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The Devil’s best tunes

It’s been said that the Devil has all the best tunes. If this is true, he likes to keep a conspicuously low profile. While songs of praise for Jesus, God, Krishna, Buddha, the Virgin Mary, and a host of other deities, saints, and semi-deities abound, Satan is seldom properly hymned. If he is mentioned at all in the world’s songbook, it is mostly unfavourable. Here are ten exceptions the Devil might actually like to hear.

1. The Rolling Stones – “Sympathy for the Devil” (1968)

“Please allow me to introduce myself…” Okay, you probably expected this one. The nasally sung Stones classic is probably the most well-known pop song featuring Satan and it initiated a boom of dark-themed popular music. It was inspired by the Russian novel, The Master and Margarita (1931-1940/1967) by Mikhail Bulgakov, a rewriting of Faust that satirized the Russian communist society in the decade after the October Revolution. Bulgakov was of course inspired by the magnificent German magnum opus, Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who in turn based his text on traditional Faust folklore dating back to the sixteenth century.

2. Eartha Kitt – “I Want to Be Evil” (1953)

The Rolling Stones were far from being the first to speak softly of the prince of darkness. In this beautiful song by Eartha Kitt, she unambiguously expresses her wish to “go to the Devil.” “I wanna be evil/ I wanna see some dissipation in my face…” Kitt’s song rings with passion about the desperation that “being good” can bring.

3. Golden Earring – “When The Lady Smiles” (1984)

At first glance, this song from Dutch rock band Golden Earring is just about a dangerously seductive and capricious lady (modern music about diabolically seductive men is much more rare). However, lines like she’s the beast inside your paradise/the fallen angel that keeps you hypnotized” suggest that this lady is none other than the Devil herself. As such, the song can be placed in a long list of popular music describing feminine danger in demonic terms. There’s Elvis Presley’s Devil in Disguise, Cliff Richard’s Devil Woman, The Beatles’ Devil in Her Heart, Bobby Vee’s Devil or Angel, Mitch Ryder’s Devil With The Blue Dress On, to mention only some of the most prominent examples. Unlike these other songs, The Golden Earring does not seem to mind being led to perdition. “Ooh/And I love it/Yeah, I love it/She’s done nothing to mislead me.”

4. DJ Lobsterdust – “Queen vs. Satan ft. Pastor Gary G. – It’s Fun to Smoke Dust (2008)

In the more extreme recesses of charismatic and evangelic Christianity, preachers have frequently condemned all pop music as demonically inspired, if not the product of a secret Satanist conspiracy dating back to the druids. Some of them have gone so far as to organise collective record burnings in which many a priceless collector’s item must have perished. This mix by DJ Lobsterdust features Queen, backward masking, and Devil’s Flower, alongside genuine clippings from pastor Gary Greenwald’s almost endearingly clumsy anti-pop preaching.

5. Robert Johnson – “Me And The Devil Blues” (1937)

The controversy between restrictive religion and sin-loving popular music has deep roots, as far back as blues music. While blues was often called “the Devil’s music” by the religious establishment, there were whispered rumours about a much more direct contact between some blues players and their “dark lord.” Delta Blues legend Robert Johnson, in particular, was said to have acquired his prowess at guitar picking by selling his soul to Satan at the crossroads (for some cultural background into these allegations, I refer to this interesting site). Meanwhile, Johnson did indeed record this obscure track, in which he proclaims that he and the Devil are “walking side by side” and requests to be buried by the highway side, “so my old evil spirit/can get a greyhound bus and ride.”

6. Anton Szandor LaVey – “Answer Me” (1993)

In itself, this is probably the least satanic track in this playlist, but its performer, Anton Szandor LaVey, was the most outspoken and most notorious apostle of Satan in the twentieth century. On his life before founding the Church of Satan in 1966, LaVey liked to spun wild tales, but he did actually work as a professional and semi-professional musician in the carnival circuit. Answer Me was originally composed in 1953 by the German songwriter Gerhard Winkler under the honey-sweet title, Mütterlein [“Mama Dear”]. In the same year, the song was translated by Carl Sigman and made it to the English hit charts in no less than two performances – one by Frankie Laine and one by David Whitfield. While one may debate the musical merits of LaVey’s cover, his raw singing strikes one as eerily sincere.

7. Devilman theme (1983)

Devilman was a Japanese manga anime series from the 1970s which told the tale of a teenage boy who masters a powerful demon who tries to posses him. He then becomes a hybrid between a human and a demon. The original manga ended with an apocalyptic victory of Satan reminding of Anatole France’s 1914 masterpiece Fin de Satan; Go Nagai, who drew the manga, later claimed he had intended Devilman to be an anti-war piece. This is the theme song from the Italian version of the Japanese anime broadcasted in the early 1980s – remarkable fare for the children’s hour, to say the least. Don’t forget to notice the cute boy soprano singing about world domination…

8. Black Widow – “Come to the Sabbat” (1970)

After the Rolling Stones paved the way, rock music came to feature an increasing number of frontmen shocking or titillating their audiences with increasingly extreme evocations of the macabre, the occult, or the monstrous, accompanied by increasingly loud electric guitars. Out of this grew the subgenre of Heavy Metal and its many sub-subgenres, such as Dead Metal, Black Metal, and Industrial. Satan was and still is frequently mentioned in this music. While he was first used as a prop for shock value onstage, some musicians and audiences took him more seriously, resulting in Scandinavian Satanist Black Metal extremists burning down priceless medieval churches and embarking on murder and similar mayhem. Its most enduring legacy, however, may be the thousands of people making the Sign of the Horns at pop concerts and festivals today as a gesture of defiance and general coolness. While it is hard to point down a particular song initiating or representing this entire musical sub-stream, Black Widow’s Come To The Sabbat may be as good as any, with its hauntingly inviting refrain, “Come…Come… come to the Sabbat/Satan is there.”

9. D-Devils – “Fight And Dance With The Devil” (2001)

Metal has no monopoly on the Devil in contemporary music: techno, house, and dance too have their own infernal undercurrents. This can hardly be better exemplified than with the techno classic Fight And Dance With The Devil. While metal subcultures like to revel in Gothic lettering and medieval weaponry, here, the demonic presence is suggested musically by a synthesizer pouring out medieval-style bagpipe music. Although the track does not expressively praise Satan, this music sure is perfect for devilish dancing. (Please note: This track should not be confused with the rap song released by Immortal Technique in the same year, and certainly not with the instrumental hit by Cozy Powell from 1973.)

10. Léo Ferré – “Thank You Satan” (1961)

My personal favourite. I like to end this list with a song expressing genuine gratitude to Satan – and none could be more poetic and ironic than this Baudelairian French chanson. Ferré thanks Satan for erotic mischief, for love, for political anarchism, for children, for cheap wine, for inflammatory poetry, for the taking of the Bastille, “even though that did not help a bit,” and, finally, for never appearing on television. If you’d like  you can read the complete lyrics.

Featured image credit: “I was walking among the fires of Hell…” by gags9999. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr

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