Goth gatekeepers will insist that only certain bands can be called goth; think The Cure, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, etc., which are all amazing bands, no doubt, but we wanted to call attention to some great "gothy" songs from bands who would probably not be considered goth by most people.
Goth was born out of the post-punk movement in the UK in the late 70's. Generally speaking, it is known for darkness and a preoccupation with death. The colors are mostly black, red, and purple. The music, even when hard rocking, is usually dark and somber. Using those broad strokes as the basis for this list, we have come up with some songs and videos (in no particular order) that, while certainly not goth, have some or all of the ingredients to be considered "goth songs" if you squint hard enough.
This haunting song by Massive Attack was originally written for Madonna to sing, but two members of the band wanted Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins (who wrote the lyrics) to record the vocals instead. They both thought that Fraser's otherworldly vocal style would fit much better with the mournful and transcendent tone of the song, and we think that they were right. In 2009, Fraser indicated that Teardrop was about Jeff Buckley, with whom she had formerly had a relationship. Buckley was a legendary musician who had disappeared around the time she was recording this song and he would later be found drowned. "[The] song's kind of about him – that's how it feels to me anyway."
Ah yes, Soundgarden. Obviously Soundgarden is known as one of the preeminent Grunge bands, but a lot of their music had some pretty "gothy" undertones to them, especially in light of Chris Cornell's suicide in 2017. Heck, Black Hole Sun is pretty bleak underneath its Beatles-esque mainstream veneer. This song from the album "Superunknown" utilizes a very odd guitar tuning (CGCGGe) that helps to give it a certain majestic darkness. Cornell said he was inspired at the time by the writings of Sylvia Plath, and this entire album certainly reflects it.
Most people don't think of goth when they think of Amy Winehouse, and they're not wrong. By all rights, Winehouse is certainly known more for her soulful, R&B inspired music which laid the foundation for the likes of Adele, Duffy, and Estelle. But no matter which category you put Winehouse in, there is no disagreement about that voice. Amy was a singular, once-in-a-lifetime talent and, as is usually the case with artists of this calibre, she left us far too soon. This song has a chunky and sexy old-school R&B feel and almost didn't make the cut except that the video is heavy on funeral imagery and the lyrics seem to point to Amy's untimely death like many songs from dead musicians seem to do in hindsight.
Jane's Addiction was a seminal alternative "art-rock" band that paved the way for every great alt-rock band that followed such as Nine Inch Nails who sampled Jane's Addiction on "Pretty Hate Machine." Perry Farrell, the singer, and Dave Navarro, the guitarist, both shared a particularly heartbreaking burden in that their mothers had been taken from them far too soon; Farrell's by suicide when he was four, and Navarro's by murder when she was shot to death by an ex-boyfriend when Navarro was fifteen. "Then She Did" is a song about an ex-girlfriend of Farrell's, Xiola Blue, who died of a heroin overdose in 1987. The song makes comparisons to Farrell's mother ("She was an artist just as you were / I'd have introduced you to her") and is a deeply moving and vivid song, made all the more so when one understands the pain that Farrell and Navarro were both going through at the time. In fact, Navarro's mom's killer was still on the loose while they were recording this legendary album. Sorry, but this is goth af. Fight us.
No list of honorable mention goth songs would be complete without a song about murdering a girl in a bathtub. The Deftones are another band that is definitely not known for being goth however this song qualifies, in our opinion, not just for the mood and beautiful sonic texture, but also for the aforementioned subject matter. "You breathed / then you stopped / I breathed / then dried you off." For the record, we here at The Black Ravens do not, we repeat, DO NOT condone murder, unless you are a group of crows, then we condone the sh!t out of it. We really shouldn't need to say that but in today's cancel culture climate you can't be too careful.
This is probably the most controversial song on this list. "WTF," the goth gatekeepers say in a whiny, sanctimonious voice, "A rap song? Rap isn't goth!" Fair enough. We'd be pretty hard-pressed to think of a goth-rap song, though we're sure they're out there somewhere and that you'll let us know. Anyhow, this song from Jidenna is an absolute instant hip-hop classic and the video is about as goth as it gets. The monochrome black and red palette as well as the funeral imagery made this song and video one that we couldn't ignore when compiling this list.
Here is another black and red video and probably the second most controversial entry to the list. The White Stripes' videos were pretty consistently red and black and it was a pretty cool branding touch to an amazing band that frankly didn't need it because the songs stand on their own and are even more amazing when you realize that it's only two people making all those sounds. Icky Thump went full-on ballistic as a commercial success and can be heard all over the place pretty much all the time (Justice League, anyone?), so for that reason -- the commercial success -- this song likely will not be embraced as a "goth song," by you, our dear readers, but when you consider the video and really immerse yourself in the sonic landscape of this genius of a song you may find that you've changed your mind.
This song is so bittersweet. Trish Keenan's voice is so unbelievably haunting and beautiful and fits perfectly on top of the sparse and melancholic soundscape beneath her. Keenan, who was raised by a prostitute, had an interest in the occult and recorded this album while her father was dying of cancer. Unfortunately, Kennan was taken from us when she died of pneumonia in 2011. Another talent too great for this world.
The Police were obviously commercial giants who reigned supreme in the 80's with their reggae-inspired pop hits. Sting of course went on to, well, be Sting, and found continued success on the easy-rock or flaccid jazz stations or whatever. Most people these days only know Sting, but not so much The Police where he came from. The Police had a bit of a dark streak to their music covering topics such as suicide ("Can't Stand Losing You"), prostitution ("Roxanne"), as well as some light religion ("Spirits in the Material World"). None of their music, however, would be considered goth by anyone anywhere... until now, by us. King of Pain is pretty on the nose as far as the goth subject matter goes, and the tone and lyrics of the song fit that mold very well. Disagree? Comment on our socials and tell us why.
Most people have probably never heard of this song or maybe even this band. Puscifer is a side band of Maynard James Keenan of Tool, and this particular song features the relatively unknown vocals of Milla Jovovich, best known for her role in The Fifth Element. Ms. Jovovich, besides being a talented and beautiful model and actress, also has one hell of a sexy singing voice it turns out. Who knew? As far as the goth tie-in, the song has a post-apocalyptic feel and covers themes like crime and revenge. Also the video is straight up bonkers, so there's that.
Jeff Buckley had the voice of an angel, full stop. It was hard to pick just one song off of this gorgeous and brilliant album (Grace) but we finally settled on Dream Brother for its dark imagery and eerie chorus melody. Most of the songs on Grace deal with sadness and loss as well as recurring themes about death ("Is my time coming / I'm not afraid / to die"), and the lyric that specifically references "going under" became chilling after it was discovered that Buckley drowned in 1997. Once again, after combing through the themes and lyrics of dead young musicians it seems as if they knew they were going to die soon and sometimes even how. As far as we're concerned, Jeff Buckley is goth royalty.
Radiohead is one of those bands that people seem to either love or hate. We've never met a half-assed Radiohead fan, that's for sure. Deep and tormented from the first note, this song doesn't need much explanation as to why it's on this list once you hear it (if you haven't already).
Last but not least Leonard Cohen. Though this song has an upbeat and almost comical vibe to it, Cohen's deep voice as well as his cynical lyrics reminds us that the game is rigged; always has been, always will be, which is a crappy realization for sure, but one that we must accept eventually. "Everybody knows that the dice are loaded...everybody knows the good guys lost." What's that you say, there's still hope? There's still a chance that we can turn things around? Yeah, good luck with that. "That's how it goes / Everybody knows."
Well there you have it, our list of 13 Honorable Mention Goth songs. We know that many of you will not agree and/or feel that we have left some great music out, so be sure to leave your point of view on our socials if you are so inclined. We'd love to discuss it with you!