Some songs tell a spooky story through dark lyrics and haunting music. Others tell a spooky or haunting story using catchy melodies and thumping beats. On this list are just a few of the many upbeat songs that tell a scary story or two.
Related: Top 10 Christmas Songs Dark Enough To Ruin Your Christmas Spirit
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 song “Copacabana” recorded by Manilow, which was released in 1978.
The disco tune became a tropical hit, but beyond the upbeat music, the lyrics tell a truly dark story. It centers on the life of a showgirl from Copacabana named Lola and her lover named Tony, a bartender at the club. Tony attacks a gangster who is trying to seduce Lola and is killed in the ensuing fight. The lyrics pick up 30 years after the tragedy, and the club is now a nightclub. But Lola still sits at the bar dressed in her showgirl outfit, pining for Tony and drinking “half blind.” 
9 “Mack the Knife” – Bobby Darin
Bobby Darin recorded his version of “Mack the Knife” as a single in 1958, which earned him two Grammy Awards. Prior to this, Louis Armstrong brought his own version of the song to the US in 1955. There are many more notable recordings of the song, originally composed by Kurt Weill and included in the 1928 musical drama. The Threepenny Opera.
And just like “Copacabana”, the catchy melody accompanies some truly haunting lyrics. Mack is portrayed as a rapist, arsonist, and murderer with sociopathic traits, especially with women. There’s blood on the sidewalks, bodies in the river, and missing victims, and the story is told almost lightheartedly.
8 “One” – Metallic
“One” starts out pretty quiet, but soon the music ramps up to intense levels and there’s not a sad note to be found.
However, the lyrics tell a deeply sad story and the music video only serves to deepen feelings of despair. The song was released in 1989 and tells the harrowing story of a World War I soldier who suffered catastrophic injuries from a land mine explosion. The soldier has lost his arms, legs and jaw and is unable to move or speak. His only wish is for God to take his life.
The music video shows the soldier trying to communicate in Morse code, forcing out the words “kill me” by shaking his entire body inside his hospital bed.
7 “Fast Car” – Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman is one of the best singers in the world. All of 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 he explained to a local newscaster, and how hard it was for them to start their lives as newlyweds with no higher education or 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 slacker. She finally escapes this life with her boyfriend and they begin what she believes will be a better future. But then her boyfriend turns out to be just like the girl’s father, an unemployed alcoholic, while she goes to work every day and babysits her children.
6 “Bye Bye Earl” – The Chicks
The country song “Goodbye Earl” is the definition of an upbeat tune. It was released as a single in 2000 and was recently included in rolling rocks The 500 greatest songs of all time.
And the lyrics are in keeping with what remains a terrifying scourge around the world today. In something of a black comedy, it tells the story of best friends Mary Ann and Wanda, who break up after high school. Wanda marries a man named Earl, who begins to physically abuse her. The lyrics go on to describe how Wanda filed for divorce from her and got a restraining order, but Earl put her in intensive care.
Then, Mary Ann returns to help Wanda kill Earl…by poisoning his food.
The song generated controversy at the time due to the violent themes, but it remains one of The Chicks’ most popular releases.
5 “Run For Your Life” – The Beatles
There is a fantastic comic version of “Run for Your Life” in a Ally McBeal episode where a choir singer “warns” a choir mate not to mess with her man.
The Beatles released the song in 1965 and it remains a memorable tune to this day. But the lyrics also remain haunting. They’re basically a repeated threat to an unidentified girlfriend that the singer would rather see her dead than with another man. It exposes possessiveness, obsession and jealousy, all set to an upbeat tune.
The lyrics were primarily written by John Lennon and were 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 broke off right in the middle of the soft chorus as the shocked newscaster recounted what was happening in the US.
It was only years later that I actually heard the song and its lyrics again, read them, and realized that it basically represents drug addiction, specifically heroin addiction. Uncle Kracker, during an interview in 2001, claimed that the song was as much about drugs as it was about infidelity. This also led many fans of the song to believe that Uncle Kracker was singing about his own infidelity with a married woman, rather than cheating in general.
3 “Skinned” – Blind Melon
There are dark lyrics, and then there are the lyrics to “Skinned,” which are downright nightmare-inducing.
“I’ll make a shoehorn out of your shin
I will make a durable leather lampshade
And oh, don’t you know that I always feel capable?
When I’m sitting at home and I’m sculpting your belly button?
I’m just sitting here carving your belly button”
If that reminds you of one Ed Gein, it might be because the song was inspired by this terrifying killer. Blind Melon’s lead singer Shannon Hoon wrote the lyrics after reading a book about serial killers. His thinking behind the idea for the song was that all stories have two sides, and he wanted to show the “comic” side of the Ed Gein murders.
So the song is indeed memorable, but largely for all the wrong reasons.
2 “Every Breath You Take” – The Police
“Every Breath You Take” is a popular staple on the dance floor. You’ll hear the lyrics through speakers at weddings and school dances and through headphones 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 who watches his partner’s every move, jealous of everything they do. The lyrics basically detail the stalked couple, which makes the song sound like it’s being sung from the stalker’s perspective.
Sting once said, “I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly, and people have misinterpreted it as a sweet love song when it’s anything but.”
He also said that he wrote the song’s lyrics while separating from his first wife and beginning a relationship with his best friend.
1 “Song of Adam” – Blink 182
All the songs on Blink 182 are instantly engaging.
“Adam’s Song” is attractive and heartbreaking at the same time. It is a song about depression, loss, loneliness and suicide. Bassist, Mark Hoppus, read about a teenager’s suicide in a magazine, which inspired the lyrics to “Adam’s Song”, which read like a suicide note. Some of the lyrics also allude to Nirvana’s “Come as You Are”.
In a tragic echo of real life, the song played repeatedly when Greg Barnes hanged himself in his family’s garage in 2000. Barnes had survived the Columbine High School massacre a year earlier, but had lost a close friend and mentor a teacher.
However, the song has also been instrumental in helping hundreds of people overcome suicidal feelings, as evidenced by the constant stream of thank you letters the band has received over the years.
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