Undead undead undead
On January 26th, 1979, Bauhaus entered Beck Studios in Wellingborough, England, and recorded their reggae-infused gothic rock masterpiece and debut single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”.
The song is a long and brooding dirge, featuring the creaking floorboards of Kevin Haskins percussion, the slow descending basslines of David J, and Daniel Ash’s dub reggae guitars that crackle and hum to spine-shivering effect. All of this tenebrous atmosphere ushers into the crooning first lyric of the song “White on white translucent black capes” being sung with vampiric charismatic by frontman Peter Murphy.
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” is a tongue-in-cheek song that can be jokingly considered “Freebird”, or “Stairway to Heaven” for Goths, whose lengthy playtime is often used by many a Goth club DJ as an excuse for a bathroom break during a long set.
“If you wear black and your first single is “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” you’ve pretty much got a stamp on you. That’s always been one of our strongest songs, so it’s sort of undeniable, ” explains guitarist Daniel Ash, who, like all the other members of Bauhaus, insist they are either an Art-Rock or Post-Punk band.
“The English press called it Goth and the only thing I can think of is they heard us do “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” Ash says. “It’s a nine-and-a-half-minute song, it was the first thing we ever released, it made quite an impact, and the way we looked sort of backed it up. Ironically, we’re just like the original Bauhaus movement, which is art for function, the opposite of gothic.”
While “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” was cut in just one take, it would take the greater part of a year for the single to finally be released on Small Wonder records on August 6th, 1979. When it was finally released, it was pressed with a sleeve featuring a still from The Sorrows of Satan, a 1926 American silent film directed by D. W. Griffith, which was based on the novel of the same name. The back of the sleeve also famously features a still of Conrad Veidt as Cesare in the 1920 German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
During the song’s Beck Studio session, 4 other tracks were recorded but went unreleased such as the Ska Reggae-inspired song “Harry”, (named after Blondie’s Debbie Harry) which would emerge later on the Kick in Eye (Searching For Satori EP), and the CD version of Mask. Another track “Bite My Hip” would later be re-recorded as “Lagartija Nick”. Other unreleased tracks on the EP are the extremely rare “Some Faces”, and the original version of “Boys”, which was re-recorded for the original 12 inch’s b-side.
The Bela Session is available now on a special black and red vinyl via Bauhaus’ Bandcamp and Stones Throw Records.
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