Song Of The Week: “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus

Let’s get bloodthirsty.

Just as “Rock Around The Clock” is technically considered the beginning of the rock & roll era despite its many antecedents, so too is “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” generally considered the cornerstone of goth. Many laid the foundation, but Bauhaus built the cathedral, and then crammed the belfry with bats.

Bauhaus formed in England in 1978 when a group of musicians who had been playing together under different guises since their school days, finally, after years of trying, persuaded their classmate to join as lead singer, not because he had any musical experience, but because they thought he looked the part of a frontman. After only six weeks, they entered a studio to record a demo tape.

And what’s the first thing these cheery fellows recorded? A groundbreaking, nine and a half minute song about the duality of life and death, how vampires and actors are, in some way, both dead and undead after deceasing as human beings, to slumber in the daylight, but to live for eternity in the dark of night (and the dark of the cinema)….or something like that. Ominous, but you can dance to it! And yes, all of this was inspired by watching a marathon of old-school vampire movies on TV.

The band recorded “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” live, including all effects, with no overdubs or edits, in one take. Bauhaus walked into the studio for the first time, pressed “Record,” and that’s what you hear. It wasn’t a hit upon its release in August of 1979 due to its uncommercial length and subject matter, but, like proto-goths The Velvet Underground a decade before, the effect of Bauhaus and their first single on other musicians proved far-reaching as the goth scene bloomed during the 1980’s like a midnight hothouse filled with nocturnal orchids.

Like many others, I discovered both song and band through The Hunger, a vampire movie from 1983 co-starring David Bowie (everyone who falls in love with Bowie’s music eventually starts making their way through his movies), which features “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” playing during the opening nightclub sequence, with occasional shots of Bauhaus interspersed between prowling vampires. Immortalized on film, in the flickering lights and shadows, the band, like its subject matter, will always exist among the undead.

So don the black cape and file past his tomb. Embrace the gloom, or be embraced . . . by Bauhaus.

2 thoughts on “Song Of The Week: “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus

  1. Well. now, I’ve not heard that one for a very long time. I’ve always been a Bowie fan. Loved how he always kept reinventing himself and keeping a step ahead of what was current. Bauhaus, by the way, is a huge hardware store chain in Germany and Denmark.

    • I love Bowie, as well. He reinvents himself in his movies, too. Many of them involve some kind of transformation. Or, in the case of Labyrinth, a large spiky wig and very tight tights.

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