“Frankie Teardrop” – Suicide


Out of the blue … and into the black. This is the most horrific song I’ve ever heard. The premise is not original: a young man with a wife and child can’t afford to support his family … so in desperation he murders them and commits suicide. The strange thing about this song is how little is expressed in the lyrics.

While your typical death metal band would go into graphic detail about the murders, “Frankie Teardrop” provides very minimal detail about what happens. The musical background is a monotonous synth riff played over and over again. What makes this song so painful to listen to is the twitchy way singer Alan Vega spits out the lyrics (which sound like he’s reading from a newspaper). Vega then expresses the most bloodcurdling screams you’ll ever hear. The screams are so frighteningly intense, they must come from a place that’s inconceivably dark.

It’s a song that forces you to question why anyone would subject themselves to the most horrific art. The fact that the lyrics and music are so minimal is a reduction of dark ideas into their evil essence.

Author Nick Hornby wrote an excellent essay about this song in his book “Songbook” where he advised: “Me, I need no convincing that life is scary. I’m forty-four and it has got quite scary enough already … Friends have started to die of incurable diseases, leaving loved ones, in some cases young children, behind. My son has been diagnosed with a severe disability, and I don’t know what the future holds for him … So … please forgive me if I don’t want to hear ‘Frankie Teardrop’ right now. He later concludes: “That’s the real con of shock art: It makes out that it’s democratic, but it’s actually only for those who can afford it. And some of us, as we get older, simply find that we don’t have that much courage to spare anymore. Good luck to you if you have, because it means that you have managed to avoid more or less everything that life has to throw at you, but don’t try to make me feel morally or intellectually inferior.”

Even though I am 100% in agreement with Hornby, I’m not quite ready to dismiss “Frankie Teardrop.” Let’s just say that it’s a song I greatly admire, but can only listen to every couple of years.

“Dream Baby Dream” – Suicide / Bruce Springsteen / Neneh Cherry


It says a lot about a song when artists from different backgrounds, genres, and perspectives all record the same song. “Dream Baby Dream” was originally written and recorded by the seminal two-man punk duo Suicide (Alan Vega and Martin Rev), who did their thing long before there was such a thing called punk (they started in the early 1970s).

Many famous musicians were fans of Suicide, most famously, Ric Ocasek of the Cars (who produced one of their albums and had them perform on the 1970s NBC program “Midnight Special”) and Bruce Springsteen. You can hear a lot of Suicide’s influence in Springsteen’s minimalistic “State Trooper” from the 1982 album “Nebraska,” especially the shouts and whelps that come directly from Suicide’s monumentally distressing song “Frankie Teardrop.” Included here is an absolutely lovely live version of “Dream Baby Dream” by Springsteen interpersed with clips from F.W. Murnau’s monumental silent-era film “Sunrise.”

And … Neneh Cherry … who lately has been coming on strong as a punk Billie Holiday from hell, filtered through “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” -era Sly and the Family Stone and Eno-era Roxy Music, has her own killer version of “Dream Baby Dream,” from her monumentally awesome album “The Cherry Thing,” released in 2012.