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Music

Six Definitive Songs: The ultimate beginner's guide to Bauhaus

When we think of gothic rock music, a few bands immediately spring to mind, say the half-sweet, half-darkness echoes of The Cure, or the head-bang inspiring, sometimes hilarious, croons of Peter Steele and Type O Negative. Yet there is one particular band often, and rightly so, credited with pioneering the gothic rock movement. That band is Bauhaus.

Formed in Northampton in 1978, the band, led by vocalist Peter Murphy, originally went by the name Bauhaus 1919, a reference to the German art school and the first year of its formation. Just a year later though, Bauhaus dropped the year from their name. They subsequently became known for their gloomy and dark onstage presence, unsettling post-punk sound and eerie lyrics.

While undoubtedly ‘gothic’ in nature, the band have often rejected the tag, preferring to define themselves as ‘dark glam’. Indeed there is an element of glam to their live performances and the band covered glam-king David Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ in 1982, which was released alongside an excellent music video shot in the catacombs of Camden Market (really just a series of tunnels, but still very scary indeed). The cover also catapulted the band to stardom and garnered an invite to play on Top of the Pops.

As well as having a profound glam influence, Bauhaus were heavily inspired by dub and reggae. Bass player David J had claimed that the band’s most popular song, ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead,’ was initially intended to be a dub track.

The band’s other influences were varied especially considering their dark sound. Kevin Haskins, the band’s drummer, once said, “Our influences were many. The obvious ones were glam rock and punk rock, but when we were recording, when we finished each day, we’d usually record in a residential studio so we would all stay together at night time. So when we’d wind down, we’d always play either dub reggae or late Beatles, like Sgt. Pepper. When I mention that to people they’re kind of surprised. So we weren’t listening to dark music, there were many influences.” 

Bauhaus are a band then, that may seem easy to figure out given their pioneering status in the gothic rock genre but are, in fact, a complex collection of influences that attempt to defy definition. Here we have compiled six tracks to serve as a beginner’s guide to discovering Bauhaus for the first time.

Bauhaus’ six definitive songs:

‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ (1979)

Bauhaus’ first single remains their most popular. Released on Small Wonder in 1979, the track opens with a delayed rimshot that never lets up, allowing a patient bassline to build up and create an eerie atmosphere akin to entering a haunted medieval castle. The guitar lines are reminiscent of old creaky doors being opened to the horrors that hide behind them.

The song takes its title from horror actor Bela Lugosi, who starred as Count Dracula in the 1931 version of Dracula. At almost ten minutes in length, the lyrics theatrically depict the funeral of Lugosi, with a procession of virgin brides and swooping bats aplenty.

‘Dark Entries’ (1980)

The opening track from the band’s debut album, In the Flat Field. The album is widely regarded as one of the first gothic records. The band had a clear idea of where they wanted their sound to go and so decided to produce the album themselves.

‘Dark Entries’ is arguably one of the band’s most ‘straight-up post-punk’ tracks, and especially the most post-punk sounding song on this list. Kevin Haskins’ persistent rolling drum beat provides the base for David J’s descending bassline, giving room for Peter Murphy to wail on his guitar with a generous amount of feedback and for the echoing yells of Daniel Ash.

‘All We Ever Wanted Was Everything’ (1982)

The only non-single track on this list is from the band’s third studio album, The Sky’s Gone Out, released on Beggars Banquet and featuring a cover of Brian Eno’s ‘Third Uncle’. It is a calm and emotional acoustic effort and a departure from their traditional sound. 

This is a sombre track, which sees Ash yearn for the things he misses from childhood, although with a gothic twist. “Get up, eat jelly sandwich bars and barbed wire,” he laments. The track features more intricate guitar work compared to Bauhaus’s other efforts and arguably laid the foundation for bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and their 1984 album, Ocean Rain, especially considering both Ash and Ian McCulloch’s vocal delivery.

‘Ziggy Stardust’ (1982)

Bauhaus released this hard-hitting cover of one of Bowie’s best-known songs in 1982 as their eighth single as a band. The story goes that the band had some downtime and started an impromptu jam of the song for a laugh, seeing as many critics had been comparing Bauhaus to the glam-rock star. When they heard back the tapes that had been running, they were enthralled with the sound.

The band actually met Bowie on the set of The Hunger, a 1983 gothic horror film in which Bowie was starring. On meeting Bowie, Kevin Haskins said, “We were all very big fans of Bowie and, like many musicians of the post-punk era, Bowie’s performance of ‘Starman’ on Top of the Pops was a significant and profound turning point in our lives. So to say that we were excited was somewhat of an understatement.”

‘She’s in Parties’ (1983)

Without a doubt, one of the tracks that exemplify the influence that dub and reggae had on the band. A deliciously grooving, danceable baseline with guitar work that simultaneously captures the simple rhythm of classic reggae tracks and the lead saxophone lines commonly used by groups such as UB40.

The vocals are reminiscent of David Sylvian’s Japan efforts and reveal an influence on Interpol’s Paul Banks and his vocal delivery style, notably on 2002’s Turn On the Bright Lights. A single of the track was released in 1983, reaching number 26 in the UK singles chart, and an extended version later appeared on Bauhaus’ fourth studio album, Burning from the Inside.

‘Drink The New Wine’ (2022)

The most recent single from the band was released earlier this year. The track shifts and changes across its five-minute length, opening with an undoubtedly Bowie-inspired ‘Space Oddity’-esque cry from Ash. Soon after, a familiar dub-style David J bassline comes into a patient build-up while Ash sings, “Dreaming of a perfect world” repeatedly.

The atmosphere of the track builds with reverb-heavy vocals and distant guitar work before seemingly changing completely at around three minutes into an acoustic effort, again similar to Bowie’s space-inspired career. The familiar bassline comes to see us through to the track’s conclusion, where Ash briefly switches to spoken vocals, arguably nodding to Pink Floyd. ‘Drink The New Wine’ arguably serves as an overview of Bauhaus’ work to date and shows that the band has some excellent work left in them yet.