The Most Haunting Songs About Sex and Love
Forget the ‘Halloween’ theme song; some of the most disturbing music produced is about heartbreak
Forget the Halloween theme song; some of the most disturbing music produced has been the product of broken hearts, passionate sex and scorned lovers. While Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” has undoubtedly held the crown as the most freakish Halloween-adjacent radio hit for three decades, there’s a whole slate of less supernatural tunes that deserve to be queued up today for their creepy, haunting sonic spins on material we can all relate to: love and sex. So we decided to take a break from the usual sex-positive playlists spinning here at Playboy to put together a list of anthems that reflect our most human desires. Warning: Emotions ahead.
“CLOSER,” NINE INCH NAILS
The concept of another human invading your body and possibly your soul is wild, but that’s what happens when you’re on the receiving end of sex—especially if you’re getting screwed by a self-loathing Trent Reznor. What, you’ve never wanted to fuck someone like an animal? Then you’re missing out on some deeply haunting, dangerously obsessive sex.
Violation, desecration, penetration, complication: the 1994 hit reminds us the act of making love (blech) is a savage, magical, often rabid attempt to escape ourselves and fix our most intrinsic flaws. Then again, it’s kind of romantic when someone else says you make him perfect, the scent of your sex lingering in the air. Let’s not forget the Mark Romanek-directed music video, a grainy visual feast of disturbing shit, among which includes a harvested heart, vaginal diagram, pig’s head and an adorable monkey tied to a cross. Demented, but that’s love.—Anna Del Gaizo, Senior Associate Editor
”PAPARAZZI,” LADY GAGA
One of the many features that makes Gaga’s 2008 hit “Paparazzi” so enchanting is largely owed to the song’s multiple interpretations. First, many deduce the song speaks of a tenacious hunger for fame and infamy (“Baby there’s no other super star you know that I’ll be”). Second comes a deranged interpretation, as demonstrated in the video, which presents Gaga as a psychotic lover consumed by a famous man whom she ultimately murders by poison (“I’m your biggest fan I’ll follow you until you love me”). Gaga later revealed the song is not entirely about either of these theories; instead, the tune marries the two: “[The song] about the media whoring, if you will, watching ersatzes make fools of themselves to their station. It’s a love song for the cameras, but it’s also a love song about fame or love—can you have both, or can you only have one?” —Bobby Box, Contributing Editor
”MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK,” RADIOHEAD
The final track on their landmark anti-opus, Kid A, is an emotionally revealing lament about how to recover from a broken heart the Radiohead way. In his signature falsetto, an anguished Thom Yorke wails about losing himself in a sea of booze and pills, cheap sex and sad movies—anything to numb the pain of lost love. For a band that traffics in existential dread and alien dystopias, this is the closest they’ve come to writing a full-blown love song. We’ll take it.—Dan Barna, Contributing Editor
”JOLENE,” DOLLY PARTON
Almost half a century after its release, Dolly Parton’s most famous single outside of “I Will Always Love You” continues to flick its thumb pick at our nerve endings, tapping into the universal insecurity that is aging and whether our partners will truly love us for better or worse. Throughout, Parton sings steady, never wailing, as she contends with the inner thoughts of someone who expects her partner may not only be cheating, but planning to leave her altogether. The song’s most gnawing message is just how little control we have over our own love lives: “There’s nothing I can do to keep from crying when he calls your name,” she sings. Parton’s version has been reimagined from genre to genre with differing levels of emotion by everyone from The White Stripes to Brandi Carlile; a personal favorite is a little known version recorded by former Voice contestant Cody Belew in which the country artist hits a truly cathartic release the original so cooly avoids. Find it on Spotify.—Shane Michael Singh, Executive Editor
”HOWL,” FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE
Nobody knows forlorn love quite like U.K. crooner Florence Welch. Sure, she’s already perfect for Halloween because she conjures those goth vibes with fiery red hair and pale-ass skin to go with her bewitching voice, but it’s the intensity of her songs that really put us in the mood. “If you could only see the beast you’ve made of me,” begins Welch on “Howl.” The song is about what it feels like to be in love, losing all control and all the emotional extremes it eventually takes us to. This is super relatable, right? “Screaming in the dark, I howl when we’re apart / Drag my teeth across your chest to taste your beating heart.” I mean, it’s out there, but what’s more romantic than being so in love, you want to rip apart your lover?—Samantha Saiyavongsa, Research Editor
”HALLELUJAH,” LEONARD COHEN
It’d be a big, fat disservice to music as an art form not to include Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on a list of haunting songs about love. In addition to inducing chills, the song (which Cohen penned for a 1984 album that Columbia Records unbelievably rejected) is a profound study on sex, religion and spirituality. Jeff Buckley’s heartbreaking rendition on the 1994 album Grace three years before the young artist’s death shined a light on Cohen’s masterpiece, establishing a cult status continuously reaffirmed by the seemingly bottomless list of artists who have covered it since—from Bob Dylan and Rufus Wainwright to Regina Spektor and Justin Timberlake. Regardless of how you interpret the song’s complex layers of lyrics and symbolism, it is, at the end of the day, a deeply moving song about love and loss.—Liz Suman, Senior Editor
This soul piano ballad broke all sorts of records when Adele released it in 2015, four years after her album 21. Aside from being a triumphant return to the airwaves for the young British singer, “Hello” and it’s music video, directed by Xavier Dolan, became a worldwide phenomenon, even inspiring a skit on Saturday Night Live about its universal appeal. But beneath all that fanfare is a haunting narrative about abandonment, regret, mortality and loss. As a follow-up to what many consider to be the saddest modern song of all time, “Someone Like You,” 25’s lead single presents a desperate protagonist clamoring to be relevant again in a former lover’s life. The most disturbing success of the song is not how easily it can be applied to all types of relationships, but rather how it reveals the harshest truth about love: at some point, we will all be faced with a situation in which the other person has moved on—and we have not. This song is the embodiment of an unanswered text; being on the other side has never felt so hopeless.—S.M.S
”I PUT A SPELL ON YOU,” DIAMANDA GALAS
Few songs ever attain the haunting madness of “I Put a Spell on You,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ classic declaration of mad obsession, which culminates in the creepiest of lines: “I don’t care if you don’t want me, I’m yours right now.” Over the years, the song has been covered by a host of musical geniuses. Nina Simone’s version (the live one she sang in October of 1965, not the studio track) is infused with witchy vindictiveness. Marilyn Manson’s is blood-curdlingly creepy—like a serial killer’s note more than a love letter. But the most terrifying of all is by Diamanda Galás, a ridiculously talented outsider singer and pianist who often uses her vocal gifts in the service of terrifying her listeners. When she’s not ululating, screaming or keening in any number of languages, she’s covering jazz, soul and spiritual songs with chilling beauty. Her version of “I Put a Spell on You” will surely enchant, if not actually curse you.—Matthew Zuras, Contributing Editor
”WOLF LIKE ME,” TV ON THE RADIO
Another allegory about the raw power of desire and how it can feel so good to be bad, this track became a chart-topper for the Brooklyn-based indie rockers and it’s no wonder why. Everyone loves a good werewolf/sex fiend metaphor that finishes with howling at the end (see lyrics: “When the moon is round and full, gonna teach you tricks that’ll blow your Mongrel mind”). The next time you hear this seemingly innocent dance groove come on, just know that it’s really about uncontrollable lust and sexual frustration, all to the tune of a catchy rock riff.—S.S.