My eyes raised a bit recently when I noticed Ville Valo of the band HIM posted a list of his favorite goth tracks of the 90’s.
It’s interesting to me to imagine Ville as a DJ deep into the scene much like I was at the time. And it got me thinking about what my own such list should look like. Out of a whole era of music that some of us spent so much time and effort sifting through, what’s worth saving and remembering?
Nothing against Ville’s picks but here’s my own version of the best of the 90’s list.
Note I decided to go with all rock-based bands for this. No particularly dancey tracks here. The 90’s were also full of darkwave club tracks but that would make for a different list.
#10. The Horatii ‘Darrell and Alicia’
At first it sounds like a joyously bisexual chorus. “I have desires for Darrell… But I’d settle for Alicia.” I’ve since learned Darrell is a girl, named for a character in British children’s literature. Any way you happen to hear it it’s a fit for the goth scene, where one’s never too sure and that’s part of the fun. The Horatii’s witty songwriting puts a devious smile on my face.
#9. Every New Dead Ghost ‘Obvious’
I played this constantly on my college radio show. I suppose I felt drawn to the rawness and sincerity of it, contrasting with some of the more pretentious bands of the time. I was always looking for goth-punk crossover, which was somewhat hard to find believe it or not, and this fit the bill. Nowadays we are blessed with a thousand goth-punk bands.
#8. Sunshine Blind ‘Francis/Pepperland Laid Waste’
Sunshine Blind seemed a rising star for a brief moment as they toured extensively and recorded two solid albums. Then they dropped out of sight and are rarely mentioned ever since. I’ll never forget their ballad ‘Francis,’ that still echoes across the years in my mind.
#7. Babylonian Tiles ‘Basking in the Sun at Midnight’
Babylonian Tiles were an unusual group. They had key changes, they had time changes, they had classic rock organ, and pop hooks like you wouldn’t believe. They were fronted by a tiny, cute, disabled girl named Bryna, who I understand has since died. This song gets in your mind and never leaves. Something unique that is now gone.
#6. Inkubus Sukkubus ‘Belladonna and Aconite’
There are good bands and there are good songs. I can never quite decide if Inkubus Sukkubus is a good band. When I try to listen to a complete album it all starts to sound the same and I lose interest. Nonetheless this song thrilled me like nothing else the first time I heard it and still does.
#5. Rosetta Stone ‘An Eye for the Main Chance’
Rosetta Stone are known as one of the first bands to set the trend of copying the style of Sisters of Mercy, and they’ve taken flak for it. The irony is if you go back and listen now, their songs have more character than many others that came after them. Bitter ballad ‘An Eye for the Main Chance’ is all their own, and its opening strings never fail to draw me in.
#4. London After Midnight ‘Your Best Nightmare’
London After Midnight’s first album Selected Scenes from the End of the World stands as the perfect hybrid of glam and goth. LAM were the only band owning such a style in the 90’s. I know of nothing else to really compare until perhaps HIM years later. As much as I passionately dislike this artist’s later politically-oriented work, their early Romantic ballads I keep coming back to year after year.
#3. Corpus Delicti ‘Noxious (The Demon’s Game)’
As far as straightforward rock bands go, my vote for the best one goes to Corpus Delicti of France. Most 90’s goth bands sounded like Sisters of Mercy. Corpus Delicti sound like the opposite of Sisters of Mercy. Instead of plodding along monotonously, this music dances nimbly, shifting and changing at every turn. These guys know how to play their instruments and do it with tremendous style and flair. It’s hard to pick a top song as they have many, but ‘Noxious’ is super epic and memorable.
#2. Mors Syphilitica ‘Below the Baleful Star’
This band is so good I almost soiled myself the first time I put them on, and they’ve remained a favorite ever since. If you like talent, style, and creativity, here it is in spades. As as far as I’m concerned there’s no better vocalist than Lisa Hammer, and nothing more Romantic than Mors Syphilitica. Eric and Lisa have since moved on to other projects and greater fame (something on TV I’ve never seen but am told is popular). Note, some will say earlier group Requiem in White was even better.
#1. Faith and the Muse ‘Sparks’
Two musicians from different backgrounds came together and somehow formed the best goth band of the 90’s. Their most essential track ‘Sparks’ is a gently floating, shimmering, crashing masterpiece. The lyrics are sublime. The song takes me to special moments in memory when I’ve felt the most alive. If I had to wipe out the entire decade of scene music and keep just one song, it would be this one. The 90’s may be long gone, but the sparks still leave shadows in my vision.