13 Songs for Halloween: "Night Shift" by Siouxsie & the Banshees

Features
10/28/2019
Janice Headley
photo by Mick Rock

ūüö®WARNING: For Halloween, KEXP is exploring the horrifying true stories behind some of the creepiest songs we play. Please note, this post contains highly disturbing and graphic content. Please continue at your own risk. ūüö®


"Now, wait," you might be saying. "Siouxsie & the Banshees have a song titled 'Halloween'..." And yes, you're right! In fact, there are a lot of creepy songs on their 1981 album Juju. (Did you hear the one about the severed heads?) But "Night Shift" stands as one of the most terrifying songs they've ever written, because (you guessed it) it's based on a real killer.

Only at night time... I see you
In darkness... I feel you

From 1975 to 1980, a man named Peter William Sutcliffe murdered 13 women and attempted to kill many more. The press called him the "Yorkshire Ripper", although two of the women he killed were from Manchester. At the time, it was said to be one of the largest investigations by a British police force. 

It was also an exceptionally vibrant time in UK music history: the post-punk scene was in full swing with bands like Joy Division, The Fall, Gang of Four, PiL, The Cure, Cabaret Voltaire, and more. Plain-clothed policemen and newspaper journalists would lurk at the back of the clubs, watching for anything suspicious. In 1979, Joy Division band members Peter Hook and Stephen Morris were questioned by the police when their cars were continually spotted in "seedy" neighborhoods of West Yorkshire at nighttime. 

My Night Shift Sisters
Await your nightly visitor
They don't bother me
No they don't bother me

Another post-punk band that was on the rise at the time was Siouxsie & the Banshees, one of the few women-fronted bands of the era. With their fourth full-length Juju, the band intentionally crafted a sinister tone. In the liner notes for the 2006 remastered edition of Juju, founding member Steven Severin told journalist Mark Paytress:

Juju was the first time we'd made, for want of a better word a 'concept' album that drew on darker elements. It wasn't pre-planned, but as we were writing, we saw a definite thread running through the songs, almost a narrative to the album as a whole.

Siouxsie added:

Juju did have a horror theme to it, but it was psychological horror and nothing to do with ghost and ghouls.

Guitarist John McGeoch adds:

We were more thriller than horror movie, more Hitchcockian blood dripping on a daisy than putting fangs in something.

The cold marble slab submits at my feet with a neat dissection...

And what could be more horrible than a real life killer targeting women in your neighborhood. "This news journalist told me that they had a lot of information about the Ripper before he was caught," Siouxsie said in an 1981 interview.  "I don't know how true... that he was a necrophiliac, at least while he was a gravedigger, and that was why he wanted to work the night shift."

The Yorkshire Ripper was caught in January 1981 and sentenced to life imprisonment on May 22, 1981. Juju came out June 6, 1981, reaching #7 on the UK Album Charts. Most recently, "Night Shift" was effectively used in a promo for the Netflix series Mindhunter, a show loosely based on the life of FBI serial killer profiler John Douglas.

In 1986, another band is said to have been inspired by the Yorkshire Ripper: Sonic Youth. On their third album Evol, they have a song titled "Marilyn Moore," which is the same name as one of the victims who survived and was able to provide police with a description of her attacker. The link has never been confirmed, but it's interesting to note, the song was co-written by no-wave icon Lydia Lunch, who also co-wrote the band's other song inspired by a murderer, "Death Valley '69."

 

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