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Nightmare Fuel / Tom Waits

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Tom Waits has lots of songs with disturbing lyrics, but the really impressive feat is his ability to scare you just with instrumentals. We're not talking about songs with sudden Scare Chords and the like — Tom Waits will scare you with quiet instrumental music.

Though, it must be said most of the Nightmare Fuel imagery happened when his music became more avant-garde from Swordfishtrombones on.



  • "Underground." This was the song that marked Waits' shift from Jazz/Blues crooner to the at-times terrifying avante-garde musician he is, none moreso than on this opening track. Waits' vocals, uttered in a barking growl as he vividly describes a subterranean world right underneath our feet without us knowing about it, will send a chill down your spine. Many people (fans of his or otherwise) have commented on how this already-terrifying song is used to even-more-terrifying effect in the chop shop scene from the movie Robots.

Bone Machine:

  • "The Earth Died Screaming," where Waits sings how the entire planet apparently died while he was asleep. To make the song even more eerie the final lines quote from Fryderyk Chopin's "Funeral March," then fading into "Dirt In The Ground", a melancholic Grief Song about the fact that we're all gonna be dirt in the ground one day anyway. And those two songs just open the album!
  • "In the Colosseum"
    The dogs are having someone
    Who is screaming in the mud
    In the Colosseum tonight
    (...) It’s always much more sporting
    When there’s families in the pit

The Black Rider

  • "Lucky Day (Overture)" features Waits shouting through a megaphone, while naming all the bizarre freak acts on display in his circus.
  • "Black Box Theme" is a very sinister instrumental, complete with the sounds of something leaking.
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  • "It Ain't No Sin", where William S. Burroughs sings, one should say "talks", the macabre lyrics in his Creepy Monotone voice:
    It ain't no sin to take off your skin and dance around in your bones.
  • "Oily Night" is a Tick Tock Tune set to a satanic rituel.

Mule Variations

  • "What's he building in there?"
    • There's nothing explicitly scary about "What's He Building," but the whole thing is just incredibly creepy. And the fact that it's spoken completely deadpan and monotone somehow makes it worse.


  • Poor Edward. "Some still believe he was freed from her, but I knew her too well; I say she drove him to suicide, and took Poor Edward... to hell..." *shudder*
  • "We're All Mad Here". Urrrrgh. Don't listen to it late at night...

Blood Money

Real Gone

  • "Don't Go Into That Barn," start to finish.
    When the river is low they find old bones
    When they plow they always dig up chains

Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards

  • His cover of "Heigh Ho" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Definitely a case of The Cover Changes the Meaning - the original was a cheerful work song, but his version is creepy and a little depressing without changing the lyrics at all.
  • "Army Ants". You know how some people can make the phone book sound sexy? Tom Waits can make a biology textbook sound like the secret history of Hell.
  • "Dog Door", which doesn't have a particularly disturbing title. Even apart from the lyrics, there's the simple fact that they're performed by Tom Waits, who could sing "Happy Birthday" and have it sound like a death threat.
    • This is parodied by Bill Bailey in his interpretation of how Tom Waits would perform the nursery rhyme "Three Blind Mice": "Blood on the cheese! / Little mousey running for his life / You goin' t'Hell / In a mousetrap..." Which is itself a bit Nightmare Fuelish, if you think about it.
  • "Children's Story" is creepy as well. "Once upon a time there was a poor child, with no father and no mother... And everything was dead... And no one was left in the whole world..." The thing about this one is that it's simultaneously very scary and very, very sad.

Bad As Me

  • "Hell Broke Luce". War Is Hell does not begin to describe it.