100 Greatest Songs of the 70’s #90 Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead

Released : 1979

1979: two groups are working in completely separate environments a hundred miles away from each other (a distance which in late seventies Britain might as well have been three laps around the moon). One would turn the post-industrial decay of Manchester into a sonic hall of mirrors, the other would accidentally create a theatrical punk sub culture in thrall to Bowie, Keats and amphetamine sulphate.

The Joy Division story is well told. But how a quartet of misfits from the chronically unhip town of Northampton laid the headstone for Gothic rock is now less well remembered. Fronted by the elfin and legendarily diva-esque Peter Murphy, Bauhuas used to drive round the neighbourhood in a hearse (To save money they said) and were contemporaries of graphic novelist Alan Moore in the days before he penned his Ripper themed classic From Hell.

Meanwhile the group’s bassist David J wiled away his spare time in Northampton’s reggae clubs, from which came an admiration for dub. He and guitarist Daniel Ash one day were kicking song ideas round and – as you do – they lit upon a tune about a vampire, or at least an actor who played one. Murphy was in immediately, drummer Kevin Haskins decided to use his neglected bossa nova chops and immediately a neo-classic took form in the shadows.

Bela Lugosi’s Dead was recorded in a single take at a local studio which was an extension of producer Derek Tompkins house. The song felt like a ghost walk in a permanent Halloween, it’s doom laden motifs – rat-scratching guitars, footstep bass, Eldritch incantations – all brilliantly over the top.

At nine and a half minutes long though – it’s three minutes before Murphy utters a syllable – every major passed, but under the spell of it’s strangeness, Walthamstow record shop owner Pete Stennett agreed to press five thousand twelve inch singles on white vinyl. Released on his own Small Wonder label, they sold out in a matter of weeks. It didn’t last; love didn’t tear Bauhaus apart, Murphy’s ego did the job instead, depending on who is whispering in your ear. Just make sure if they do that the lights are all still on.

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