The following article is for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as scholarly research or as a final authority on the subject.
We usually do “true” stuff on Fridays, but today we’re going to discuss songs about ghosts.
About the Ghost Songs
I present a lot of paranormal topics on this blog. Most of them are “true” stories of haunted houses or places. I’ve always been a sucker for a good ghost story.
There is, however, a practical reason I’m so interested in this topic: my upcoming paranormal mystery, Forever Road, stars a woman who sees ghosts.
When I began creating this character, I read many accounts from people who claimed to have had a brush with the paranormal. I listened to people tell ghost stories, carefully watching their facial expressions and body language. And I listened to songs about ghosts.
Here are a few of my favorites:
In this song, the narrator sees the ghost of Elvis and follows him up to gates of Graceland. As an Elvis fan who has been to Graceland during the anniversary of the King’s death, I can attest to the feeling of possibility and magic that hangs in the air around Graceland.
But this song is really about a trip Marc Cohn took to Memphis and how an experience with a piano player named Muriel helped him reconcile his feelings about his own mother’s death. The song never fails to put a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.
And it has one of the best descriptive lines about the American South:
They’ve got catfish on the table
They’ve got gospel in the air
Those two lines remind me of growing up in East Texas, of the salty smell of frying fish, of hearing hands clapping while the music played on Sunday mornings in church, and of the best part…listening to my family tell stories.
This song is a ghost story about an aspiring singer/songwriter traveling from Montgomery, Alabama to Nashville, Tennessee. The traveler is picked up by the ghost of Hank Williams who asks the traveler a series of questions, the answers to which are ostensibly the qualities he’ll need to “make it” in the music business.
- Can you make folks cry when play and sing?
- Can you moan the blues?
- Can you bend them guitar strings?
- Can you make folks feel what you feel inside?
The ghost of Hank ends the series of questions with a chilly warning, “If your big star bound, let me warning you it’s a long, hard ride.”
As a writer, I find this interesting because, to an extent, the same qualities are necessary to tell a good story.
This song is full of creepy lyrics which create an ominous, haunting mood. The details of the hotel are so rich, it’s easy to imagine being trapped there, a ghost in purgatory.
“Hotel California” is the subject of many urban legends, which makes it all the more spooky.
A popular legend is that the song references Satanism. The legend refers to the lyrics “haven’t had that spirit here since 1969,” and the part that mentions an inability to “kill the beast.” They also talk about the creepy album cover that shows a shadowy figure standing on the hotel’s balcony. Read Snopes’s answer to these theories here.
The song’s true meaning is said to be a naive musicians who find themselves consumed by sudden fame and an overwhelming lifestyle.
Jim Morrison had this excellent story about a childhood experience with the paranormal. Young Jim and his parents were driving in the desert. Around daybreak, they came upon a bad wreck involving some Native Americans.
Jim claimed the ghosts of the wreck’s casualties were running around, still confused and horrified at having died, and one of these ghosts jumped in young Jim and stayed.
True or not, this is one the best stories I’ve ever heard. It was obviously a story Jim had told often, and he told it well. Click here to hear him tell it.
This song is said to have been inspired by Ambrose Bierce’s short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Some say the song itself is about a ghost of a man killed in the Civil War returning home without realizing he’s dead.
Whatever the true meaning, this is a spooky song that always makes me think.