The 10 best songs about ghosts

ghost imageFace it: we’re fascinated by ghosts. Especially this time of year, during the season of Halloween and the Day of the Dead. Whether as metaphors or as intimations of our mortality, you don’t need to necessarily believe in ghosts to appreciate them. These ten songs and CDs represent a variety of styles, from somber to playful, from traditional to experimental. But they all share a sure sense of artistry that deals with the dead, the dying, or things departed.

1. Furry Sings the Blues (song) — Joni Mitchell. In this song about an old blues singer in Memphis, Mitchell is haunted by images of ghosts and a bygone era: “Bourbon laughter — ghosts — and history falls to parking lots and shopping malls.”

2. The Ghost of Tom Joad (song) — Bruce Springsteen. With the restrained, transparent arrangement and the whispery singing, Springsteen conjures Steinbeck’s downtrodden character from The Grapes of Wrath.

Ghosts I-IV3. Ghosts I-IV (CD) — Nine Inch Niles. In Trent Reznor’s first purely instrumental CD, released earlier this year, the music is built around ambient drones, simple piano figures and ghostly breathing.

4. Happy Phantom (song) — Tori Amos. A lyrical, lilting tune about coming back as a mischievous ghost: “and I’ll go chasing the nuns out in the yard.” Subtly arranged for piano and a dulcimer that’s played in the manner of a de-tuned fiddle.

5. Haunted (song) — Poe. The eerie arrangement evokes lyrics about being haunted by things from the past: “one more look at the ghost before I make it leave.”

6. Hotel California (song) — The Eagles. The ghostly hotel of the title serves as metaphor for the 1970s L.A. music industry. The choice of 12-string guitar for the intro, its strange sound evoking an instrument from another time, sets the perfect mood.

7. Hush, Hush, Hush (song) — Paula Cole, as performed by Herbie Hancock and Annie Lennox. In the Hancock/Lennox version of this song about a young man dying of AIDS (“skeleton, your eyes have lost their warmth”), the sombre tune opens up into flights of improvisatory jazz, the most beautiful and moving evocation of a soul being released that you’ll ever hear.

Spectral Ships8. The Spectral Ships (CD) — Richard Bone. Richly introspective, ambient instrumental pieces that create the image of ghostly ships gliding silently across the water.

9. Twilight and Ghost Stories (CD) — Chris Schlarb. An experimental collage of nameless movements and numberless tracks with contributions by 50 artists. The music weaves together electronic noises, voices, field recordings and instruments. One critic describes it as “an evocation to memory.”

10. Thriller (song) — Michael Jackson. A campy voice-over by Vincent Price, a ground-breaking video and a great beat: what’s not to love? Given how the pop idol later used plastic surgery to reshape his face into something monstrous, the song was prescient… an example of life imitating art?

For additional posts that provide interesting music lists, see About Music and This Site.

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