Friday, 13 May 2016

My Top Ten Twilight Zone Songs

"There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone."

And when you get there, these ten songs may well be playing from a broken radio...

10. The Fall - Time Enough, At Last

The only song on this list actually inspired by a specific episode of The Twilight Zone: and it's one of my favourite episodes too. You know, the one where bibliophile Burgess Meredith wishes people would leave him alone so he could have more time to read his books. Emerging from a basement library one lunchtime, he discovers the bomb has dropped and he's the only survivor. Everyone else is gone... and now there's no one to interrupt his reading! Joy! Then he stumbles and drops his reading glasses and they shatter...

...just as Mark E. Smith shows up. 

9. Charlie Daniels Band - The Devil Went Down to Georgia

Some will tell you Charlie's The Legend of Wooley Swamp is better Twilight Zone material, but it's a bog standard tale of revenge from beyond the grave, if you ask me (though still very entertaining). The Devil Went Down To Georgia, on the other hand, is not only the real deal - it was Daniels' biggest hit. The song owes a lot to the legend of Robert Johnson - although it's a fiddle rather than a guitar that Johnny's risking his soul for in this version. The great thing about it is that the Twilight Zone twist is apparent from the first line - people often think of the Twilight Zone as a show where the stories turned weird at the end, whereas very often they started with a twist... and then the ending was anybody's guess.
And he played fire on the mountain, run boys, run.
The devil's in the house of the risin' sun.
Chicken in the bread pan, now they're pickin' out dough.
"Granny, will your dog bite?"
"No, child, no."
Everyone knows this song, of course. But have you heard the sequel, The Devil Comes Back To Georgia? It almost doesn't work... but Daniels pulls it off by casting Johnny Cash as the narrator. That move definitely beats the devil.

8. Nina Simone - Pirate Jenny

Nina relocated Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's bloodthirsty tale of Jenny the Pirate Girl from Germany to South Carolina and turned it into a violent Tarantino-esque revenge fantasy about a young slave girl who's mad as hell and just won't take it any more. Then a ghostly pirate ship arrives in the harbour and things get really dark. The final verse, with Jenny riding away on that ship, is more chilling than anything you'll have seen on Tales of the Unexpected.

If you only know Nina when she's Feelin' Good... take a listen to when she's feelin' bad.

7. Stan Ridgway - Camouflage

In the lonely jungles of Viet Nam, a young Private First Class on a search patrol gets separated from his platoon and soon finds himself surrounded by Charlie. Luckily there's a big marine called Camouflage on hand to save him... with superhuman powers to boot. With Camouflage's help, the soldier finds his way back to base where he discovers, "things are never quite the way they seem".

Semper fi'!

6. Frank Turner - Silent Key

The weirdest song Frank Turner has ever written spins an eerie anecdote about the death of Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe. As the O rings fail and Christa "dies", she sees another world...
For the next agonising two minutes and forty-five long seconds
She called out the truth on a broken radio:
"I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive".
Tragically, the only one to hear Christa's last broadcast is a four year-old radio-ham operator 4000 nautical miles away. In the loft of his Hampshire family home, this young boy hears her final words...
"The darkness up above
Led me on like unrequited love,
While all the things I need
Were down here in the deep blue sea."
And that boy's name? Frank Turner, of course...

(Only a live version available on youtube, but it's worth tracking down the original - from last year's superb Positive Songs For Negative People - to hear Christa's words sung by the divine Esme Patterson.)

5. The Eagles - Hotel California

The most famous Eagles song has inspired endless debate about just what's going on in its lyrics - it's up there with American Pie for inspiring the conspiracy theory crackpots. But it's spooky as hell and certainly involves a journey to another dimension, replete with a freaky cast of Twin Peaks characters - from the girl with the Tiffany-twisted mind to the strange guests in the Master's Chambers, gathered for a terrible feast.

Stay at the Hotel California ("Such a lovely place!") and you're guaranteed to be woken in the middle of the night by ghostly voices; room service will never deliver your wine ("We haven't had that spirit here since 1969..."); and the dancers just want to forget...

Most of all, in classic Twilight Zone tradition...
You can check out any time you like...
But you can never leave.
Of course, it could all just be one big metaphor... but them, so could much of Rod Serling's best work.

4. The Divine Comedy - Something For The Weekend

Neil Hannon's cheeky pop hit of the late 90s sounds like a typically jaunty bit of Noel Coward-esque whimsy, particularly when it begins with a giggling girl and Hannon's best Leslie Phillips impression. But wait a minute... what's that breathing in the woodshed? Is it a monster? The girl's seen it. Dare Neil go take a look...?

OK, the twist is a little bit more down to earth than many of the songs here, but it's certainly a cautionary tale about the monster lurking inside pretty girls everywhere...

3. Harry Chapin - Corey's Coming

Many Harry Chapin songs have a twist in the tale - or a sting in the tail. But none are quite as spooky as this tale of John Joseph, an old homeless man waiting for his long lost love to return. He tells the story of Corey to a young man who isn't quite sure whether to believe him... especially when the local townsfolk tell him John Joseph has always lived alone. When the old man dies, the narrator is the only one present at his funeral... until he looks up from the grave to behold a surprising figure. At which point he learns... "Reality is just a word."

And like I told you, when she holds you
She enfolds you in her world.

I used to have a boss called John Josephs. I try to not let this song remind me of him.

2. Godley & Creme - Under Your Thumb

Lol Creme finds himself at a deserted railway station in a terrible thunder storm and takes shelter in an old broken-down train carriage. But he's not alone on that train, there's a ghost on board too. The ghost of a woman who takes to screaming out the train window, "Don't wanna be under your thumb forever...!"

At which point, sod the rain, most sane people would have got off and got wet. Lol, however, decides to stick around, light a cigarette, and pick up an old newspaper. What he reads there will chill you to the bone...

1. Helen Reddy - Angie Baby

If you heard it on the radio and weren't paying much attention, you'd think Angie Baby was just another innocuous, country-tinged ballad from the 70s. Until you actually listen to the lyrics and pay attention to the story... At which point, you are so deep in the Twilight Zone, you start to ask yourself if Rod Serling himself penned this tune.

Angie's a lonely girl who rarely leaves her bedroom and her only escape is through the songs she hears on her tinny old radio. She's never had a boyfriend and probably never will. But that doesn't stop one of the neighbourhood lads eyeing her up, with wicked intent. What happens when he knocks on her door? Something seriously trippy...

The Uncle Devil Show (Justin Currie along with Kevin and Jim McDermott) did a pretty cool cover of this twisted classic back in 2004.

There are lots of songs with twists at the end - from Lola to A Boy Named Sue to The Velvet Underground's twisted masterpiece The Gift - but none of those belong in the Twilight Zone. However, if you can think of any more that unlock the door to another dimension... I'd love to hear them.


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