Picture sleeve for Bauhaus's Bela Lugosi's Dead
Northampton, U.K. residents Daniel Ash (guitar), his friend David J. Haskins (bass), and younger brother Kevin Haskins (drums) had been in various bands since childhood. Many of these bands did not last more than one gig, but one of the longer lasting of these bands, The Craze, performed a number of gigs in Northampton. When The Craze broke up, Ash tried to convince old schoolmate Peter Murphy to join him in forming a band, simply because Ash thought Murphy had the right look for a band. Murphy, who was working in a printing factory and had never written lyrics or music, decided to give it a try; during Murphy and Ash’s first rehearsal, Murphy co-wrote “In the Flat Field”. Old band mate Kevin Haskins joined on drums, but Ash made a point of excluding David J. Haskins, recruiting Chris Barber as the bassist instead, even though Haskins had been the driving force behind their previous bands, because Ash wanted a band he could control. Soon, however, Ash reconsidered and brought in David J. to replace Barber. The band played their first gig at the Cromwell pub in Wellingborough on New Year’s Eve in 1978. The group initially named themselves Bauhaus 1919 (a reference to the Bauhaus art movement of the 1920s), later shortened to Bauhaus. Together for only six weeks, the band entered a recording studio for the first time to record a demo at the Beck Studios in Wellingborough. The band recorded five songs during that session; one of them, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, was released as the group’s debut single in August 1979 on Small Wonder Records. This is today’s featured single.
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” starts off with a staccato drum beat, soon accompanied by a very simple minor-key melody played on bass, with weird screeching guitar effects in the background. Immediately the track has a minimalist appeal. The lyrics begin about 2 minutes and 50 seconds into the song (just as the guitar transitions to a D9sus6/ C#7sus3/ Bsus4/ Bx melody) : “White on white translucent black capes/Back on the rack/Bela Lugosi’s dead.” The song may trace its roots to the punk movement of the day, but this song is much more nuanced than most punk rock. It is at the same time both evocative and restrained, and above all else, dark and gloomy. Murphy’s vocals are very effective here, with reverb being used on the track with great effect, and “I’m dead” repeated enough times to sear into the memory of the listener. The song ends with the same staccato drum beat with which it opens, coming to a sudden ending. This is probably one of the most memorable debut singles, even though at 9 minutes and 39 seconds, it may be a bit too repetitive for some listeners. Nevertheless, the song should be regarded as a goth rock masterpiece, even if the passage of time has obscured just how groundbreaking it was. A live version was included on the band’s “Press the Eject…” album.
The B-side of this single, “Boys”, is not as memorable as “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, but is a pretty good song. The lyrics are nonsensical (“We tried to fly /Is it so high/We don’t think so/We don’t think so”), but Murphy’s unconventional singing voice complements the song perfectly. Like the A-side, this song is somewhat repetitive, the melody being played with machine-like precision. The melody is simpler than “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, relying mainly on chords E and A. And the song ends suddenly, abruptly stopping after with Murphy’s final “uh” a little more than 3 minutes into the track.
Picture sleeve for the promotional release of Bela Lugosi's Dead
The single (catalog #: TEENY 2) was issued on Small Wonder Records. It had a picture sleeve with a black and white image depicting a bat, and the band’s name underneath the image, with “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” written in script under the band’s name. The band released three more singles, “Dark Entries”, “Terror Couple Kill Colonel”, and “Telegram Sam” (all songs previously recorded by glam rockers T. Rex) before the debut of their first album, “In the Flat Field” (1980), released on 4AD. The album topped the indie music charts and peaked at #72 in the U.K. Bauhaus’s success exceeded the resources of 4AD, so the band was transferred to 4AD’s parent company, Beggar’s Banquet. The band’s first two singles on Beggar’s Banquet were “Kick in the Eye” (U.K. #59) and “The Passion of Lovers” (U.K. #56). The band’s second album, “Mask”, was released in October 1981, and featured more keyboards to add to the diversity of the band’s sound. Their next single, “Spirit”, was intended as the band’s breakthrough single; however, it stalled at #42. The band was so displeased with their recording of the song that they re-recorded it for their next album, “The Sky’s Gone Out” (1982). In 1982, they also had their biggest hit with a cover version of David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” (#4 U.K.). Daniel Murphy was stricken with pneumonia prior to the recording of the band’s forth album, and as a result Ash and David J. Haskins were the driving forces behind “Burning from the Inside” (1983). The album’s lead single, “She’s in Parties”, reached #26 in the U.K. The night before Bauhaus was scheduled to play two shows at the Hammersmith Palais, the group decided to disband. They played their last concert on July 5, 1983, and “Burning from the Inside” was released a week later. Bauhaus briefly reunited for the “Resurrection Tour” in 1998, which yielded a new song, “The Dog’s a Vapour”, and a live album released in 1999, “Gotham”. They reunited again in 2005, and this reunion led to the band touring with Nine Inch Nails in the summer of 2006. They released an album, “Go Away White” (2008), their first studio album in twenty-five years, but this marked the end of the band and there was no supporting tour.