Name that tune -- before it names you

Salon's music critics pick the 10 most paranoid compositions of all time.


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Entertainment staffSalon Arts
February 16, 2001 1:00AM (UTC)

1. "Gimme Shelter," the Rolling Stones
Foreboding and terror, and a life hanging off the edge of a guitar solo. Bonus: Merry Clayton's ululation of horror at song's end.

2. "Hellhound on My Trail," Robert Johnson
Like the man said, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean you don't have the devil on your ass.

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3. "Every Breath You Take," the Police
Beneath its sweet arrangement and lilting rhythm guitar line lies an elegant and powerful hymn to stalking.

4. "Billie Jean," Michael Jackson
Under the nagging, irresistible backbeat of this epochal single, Jackson tells a tale of a one-night stand gone wrong. "The kid is not my son!" the singer yelps. Two things elevate it above a superstar's paranoid fantasy: First, there's the nightmarish tinge of the lyrics, in which the trial, a dream and the singer's memories of the night in question blur and intermingle. ("His eyes were like mine," Jackson marvels -- but it's not clear if it's a dream or not at that point.) And, second, there is the song's eerie prescience; in the end, it's a story about a superstar's paranoid fantasy become horribly real.

5. "I Heard It Though the Grapevine," Marvin Gaye
What's worse than getting dumped? Hearing it from a third party! Motown's Berry Gordy gave this ominous Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong composition to Gladys Knight over Gaye's objections; Gaye persisted even after Knight had a big hit with it. Gordy finally relented, and Gaye gave the song a malevolent reading and turned it into a worldwide smash -- one of the most popular singles of all time.

6. "Mind Playin' Tricks on Me," Geto Boys
This astonishing, unforgettable song ties a scratchy old LP sample to a straightforward but blistering narrative that watches the singer struggle -- unsuccessfully -- to get out of a vortex of drugs, violence and paranoia.

7. "Private Eyes," Daryl Hall and John Oates
"Private eyes, they're watching you," the two men sing. "They see your every move." No they don't. In 1981, only a few of us were being watched by private eyes. These two were incredibly paranoid to turn this assertion into a hit song.

8. "Rigoletto," Giuseppe Verdi
"Tutti ... contro me ... contro me!!" All of you ... against me ... against me." 'Nuff said.

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9. "I Put a Spell on You," Screamin' Jay Hawkins
This is a paranoia-inducing song. "I put a spell on you," sings Hawkins, "because you're mine."

10. "Visions of Johanna," Bob Dylan
A gentle but still disturbing fever dream: "Ain't it just like the night," Dylan asks, "to play tricks when you're trying to be so quiet?"


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