Spellbound: A Goth-Rock Playlist

The goth-rock movement surfaced circa 1979-82 and began invading the charts soon after. Here are some key moments in the genre’s evolution:

Bauhaus, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” (1979):

The smoldering, spooky single that blended dub-reggae and post-punk kicked open the crypt for goth rock before anyone had a name for it. Dracula could relate: “Undead! Undead! Undead!”

Joy Division, “Dead Souls” (1980):

The short-lived quartet didn’t identify as goth, but its haunted sound and lyrics were a huge influence. “They keep calling me,” Ian Curtis intones on this stunning B-side, as if being pulled into the underworld.

Killing Joke, “Wardance” (1980):

The band’s self-titled debut is revered because it sparked or embodied so many genres, from post-punk and thrash to art-rock and goth. The band’s sinister atmospherics check all the right boxes to qualify for the playlist at a goth danceclub.

The Cure, “Charlotte Sometimes” (1981):

This single, based on a children’s novel about time travel, evokes the notion of being trapped between separate existences.

Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Spellbound” (1981):

Tribal drums, swirling guitars and Siouxsie Sioux’s entrancing voice = goth nirvana.

The Birthday Party, “Release the Bats” (1981):

Nick Cave helmed this riotous band of Australian marauders, the indelible prelude to the singer’s long-running career with the Bad Seeds.

Cocteau Twins, “Blood Bitch” (1982):

Drums crack like whips and a thick haze of guitars and electronics cocoon Elizabeth Fraser’s otherworldly vocals. The song title would later be repurposed for a 2016 album by goth-influenced Norwegian art-pop singer Jenny Hval.

This Mortal Coil, “Song to the Siren” (1983):

Tim Buckley’s 1970 ballad split the difference between torture and yearning, beauty and oblivion — prime fodder for a goth makeover. The 4AD label’s multi-artist collective known as This Mortal Coil delivered with this stunning cover, centered on the mesmerizing vocals of Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser.

The Sisters of Mercy, “Temple of Love” (1983):

With its Eastern-sounding backing vocals and urgent tempos, this Leeds band fully embraced the exotic drama of goth on this 1983 single.

Sex Gang Children, “Dieche” (1984):

These Batcave regulars were on the groundfloor of the movement as they sprinkled gloom with glam-rock glitter.

The Cult, “Rain” (1985):

Goth vocalist Ian Astbury (Southern Death Cult) joined forces with post-punk guitarist Billy Duffy (Theatre of Hate) to create the Cult, which broke through in the mid-‘80s with “She Sells Sanctuary” and this track, a potent merger of both artists’ pasts.

Clan of Xymox, “A Day” (1985):

This Dutch band drapes brooding atmospherics over a driving dance track.

Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, “Walking on Your Hands” (1986):

Emerging from the same Leeds scene that spawned the Sisters of Mercy, the Lorries uncorked a series of doomy singles through the ‘80s.

Depeche Mode, “Never Let Me Down Again” (1987):

The mega-selling electro-rock band always shared a sonic and emotional kinship with goth, including this hard-hitting plea about the spiral of drug addiction.

Peter Murphy, “Cuts You Up” (1989):

“Look for what seems out of place.” So sings the former Bauhaus vocalist, in what could be goth’s mission statement.

The Mission UK, “Deliverance” (1990):

A Sisters of Mercy offshoot that explores heavier rock terrain.

Greg Kot is the editorial director of The Coda Collection. He is also the cohost of the nationally syndicated public-radio show and podcast “Sound Opinions” with Jim DeRogatis, and previously the music critic at the Chicago Tribune for 30 years. His books include acclaimed biographies of Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”) and Wilco (“Learning How to Die”) and a history of the digital music revolution (“Ripped”). He also coauthored “The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry” and has written extensively for Rolling Stone, BBC Culture and Encyclopedia Britannica. When he takes off the headphones, Kot coaches in his Chicago-based youth travel basketball program (OTEhoops.com). In addition, he has coauthored two best-selling editions of the book “Survival Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball.”

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