Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead

Bauhaus Live 1979 (medium.com)

Bauhaus Live 1979

Introduction

On January 26th, 1979, a new and upcoming band went into the studio to record for the first time. Six hours later they were done. The main result was an instant classic that started their career and a new musical genre.

Bela Lugosi

Bela Lugosi in Dracula (pinterest.com)

Bela Lugosi in Dracula

The song’s subject was Bela Lugosi. Who was that? Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó was born in Lugos, Hungary, and lived from 1882 to 1956. He became known using the moniker Bela Lugosi (Lugosi being a tribute to his place of birth). In 1919 he had to flee Hungary for his political ideals. Passing through Vienna and Berlin he ended up in America.

He was asked to play in a theatrical production of Dracula. It led to his breakthrough: the leading role in the 1931 movie adaptation of Dracula. It was both a blessing and a burden. For the remainder of his life, he was never able to free himself from the Dracula and horror image and was oftentimes typecast in similar roles and/or productions.

When the demand for horror movies declined, Lugosi was jobless (and consequently without income). He did theater work, but descended into poverty and oblivion. Drugs entered the scene. By the end of his life he was helped by Frank Sinatra (!), who paid or his medical bills. He started to receive invitations for movies again. In 1956, at 73 years of age, Bela Lugosi died.

Bauhaus (1919)

In 1978 the band S.R. was formed. After the replacement of the original bass player the band name was changed to Bauhaus 1919.

Bauhaus design less is more (pinterest.com)

The name was picked due to an admiration for the German Bauhaus art movement from the early 1920’s. The band logo was the same that was used for the art movement. The band members were art students and Bauhaus aesthetics spoke to the band: functionality above flashy outward appearances. The idiom of punk was still riding high at the time, so the consensus was that the message could (or should) be delivered by minimal means. Bauhaus wanted to make music that combined multiple disciplines: glam, punk, dub, but also literature, dance and film, yet without the indulgence of musical ego-tripping.

Logo Bauhaus (wikipedia.org)

Logo Bauhaus

On New Year’s eve Bauhaus 1919 played their very first gig. The definitive line-up was:

  • Peter Murphy – vocals, guitar, keyboards, percussion
  • Daniel Ash – guitar, saxophone, vocals
  • Kevin Haskins – drums, percussion, keyboards, piano, background vocals
  • David J (David John Haskins) – bass, keyboards, percussion, vocals

First recordings

I recall reading that a friend filmed one of the shows on video, that was sent to several record companies in the hope of securing a record deal. But, due to the fact that a lot of those companies didn’t own a home video player yet, that specific way of demoing was not very successful. So, the band decided to record a demo the old-fashioned way. I don’t know whether this is true or not (the band existed a mere six weeks before entering the studio), but it is a great story nonetheless.

Derek Thompkins in Beck Studios (petermurphy.info)

Derek Thompkins in Beck Studios

Bauhaus 1919 entered the studio on January 26th, 1979, for the very first time to record a couple of songs. The studio was Beck Studios in Wellingborough, the engineer was Derek Thompkins. He provided the band with the right atmosphere and dynamics. The band would invite him to co-produce two of their albums at a later time.

Five songs were recorded. Besides Bela Lugosi’s Dead, Boys, Bite My Hip, Harry and Some Faces were also recorded. The band had never been in a recording studio before, but worked quickly and efficiently.

Total recording time: 6 hours, total costs £ 11.

Bela Lugosi’s Dead

Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (stonesthrow.com)

Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead

The very first visit to a studio ever and the first song the band ever put to tape. The song was recorded in one take. Running over 9 minutes long Bela Lugosi’s Dead was quite different from anything else that was recorded within the circles of alternative rock, new wave and/or post-punk around that time.

It is quite remarkable to hear the birth of an entire music genre on record. Bela Lugosi’s Dead is the first gothic song that was ever released. Everything that came after within the genre finds its roots in this fantastic song.

The minimal descending bass lines, the macabre guitar, the low-register singing. It all adds to the right feeling: as if coming from the grave itself, desolate, grim. I’m no fan of the genre at all (see also the article on Siouxsie & The Banshees’ Nocturne), but this is truly amazing.

Even though Bauhaus is not a goth band, it’s indisputable they are the founders of the genre. Speaking from a historical viewpoint alone, this is required listening for anyone who takes (pop)music seriously. The song was (and still is) different, unique, ambitious and innovative. It still sounds fresh 40 years later.

Lyrics

All band members are credited as writers of the song. Bass player David J claims he wrote the lyrics, which was never officially acknowledged or denied.

White on white translucent black capes
Back on the rack
Bela Lugosi’s dead
The bats have left the bell tower
The victims have been bled
Red velvet lines the black box

Bela Lugosi’s dead
Bela Lugosi’s dead
Undead, undead, undead
Undead, undead, undead

The virginal brides file past his tomb
Strewn with time’s dead flowers
Bereft in deathly bloom
Alone in a darkened room
The count

Bela Lugosi’s dead
Bela Lugosi’s dead
Bela Lugosi’s dead
Undead, undead, undead
Undead, undead, undead
Undead

Oh Bela
Bela’s undead

© Bauhaus, 1979

Releases

Bauhaus - The Bela Session - Poster (bauhaus.bandcamp.com)

On August 6th, 1979, Bela Lugosi’s Dead was released by record label Small Wonder. In the meantime the band had dropped ‘1919’ from their moniker and was called simply Bauhaus. The single’s cover was taken from the 1926 movie The Sorrows Of Satan. The cover was also a big influence on the goth scene, as goths were oftentimes likened to bats.

In 1988 the song was released on cd and it was part of the 1998 Bauhaus compilation Crackle.

The best known and, in my opinion, greatest version of the song was released on the live-album Press The Eject And Give Me The Tape on December 10th, 1982.

Because of the 40 year anniversary of Bauhaus, The Bela Session was released on November 23rd, 2018. It contained the complete recordings made on January 26th, 1979, for the first time.

After Bela Lugosi’s Dead

Three months after the release of Bela Lugoisi’s Dead the band signed a deal with the 4AD label, which released the debut album In The Flat Field in 1980. The band moved to the bigger label Beggars Banquet and released Mask in 1981, followed by 1982’s The Sky’s Gone Out and 1983’s Burning From The Inside. The latter was released after Bauhaus has already disbanded.

Bauhaus - Press The Eject And Give Me The Tape (discogs.com)

Bauhaus – Press The Eject And Give Me The Tape

Next, singer Peter Murphy started a solo-career and started working with other artists, like ex-Japan bass player Mick Karn on the project Dalis Car. The other Bauhaus members formed new bands: Love And Rockets and Tones On Tail.

Bauhaus reconvened twice. In 1998 during the so-called Resurrection Tour, which was recorded on the live album Gotham and in 2005 the band toured and even made an album: 2008’s Go Away White.

On October 20th, 2009, Beggars Banquet re-released the first two Bauhaus albums, In The Flat Field and Mask as so-called Omnibus Editions. Beautifully packaged releases with extra songs, a lot of information and live recordings. Essential listening!

In closing

In 2018 Peter Murphy and David J announced they would go on tour in New Zealand, Australia and Europe to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Bauhaus. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the show in The Netherlands.

More on Bauhaus at a later time. Emphasis will be on In The Flatfield, Mask and Press The Eject And Give Me The Tape.

For now: what do you think of Bela Lugosi’s Dead? Do you like it just as much? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Bauhaus – Bela Lugosi’s Dead. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

Bauhaus - Lettering (bauhaus.bandcamp.com)