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How Stephen King inspired one of Nick Cave's best songs

Sometimes inspiration can come from the furthest artistic outliers one could imagine; Glen Matlock, for example, was inspired to pen the Sex Pistols classic ‘Pretty Vacant’ after hearing Swedish pop maestros ABBA perform their own landmark track ‘SOS’. However, other times the influencer and the influenced are as closely linked as one could ever hope for. That is certainly the case for Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds and horror fiction hero Stephen King.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are a perfect fit for Stephen King’s horror novels. Menacing and brooding in equal measure, the Aussie rocker has always cut himself apart from the rest of the rock scene by being arguably the only man capable of actually enacting a murder ballad. Cave, a literary mind corralled by rock and roll, has often looked to his library for inspiration, and for one of his archetypal hits, he leant heavily on Stephen King.

With a continually impressive career somehow still unfurling in front of him, Nick Cave’s canon of work is hard to top. No other artist has been as solely committed to an artistic vision as Cave has. What’s more, he’s managed to do it all with such a flair of authenticity that it is worth reminding oneself that he isn’t a Victorian serial killer, prison shiv-maker or rock and roll cowboy as his songs sometimes suggest.

Despite such a rich canon, there is likely one song that Cave will be forever remembered for; the brilliant ‘Red Right Hand‘. The track has taken on a new bounty of fans ever since it was picked up as the iconic theme tune for BBC’s period crime drama Peaky Blinders, and the moody sonics and menacing undertones of the track lend themselves perfectly to the show’s Shelby family. Considering the inspiration for the song, it’s hard to see how the programme could have any other song opening its credits.

‘Red Right Hand’ was wholly inspired by Stephen King’s novel The Stand and acted as the comical melodrama of a man on the edge of town and his sanity. The Stand was first released in 1978 and, perhaps a little too close to the bone, sees a weaponised influenza pandemic be released upon the world. It sees the few remaining strands of society turn on each other in a quest for dominance over their dystopian reality.

Guitarist for the band, Mick Harvey, said of the song to Uncut: “‘Red Right Hand’ is an odd one, ‘cos it came out of a jam during some demo-recording in Melbourne. I think Nick, myself, and Thomas Wyndler (drums) were there. Nick was sick of always playing C minor or G minor. His fingers always would go to the same chords on the piano. It’s a common problem. He said, ‘Ah, play something in a key I don’t know.’ So I started playing that in B. I thought, ‘He won’t be able to find that, he won’t be able to, you know, dictate.’”

Adding: “It’s just a 12-bar turnaround, really. Nick didn’t really have a song, but we recorded the basic track when we recorded Let Love In and we knew what the atmosphere was meant to be. It’s just got this feel and that’s what the Bad Seeds are capable of.”

The track has now been endlessly covered, with everyone from Arctic Monkeys to Iggy Pop to Snoop Dogg getting in on the action. But there’s no better version of the song than the original, largely because there is no better fit for the dark and marauding tales of Stephen King than the perenially dark-coated genius of Nick Cave.