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Savage Beats 3: Black (Magic) Friday


Get off the sofa, 'cuz we're about to slap you out of that Thanksgiving carbohydrate coma. It's time to bang your head, swing like a king, do the pogo, shed thick black tears of despair, or whatever the hell it takes to get you through the holidays. My last two "Savage Beats" playlists offered mix ideas for those groovin' vampires and werewolves out there, and this week I got to wondering what spooky treasures I should plunder for the next theme. Zombies? Nah, they tend to bring a party down – all they wanna do is eat. How about mummies? Nope, too hard to find the beat through those bandages. But then came a dark, ominous cloud of inspiration: it's Black Friday... how's about a little black magic, baby?

Whether you need to vent your frustration while waiting in endless lines and choked city streets, or just want to sit back at home and laugh at the zombie-like consumer crowds, why not cast a musical spell over the day with a selection of songs about dark powers, occult rituals, witchy bitches and satanic shenanigans? To help get you started, I've unearthed thirteen selections from many different musical genres, so hit the jump and rock like hell!

Black Sabbath: "Black Sabbath"

The constellations must be in alignment, because the granddaddies of heavy music are sitting proudly at the top of this alphabetical list. I mean, what could be more appropriate to begin a black magic mix than "Black Sabbath" by Black Sabbath, from the album... Black Sabbath? Care to guess what the song is about? I'll give you a hint: it's not about puppies. But seriously, even without the chilling lyrics, it's one of the creepiest-sounding tracks from the band that brought rock 'n' roll over to the dark side. The band has turned yet another page in music history since this 1970 landmark: the original members reunited just this month to begin work on a new album, so buckle up!

Danzig: "Black Mass"

During his tenure in iconic horror-punk band Misfits, Glenn Danzig tackled songs about demons, witches and dark forces with sinister intent and almost maniacal glee. But when he formed his self-titled band, his songs often became stone-cold serious, ranging from doomy, blues-tinged hard rock to much heavier metal, as demonstrated in this thundering track from his 2002 album 777: I Luciferi, which partly references the strange ritual practices of notorious occult practitioner Aleister Crowley. It's one of Danzig's most frightening songs, thanks in large part to Glenn's high, desperate wails in the refrain "Asar Un Nefer," a reference to the Egyptian god Osiris. Spooky stuff indeed, from a one of music's masters of horror.

David Bowie: "Magic Dance"

Proving that not all songs about evil goblins who kidnap human babies have to be all creepy and shit, this wacky song & dance number from the Jim Henson-directed musical fantasy Labyrinth will have even the gloomiest of goths tapping their chunky boots in spite of themselves. It's one of many memorable songs written and performed by Bowie for the film, and it captures the same balance of fairy-tale fun and impending doom that Henson, writer Terry Jones (formerly of Monty Python) and artist Brian Froud (who also worked with Henson on The Dark Crystal) shaped into the twisted corridors of the Goblin King's bizarre realm.

Donovan: "Season of the Witch"

I'm not afraid to go old-school with this list, and this eerie psychedelic single from one of folk-rock's biggest names – he's the cat who recorded the song "Mellow Yellow" – is not even the oldest one here. It's not literally about witches, but it sure feels like it's got some kind of spell working inside it; the haunting, unsettling jumble of mostly nonsensical rhyming phrases ("Rabbits running in the ditch, Beatniks out to make it rich," and so on) makes it sound like an incantation of some kind. It was such a radical departure from the singer's usual pop repertoire that it probably had millions of teenagers sitting in their darkened bedrooms wondering if they were being placed under some otherworldly influence... assuming, of course, they weren't already, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Frank Sinatra: "Witchcraft"

What did I say about old school? This runaway hit was written for Sinatra by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh, and the vocal legend was certainly not the only one to perform it... hell, everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Elvis Presley to Peggy Lee has taken a crack since the single was first released in 1957. But only Frankie could make it swing like the devil himself, as you can see in the clip below, and put so much of his patented charm into it that listeners may have overlooked not-so-subtle lyrics like "I know it's strictly taboo/When you arouse the need in me" (pretty spicy stuff for the squeaky-clean '50s). Or maybe they didn't miss it at all...

Jimi Hendrix: "Voodoo Child"

Decades before Bowie proved evil spells could be cute and bouncy, Jimi took his mystical guitar in hand and ripped the sky open with his own mighty musical mojo, instilling shock and awe throughout the rock 'n' roll universe and beyond. There's only about half a dozen guitarists ever to walk the earth who could get away with a ten-minute solo without coming off like egomaniacs, but I guarantee that Jimi was one of that elite group. Beginning as an extended blues-rock jam from the 1968 album Electric Ladyland by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, it was captured by a film crew for a new version, "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," and portrays Jimi as a cursed but godlike being who can communicate with animals and summon the powers of the planets. Come to think of it, that's probably true.

Mercyful Fate: "Come to the Sabbath"

Rumor has it that Church of Satan founder Anton La Vey once declared Mercyful Fate's mainman King Diamond the creator of true satanic music, and I'm guessing he probably came to that conclusion after hearing tracks like this one – the closing cut from Fate's 1984 album Don't Break the Oath. Not only does the song make my list for its grim and detailed depiction of a satanic ritual, but also makes a callback to the famous "Melissa," the title character from the band's previous album, who was also represented onstage by a real human skull and the bones that adorned King's microphone stand. It's one of many examples of mythical world-building that gives the music of Mercyful Fate (and Diamond's solo band, of course) a distinctive horror-movie quality.

Nick Cave: "Red Right Hand"

It didn't take long for early alt-rock to wander out of the safe zone and into a world of darkness and despair. Australian singer/songwriter Nick Cave (former vocalist from death-rock band The Birthday Party) and his band The Bad Seeds led the way down that path, with songs like this sinister single from 1994, which may be depicting either a serial killer or a literal demonic entity ("He's a god, he's a man, he's a ghost, he's a guru"), or maybe both. The song is so spooky that it made its way into the first three Scream movies, as well as Hellboy and Cirque Du Freak, plus an episode of The X-Files. It's also become one of Cave's most beloved songs, and for damn good reason.

Santana: "Black Magic Woman"

You knew this one was going to be here, didn't you? And it should be, because it's one of the most sensual, magical rock tracks ever recorded. There have been many other versions (most notably the original by Fleetwood Mac), but with Carlos Santana's seductively smooth licks backing Peter Green's passionate, mystifying lyrics, framed with the exotic "Gypsy Queen" by Hungarian guitarist Gábor Szabó, you can easily understand how nothing but raw sexual power can capture a person's soul. Sure, the witchy theme could be taken as just a metaphor, but try dancing to this one with your significant other and you may start feeling supernatural vibrations yourself.

Screaming Jay Hawkins: "I Put a Spell on You"

This legendary blues man horrified and fascinated unwitting audiences with his flamboyant performances, which often featured him rising from a coffin and leaping around the stage in the trappings of a diabolical witch doctor... and when people think of Screaming Jay, they immediately call up this song as the ultimate representation of his style. The song has been covered by a dozen different artists, most memorably a smooth and stylin' version from Bryan Ferry and a ferocious rendition by Marilyn Manson, but Hawkins' insane, ranting "ooga-booga" approach is one of a kind, and blazed a trail for the shocking theatrics of Alice Cooper and his shock-rock kindred.

Slayer: "Altar of Sacrifice"

When the classic thrash album Reign in Blood came out in 1986, Slayer's songs were still fully immersed in horror and occult imagery, and while they've turned their lyrics to a greater range of subjects since then, it's tracks like this one that made them feel especially dangerous to the uninitiated. It's a shocking tale of virgin sacrifice at the hands of a satanic cult, and gets right down to business with the frantic intensity and ultra-violent lyrics ("Flesh starts to burn, twist and deform/Eyes dripping blood") that only these ultimate thrash gods can bring. Even though every track on Reign in Blood is essential listening for any true thrash connoisseur, this one sometimes gets overshadowed by favorites like "Raining Blood" and "Angel of Death"... but not by me, I can assure you.

Stevie Nicks & Sheryl Crow: "Sorcerer"

Just because I'm doing a playlist about demons, voodoo, human sacrifice and Ol' Scratch himself, doesn't mean I can't get in touch with my sensitive side. Fleetwood Mac often employed subtle mystic symbolism in their music and artwork, and when sultry vocalist Nicks started off on her solo career, she brought the warmer, more inviting aspects of the supernatural world along with her. With acoustic guitar and perfect vocal harmonies from Sheryl Crow, the 2001 song "Sorcerer" is one of Nicks' many magic-themed songs, but like "Black Magic Woman," it can be taken purely as a metaphor for one person's sexual power over another... and thanks to these smoldering voices, you can feel that power seeping into your body too.

Venom: "Witching Hour"

You've probably been wondering why I haven't included any black metal bands on this list yet, and there's a very good reason for that: because if I tried to cherry-pick one or two bands from that occult-centric genre over the six hundred or so others, I'd go right down that slippery slope into the infernal void just trying to narrow them down. So to avoid all that heartburn, I decided to go straight to the source – the inspiration for virtually every band that ever donned corpse paint and spiked gauntlets. British band Venom even coined the term "Black Metal" with their 1982 album of the same name, but the record that came before it, Welcome to Hell, featured this wicked and atmospheric track, which conjures terrifying images of hooded demons descending upon defenseless mortals as Satan selects a bride to bear his unholy spawn. Now that's a Black Friday.

[As always, this isn't meant to be a comprehensive list – there's just not enough room on the internet – so feel free to suggest your own wicked faves in the comments section.]