13 Classic ’80s Goth Songs
When putting together our list of 13 classic '80s goth albums, there were a few records that almost made the cut, as well as a few groups who may have never made a classic album but did deliver a couple undeniable singles. So here are 13 goth greats from artists who didn't make our albums' list. Wherever possible we included the original original music video for the singles, many of which are as entertaining as the songs (though sometimes in different ways).
Check out the list, which goes in general chronological order, below. At the bottom of the page there's a Spotify playlist with songs from this list, the album's list and a few other strays worth including.
Echo & The Bunnymen - "The Pictures on My Wall" (1979/1980)
You may associate Echo & The Bunnymen with upbeat '80s sing-a-longs like "Lips Like Sugar" and "Bring on the Dancing Horses" but frontman Ian McCulloch was a trenchcoat-wearing Doors fan at heart, and their debut single was as gloomy as it gets. The original version of "The Pictures on My Wall" is also one of the few Bunnymen recordings to actually feature Echo (the drum machine), but the version on their 1980 debut Crocodiles (with drummer Pete DeFritas) might be better.
Killing Joke - "Requiem" (1980)
Jaz Coleman has taken Killing Joke in all sorts of directions over the years -- metal, industrial, you name it -- but the band started as a fearsome post-punk group with a mile-wide dark streak. A stabbing synth line powers early single "Requiem" that also features dubby production that still sounds modern, and a typically anthemic chorus where Jaz stretches the title into a call to arms.
The Birthday Party - "Release the Bats" (1981)
Most goth bands played with frightening imagery but The Birthday Party -- Nick Cave's band with Rowland S. Howard and Mick Harvey -- were genuinely scary, with notorious live shows that felt like anything could erupt (and often did). The Birthday Party managed to capture their unhinged energy on their 1981 single "Release the Bats," which is both one of their signature songs and a key goth touchstone. Hearing Cave shriek "SEX! VAMPIRE! BITE!" still delivers chills.
Sex Gang Children - "Beasts" (1982)
Regulars at London's de rigueur Batcave club, Sex Gang Children were at the forefront of the "positive punk" movement that mixed punk energy with theatrics (and sounded a lot like goth). The band's debut single, "Beasts," encapsulates their sound: tribal drumming and a glammy riff that owe just a little to Adam & The Ants, a swaying rhythm that could topple a boat, and frontman Andi Sex-Gang’s sneering, phlegmatic vocals.
Xmal Deutschland – "Incubus Succubus" (1983)
Hamburg's Xmal Deutschland delivered one of the essential Peak Goth singles as their debut for 4AD Records. A re-recording of their German-only single from the year before, "Incubus Succubus II" was produced by 4AD head Ivo Watts-Russell and in-house engineer John Fryer (together they were This Mortal Coil) and polishes things up just enough, while keeping the thundering drums and the urgency of Anja Huwe's vocal. Is it a Banshees rip-off? Maybe, but it's a great one.
Lords of the New Church - "Dance with Me" (1983)
Lords of the New Church were a supergroup of punk vets, led by Dead Boys' Stiv Bators and featuring guitarist Brian James (The Damned), bassist Dave Tregunna (ex-Sham 69) and drummer Nick Turner (ex-the Barracudas). The pedigree might have you imagining something harder, but the quartet made gloomy guitar pop prime for '80s new wave radio and MTV, complete with sax solos. Moody and memorable, and sporting a very '80s, very goth video, "Dance With Me" shoulda been a hit.
The Danse Society - "We're All So Happy" (1983)
Somewhere between The Cure, The Chameleons and early Spandau Ballet, The Danse Society favored elegant production, aiming for a sweeping grandeur with their mopey, danceable pop. Their 1983 single "We're So Happy" opens with a crack of thunder and if you're still unsure whether the title is ironic, the line before it is "In your nightmare."
Tones on Tail - "Christian Says" (1984)
Some were sad when Bauhaus broke up in 1983, but the members of the band continued on making great music for the rest of the decade. While Peter Murphy formed Dalis Car with Japan's Mick Karn, and David J went solo (and joined The Jazz Butcher), guitarist Daniel Ash and drummer Kevin Haskins formed Tones on Tail, a wickedly inventive, fun group who released one album (1984's Pop) and a string of terrific singles including "Go!" and this one, "Christian Says," which features a particularly sinister riff and a killer E-Bow'd lead from Ash. Plus: more vampire talk.
The March Violets - "Snake Dance" (1984)
Leeds, England gave birth to quite a few goth bands, including The Sisters of Mercy, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, and The March Violets whose 1984 single "Snake Dance" is their greatest moment, a driving barn-burner that lit up goth indie disco dancefloors with its "No no no!" chorus and title chant.
Death Cult - "God's Zoo" (1984)
Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy first formed Southern Death Cult, and then shortened their name to Death Cult, before finally settling on just The Cult to deliver their stadium-sized mystic riff rock. But like Goldilocks, the middle one was just right, and even though they weren't Death Cult for very long, their debut under that name -- the stomping, danceable "God's Zoo" -- is a real corker, with a dark, disco-y bassline and Astbury wailing "I'm pretty confused watching you!" We're pretty confused watching Death Cult play "God's Zoo" on The Tube in 1984:
The Damned - "The Shadow of Love" (1985)
The Damned were always a little goth, thanks to frontman Dave Vanian who could bellow with the best of best of them and who dressed from the Nosferatu Collection. But when guitarist/co-songwriter Captain Sensible (who had a lighter sensibility) left the band in 1984, Vanian had full control and The Damned went full goth. 1985's Phantasmagoria put his voice front and center. The album was the band's biggest hit to date, and synthy spaghetti western single "The Shadow of Love" made the UK top 40. The video has Vanian sporting a shock of grey coif and a puffy shirt as he and the band sing in a very drafty abandoned mansion full of candles.
The Bolshoi - "Away" (1986)
Late arrivers on the scene, London's The Bolshoi were on the pretentious side, definitely over-the-top, and wanted to be Siouxsie & the Banshees and U2 at the same time. They did come up with a few classics, though, including 1986's very anthemic "Away" that shows off frontman Trevor Tanner's melodramatic pipes (and fearsome falsetto). Extra goth points for the video which has a black cat running up a set of creaky old stairs in slow motion.
Clan of Xymox - "Muscoviet Mosquito" (1987)
If you ever need to play someone one song that encapsulates '80s goth in a single track, and you don't have access to to any Bauhaus, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure or Sisters of Mercy, you can't go wrong with Dutch band Clan of Xymox's fantastic 1987 single "Muscoviet Mosquito" that also features on classic 4AD compilation Lonely is an Eyesore. This song has it all: melodramatic singing, moody basslines, icy synths, furiously strummed acoustic guitars, and crystalline insects.
Check out our list of Classic Goth's 13 Greatest Albums.
And here's the Spotify playlist of 2 Hours of Classic Goth:
The fashion is impeccable in this 2-hour look at the peak era in the UK: THE HEIGHT OF GOTH: 1984: A Night at the Xclusiv Nightclub: Batley, West Yorkshire UK