"So anyway, the other day I rang up Satan and said,
"Beezlebub Baby! How's the Hellfire? What's the good hate potentate?"
And he goes, "Tesco it is your solemn duty to recruit the Youth of America for my Legions of Darkness. For your efforts you will be seated at my right hand, the Goat of Mendes at my left. You been a bad boy Tesco?"
"Damn straight sugar daddy Lucifer! I be riding Hot Rails!""
Hot Rails to Hell
Tesco Vee and White Flag
Flipside Vinyl Fanzine vol. 3
The tune was blistering and the intro was hilarious. I never listened to another song as much as that one in 1987. Tesco Vee had managed to steal the record from the rest of the artists on that compilation. It was an old Blue Oyster Cult diddy with a great new twist. It made you wanna bang your head and throw up the "Devil Horns". Kinda made me yearn for the Heavy Metal Heroes I had grown up with. But why? In 1987, I had started to get drawn back to my musical beginnings; Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Ozzy and Alice Cooper. A newer more aggressive Metal was making headway among some of my friends and it combined the speed and aggression of Punk Rock with the old standby themes of Metal. The result was Metallica, Slayer etc... I was hooked again. But...was I ever off the hook? In 1984, my new found love; Punk Rock had a new twist on rebellion. Speed, aggression, passion and a kind of socio-political smarts that I found lacking in other music. It was love at first listen, I couldn't get enough. Then I realized, that as I dug deeper into this "new" form of youthful rebellion, the same ideas and themes constant in regular old Rock and Roll were still there. The style was just kinda different. The Ramones sang love songs, the Germs sang about sex, DOA sang about war and the Misfits sang about ...Satan.
There he was again, the Devil. Always popping his head up to give me a smile and a wink. I knew he was evil. I knew he wanted my soul. I knew the gratification was fleeting and the penalties were harsh. But Damn! He was such a good salesman! I fell for his songs again and again. Who was it who lamented, "The Devil always has the best tunes." ?? Damn he was good (charisma wise).
So, I wondered, how did the Devil get such a foothold in Music and the Arts? A google search of Devil Songs produces over 16 million hits. A search on an internet music website produced over 500 song titles with the word Devil in them. Turns out, not only does the Devil have good representation, but he's been at it a long time. Since the beginning really-or the written beginning.
Depending on your Religion, or lack there of, the Devil can mean different things. From metaphor to the actual manifestation of all that's evil, he has a reputation.
In Judaism, Satan (ha-satan)is simply an employee of the Almighty, acting as a prosecutor to the Humans who stand before him. He also gambles with God (see the Book of Job)-and plays what else? The Devil's advocate!
In Chritianity he's a fallen Angel (Lucifer), a ruler of Hell (see Milton's Paradise Lost) and a grotesque horned monster (Book of Revelation), sometimes charming, sometimes vile, but always evil. He wants the destruction of Humanity and he wants to rule the earth. He's present wherever you look for him, and he can twist the minds of men to commit unspeakable acts of savagery. He's always looking for a Soul to steal (or buy - Faust). He's everything that a good and loving Creator is not.
In Islam he is Iblis (Shaitan sometimes) and was made of "smokeless fire." He has great powers of suggestion, but he's 2nd only to Allah (God) in his effectiveness at this talent.
Eastern Religions by and large, have no central evil character, but many lesser "Tempters" of humanity. Hinuism has Asuras. Buddhism has Mura and Devadatta. China had Taoist and Confucian philosophies that saw Evil as the equal and opposite of Good (Yin-Yang)-just natural forces which must be kept in balance.
The ancient Eygyptians had Set and the Greeks had Hades. The Romans had Pluto and the Norse had Loki. The Aztecs had Acolmiztli. All rulers of the Underworld, some more evil than others.
I know what you're saying, "What about the music already!" I'm getting to it. Just wanted to establish the whole commonality of Evil thang. So ok...
We could trace the rise in Devil inspired music as far back as God inspired music (Gospel). They came up together, but in the interest of keeping this blog short, let's just mention some works like, Guiseppe Tartini's "La Sonata del Diavolo" in G minor (The Devil's Sonata 1692) or maybe Prokofiev's "Suggestion Diabolique" for piano, or Franz Liszt's "Faust Symphony" as early examples of classical music about his Evilness.
Some classical musicians unintentionally invited unwanted aquaintance with Satan. Niccolo Paganini was such an exraordinary violinist that people claimed he had made a pact with the Devil (a recurring theme). One person reportedly said he could see Mephistopholes himself helping Niccolo's bow. The rumors were so insistent that after Paganini died he was buried in unconsecrated ground (5 years later his body was moved to consecrated ground, the furor had subsided by then-he'd been cleared of all charges).
It seems the early Church took the Devil and his influence very seriously. When Pan, the Greek God of among other things, Rustic Music and sexual prowess, started getting popular in the late 1700's, the face of the Devil incorporated Horns and the feet, Cloven Hooves. The Church felt it had to deal severely with any unauthorized pagans, and a likeness to the Devil was just the recipe to ruin a reputation. It took nearly 30 years to dampen the popularity of Pan in song, art and literature. But by then the Devil had moved on to other things.
When Spiritualism took off in the 1800's, Evangelists equated it with the old reliable standby; witchcraft. It took no time in dispatching this post Civil War pastime. Contacting ghosts of any kind was Satanic. It seemed anything new and challenging was fodder for the Church's ire.
By the time a new and interesting form of music emerged in the early 20th century, the Evangelists had nearly run out of ideas(evolution) or expressions(Impressionist music and art) to castigate. Thankfully came Jazz. Owing it's roots to African field hollers and minstrel shows, this new musical form took America by storm and fired up Religious orders (mostly White), who labeled it "The Devil's Music" in the prohibition era 1920's. It's close association with speakeasys made it the perfect target. Much like Darwin's Theory though, the cat could not be put back in the bag, and music never again would be crushed under Religion's heavy hand. Not that it quit trying.
In the 1930's a young Blues musician named Robert Johnson appeared on the scene. It seemed (by some reports) the young man had left a Mississippi plantation to become a great Blues Musician, and achieved that very goal not 2 years later. A story soon formed around Johnson that he had gone to a crossroads near the plantation at midnight, where he had met a large Black Man who offered him all the talent required to become the greatest Blues musician ever, all it would cost him was his Soul. The man was the Devil of course. Johnson agreed, and a modern Faustian legend was born (although some claim that the lesser known Tommy Johnson was actually the guy who sold his Soul). Robert Johnson reportedly told the story himself on a few occasions, stoking the fires so to speak. He even penned the songs, "Cross Road Blues" and "There's a Hellhound on my Trail," cementing his legend for posterity.
The notion in the Blues of selling one's Soul was nothing new. Clara Smith sang about it years earlier. Johnson just made it new and exciting, putting a modern (1930's modern that is) spin on the legend. Hell, even way before Faust, there is a legend of St. Theophilus of Adana (538 a.d.) who sold his soul to the Devil, signing a contract in blood, to gain a higher position in the Orthodox Church. He got his soul back after much penitence and the intervention of the Virgin Mary. Faust sold his for knowledge, Clara for reasons unknown, Johnson for talent and in the story by Washington Irving, Tom Walker did it for buried riches. Whatever the case, the moral of these stories is clear; pleasure/comfort/fame is momentary, the price paid eternal. The ole "Wages of Sin" argument. None the less, the Devil had found the perfect medium from which to sell his wares, and sell 'em he did.
In the 1940's the World found itself at war and new Evils (Nazism, Fascism) would present themselves for our National focus. That however didn't stop Churches from decrying the likes of singers such as Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra (the first "Superstar" in the world of music). Sinatra's sway with teenagers, especially female teenagers, gave parents and preachers of the 1940's pause for concern.
By the next decade (1950's)Old Blue eyes would be investigated for being a "Red" by the FBI. Was this the time that the Devil took on his reddish hue? Maybe, but the threat of Communism in the States soon was eclipsed by a more urgent (and as it turns out enduring)threat, the birth of Rock and Roll. Hooyah!
Spawned from the loins of Rhythm and Blues and Country (two Devilish art forms themselves), Rock and Roll (a slang word for sex)courtesy of Alan Freed and Sam Phillips of Sun Records soon took America by storm. The Hips of Elvis Presely led the way, blazing a path across thousands of teenage turntables and blistering the ears of their Godly parents. Rock and Roll sent Religious institutions into a dizzying spiral of despair. It spread like syphillis in a whorehouse, infecting a population that was ready for anything that would take them away from the boring doldrums of the 1950's. Sock hops and Do-wops ruled the day.
The Devil was right there with 'em too. Religious leaders wasted no time in excoriating this sinful new music. They preached, protested and seethed. Frequently, Rock and Roll was only to happy to give them ammunition. Jerry Lee Lewis breaking down and yelling, "I've got the Devil in me!!" stands as a fine example. But it all seemed in vain, brilliant marketing kept Rock and Roll on top. It's been there ever since. The Devil riding it's coattails all the way.
Through the 1960's it raged, morphing and growing. Changing and adapting. Rock and Roll became Rock music.
Having fun was its banner. Hedonism its march. Naughty or nice, the Devil was in the details. Being bad would never feel so good. From the freelove of the Hippies to the excess of the arena Rock Bands. The Devil was here to stay.
Through the medium of Rock, the Prince of Darkness would bear his mug in the guise of painted performers (Arthur Brown, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Gwar) or call to you from back alley bad boys (Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, Motorhead). Everyone knows him (Joan Armatrading's- The Devil I Know), where he lives (Slayer's- South of Heaven), how to get there (AC/DC's- Highway to Hell), the various form's he takes (Pogues- Whiskey You're the Devil) and even where he walks (Neil Young's- The Devil's Sidewalk). It seems there isn't anything he isn't willing to share through song. Which leads us back to where I started.
The Devil has the best tunes. It's not all 1980's Hair Metal (not that a good jolt of Motley Crue isn't refreshing now and then), it's everywhere. He's everywhere. Serving as a warning. Tempting us with his guile and charm. Making an offer we can't refuse. Playing on our sympathies and crooning, "... if you care to take a dare I'll make a bet with you." Is he just a metaphor that Rock (or other music) has taken ownership of? A mockery in the form of a song? A scary joke or a dire warning designed to save your soul? Where were you when the Devil first rocked your world? Did you bang your head? Throw up the Devil horns? Did you shake your head in disgust or dance your ass off? What song of sin or redemption has moved you most?
Come on people, and pay the Devil his dues...
Here's my top 10 Devil Songs:
1. Black Sabbath - N.I.B. (Nativity in Black)
2. Rolling Stones - Sympathy for the Devil
3. Nick Cave - Up Jumped the Devil
4. Steve Earle - Devil's Right Hand
5. AC/DC - Highway to Hell
6. Elvis Presley - Devil in Disguise
7. Mitch Ryder - Devil With a Blue Dress
8. Cliff Richard - Devil Woman
9. Misfits - Devilock
10. Charlie Daniels Band - Devil went Down to Georgia
Johnny Cash - The Devil to Pay
Robert Johnson - Hellhound on my Trail
Iron Maiden - Number of the beast
Motley Crue - Shout at the Devil
Alice Cooper - Go To Hell
Blue Oyster Cult - Hot Rails to Hell
Mad Sin - Naughty Little Devil
Krewmen - Hell Train
Germs - Lexicon Devil
Cramps - Papa Satan Sang Louie
My Favorite Movie Devils:
1. Robert DeNiro - "Angel Heart"
2. Al Pacino - "Devil's Advocate"
3. Peter Fonda - "Ghost Rider"
4. Ray Walston - "Damn Yankees"
5. Jack Nicholson - "Witches of Eastwick"
6. Claude Rains - "Angel on My Shoulder"
7. Tim Curry - "Legend"
8. Peter Stormare - "Constantine"
9. Harvet Keitel - "Little Nicky"
10. Linda Blair - "Exorcist"
In case you haven't heard yet, you need to know: Musical Family Tree is curating a six-concert series in Broad Ripple Park that takes place on various Friday evenings this summer (featured on page 7 of this recent Indy Star article!).…See More