I’ve left this series alone for a bit, it’s time to break out the S-Tier songs and induct another A-lister. In brief, these are songs I consider the best of the best, sort of my own personal song hall of fame. For more about it and the songs added to date, head to this page.
Today I’m going to time hop back to 1993 and revisit a song that became a standard of alt-culture at the time. The tune was largely responsible for breaking the band and they would go on to great success for the next 17 years. Even today the song holds as a well-loved staple and a special treat around the Halloween season.
Type O Negative – Black No.1 (Little Miss Scare-All)
The song was released on Bloody Kisses, Type O’s breakthrough third album that catapulted the group to platinum-selling status and mainstream stars, albeit reluctantly. The group were previously a sludgy, underground entity that suddenly found themselves on MTV and airwaves with their twisted take on doom and gothic metal.
The original album take of the song clocks in at a meaty 11:15. A much-truncated version runs a hair under 5 minutes, this includes the video cut found at the bottom of this post. I don’t have ready stats about radio edits for songs but losing over 6 minutes carves out quite a bit of this tune. It’s probably not a radio edit record considering songs like Freebird and that one by Iron Butterfly, but it’s a pretty noteworthy edit. I’ll be discussing the full song for purposes of this examination, though it’s fair to say many people came to find the band through the video cut and the song’s shorter form.
The song itself exemplifies the duality of its creators – both deadly serious and full of shit. The song can be taken as, and often is, celebrated as a beacon of dark culture, but the truth is that frontman Peter Steele wrote the song to slag off a goth ex-girlfriend of his. The words and imagery were meant sarcastically, as outlined in this Revolver magazine retrospective on Bloody Kisses. And to further the irony, Peter was literally waiting in line to dump a truck full of shit as part of his job when he came up with the song.
The song’s silly-yet-serious presentation would define the tune and the group. The whole thing had the feel of a giant joke but came off with deadly execution and passed for totally serious dialog. All of the hokey goth references, everything from Lily Munster to wolfskin boots sound goofy on the surface but did truly define a valid subculture. And Black No. 1 would go on to draw more people into that subculture, one that previously wasn’t as friendly with heavy metal as many might think. This was a convergence of two different circles rather than an eye cast toward one.
The song, for all its girth, is divided into 3 movements. The first part opens in creepy fashion, introducing the song’s villainess and painting a specific vision of her gothiness. The lyrics reference everything from Halloween to makeup, clove cigarettes and the namesake black hair dye. It’s the kitchen sink of goth talking points. The song builds into a heavy chorus featuring Peter Steele’s distinct low-register chant of the title and a smooth-yet-dirty guitar tone that stood out from the pack in 1993.
The song moves into its second portion, where Steele spends several minutes singing “loving you was like loving the dead” over and over again. On the surface it sounds boring but the music provides enough variety through the passage to keep things fresh. The ultimate “gotcha” wasn’t that Peter was able to insult his ex this way, it was that he was able to make interesting and a huge hit. Of course the full-length version of the song builds to slight lyrical change that radio and MTV did not carry. The song’s final movement calms things down a bit and lets the guitar riff for a moment before the chorus/title leads everyone out into the night to either find or be their own haughty goth chick.
Black No. 1 would lead the way for Type O Negative’s charge onto the shelves of music collectors. The band blew up on MTV and began selling copies of Bloody Kisses at a breakneck pace. Peter Steele was very reluctant to take the band on tour, fearful of giving up his job and life. His feet-dragging cost the group their drummer, Sal Abruscato, who left to join Life Of Agony. Eventually Type O would hit the road and cash in on their success, becoming a mainstay on the touring circuit and selling plenty more albums until Peter Steele’s untimely death in 2010.
Why is this an S-Tier song?
Black No. 1 is a monolith of a tune that put a band on the map and kicked off a celebration of darker subcultures that endures to this day. The song itself is equal parts plodding doom and campy jeers at goths yet somehow invests the listener on its 11 minute runtime. It gave shape to Type O Negative’s direction moving forward, which would largely explore the same “droopy doom” tunes and shed any pretense of past thrash metal influence.
Even greater than the contribution to the band’s fortunes is its long-lasting impact on culture. Not a Halloween passes anymore without this song being posted all over social media. It cast a light on goth subculture, perhaps not something anyone was asking for but it happened anyway and the song went a long way to putting that scene out there for the world to see. It was a lasting influence, seen in makeup and fashion all these years later. I’m sure some people would take exception to pointing to this as the moment goth culture entered the main timeline, but I don’t know of a more telling spot where that happened.
Type O Negative struck the sonic equivalent of oil with Black No. 1. The song marked their arrival on the early 90’s alt-metal scene that they would help shape and would mostly outlast. While most of that music of the time was a brief movement that didn’t make it past 1996, Type O would go on in stride until 2010 in much the same vein as their signature hit.
I wonder what happened to the girl…