Screengrab via Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" video on YouTube
One would think that Valentine's Day, with its swooning goofiness, is to goths what New Year’s Eve is to bartenders: strictly amateur night. But actually the celebration of Saint Valentine is the solstice end of the Circe’s mandated goth year that begins with Halloween and ends with this Hallmark/Big Chocolate dominated fuck-fest. It’s the last night of wild sensuality before the hated Spring and Summer, when layering is impossible and the sun makes mascara run and those most hated of poseurs, beach and health goths, rule. Valentine's Day is the last day to bone out the crypt with a goth’s loved/detested ones in relative peace before the earth is once again overrun with norms and exposed toes.
The overlap between goth love songs and goth breakup songs is large to the point of being a perfect circle. Goths make each other mixes with the expectation that the music will serve to woo one another, soundtrack their coitus, and then, inevitably, be cried over. In the 80s, it saved crazy money on Maxell tapes—money that could be better spent on lace, candles, and creepers. Nowadays, regardless the platform, certain tropes remain. A good goth love/sex/break-up song should be equal parts high drama expressed with self-aware glee and high camp expressed with utter and complete seriousness. Every good goth song is a high-wire act; too dumb or too smart or too arch or too precious and it falls flat and is just minor chord emo or, worse, an Amanda Palmer poem. A good goth song should be too many candles in the boudoir but only because the electricity has been turned off. Cutting lines on a copy of Interview With a Vampire, not thinking it’s actually Lestat. It’s not easy; it just dresses that way.
Caveats: This list purposely excludes the most obvious choices (“Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “Hanging Garden,” “The Killing Jar”) because I’m operating under the assumption that everyone with even a passing interest in teased hair and ankhs already recites the lyrics to those songs every morning as part of their daily goth affirmations. The list also excludes a number of newer goth bands as goth rock is an insanely conservative genre and there are very few new bands, outside of maybe Prayers and Iceage, that (while many are still excellent) don’t sound exactly like the bands on this list. There are also a few songs here that purists would either denounce as decidedly NOT goth or too basic for words (where’s that real shit for the heads? London After Midnight?! Rosetta Stone!? Switchblade Symphonyyyyyy?!?!). Fair enough. Attempts were made to balance some off kilter goth sex jams with the goth sex jam hits. You can date a purist if you like and receive their mix either literally or as euphemism but, goth TBQH, sleeping with purists is only hot in Schindler’s List slash-fic, so go with goth god.
Anyway, with no further ado, in no particular order as numerical order is for the insipid day world, a comprehensive, objectively perfect list of 13 Saint Valentine’s Day Goth Songs. Please enjoy sensually.
Swans – "Jim" / World of Skin – "I Want To Be Your Dog"
If you are gothically inclined and live in the Western Hemisphere, it’s entirely likely that, by the transitive property, either you or one of your parents has had sex with Michael Gira or JG Thirlwell. You know the old saying, “There is no stronger love than the love between a self flagellating misanthrope and a singer of Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel”? Well this ballad from M Gira’s soon-to-re-enter-the-mists-of-time Swans to Lower East Side ladies man JG Thirlwell really drives that truism home. New York goth has always been concerned with the, uh, terrestrial pleasures as well as the infernal/divine, and these two men (while they’d both undoubtedly, as is the gothic male tradition, deny that they’re goths) were/are/forever will be the bedroom poster boys for those who prefer their darkness infused with industrial thud and one’s boyfriend going through one’s purse looking for beer money.
Lil’ LES Vampire Nick Zinner suggested Gira and Jarboe Swans offshoot’s cover of “I Want To Be Your Dog” as his favorite romantic goth song. So we’re including that for sensual verisimilitude. BTW one of the guys in World of Skin was in an Atlanta band called Mary My Hope and one of the other members of Mary My Hope later joined The Black Crowes. This is in no way pertinent or particularly sexy. I just think it’s neat.
Tindersticks – "Rented Rooms"
This goth cheater’s anthem is definitely more a break-up ballad than a sweat-up-the-sheets barn burner but, you know, love is complicated. “We tried a drinking bar/ it gets so very hard/ And when the cab ride gets too long / We go fuck in the bathroom.” Damn straight. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Clan of Xymox – "Back Door"
God-like BBC DJ John Peel, possibly in the first use of the term, called Amsterdam’s Clan Of Xymox “darkwave.” If you’re bothering with this list at all, it’s a safe bet that you find both John Peel and made up sub-genres sexy. This song, off of Clan of Xymox’s second album, Medusa, is, I swear, very popular among bat cave denizens. I promise that I’m not just picking this because it’s called “Back Door” and I have the mentality of a 14 year old. It’s very, very sensual, guys.
Peter Murphy – "Cuts You Up"
When my friend James Sparber—a former devout Christian who went by “Jimmy Spoiler” once he discovered making out and Robitussin—was in high school and saw Peter Murphy perform, he called out “Wolf killer!” in between songs until Peter Murphy stopped the show to explain that goth music wasn’t about death and vampirism, it was about joy and life, man. Whatever, Peter. Sucking blood is good as hell, and this song is the perfect backdrop for biting that special someone until they’re undead, undead, undead.
Specimen – "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"
Specimen were arguably the most glam of the goth bands, arguably the innovators of the “deathhawk” hairstyle, and inarguably good, ridiculous fun. “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is their “hit,” and it’s entirely proper for singing along to just before one’s first (or last) kiss.
Cranes – "Come This Far"
Cranes were an English goth/dream pop band that combined almost industrial rhythms with the lilting atmospherics of a string quartet in the court of the Faerie Queen. I conducted an informal Twitter poll—“Older Goths, what’s your favorite Cranes song to make out to?”—and was shocked— SHOCKED—that there were more votes for songs off of 1994’s Loved than the band’s 1991 masterpiece Wings of Joy. While this is not a Gothacracy, I am also loath to indulge in any party shenanigans that might corrupt a goth caucus that I set up. So rather than the clitoral passion play that is “Tomorrow’s Tears” I will bow to the Twitter goth majority and include a song off the, to my ears, heavier Loved.
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – "The Ship Song"
Nick Cave is a goth king who, like Andrew Eldritch, forever rejects the crown. He’d probably prefer to be thought of as a blues man, but goths have enough problems without taking on what Nick Cave does or doesn’t want. Goths stopped calling out for “Release The Bats” at every concert, and that, in this world of tears, will have to suffice. Nick Cave is also our Frank Sinatra and has more sexy songs than you can shake a sexy stick at. Picking one is to court madness. The popular favorites among sophisticated goths would probably be either “Straight To You” or “Into My Arms,” but both those songs have been in enough weddings that they’re practically standards. Nobody fucks to standards. So save those songs for your wedding or funeral and blast the full-on croon of “The Ship Song” while you peg your Jonathan Fire*Eater cosplay honey-bunny till the break of dawn.
Nine Inch Nails – "Closer"
It’s tempting to, rather than attempting to be clever, just print the lyrics to “Closer” and go make myself a nice absinthe. But I’m a professional (and out of sugar cubes) so I’ll just say that if Necco ever wants to make some real money, they’ll make a line of Sweethearts candy hearts inscribed with “I Want To Feel You From The Inside,” “You Let Me Complicate You,” and “It’s Your Sex I Smell.” I would immediately empty my bank account and I suspect you would too.
Love And Rockets – "So Alive"
Yeah this big, big hit from the Bauhaus offshoot, Love and Rockets, is an obvious choice, but goddamn it just try to goth kiss at goth prom without it. Before goth descended into full steampunk ahead insanity, it involved a fair share of cool, cool Bowie worship and wearing sunglasses indoors. And trying so very hard, despite one’s peers and tormentors insistence on the contrary, to feel desirable. “So Alive” was instrumental in making many a lil’ darkling who was maybe outside the dominant notions of what was considered attractive feel sexy. For that it deserves a Nobel Prize. It deserves all the Nobel Prizes.
Type O Negative – "Black No.1 (Little Miss Scare-All)"
Fronted by big-dicked problematic fave Peter Steele, Type O Negative was one of the only decent gothic metal bands. Riffity riffs and mosh pits don’t lend themselves to Wuthering Heights reenactment for the most part. But Steele’s rumbling baritone and love of wry high drama made him a lovely leading man in any discerning metal-leaning witch’s wet dream. Just keep politics off the table in lieu of your butt.
Diamanda Galas – "You’re Mine"
Cabaret, whether it’s the mode of entertainment, the Sally Bowles story, or the original Cabaret Voltaire, is a huge part of gothic style and resultant lovemaking. Diamanda Galas is the master of the theatrical and demonic. All of her music, if you’re man/woman/non-binary enough to handle it, works in the… I’m running out of gothic euphemisms for sex. Anyway, “You’re Mine” is the almost arbitrary choice, in a catalog of wonders, for this list because it’s with the least sketchy member of Led Zeppelin, John Paul Jones, and, along with feral shouts and a lovely organ, talks about body parts and possession, a.k.a. sex.
X-mal Deutschland – "Incubus Succubus 2"
The first “Incubus Succubus” (X-mal’s first single in 1982) was a death dirge banger that’s perfectly swell to smooch the foundation off one’s pasty paramour, but “Incubus Succubus 2” is the bat-winged club jam. Plus it was on Cleopatra’s essential Goth cheat sheet compilation, Gothic Rock 1, without which no earthen casket is complete.
Sisters of Mercy – "Lucretia, My Reflection"
Sisters of Mercy are definitely the greatest goth band of all time, probably the greatest band of all time, and arguably the greatest humans (and one drum machine) to have ever lived, ever. Picking a single Sisters song to soundtrack your “introducing the ol’ sword cane to Patricia Morrison” (if you know what I’m saying… I’m sorry) is no easy task. All their songs really doctor my avalanche (if you know what I’m… Jesus I’m really fucking sorry). I just love Sisters of Mercy so goddamn much. I’m settling on “Lucretia My Reflection” because it’s one of their biggest hits, has Patricia Morrison on it, and “hot metal” and “methedrine” are what I call my nipples.
Zachary Lipez also has good goth nicknames for other body parts, but you'll have to ask about them on Twitter.