Pretty-creepy songs

I’m a fan of songs that are pretty to the ear but contain a darker undercurrent in the lyrics. These pretty-creepy songs are nice to listen to, but something dark is going on.

Every Breath You Take

Perhaps the most famous example of a pretty-creepy song is Every Breath you Take by The Police. On first listen you might think it’s a gentle love song. No! The narrator is obsessed. It’s basically an ode to stalking.

Even Sting himself admits it’s not a love song. According to Wikipedia he says “it is about the obsession with a lost lover, and the jealousy and surveillance that follow.” Doesn’t matter what Sting says, however, because the lyrics speak for themselves:

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you

I’ll be watching you? With every step? That’s definitely not a healthy relationship he’s talking about. I’m always surprised at how many people think it’s a regular love song.

The Nicest Thing

Kate Nash’s The Nicest Thing starts out gentle, with soft guitar, gentle violin (or is that a cello?) and almost self-conscious lyrics. The conversational style reminds me of Elton John’s Your Song. She talks about her crush and how she wants to see if they can make it happen. So far, so good, as far as romantic songs go. But then this happens:

I wish that without me your heart would break
I wish that without me you’d be spending the rest of your nights awake
I wish that without me you couldn’t eat
I wish I was the last thing on your mind before you went to sleep

That’s not love! That’s not romance! That’s terrible. She wants this guy to suffer (really suffer) if she can’t have him. Here’s a hint: if you want someone to suffer, you really don’t love them. It’s a slightly modified version of “If I can’t have you, then no one will!”

The object of her affection/lust/torment is not even an actual lover. She works up all this pain and anguish for someone she barely knows? Gee, that’s not stalkery at all.

Shady Grove

Takenobu’s cello version of traditional Appalachian folk song Shady Grove might be a love song, but there’s a bit that throws me off:

If I can’t have the girl I love
I don’t want none at all

It’s not quite as bad as “If I can’t have you, then no one will”, but it’s in the same ballpark. And this:

I wish I had a needle and thread
The finest that could sew
I’d sew that pretty girl to my side
And down the road I’d go

HE WANTS TO SEW HER TO HIS SIDE! Maybe it’s a metaphor, but I get a definite “it rubs the lotion on its skin” vibe. At minimum it implies a disregard for her feelings.

As with “The Nicest Thing” or “Every Breath You Take,” there’s plenty to suggest that the object of his desire doesn’t return his affection:

I wish I had a banjo string
Made of golden twine
And every tune I played on it
I wish that girl was mine

She’s not even his girl, and he’s already dead set on marrying her:

Some come here to fiddle and dance
Some come here to tarry
Some come here to fiddle and dance
I came here to marry

Note the similarity with earlier ballad Matty Groves, which features a lover’s triangle and murder. Wikipedia observes,

The folk/Bluegrass song “Shady Grove” from the United States also with many variations in wording, some arising in and around the Civil War, has a tune very similar to and possibly arising from the tune of Matty Groves.

But wait, I love these songs

Make no mistake, I love all three of these songs. Their beauty lies in the feeling that what you hear is not what you get. I particularly like how “The Nicest Thing” builds from casual to completely demented.

There are probably tons of pretty-creepy songs out there. Can you name any others?

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