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“Who Killed Marilyn?” and Beyond: The Glenn Danzig Songbook


In New Jersey, where I’m from, Bruce Springsteen is considered to be the musical voice of the state, the songwriter who captures its working-class grit. “The Boss,” some people call him. Twenty-four years in Jersey and I never got one paycheck from this guy, so I say funk dat. Especially when Lodi, NJ, birthed not just New Jersey’s but, in my sincere opinion, America’s greatest songwriter: Glenn Danzig.

Go ahead, laugh. Get it out of your system. Then tell me who else has found success in so many genres (punk, gothic rock, metal, neoclassical) while also penning tunes for legends like Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash. (If it turns out there’s another songwriter who fits the bill: Did this person ever write a song about having to eat brains so often that they’re tired of it and would rather eat some guts? That’s what I thought.)

With Glenn Danzig’s first-ever solo release, the “Who Killed Marilyn?” single, freshly reissued and available from us, we’re looking at the solo tracks, obscurities, and anomalies that showcase the breadth of his songwriting abilities.

Glenn Danzig – “Who Killed Marilyn?” (1981)

The first inkling that Glenn had ambitions beyond fronting The Misfits. Not that “Who Killed Marilyn?” is radically different from what the Misfits were doing—this song and B-side “Spook City, USA” were both eventually re-recorded by The Misfits, appearing on Legacy of Brutality and the Misfits boxed set from 1996, respectively. Danzig claims this single was borne from a desire to record and release more music than bandmates Jerry Only and Doyle were willing to commit to, though Only disputes this.

“Who Killed Marilyn?” with Danzig on all instruments as well as vocals, came three
years after the Misfits’ single “Bullet” and functions as a lyrical prequel, delving into the year before the JFK assassination and the circumstances surrounding Marilyn Monroe’s death, with the Kennedys as a powerful cabal lurking in the shadows alongside the LAPD and the specter of Hollywood sleaze. Like “Bullet,” “Marilyn” also revels in disgusting details like “breasts all full of slugs” with an almost cheerful crassness. The reissued single includes both the original recordings of “Who Killed Marilyn?” and “Spook City, USA” and new versions remixed by Danzig and renowned producer Chris Rakestraw (Megadeth, Children of Bodom).

Get “Who Killed Marilyn?”: Purple Vinyl / White, Purple & Black Haze White, Purple & Black SplatterBlack & White w/ Purple Splatter

Samhain – “Archangel” (1984)

Post-Misfits, Danzig formed Samhain and underwent a major vibe shift: The creature-feature singalongs were gone, replaced by dark, gothic brooding. “Archangel” appearson Samhain’s 1984 debut LP Initium, though it was originally written for Damned vocalist Dave Vanian. Vanian never recorded it and Danzig exhumed the song for Samhain, so there’s no way to compare versions, but it’s easy to imagine Vanian playing up the camp of the song’s Biblical-epic lyrics about defiant broods and the seven seals. Danzig the songwriter is great at that stuff, and as a singer he sells it with absolute conviction. If someone in 1984 had ever made a movie about teenage Satanists in love, “Archangel” would be the climactic song on the soundtrack.

Glenn Danzig and The Power & Fury Orchestra – “You and Me (Less Than Zero)” (1987)

The legend goes that Rick Rubin signed Samhain to Def Jam with the intent of ditching the band and making Danzig the focus. The soundtrack to Less Than Zero, the 1987 film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s rich-kid novel, gave producer Rubin the opportunity to give Danzig a dry run as a solo artist and as a songwriter for others. In addition to writing “Life Fades Away” with Roy Orbison, Danzig co-wrote the titular song with Rubin and recorded it with the Power & Fury Orchestra, which was the nascent Danzig lineup with a session bassist replacing Eerie Von at Rubin’s request.

Like Danzig ballads “Blood and Tears” and “Sistinas,” there’s more than a hint of 1950s slow-dance tearjerker in this one. (Von says the song was based on Lulu’s theme for the 1967 film To Sir with Love.) For what’s basically the first Danzig (the band) recording in all but name, it’s surprisingly un-Danzig like, with gospel-style backing vocals and no trace of guitarist John Christ’s bluesy shredding. Lyrically, Danzig breaks from his typical fascination with the macabre to explore the movie’s themes of alienation and loss, proving he understood the assignment.

Glenn Danzig – “Battle for Heaven” (1992)

Well, well, well, look who made it to the top of Billboard’s Classical Albums chart on his first try. Just a punk rocker from New Jersey who publishes comic books about big-titty demon ladies and happens to be America’s greatest songwriter, that’s who! Some of the material on Black Aria dates back as far as 1987, and the album was released in 1992, a full year before Mortiis’ The Song of a Long Forgotten Ghost demo, so Glenn Danzig has legit claim to being the inventor of dungeon synth.

The entire dungeon synth palette is here: Synth drones, bells, choral vocals, simple piano melodies, and minimal percussion. It’s hard to pick a standout track from Black Aria because the 24-minute runtime and ambient nature of the music lend themselves to just listening to the whole thing, but I’m choosing “Battle for Heaven” because it’s a little livelier than the others and, true to its title, captures some of the same Biblical end-times atmosphere as the lyrics to “Archangel.”

Get "Black Aria": Starburst Colored Vinyl

Danzig – “Come to Silver” (1996)

The fifth Danzig LP, Blackacidevil, is an experimental dive into industrial music. Was it a successful experiment? That’s for you to spend $26.98 to decide, but Glenn Danzig never revisited this sound again. Blackacidevil pushes guitars to the background in favor of pounding electronic percussion, while Danzig tries out a snottier vocal inflection on some tracks and buries his signature croon in distortion on the others.

If there’s one track that proves a songwriter as talented as Danzig can crank out a
winner even in unfamiliar territory, it’s “Come to Silver.” Originally written for Johnny Cash, “Come to Silver” pairs the harsh industrial sounds of the rest of the album with clean guitar and lyrics about the corruptive power of money. Listening today, it’s easy to hear the blend of industrial and Americana as a precursor to David Eugene Edwards’s solo album Hyacinth and some of his work in Woven Hand.

Get "Blackacidevil": Silver Vinyl


—Anthony Bartkewicz