There are few debut singles as remarkable as Bauhaus’s Lugosi’s Dead writes John Robb who talks to guitarist Daniel Ash and discovers the band, who had written the song just weeks after forming, knew they had something special …
A nine minute exercise in spooked dark dub, the August 1979 single, Lugosi’s Dead, was unlike anything you had ever heard before as it snaked its way out from the John Peel show when the iconic late DJ started hammering it.
In the post punk fallout, its dark atmospherics, and taut and sparse structure utilising dub, and an essence of glam, with a theatrical flourish sounded fantastically out of place and made the song and the band, by extension, the template for what would be mis-named Goth but what we would call alternative music at the time.
It's re-release this week only underlines its potent, timeless, power after all these decades: Forty years after its creation, the song still sounds futuristic and full of spectral melody and mystery like all great music should.
Its sense of space is enthralling, with the band - who had been in existence for just four weeks when they recorded it - being disciplined enough to leave space in their music instead of the usual high decibel clutter that defines most rock music.
It's this coolness and this editorial brilliance that was part of the genius of their creation of a song that has become part of the narrative of great British music in the post war years.
Bauhaus have made a huge impact on music culture - for many, they define the archetype Goth band with their dark theatrics, sex and death flash and black humour and their flash image of dark glam make-up, punk rock sharp and angular and ripped fishnet glory, plus the mixture of their love of black music like dub, disco and funk creating a danceable undertow so key to the form.
Added to this was the intensity and noise of punk and the dystopian flash of glam making their music an enthralling adventure. Like many bands of their period, they hate the term Goth and we prefer to see them as one of the great British art rock bands whose originality and artfulness was enthralling over a five year period where they created a series of songs that never replicated each other but all had their own innate trademark on them.
Generation after generation of rock bands has discovered their catalogue over the years; their DNA is planted deep in many groups and their occasional reformations saw sold out world tours. If we could, somehow, get all four members back into a room and onto the stage then they would now be Nick Cave stadium huge.
A burst of creativity
What made their debut single even more remarkable was the fact that the band had barely only just formed in their hometown of Northampton weeks before and the song itself, was one of the first they wrote in an inspired first rehearsal.
In this interview, guitar player Daniel Ash guides us through this inspiring series of events. Listen to him describe the claustrophobic, tiny rehearsal rooms and studios that birthed this brilliant burst of creativity: A late Seventies’ time when the group convened in a small rehearsal room in their hometown to see what they could come up with and within minutes had put the song together with sparks of ideas and an overload of imagination.
With drummer Kevin Haskins laying down a warped Bossa Nova beat, bass player David J looping around a spooked dub glam bass line and Ash himself providing his signature and highly original guitar sounds through an echo box - the basic sound came together in a communal flash for Peter Murphy to sing the hastily scrawled lyrics off a sheet of paper in that wonderful distinctive and defining voice.
At the end of the jam, the group all looked at each other and they just knew they not only had a special song but a very special group. Ash guides us through these moments of thrilling inspiration in the late Seventies’ post punk period when creativity was up for grabs and anything went.
He also describes their visit to the cigarette smoke filled local studio in Wellingborough where they recorded a set of demos for weeks later - one of which would become the version of Bela Lugosi's Dead which you still hear worldwide to this day.
The mixture of bravado and daredevil creativity is captured in this interview; the band’s insane confidence pours from the conversation and the idea that rock music was up for grabs is thrilling to this day.
Listen to this episode of The John Robb Tapes by clicking here.
John Robb films In Conversations for Lush’s Gorilla channel, fronts his acclaimed post punk band The Membranes and is also a music writer who wrote many groundbreaking features the late Sounds music paper