“I’m at a point in life when nothing feels shocking to me. I need something to shock me! I’m almost ready to see a UFO.”
– CeeLo Green
The list is compiled chronologically by the start of the musicians’ careers.
- “Constipation Blues” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was one of the pioneers of shock rock. He delivered one of our Top 11 Rock N’ Roll Screams on his 1956 hit, “I Put a Spell on You.” Hawkins often appeared on stage with Henry, a smoking skull on a stick. Hawkins never duplicated the success of “Spell,” but he influenced many rockers who followed.
One of his most outrageous follow-ups was “Constipation Blues,” which he sometimes performed with a toilet bowl on stage. “Most songs are sung directly from the heart. I think that was directly from the bowel,” Hawkins said in Now Dig This. “I’m in Queens Hospital in Honolulu, and I find I’m constipated. And I says, ‘What? It won’t move? Aw, I don’t believe this!’ I mean they gave me enemas and everything and nothing had happened.
“And then two days later after I finally found relief, I got to a piano. And I sit down and I figured out how to do this, and I’m glad because if I go into a nightclub and the people are sort of dull or uppity, I’ll lay this song on them. After this song, l done put a spell on them, man, I feel very good!”
- “Fire” by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Arthur Brown opens his No. 2 hit “Fire” with the shout, “I am the God of Hellfire and I bring you – Fire!” Brown shocked audiences when he performed wearing a flaming helmet. Brown explained the pyrotechnics in Rolling Stone. “We took a helmet with horns on it like from the ancient Norse legends, put a dish underneath it with a strap that went under my chin that was attached to a screw. The screw would get very hot, because the dish was full of petrol, and my goodness, when that went up in flame, it went up, and the heat would come down onto my skull.
“We added a pad, but it would wobble and spill and my clothes and the stage would catch fire. Then we put wings down the side of the face on either side, that’ll hold it much firmer and then it won’t wobble and it worked. I went to a club a few years ago, and you can still see the scorch marks on the ceiling that I’d left there.”
Brown, who has re-released the self-titled debut album that featured “Fire,” maintains that after 50 years of performing the song he has never been seriously injured by flames.
- “Candy” by Iggy Pop
Iggy Pop made his bones as a shock rocker as frontman for the Stooges, a group that would influence punk bands that followed. By 1990, Pop had released his ninth solo album, Brick by Brick. Its second single, “Candy,” was a duet with Kate Pierson of the B-52’s. It showed a softer side of Pop and became his biggest mainstream hit.
“The song refers back to a key girl in my life, my teenage girlfriend Betsy. She’s been in a lot of my songs,” Pop revealed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I was looking back on my relationship with her and I thought, ‘Let’s be fair. Let the girl have her say.’ I wanted a girl who would sing with a small-town voice and Kate has a little twang in her voice that sounds slightly rural and naïve.”
- “No More Mr. Nice Guy” by Alice Cooper
We’ve looked back on Alice Cooper‘s “School’s Out” and “I’m Eighteen”, but who can get enough of a guy that performs with a live snake? When “No More Mr. Nice Guy” was re-recorded for Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock, Cooper explained, “‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ is one of those songs that, it was me screaming back at the public. At the time I was guilty of every single thing that was wrong with America. And then I said, ‘OK, that does it. No more Mr. Nice Guy. The gloves are off.’ And they said, ‘You mean you were being a nice guy?’ And I said, ‘Yeah. I can get a lot worse.’ And it ended up being one of those songs everyone connected to.”
Cooper co-wrote the song with guitarist Michael Bruce, who told House of Rock that Cooper “changed the whole song about himself and the press. The original lyric was, ‘I used to be such a sweet sweet thing, but that was just a burn / I used to break my back just to kiss your ass and got nothin’ in return / All my friends told me man you’re crazy for being such a fool / But I guess I was because being in love made me so uncool / Now I’m no more Mr. Nice Guy.’ So, he made it about himself and the press, rather than about a guy/girl thing. It worked, and who knows, the other might’ve worked as well, we’ll never know [laughs].”
- “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath
“Paranoid” was the first single from Black Sabbath‘s 1970 album Paranoid. Tony Iommi wrote the song’s guitar riff and bassist Geezer Butler came up with the lyrics. Butler and Ozzy Osbourne almost dismissed the song as a ripoff of Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown.” “We always loved Zeppelin in them days, sitting ’round on the floor smoking dope and listening to that first album,” Butler told Classic Rock. “So when Tony came up with the riff to ‘Paranoid’ me and Ozzy spotted it immediately and went: ‘Naw, we can’t do that!’
“In fact we ended up having quite a big argument about it. Guess who was wrong? The fact that it became such a big hit for us — and is now probably our best-known song — says it all, really.
“The irony is, Zeppelin also ‘borrowed’ quite a few riffs for some of their best-known songs too. But that’s the thing about rock ‘n’ roll, everyone does that, especially when they’re young and just starting out. It’s putting your own stamp on it that counts. And Sabbath certainly did that.”
- “I Wanna Rock” by Twisted Sister
Twisted Sister‘s “I Wanna Rock” was written by frontman Dee Snider, whose heavy metal persona, hair and makeup became the band’s trademark. “I wrote all of Twisted’s songs by myself and I would work off song titles,” said Snider in Songfacts. “I would just sit with my list of song titles and the title would inspire a groove, or maybe an idea. In the case of ‘I Wanna Rock,’ I wanted to have that Maiden feel, and I just started singing that groove. All of a sudden I just started singing, and the entire song came out: A verse, B verse, chorus, all that stuff. So I really don’t construct songs.
“‘I Wanna Rock’ was designed when I realized that Iron Maiden was having tremendous success with their sort of galloping metal rhythms, and then there was the anthemic thing that I like to do, which bands like AC/DC do, and one of my biggest influences, especially in that area, Slade. I thought that if I could combine the drive of a Maiden song with the anthemic quality of an AC/DC song, I’d have a fucking huge hit. And I was right. [laughing] I was right.”
- “Bullet” by the Misfits
The Misfits are a horror punk outfit that formed in 1977. Singer and keyboardist Glenn Danzig wrote “Bullet,” a sexually explicit retelling of the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. “Our records were basically what you got to see. The ‘Bullet’ 45 showed the violent side,” Danzig told Thrasher in 1986. “The death, accepting death, maybe even the political side, but more on the violent side. That was the side of us that was shown.
“I like violence, I think it’s part of the world. It’s only normal to write about things that you see a lot of and that you experience a lot of, so that’s what I like to do. What I am is a survivalist, and a realist. I basically just come up with an idea. If I want to write about it, I do. Usually I just start writing lyrics and they’ll take me where I want to go. I don’t have any set standards. Sometimes I come up with great lyrics. Sometimes the stuff is like poetry and I just work it in, like ‘Bullet.’ That was all poetry.”
- “Dr. Feelgood” by Mötley Crüe
“Dr. Feelgood” was Mötley Crüe‘s biggest hit, what singer Vince Neil called the band’s signature song. Bassist Nicky Sixx wrote “Dr. Feelgood,” which appeared on the 1989 album of the same name.
Producer Bob Rock asked Sixx to revisit the lyrics after the demo version was recorded. “Bob took me aside and said, ‘Listen, you’re a really good lyricist. I think you should take another run at this like [Mott the Hoople’s] Ian Hunter would do or [Bruce] Springsteen would do. Tell a story,'” Sixx recalled in Entertainment Weekly. “It really is just that. It’s a story of things I’ve seen running up the street, things the guys have experienced being on the street. Some made-up characters, and some that are actually real.”
Sixx told Rolling Stone that he later found his original lyrics. “I had sort of forgotten that and I found them in a box recently. I was like, ‘oh, wow.’ It had a whole different theme to it. It was called ‘Dr. Feelgood,’ but a whole different thing lyrically. In the end it was inspired by drug dealers. Is there ever just one? A good drug addict always has more than one dealer.”
- “Sick of You” by GWAR
The violent performances of shock rockers GWAR typically include grotesque costumes and the audience being sprayed by fake blood, urine and semen. “Sick of You,” off the band’s second LP, Scumdogs of the Universe, was written by the late singer Dave Brockie.
Rhythm guitarist Mike Derks explained in Ultimate Guitar that one of the band’s original drummers, Jim Thompson, played a role in the song’s creation. “Jim was a funny guy. He would go around and get a tune in his head and would sing it and sing it until it drove everyone crazy. So he would sing the ‘na nanana la la la’ like 24 hours a day until it was driving us all crazy. We actually all got sick of it and so I took that riff he had been humming the whole tour and started playing it and Dave wrote lyrics and that’s where it came from.”
- “Dragula” by Rob Zombie
When Rob Zombie left metal horror rockers White Zombie, his first solo LP was 1998’s Hillbilly Deluxe. That album yielded Zombie’s most popular song, “Dragula.” The song’s title was inspired by The Munsters TV series. Grandpa Munster, played by Al Lewis, drove a custom racecar called DRAG-U-LA. In 1998 Zombie told Billboard that The Munsters “was a classic show with great comic characters. Strangely enough, ‘Dragula’ was one of the last songs finished for the record. It fell together really fast and worked, but it could just as easily not [have] been on the record.”
DRAG-U-LA was built for the show by Barris Kustom Industries from a real fiberglass coffin. Its front license plate was Grandpa’s marble tombstone with the inscription: “Born 1367, Died ?”
“The Munsters Theme” with DRAG-U-LA
- “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Marilyn Manson
Shock rocker Marilyn Manson‘s first hit was 1995’s “Sweet Dreams,” a cover of the Eurythmics 1983 No. 1 song. Manson’s nightmarish video includes self-mutilation. “I’ve always liked that song,” Manson told Capitol Ballroom. “I like doing that, I haven’t gotten sick of it. I always thought the lyrics were very strong and dark and I wasn’t sure if people had seen it the way that I saw it so I wanted to redo it and let people get to experience it the way that I did.”
“It has nothing to do with sadomasochism, which people have often thought it does,” the Euryhmics’ Annie Lennox explained in 24 Matins. “But actually if you want to make it about that, that’s okay. Marilyn Manson took it to one extreme and we were very glad that he did.”
“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by the Eurythmics