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.