Readers recommend playlist: your songs about being scared

We asked for your nominations of songs that spoke of fear and being scared – a reader picks the best of the bunch, from the Doors to prog rockers Rush

Below is this week’s playlist – the theme and tunes picked by a reader from the comments after last week’s callout. Thanks for your suggestions. Read more about the format of the weekly readers recommend series at the end of the piece.

Never underestimate the ability of Guardian readers to come up with an eclectic list of tracks for any given subject. It’s the end of my second stint at the helm and once again I have been overwhelmed by the quality and diversity of nominations.

I had thought this topic might produce a fair amount of head-scratching, but recommendations came thick and fast, so let’s get straight to the first of this week’s playlist.

The YouTube list.

“I’m not someone who’s prone to overstate things,” says misterbadexample of the the Jompson BrothersOn the Run, “but this is definitely one of the finest rock songs ever written.” A bold claim indeed. It is undeniably a classy track, polished in a good way, and with lyrics such as “Runnin’ from the truth, runnin’ from a lie, I try to get away, but I just can’t hide”, it fits the theme very nicely.

Next we have one of my favourite bands, the Doors, with People Are Strange. “Going for the common or garden kind of uneasy fear here!” says nominator Bemilu. Indeed, fear of other people could be said to be the root cause of many of the world’s problems. The Doors’ music strikes me as a kind of missing link between 50s rock’n’roll and the post-Beatles era. This is one of their finest.

Next up is the mighty Bob Dylan with Masters of War, in which we find the lyric “You’ve thrown the worst fear that can ever be hurled, fear to bring children into the world”. “He deserves the Nobel prize [in literature] for this one poem alone,” says nominator PatLux. Whatever the man himself may feel concerning his latest garland (by some accounts, not so much) it’s certainly merited in my book too.

Fear comes in many forms. At number four, courtesy of nominator Tincanman, we have the wonderful Jazmine Sullivan with Lions, Tigers and Bears. “She’s not afraid of ferocious beasts, crossing wild rivers, climbing mountains and all manner of physical tests,” says tincanman. “But says ‘I’m scared of (loving you)’.” With its wonderfully restrained instrumentation and that gorgeous voice, you won’t have a hard time falling in love with this track.

Which brings us to Kim Churchill, with an astonishing song entitled Fear the Fire. “I’m not certain whether to take this literally,” muses nominator severin, “or to read it as being about the fear of hell. He always sounds great whatever the exact meaning.” He certainly does. This song, which manages to sound both sparse and all-encompassing, builds nicely and hits hard, without ever crossing the line into self-conceit.

Tying in nicely with the release of Adam Curtis’s latest documentary, at number six with have Rush, with The Weapon, a song which, in the words of nominator philipphilip99, “explores fear as a tool of political influence and its effect on the individual”. Although enjoying something of a resurgence these past few years, prog rock has a pretty bad rep in some parts, but not on my watch.

“Does being unnecessarily fearful somehow attract the very thing you fear?” wonders nominator suzi, whose choice of Azalea Flower by Karine Polwart makes number seven. “The protagonist is fearful and nervous,” suzi explains. “She’s alone in the house … It doesn’t end well.” Sometimes our fears are justified. One of the strengths of folk music lies in its exploring of universal themes; this roots-tinged song does that very well.

On the other side of the tracks, we have industrial rock powerhouse, Sulphur, with Scarred.

I don't know much about this band beyond the fact it's weird what you can find at carboot sales amongst the jars of homemade bramble jelly and old Rupert annuals.Wiki tells me guitarist Rob Holliday has also played with Marilyn Manson and The Prodigy. Which should suffice to tell you this is not one to ease you into a gentle Sunday morning chillout zone.

I'm so fucking scared
I'm so fucking scared of you
Are you scared of me too?


Well that’s good enough for me. Electro blips, reverse tape loops and guitars ramped all the way up to 11. “Are you scared of me too?” sing Sulphur. I am now.

Of all the bands I expected might crop up, Abba was not among them, yet here they are at number nine with deliciously creepy The Visitors, courtesy of nominator Vaughaninjava. “I hear the doorbell ring and suddenly the panic takes me …” Exactly who or what the narrator is afraid of is never explicitly stated, but the tension is palpable. This nomination is seconded by Ianeddie, who adds the vivid description “tight vocals and that throbbing synth like your own heartbeat when you panic in the silence”.

So we arrive, all too quickly, at the last track on this week’s playlist, and what a good one it is. Nominator steenbeck is the provider, with his recommendation of Fela Kuti’s Fear Not for Man. Surely a big influence on Miles Davis’s 70s recordings, Kuti’s music is never less than mesmerising and the message here is strong: “The secret of life is to have no fear, now we all have to understand that.”

Amen to that.

Note: not all songs appear on the Spotify playlist as some are unavailable on the service.

New theme

The theme for next week’s playlist is the American west. You have until 11pm on 31 October to submit nominations.

Here’s a reminder of some of the guidelines for RR:

  • If you have a good theme idea, or if you’d like to volunteer to compile a playlist from readers’ suggestions and write a blog about it, please email
  • There is a wealth of data on RR, including the songs that are “zedded”, at the Marconium. It also tells you the meaning of “zedded”, “donds” and other strange words used by RR regulars.
  • Many RR regulars also congregate at the ’Spill blog.


Chris Wheatley

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: songs about chaos
Chaos and confusion reign this week, with Bob Dylan, the Temptations, Devo and Philip Glass all making this week’s reader-curated playlist

George Boyland

13, Jul, 2017 @11:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: songs about kings
A regal list this week includes songs from Richard Thompson, Gilbert and Sullivan, Boy George and the Proclaimers

Chaz Cozens

21, Jun, 2018 @11:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: your songs about finishing
It’s not quite the end of the world as we know it, with a playlist including Alice Cooper, Eels, Speech Debelle and the Sundays. And, as you’d hope, it rounds itself off nicely

Sarah Chappell

15, Dec, 2016 @12:00 PM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: songs about being lost
A reader finds a way through your suggestions, meeting Chet Baker, the Clash and Eric Clapton along the way

Samantha Birchard

28, Jun, 2018 @11:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: your songs about monsters
A terrifying rundown of songs picked by a reader from your suggestions last week, with everything from folk to punk to death metal making the list


13, Oct, 2016 @11:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: your songs about storms
This meteorological mashup contains shades of Deep Purple, Wagnerian winter and a Jamaican hurricane warning

Scott Blair

21, Dec, 2017 @12:30 PM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: your songs about pride
A reader stands tall and listens to your suggestions on the theme – but will songs from the Ramones, Taylor Swift and Jimmy Cliff come before a fall?


19, Oct, 2017 @11:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: your songs about flags
A regular reader picks a playlist from your suggestions, with the Dubliners, KRS-One and British Sea Power among the artists waving flags

Marco den Ouden

31, Aug, 2017 @11:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: your tribute songs
With musicians such as Elvis Costello, John Lennon and Lead Belly paying homage to their heroes, a reader picks from your suggestions

George Boyland

04, May, 2017 @11:00 AM

Article image
Readers recommend playlist: your songs about education
A top of the class playlist from your suggestions featuring Pearl Jam, the Specials, George Michael and a classic Ramones trip to rock’n’roll high school

Andrew Morrissey

07, Dec, 2017 @12:00 PM