The ‘King of Horror’ Stephen King turns 75 on September 21. The prolific writer has shaped modern-day horror with classics like It, The Dead Zone, and Misery and has made an indelible mark on pop culture. Since King is a huge fan of acts like AC/DC and John Mellencamp (he even had his own band the Rock Bottom Remainders briefly with Matt Groening and other writers, publicists, etc.), it only felt right to dedicate this week’s instalment of What’s Going On to songs that have been inspired by the author’s work.
Another great way to celebrate King’s milestone birthday is to pick up a copy of Biff Bam Pop!’s Editor in Chief Andy Burns’ The Art and Making of The Stand, the comprehensive guide to The Stand miniseries.
Ramones – “Pet Sematary”
We couldn’t start this look at songs inspired by Stephen King with anything else. With King being a Ramones fan and Dee Dee Ramone being close friends with director Mary Lambert, getting the punk legends to contribute a song for the film seemed like an obvious choice. Despite being dismissed by many diehard Ramones fans as overly commercial or pop fluff, “Pet Sematary” turned out to be the highest charting US hit for the band, peaking at #4 on Billboard’s Alternative Rock charts. “Pet Sematary” also holds the distinction of being the last Ramones music video to feature Dee Dee Ramone as he would soon depart to embark on a hip-hop career. Yes, you read that right.
Metallica – “Ride The Lightning”
What’s Metallica’s connection to Stephen King? Well, the name of the band’s 1984 album Ride The Lightning is a reference to King’s 1978 novel The Stand. Guitarist Kirk Hammett came across the phrase while reading King massive post-apocalyptic novel. Hammett told Rolling Stone in 2014: “I was reading The Stand by Stephen King, and there was this one passage where this guy was on death row said he was waiting to “ride the lightning.” I remember thinking, “Wow, what a great song title.” I told James, and it ended up being a song and the album title.” With both the song and the album title evoking electric chair imagery, you can clearly see how big of an impact The Stand had on the band.
JEFF the Brotherhood – “Cujo”
“Rabid dogs are scratching at my door but I won’t let ’em in because I’ve been bitten before.” In 2011, indie stoner pop artist Colleen Green referenced the titular St. Bernard from Stephen King’s 1981 novel and likened potential suitors to killer rabid dogs on her song “Cujo” from the EP of the same name. Critics and fans alike immediately loved the wordplay and the track’s sweet catchy melody. The song was given new life thanks to a fantastic cover by Nashville duo JEFF the Brotherhood on their covers EP Dig the Classics. Brothers Jake and Jamin Orrall give it a psychedelic rock spin and an injection of male energy.
Pennywise – “Pennywise”
Hermosa Beach punk rockers Pennywise took their name from Pennywise the Dancing Clown, the killer clown antagonist from Stephen King’s 1986 novel It. On their self-titled 1991 debut album, they even have a song “Pennywise” dedicated to the gutter-dwelling shapeshifter. Lyrics like “he’ll catch you by suprise, the clown they call Pennywise” let you know that this isn’t a song merely name dropping the monster or the vibe of the novel, it’s about Pennywise. While the band would peak commercially and critically further in the ‘90s, the first Pennywise album is ripe for revisiting.
Black Sabbath –- “The Shining”
In the opinion of some Black Sabbath fans, the less said about Sabbath’s messy late ’80s period the better but one thing it did give us was “The Shining.” The song, which served as the first single from the band’s 1987 album The Eternal Idol was clearly inspired by Stephen King’s 1977 novel. With new vocalist Tony Martin stepping in and crooning for listeners to “rise up to the shining” over production that was very much of its time, “The Shining” does sound dated in retrospect but that’s not a terrible thing. Due to poor sales of The Eternal Idol, Black Sabbath would be dropped by Warner Bros and Vertigo Records.