100, “Mad Mountain King”
RC: This is a creepy song off a creepy record. It’s a version of “In The Hall Of The Mountain King,” done by this weird, proggy band, Apollo 100. They’re mostly famous for their version of “Ode To Joy.”
I used to listen to this record all the time when I was a little kid. That pre-“Crazy Train” vibraslap at the beginning used to freak me out. My dad would play this song. We played with little glow-in-the-dark skeletons and things when I was a little kid. That was cooler than cool.
I took my kids to a carousel a while back. I’d been going there for years with them, and they always had this stack of vinyl records there, and the back cover of the Joy album would be at the end of the stack. I could always see it and I’d know what it was, but I just thought, “Oh, that’s crazy that they have that there. Maybe it’s just something that they haven’t moved.” But when I was there, they played the whole album. I was so happy—I got to hear the whole record while hanging out at the carousel.
AVC: Did you tell your kids your stories about the record?
RC: [Laughs.] I’ve played it for them before. I probably did mention it, yeah. They were all running around and stuff.
Visitors, “Dies Irae”
RC: I love to collect versions of “Dies Irae.” This one, I don’t know if it’s my favorite one, but it’s the longest one that I found. I think. Well, it might not even by the longest one, maybe it is my favorite one. This band, the Visitors, by this guy Jean-Pierre Massiera. They’re kind of like a sister band to Horrific Child, which is another really cool, creepy band that I like. There’s also an Ennio Morricone version of this song that’s super-awesome. It’s more psychedelic. But they’re all good. I haven’t heard a bad version of it.
AVC: Do you know if Visitors are named after alien visitors? That’s what the “Dies Irae” album art would suggest.
RC: There are only two Visitors records, and they’re both extremely different. One is super-prog, and one is super Kraftwerk-influenced. And the songs sound nothing alike, but I like them both.
There’s a video you can find of their song “V-I-S-I-T-O-R-S ’81” and it’s one of the funniest videos you could ever see. I really recommend checking it out. You will have a laugh.
Nico, “Roses In The Snow”
RC: I don’t know how to talk about this song that much, because I can’t concentrate on anything while it’s playing. I just get sucked right in. It’s naturally awesome, I think. I don’t think they tried too hard to be weird. I think she’s just trying to sound soulful. Ah, what a tortured soul, that lady. Poor lady. There’s a lot of bands, I’ve noticed, that try to do what she did naturally, but nobody comes close.
AVC: This mix isn’t made up of stereotypically “scary” songs, but if you wanted to put a record on outside your house on Halloween to scare kids, this would be an excellent choice.
RC: [Laughs.] Yeah, totally.
AVC: Do you think the music that you heard when you were little has influenced the kind of music you make now?
RC: Oh, I totally do. I totally, totally do. I didn’t realize that until recently when I started listening to a lot of Moody Blues again. Especially with all the harmonies and things, just in weird ways. Mellotron, especially. I’ve been using way too much Mellotron all over the joint, but it’s so awesome-sounding.
The Pinback song that is most influenced by The Moody Blues is probably a song called “From Nothing To Nowhere,” just in terms of how the harmonies are arranged.
AVC: Was that intentional or did it just happen?
RC: It just happened. I realized later, “This sounds like something The Moody Blues would be singing.” How crazy.