Some songs tell a creepy story by means of dark lyrics and haunting music. Others tell a creepy or disturbing story using catchy melodies and thumping beats. On this list are just some of the many upbeat songs out there that tell a terrifying story or two.
10 “Copacabana” – Barry Manilow
A conversation about whether or not there was an existing song called “Copacabana” between Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman at the Copacabana Hotel in Rio de Janeiro sparked the idea for the now-infamous “Copacabana” song recorded by Manilow, which was released in 1978.
The disco tune became a tropical foot-tapping hit, but beyond the upbeat music, the lyrics tell a truly dark story. It centers around the life of a Copacabana showgirl named Lola and her lover named Tony, a bartender at the club. Tony attacks a gangster who tries to seduce Lola and is killed in the ensuing fight. The lyrics pick up again 30 years after the tragedy, and the club is now a disco. But Lola still sits at the bar dressed in her showgirl attire, pining for Tony and drinking herself “half blind.”
9 “Mack the Knife” – Bobby Darin
Bobby Darin recorded his version of “Mack the Knife” as a single in 1958, earning him two Grammy Awards. Before this, Louis Armstrong brought his own version of the song to the U.S. in 1955. There are many more notable recordings of the song, originally composed by Kurt Weill and included in the 1928 music drama The Threepenny Opera.
And in the same way as “Copacabana,” the catchy tune accompanies some truly disturbing lyrics. Mack is portrayed as a rapist, arsonist, and murderer with sociopathic traits, especially around women. There is blood on the sidewalks, bodies in the river, and missing victims, and the story is told in an almost carefree manner.
8 “One” – Metallica
“One” starts out pretty calm, but soon the music is ramped up to intense levels, and there is not a sad note to be found.
However, the lyrics tell a deeply sad story, and the music video only serves to deepen the feelings of despair. The song was released in 1989 and relates the harrowing story of a WWI soldier who suffered catastrophic wounds from an exploding landmine. The soldier has lost his arms, legs, and jaw and cannot move or speak. His only wish is that God would take his life.
The music video shows the soldier trying to communicate in Morse code, forcing out the words ‘kill me’ by jolting his entire body inside his hospital bed.
7 “Fast Car” – Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman is one of the best singers in the world. All her songs are noteworthy, and they all tell a story. In particular, “Fast Car” is an earworm that you won’t stop humming after hearing it on the radio.
“Fast Car” is a song inspired by Chapman’s parents, as she explained to a local newscaster, and how difficult it was for them to start their lives as newlyweds with a lack of higher education and career opportunities. The “fast car” symbolized the way out of this less-than-ideal situation.
The lyrics themselves also tell a sad story about a girl stuck in a small town, taking care of her father, who is an alcoholic and a deadbeat. She finally escapes this life with her boyfriend, and they start what she believes will be a better future. But then the boyfriend turns out to be just like the girl’s father, an unemployed alcoholic, while she goes to work every day and takes care of their children.
6 “Goodbye Earl” – The Chicks
The country song “Goodbye Earl” is the definition of a chipper tune. It was released as a single in 2000 and was recently included in Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Best Songs of All Time.
And the lyrics are befitting of what is still a terrifying scourge worldwide today. In a black comedy kind of way, it tells the story of best friends Mary Ann and Wanda, who go their separate ways after high school. Wanda marries a man named Earl, who starts physically abusing her. The lyrics go on to describe how Wanda filed for divorce and got a restraining order, but Earl still put her in intensive care.
Then Mary Ann returns to help Wanda kill Earl… by poisoning his food.
The song stirred up controversy at the time because of the violent themes, but it remains one of The Chicks’ most popular releases.
5 “Run for Your Life” – The Beatles
A fantastic comical cover of “Run for Your Life” exists in an Ally McBeal episode in which a choir singer “warns” a fellow choir member not to mess with her man.
The Beatles released the song in 1965, and it remains a memorable melody to this day. But the lyrics also remain disturbing. They are basically a repeated threat to an unnamed girlfriend that the singer would rather see her dead than with another man. It exposes possessiveness, obsession, and jealousy, all set to a cheerful tune.
The lyrics were mainly written by John Lennon and based on a line taken from an Elvis Presley song, “Baby, Let’s Play House.”
4 “Follow Me” – Uncle Kracker
Uncle Kracker’s “Follow Me” was playing on the car radio the day I heard about the 9/11 attacks. It was cut off right in the middle of the mellow chorus as the shaken-up newsreader related what was happening in the U.S.
It was only years later that I really listened to the song and its lyrics again, read up on it, and realized that it basically depicts drug addiction, specifically heroin addiction. Uncle Kracker, during an interview in 2001, stated that the song was about both drugs and infidelity. This then also led many fans of the song to become convinced that Uncle Kracker was singing about his own infidelity with a married woman, as opposed to cheating in general.
3 “Skinned” – Blind Melon
There are dark lyrics, and then there are the lyrics of “Skinned,” which are downright nightmare-inducing.
“I’ll make a shoehorn outta your shin
I’ll make a lampshade of durable skin
And, oh, don’t you know that I’m always feeling able
When I’m sitting home and I’m carving out your navel?
I’m just a-sitting here carving out your navel”
If that reminds you of one Ed Gein, it might be because the song was inspired by this terrifying killer. The lead singer of Blind Melon, Shannon Hoon, wrote the lyrics after reading a book about serial killers. His thinking behind the idea of the song was that all stories have two sides, and he wanted to show the “comical” side of the Ed Gein killings.
So the song is indeed memorable, but very much for all the wrong reasons.
2 “Every Breath You Take” – The Police
“Every Breath You Take” is a popular dance floor staple. You’ll hear the lyrics pouring through speakers at weddings and school dances and straining through earphones on the bus or train. It is the definition of a sing-along song and a very popular karaoke tune.
But it’s also a song about a possessive lover watching every move their partner makes—jealous over everything they do. The lyrics basically detail the partner being stalked, which makes the song sound like it’s being sung from the perspective of the stalker.
Sting once stated, “I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly, and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song when it’s quite the opposite.”
He also said that he wrote the song lyrics while he was going through a separation from his first wife and starting a relationship with her best friend.
1 “Adam’s Song” – Blink 182
All Blink 182 songs are instantly appealing.
“Adam’s Song” is appealing and heartbreaking at the same time. It is a song about depression, loss, loneliness, and suicide. Bassist, Mark Hoppus, read about a teen’s suicide in a magazine, which inspired the lyrics of “Adam’s Song,” which reads like a suicide note. Some of the lyrics also allude to Nirvana’s “Come as You Are.”
In a tragic real-life echo, the song was playing on repeat when Greg Barnes hung himself in his family’s garage in 2000. Barnes had survived the Columbine High School massacre one year earlier but had lost a close friend and mentor of a teacher.
However, the song has also been instrumental in helping hundreds of people overcome suicidal feelings, as is evidenced by the constant stream of thank-you letters the band has received over the years.