Top Ten Stalker Pop Songs

It’s the same old, familiar story: Guy meets girl. Guy stalks girl. Guy writes a song about stalking girl, sells millions of copies. Here are my thoughts on the most memorable stalker pop songs.

10. “Hello” – Lionel Richie. By the time Richie started releasing solo albums in the 1980s, he’d already reached his peak creatively. Everything the Commodores did was better than what Richie did solo. But in terms of popularity, Richie was a monster hit-maker in the ’80s, and this was one of his biggest. Forget the romance with the blind girl that supplanted the lyrics for the music video and focus in on the words here, which begin, “I’ve been alone with you/Inside my mind/And in my dreams I’ve kissed your lips/A thousand times.” Creepy. Then in the chorus, “Tell me how to win your heart/ For I haven’t got a clue.” You can start by putting down the telephoto lens and brushing up on the small talk.

9. “Possession” – Sara McLachlan. This song is literally about stalking. McLachlan lifted the words from the letters she received from an obsessed fan. Now, I’m no expert in celebrity security, but common sense tells me that turning the crazed writings of a stalker into a singer’s biggest hit (sample lyrics: “And I would be the one/To hold you down/Kiss you so hard/I’ll take your breath away”) probably isn’t the best way to discourage extreme adoration from an overboard fanatic. The fan actually sued McLaughlin, then killed himself before the case came to trial. Which is good background information, just in case you might have been planning to use this song for the first dance at your wedding.

8. “Watching the Detectives” – Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Costello takes the stalker pop song to a post-modern level by doubling the voyeurism: the detectives are watching our femme fatale protagonist, and she’s watching them. Plenty of innuendo of illicit deeds are contained within Costello’s song, which borrows from film noir: sort of a post-punk Rear Window. “You snatch a tune, you a match a cigarette,/She pulls the eyes out with a face like a magnet./I don’t know how much more of this I can take./She’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake.” Costello’s genius is that the lyrics seem so effortless and catchy that you hardly notice that he’s taking you to some dark places.

7. “Run For Your Life” – The Beatles. This is early-ish Beatles, even. Not too long after they sang about wanting to hold girls’ hands and about how she loves you yeah yeah yeah. But there’s nothing terribly innocent about this one. The very first line (!): “Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl/ Than to be with another man.” The chorus is an explicit threat. Now, I suppose, one could say that the threat is conditional: if she doesn’t go with anyone else, she’ll be safe, right? Well, let’s all agree that there are control issues here. And they involve possible murder. If there were any actual stalking going on (rather than just threatened), this song would be higher on the list.

6. “Hungry Like the Wolf” – Duran Duran. Double Duran was a triumph of style over substance. They successfully merged ’70s glam with disco and punk. This was one of their biggest hits and by far one of their creepiest. (My all-time favorite version is sung by Bruce Campbell shilling for Old Spice, but it doesn’t have the same vibe.) “Woman you want me, give me a sign/ And catch my breathing even closer behind.” Uh, yeah, because that’s just what women want—to feel your breath on the back of their necks as their running away. “I’m on the hunt, I’m after you” indeed. This one gets bonus points for actually using the verb “stalk.”

5. “Pictures of You” – The Cure. It’s a sublimely beautiful, simple melody, and seems pretty sweet, right? And I have no direct evidence that the singer is stalking anyone. Maybe he’s just sitting around his bedroom looking at pictures of his past love. But “I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you/ That I almost believe that they’re real/ I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you/ That I almost believe that the pictures are/ All I can feel” sounds pretty obsessive to me. And the visual that it conjures up reminds me of the scene in the TV crime procedural where they finally discover the psychopath’s lair and one wall of the apartment is entirely papered with photos of the same girl.

4. “Mr. Brightside” – The Killers. If you follow the lyrics (which are a bit silly in spots—this is The Killers, after all) you have to wonder what Mr. Brightside is doing obsessing over the two lovers he’s watching anyway. “Jealousy,” obviously. Something about “swimming through sick lullabies” (that doesn’t sound good) and “choking on your alibis” (whatever that means). And he doesn’t seem too clear whether it’s all happening in his head or not. It’s catchy, but not that sympathetic. Really, I think he should probably just let the two of them do their thing. I mean, I understand (I think) that she kissed you once, but hey, that happens. Just leave them alone. Other fish, man. Lots of other fish in the sea. Oh, and maybe some counseling also.

3. “Possum Kingdom” – The Toadies. Possum Kingdom is a city to the west of Fort Worth, Texas (the Toadies’ home town) known for its recreational areas, and Possum Kingdom Lake in particular. It’s only tangentially related to the song, and really has nothing to do with the song’s creepiness. But make no mistake, this is one creepy song. It would be creepy even without the “Do you wanna die?” refrain. The video plays it literal and makes explicit the song’s implicit threat. There’s a religious fixation as well as a death/mortality obsession going on here, in addition to the familiar over-possessiveness. My advice: whatever you do, do NOT go on a walk around the lake tonight with this guy. Let’s just let his dark secret stay secret, okay? Okay.

2. “Alison” – Elvis Costello. Another early Costello song. This one seems like a sweet song you might want to sing to your significant other, especially if she’s named Allison, as mine happens to be. At least, until you look at the lyrics. Then you realize that “my aim is true” is a double entendre—referring not just to the clear intentions of the first-person persona, but also to the fact that she’s standing right in his cross hairs. That’s right, he’s not just a stalker, he’s also homicidal. Yikes. Puts a new spin on these lyrics, doesn’t it?: “Sometimes I wish that I could stop you from talking/ when I hear the silly things that you say./I think somebody better put out the big light,/’Cause I can’t stand to see you this way.” Uh huh.

1. “Every Breath You Take” – The Police. This was easily one of the biggest hits of its decade, and yet most people who heard it seemed to think that it was just a sweet love song, not the prototypical liturgy of stalkers everywhere. If this were a poem written to a girl, I’m sure it would be Exhibit A at the hearing seeking a restraining order, and the judge wouldn’t need to take the matter under advisement. “Every breath you take/Every move you make/Every bond you break/Every step you take/Ill be watching you.” Yeah, and I’ll bet the night vision goggles come in really handy for that too. From the chorus (“Since you’ve gone I been lost without a trace/I dream at night I can only see your face”) you get the idea that the anti-hero once had a thing (either real or imagined) with the object of his affection and that she rebuffed him. It’s not her, it’s you man. Just let it go.

Bonus: The anti-stalking anthem—by which I mean the polar opposite, not some sort of stalking protest song—has to be “The One I Love,” by R.E.M. This is another one with lyrics that people often don’t pay too close attention to. It may have been the first time that R.E.M. ever used the word “love” in one of the band’s songs, but it’s not very sentimental. “This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind/Another prop has occupied my time.” You might want to keep those sorts of thoughts to yourself because that’s the kind of attitude that can result in your bunny being boiled.

Holiday Season Bonus: “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.” Hey, “He knows when you are sleeping/ He knows when you’re awake.” Yeah, how does he know exactly? No matter; he knows where you live, and he’s coming! No wonder young kids find him so scary. They’re just being canny.

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51 thoughts on “Top Ten Stalker Pop Songs

  1. Well, here’s my favorite,… an obvious one…

    Hey Joe, where you goin’ with that gun in your hand? I’m going down to shoot my old lady
    You know, I’ve caught her messin’ around with another man…

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    Does Psycho Killer count??

  2. Hanging on the Telephone by The Nerves (and later covered by Blondie).

    http://www.seeqpod.com/cache/seeqpodSlimlineEmbed.swf

    And here are the lyrics in case you don’t want to listen:

    I’m in the phone booth, it’s the one across the hall.
    If you don’t answer, I’ll just ring it off the wall.
    I know he’s there, but I just had to call.
    Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone.
    I heard your mother, now she’s going out the door.
    Did she go to work or just go to the store?
    All those things she said, I told you to ignore.
    Oh why can’t we talk again?
    Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone.
    It’s good to hear your voice, you know it’s been so long.
    If I don’t get your calls then everything goes wrong.
    I want to tell you something you’ve known all along.
    Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone.
    I had to interrupt and stop this conversation.
    Your voice across the line gives me a strange sensation.
    I’d like to talk when I can show you my affection.
    Oh I can’t control myself!
    Don’t leave me hanging on the telephone.
    Hang up and run to me! Oh!

  3. Alpha Echo – “One Way or Another” was the last song to be cut from the list.

    meems – “Psycho Killer” is paranoid, but not really about a stalker.

  4. “Hey Joe” isn’t a stalker song. It’s a revenge/murder song … and sad to say, but in pop/rock music that’s a whole genre on its own.

    There are also songs about being the subject of a stalker. There’s that song with the lyric “I always feel like, somebody’s watching meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee …”

  5. danithew – That’s by an ’80s pop R&B singer named Rockwell, and I considered it. I’d put that into a different sub-genre, though–that of the paranoid pop song. Other entries in this sub-genre would include Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” and Men At Work’s “Who Can it Be Now?”

  6. a different sub-genre, though–that of the paranoid pop song.

    I can point to more in that sub-genre than the stalker one; e.g. The Dream Police by Cheap Trick, and 1984 by Spirit.

  7. The only occasion on which I spent serious time watching MTV was when I was stuck in Moldova for 3 weeks in 1994. I think that Rockwell song must have been #1 that month. Thanks a lot for dredging up that nightmare.

  8. Fun post. I remember hearing a couple years back that Sting makes $3,000 a day on royalties from radio airplay of “Every Breath You Take.”

    I’m more into murder ballads/songs then stalker stuff. A favorite being “Diane” by Husker Du. I love how he makes “Diane” sound like “dyin’.”

    Also “Caleb Meyer” by Gillian Welch.

    I find it rather disturbing that the song by Sufjan Stevens I find most compelling is “John Wayne Gacy.”

  9. If you follow the lyrics (which are a bit silly in spots—this is The Killers, after all)

    Ok, lay off The Killers. You’re talking about one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands. Thanks for posting that video, BTW, it’s crazy awesome.

    I’m more into murder ballads/songs then stalker stuff.

    Susan, should we be nervous about this? It sounds like more material likely to be quoted someday in a coroner’s inquest.

  10. MCQ says: “Ok, lay off The Killers. You’re talking about one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite bands. Thanks for posting that video, BTW, it’s crazy awesome.”

    Hey, it is what it is. I like that song a lot. The energy is what does it for me. I also like the video, which is about three times as creepy as the song, mostly due to the presence of Eric Roberts. Julia’s brother is very creepy.

  11. Sufjan’s “To Be Alone With You” is good stalkerings, although it’s about Jesus. Also, “Seven Swans”:

    He will take you. If you run,
    He will chase you
    ’cause He is the Lord.

  12. Porcelain by Better than Ezra, though it might be more of a murder ballad:

    Well I wish I could kill you,
    savor the sight.
    Get in to my car, drive into the night.
    Then lie as I scream to the heavens above.
    That I was the last one you ever loved.
    Yes, your skin is like porcelain.

  13. “John Wayne Gacy” is a great song. I think “Casimir Pulaski Day” might be my favorite from that album. I wonder what a top ten list of songs about death would look like.

  14. SG said: “Sufjan’s “To Be Alone With You” is good stalkerings, although it’s about Jesus.”

    While reading this comment, I realized that the children’s classic “The Runaway Bunny” is totally about stalking.

  15. There’s a recent one by Death Cab for Cutie which is pretty sweet: I Will Possess Your Heart (sample lyric “You reject my advances/and humble pleas/ I will not let you/Let me down/So easily). The effect is furthered heightened by a creepy 3+ minute jam heavy on bass and spare piano chords before the singing starts. If someone mentions it as a favorite song, I’d steer of dating him.

  16. Susan has a new challange- and album compilation about death.

    Can The Runnaway Bunny be stalker-ish? . If it is, then so is that creepy book “I’ll Love You Forever” where the mom carried a ladder to her grown son’s house and crawls across the floor at night to watch him sleep. My mother in law bought that for my son, and after I read it, we burned it.

  17. make that “steer clear of dating him”.

    What does it say about me that I find so many of these stalker songs irresistable? Am I a stalker at heart, just suppressing my true nature?

  18. you have to wonder what Mr. Brightside is doing obsessing over the two lovers he’s watching anyway.

    I got the impression that he saw his old girlfriend at a club with an other guy and can’t help imagining them hooking up instead of himself. Kind of typical young angst I think. I wouldn’t call that stalking.

  19. Another stalker song I just remembered from the hip-hop world is Prince Charming by Brother Ali. There are a few curses, so stop reading if that bothers you:

    [ VERSE 1: Brother Ali ]
    Excuse me, I mean pardon me
    I mean you got me so shook I can hardly see
    And I ain’t tryin to be foul or disrespectful or nothin
    But I feel like the universe should tell you somethin
    You somethin, and I don’t say that to be sayin it
    Many came and went, but baby, you the main event
    That’s why I stopped ya, it’s not just the body parts
    That made me watch ya, mama, you got the posture
    And demeanor of the Queen of Sheeba
    And I’m Prince Charming, girl, pleased to meet ya
    I could be your student, you could be my teacher
    And I’m majorin your idiosyncrasies
    And I please trouble you to use a word with ‘w’
    The way your lips movin got me pluggin too
    You a great ten frame draped in heaven-made skin
    And a faint grin, can a church say amen?
    But why you catchin the bus?
    With your backpockets lookin like they’re ready to bust
    Got a you and a me, now let’s make it a us
    Long story short, let me get a phone number, somethin, girl

    [ CHORUS ]

    Oh Lord

    [ VERSE 2: Brother Ali ]
    Third date, can’t stop fate
    I know you can relate cause I can see it in your face
    It’s time to take this thing we got to the next level
    You know, I mean spend all our waking hours together
    Surprise, showed up at your job again
    And I took the time to interview all of your friends
    I don’t think they good enough for a queen like you
    In fact, cuttin them bitches off the first thing you need to do
    I was thinkin, I wanna be everything to you
    I’m the only friend you’ll ever need, man, that’s true
    Besides, I bought you a beeper, so I can reach ya
    Anytime I need ya, you in the streets just
    Cluckin and cluckin, and cluckin and cluckin
    Girl, we could be at home gettin into somethin
    So don’t look at me foul and don’t talk to me funny
    Won’t you come on through, give daddy some of that honey, girl

    [ CHORUS ]

    [ VERSE 3: Brother Ali ]
    Did you have to go and tell the law you scared of me?
    They came to mama’s house and embarrassed me
    Can’t no piece of paper keep me away from you
    You just don’t understand how much I love you
    I tried to tell you that I was sorry with a card
    But I found it in the garbage in your backyard
    Everytime I get involved it’s some shit that happen
    Girl, you start out nice, then forget your manners
    Let me tell you that’s what’s wrong with these women today
    How you gon’ have a good man feelin this way?
    It’s a 30 second message that I left you today
    And I know you’re home cause your curtains have opened
    Quit playin these child-ass games, girl
    I mean I got a tatoo with your name, girl
    You gon’ mess around and get somebody killed
    Cause if I can’t have ya nobody will

    [ CHORUS ]

  20. I did a songs-about-death mix CD a few years ago. It was called “I Stuck You in a Box in the Ground.” The trick was to find songs about death that had varying moods so that the whole thing didn’t get bogged down in dreary morbidness. I’ll have to look up the track list and post it here.

  21. I got the impression that he saw his old girlfriend at a club with an other guy and can’t help imagining them hooking up instead of himself. Kind of typical young angst I think. I wouldn’t call that stalking.

    Clark, Clark, Clark…Part of the lyrics are:

    Coming out of my cage
    And I’ve been doing just fine…

    This is not your typical young guy.

    Then there’s this:

    Now they’re going to bed
    And my stomach is sick
    And it’s all in my head
    But she’s touching his chest
    Now he takes off her dress
    Now let me go

    I just can’t look
    It’s killing me
    And taking control…

    I don’t think he’s imagining all of that, but even if he is, the fact that it’s taking control is definitely worrisome. I always pictured him watching this through a window. He’s a stalker for sure.

  22. Stan’s an interesting song because Eminem adopts a persona that is all about stalking him, and he’s pretty vicious about it. It’s a great example of post-modern irony. Good call.

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  24. The single greatest stalking song isn’t even in your top ten: Blondie’s One Way or Another. It’s really the only song that is actually about someone literally stalking someone.

    “I will drive past your house
    And if the lights are all down
    I’ll see who’s around”

    “And if the lights are all out
    I’ll follow your bus downtown
    See who’s hanging out”

    What’s great about this song is that we don’t know the motive of the stalker. Love is not mentioned so it could be anything, a fan stalker a celeb or a stranger obsessing over someone or perhaps a serial killer following his victim. Plus it’s a timeless rock guitar song that’s been used in a thousand movies, shows and commercials.

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  29. What about the Bee Gees’ Nights on Broadway.It should’ve clearly made it into the top 10 Stalker songs mentioned above.The song is clearly about an obsession of a jealous obsessive fan or a rejected lover who’s ex made it big on Broadway & became a celebrity.

    Although she’s aware of his compulsive tendencies,the stalker made his intentions abundantly clear to make it a lifelong pursuit of his.

    “Here we are,in a room full of strangers
    Standing in the dark
    Where your eyes could not see me”

    “Well I had to follow you
    Though you did not want me to
    But that won’t stop me loving you
    I can’t stay away’

    Blamin’ it all on the Nights on Broadway
    Singin’ em love songs
    Singin’ them straight to the heart songs

    “Now in my place,there are so many others
    Standing in the line
    How long will they stand between us”

    “I will wait,even if it takes forever
    I will wait,even if it takes a lifetime
    Somehow I feel inside
    You never ever left my side
    Make it like it was before
    Even if it takes a .lifetime ,takes a lifetime”

    Anyway this is my opinion.

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