As we all know, you can hardly pick up a newspaper these days or switch the tube onto cable news without having your senses assaulted by the latest exploits of the basically annoying to the outright criminally insane. As this is a music blog and (gladly) not an analysis of the latest wacko being made a tabloid celebrity, I’m going to stick to songs that address these kinds of mental health issues.
1) “Ticking” – Elton John
30 to 4o years before the tragic events of Columbine, Aurora, or Newtown, Elton and lyricist Bernie Taupin addressed the issue of mass shootings in this sparse piano / vocal treatment. A hauntingly prescient tune, it reportedly was inspired by a Vincent Price movie titled “Targets”. Whatever its source, it’s a chilling reminder that it could have been written today (with more PC treatment I guess) and not have been much different.
“An extremely quiet child they called you in your school reports
He’s always taken interest in the subjects that he’s taught
So what was it that brought the squad car screaming up your drive
To notify your parents of the manner in which you died”
2) “I Don’t Like Mondays” – The Boomtown Rats
Based on true events, Geldof relates that he wrote this after reading a report on the shooting spree of 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer. Spencer fired into an elementary school playground in San Diego on January 29, 1979, killing 2 adults and injuring 8 children and a police officer. She showed no remorse and explanation was “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day”.
“The silicon chip inside her head, gets switched to overload. And nobody’s gonna go to school today, She’s going to make them stay at home.”
3) “Jump They Say” – David Bowie
From Bowie’s 1993 “Black Tie, White Noise” album, the song deals with Bowie’s emotions on the suicide of his half-brother Terry in January 1985. The lyrics tell of a man pushed to end his own life from the desperation from society’s pressures. Bowie has also cited his own feelings about jumping into the unknown metaphysically. Although a funky tune, Bowie added some jazz influence with a solo from trumpeter Lester Bowie (no relation).
4) “Psycho Killer” – Talking Heads
This may be the ultimate tune about the disintegrating mind of a mad man. Originally penned by the band as a ballad about a serial killer that was meant to be performed by an Alice Cooper-like singer, the song, with its famous driving bass line morphed into what we hear today. In case you were wondering about the bridge that’s sung in French – here it is along with a translation…
Ce que j’ai fait ce soir-là / Ce qu’elle a dit ce soir-là / Réalisant mon espoir / Je me lance vers la gloire… OK
What I did, that evening / What she said, that evening / Fulfilling my hope / Headlong I go for glory… OK
5) “Vincent” – Don McLean
This 1971 ballad by McLean is an homage to the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh. In addition to its recognition of Van Gogh as a titan among post-impressionists, the song touches on Van Gogh’s struggles with depression and eventual suicide at the age of 37.
“On that starry, starry night
You took your life as lovers often do
But I could have told you, Vincent
This world was never meant
For one as beautiful as you”