‘Night Shift’: The Siouxsie and the Banshees song about the Yorkshire Ripper

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Pioneers of rock, metal or dark wave will know that writing about the Yorkshire Ripper seems like a rite of passage. Slipknot referred to the heinous crimes of Peter Sutcliffe in their track ‘The Chapeltown’, Manic Street Preachers tackle the subject in ‘Archives of Pain’, and Siouxsie and the Banshees based their song ‘Night Shift’ on the crimes of the prolific serial killer.

The disturbing acts of famous serial killers have been infiltrating music for decades. Merging the concept of real-life murder into an intriguing composition is a popular trope chosen by many musical luminaries. Appealing to the dark side of humanity, these songs can both bring light to morbid historical acts while engaging us in the creativity of musical storytelling.

Siouxsie and the Banshees crafted ‘Night Shift’ in 1981 as part of their album Juju. Produced by Nigel Gray, the song rather poetically depicts the macabre tone prevalent during the Yorkshire Ripper’s reign in the latter part of the 1970s. Quite possibly the Banshees’ darkest song, ‘Night Shift,’ succeeds in chilling the spines of those who listen by telling the story from an ambiguous perspective.

In true gothic rock fashion, the lyrics are as cold as the story itself: “The cold marble slab submits at my feet with a neat dissection,” Siouxsie Sioux sings, lamenting further, “Looking so sweet to me-please come to me with your cold flesh-my cold love / Hissing… not kissing / A happy go lucky chap… always dressed in black he’ll come to you, he’ll come to you.”

The peak of the band’s creative talent arrives as early as the song’s first notes, creating an atmosphere akin to strolling along a dark alleyway on cobbled streets. A song so immediately theatrical and dramatic seems almost appropriate for a true crime documentary or even a show opener, setting the scene for a narrative rife with eerie and disturbing events.

Interestingly, Sioux seems to oscillate between warning other women of Sutcliffe’s crimes and becoming him entirely. She claims, “he’ll come to you”, while also uttering the startling words, “fuck the mothers, kill the others”. A female vocalisation as profound as Sioux’s only serves to thicken the song with added depth and gravitas right up to the final line, “In heaven and hell with you.”

For a band that created a song titled ‘Halloween’, somehow ‘Night Shift’ take the lead in terms of visceral spookiness. In just over six minutes, Siouxsie and the Banshees perfectly capture the tone, severity, and lasting impact of a series of crimes committed over a five-year period. As a result, ‘Night Shift’, and Juju as a whole, has often been regarded as the band’s darkest creation.

As Sioux said in the liner notes: “Juju did have a horror theme to it, but it was psychological horror and nothing to do with ghost and ghouls.”

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