Bela Lugosi's Dead

Album: Bela Lugosi's Dead (1979)
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  • Lyrics
  • Bauhaus bass player David J wrote this song's lyric after bingeing on vampire movies that were showing on TV in England (this was before Netflix). He and guitarist Daniel Ash were both watching these films, and got to talking about them one day on the phone when they were setting up a rehearsal.

    The next day, that conversation was in his head, and David started writing lyrics on the topic. In his Songfacts interview, he explained: "I came up with that first line, 'White on white, translucent, black capes back on the rack.' And it was like, 'Oh, this is interesting.' It's so descriptive - it is about the vampire. It's also about the actor - it's about retiring from the part, but then he sort of plays with the idea. A vampire can never retire from being a vampire, because that's for eternity."
  • This was the first single from Bauhaus. The song, which is a very dark 9-minute epic on the death of a vampire, is considered the true start of the gothic subculture. The song's horror-esque lyrics along with the many eerie effects and monotone sound were standards for the rise of gothic music.

    Gothic is a style of architecture (as is Bauhaus), but when this song emerged, music journalists used the term to describe it. Lead singer Peter Murphy is not a fan of the term, as he feels it misrepresents their fans. He has pointed out that he's only a vampire when he's performing this song.
  • You can spend a lot of time trying to re-create the distorted, ethereal sound on this song, but the band did it in one take without any tricks or editing. The distortion was generated by running the instruments through guitarist Daniel Ash's amp.

    Lead singer Peter Murphy explained in a 2002 SOMA interview: "We recorded 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' in the time that it took to play it, no second takes; and when I sang that, I was completely in touch with myself in a way that I'd never been before. It was the stuff of dreams, it was magical." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Gerrit - Belfast, Northern Ireland, for above 2
  • Bela Lugosi was an actor famous for his portrayal of Dracula. Among other things, this song helped associate goths and vampires. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jeff - San Jose, CA
  • The song came together very quickly in the studio. After David J wrote the lyric, he brought it to rehearsal that night and turned it over to lead signer Peter Murphy, who came up with the vocal melody. That band ran through the song, coming up with their instrumental parts on the fly in a fit of inspiration. A few weeks later, they made a proper recording of the song that ended up being very similar to that first run-through.
  • This was the first song Peter Murphy recorded, and his first take is the one that stuck. In a Songfacts interview, he said: "It felt quite certainly to me - and we all felt it - magical and quite 'us' - natural and, as for all our songs and performances and attitude, a genuine original, whole event as a band never before seen or heard of, I as lead frontman a rare natural and effortless star. An unmissable 'got to see this guy' one off. Yet I was in fact a part of a group of four crucial members of a final group identity. All very cool."
  • This song earned the band a dark and mysterious reputation, but it's not typical of their work. "It was only representative of one aspect of that band," David J told us. "If you look at the whole catalogue, it's pretty diverse."
  • Bauhaus perform this song in the opening sequence of the 1983 movie The Hunger, starring David Bowie. The film, appropriately, is an erotic vampire thriller.

    Peter Murphy starred in the original British version of the Maxell "Break The Sound Barrier" commercial as the guy getting literally blown away by the music. The spot was directed by Howard Guard, and when The Hunger director Tony Scott was on the prowl for a band to open his movie, Guard told him about Bauhaus. Scott saw them performed and knew right away they were perfect for the part. Murphy did not disappoint, bringing his distinctive prowl to the scene.
  • Murphy has called this song the "'Stairway To Heaven' of the post-punk period."
  • After breaking up in 1983, Bauhaus regrouped for a 1998 tour, then disbanded again until 2005, when they played the Coachella festival, where they opened their set with this song, performed by Peter Murphy while hanging upside down (punctuating the line, "The bats have left the bell tower"). Later that year, the group launched a tour; they returned to the road in 2006, but that was it for their live performances. They did release another album in 2008.
  • This has been used in a number of TV shows and movies, typically in the horror genre. Among them:

    TV:
    Smallville ("Thirst" - 2005)
    One Tree Hill ("From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea" - 2005)
    Fringe ("Midnight" - 2009)
    Supernatural ("Live Free or Twihard" - 2010)
    Eastbound & Down ("Chapter 16" - 2012)
    True Blood ("Death Is Not the End" - 2014)
    American Horror Story: Hotel ("Checking In" - 2015)

    Movies:
    Dead Man's Curve (1998)
    Good Luck Chuck (2007)
    The Collector (2009)
    Vampire Academy (2014)
  • The French band Nouvelle Vague covered this for their 2006 album Bande à Part. This version was used in the 2007 movie Elvis and Anabelle.
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Comments: 13

  • Eliseu Carvalho from Canoas, Rs, BrazilIs it just my perception or that drum pattern sounds very "Bossa Nova-ish" (is that a word?)?
  • Cyra from Angel City, NyIn the song, Bela Lugosi's name is pronounced incorrectly. The band says "Loo goh see", when it's actually pronounced "Loo goh shee"
  • Anna K from Mexico City, MexicoAny song fact about Peter Murphy's "Cuts you up"? Please!
  • April from Raleigh, NcI don't think it matters so much about what genre this band was in. i too grew up on bauhaus, cure, smiths, & other similar bands. Whether they are Goth, New Wave, Punk, doesn't matter if you truly love the song. Why argue the genre, when you are commenting on a song that stuck with you all this time. I do agree with Don in San Antonio, TX re: most people only know bauhaus by this song and go around with it's cover labels all over thier books/notebooks. But that is just the change of time. It's very hard to find bauhaus cd's. The new one 'go away white' was the only one i could locate-in stores atleast. The version & video for the hunger is much shorter & the quality isn't that great. I like bauhaus when they were the two other bands + or - band members: tones on tails & love and Rockets. Anyway, for me the song still haunts me to this day. I love it.
  • Ross from Leicester, United KingdomThis song only sounds cliched because it helped to invented goth cliches in the first place.
    Goth started with arty punk bands like Bauhaus and the often overlooked UK Decay (not forgetting the influence of bands such as Banshees,Killing Joke and Joy Division- bands that followed included Southern Death Cult(featuring Ian Astbury later of the Cult),Sex Gang Children and Sisters of Mercy who along with the Cult helped take goth into the mainstream of UK rock - this is all long before Marilyn Manson etc.
  • Jeff from Columbus, OhSpeaking of the fact that most people don't know Bauhaus beyond this song, I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Peter Murphy's solo projects as they are quite good. Check them out...
  • Becca from Kansas City, KsActually, Jose, you are quite wrong. The Gothic movement was an art(by art I mean visual art, music, and fashion) movement in the late 70's early 80's that started on the heels of the British punk movement. The term "Goth" was actually first used to describe Siouxsie Sioux of of the Banshees by a journalist in London in 80-81, somewhere around in there. He called her a "delicious gothic fairy". Bauhaus is considered one of the first Gothic bands, however. they themselves don't classify it as Goth.

    Personally, I find this song to be so hideously cliché. This was not the first song I ever heard by them, that distinction belongs to "Who Killed Mr. Moonlight" which still is one of my favorite songs. I've never cared for this song, but sadly it's the only by them that's on this site. Go figure.
  • Sara from None, United StatesJose: Don't confuse goth and emo. The goth subculture started because of music. Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus are two of the early goth bands.
    Anyway, this is a great song, even though it is over 9 minutes. :P
  • Jose from Austin, TxGOTH??? Are you serious? Not to be rude, but you can't call them Goth since that term didn't come around until the 90's. Please, they're punk/new wave and that's their genre, not GOTH. Sorry, but for those of us who grew up on Bauhaus and the like (e.g. Cure, Dead Kennedy's, Circle Jerks, Smiths, etc...) the term GOTH is offensive. Don't categorize this type of music with the emo/goth movement of last 15 years; they are completely separate from each other. It's like saying Green Day is punk--not. Don't confuse the posers for the real deal.
  • Colin from Bradford, EnglandBauhaus originate from the town of Northampton in the East Midlands of England, which is also my home town. I first heard them when I was at school and they were just starting up and playing local gigs.
  • Craig from Madison, WiOh my God! Bela Legosi is Dead?
  • Joel from Columbia, ScAlways thought it was a novelty song.
  • Don from San Antonio, TxHave you noticed most people's knowledge of Bauhaus begins and ends with this song? Not only that, most of those people haven't even seen The Hunger. And to top it off, they usually have Bauhaus scribbled on everything.
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