"Bela Lugosi's Dead" is a gothic rock song written by the band Bauhaus. The song was the band's first single, released in August 1979, which is often considered to be the first gothic rock record released. It did not enter the UK pop charts, but remained on sale for many years thereafter. The b-side features the song "Boys" and some versions also include an early demo recording of what would be their next single, "Dark Entries." Due to licensing restrictions, the original version of the title track was not made available on any other format until the 1998 album, Crackle - The Best of Bauhaus.
The song is over nine minutes in length and was recorded "live in the studio" in a single take. David J, the band's bassist, claims on his website to have written the lyrics. By far their most famous work, its minimalist, free-form nature evoked a mixture of The Doors, early Pink Floyd and experimental Krautrock bands such as Can and Neu! The singing does not start (in the studio version) until several minutes into the track. The distinctive guitar sound was achieved by using partial barre chords and allowing the top E and B strings open, adding to the drone-like quality of the song.
The title references horror film star Béla Lugosi (1882-1956), who did much to establish the modern vampire image as the title character in the 1931 film Dracula. Lugosi was, in fact, buried in his Dracula cape - an event depicted in the film Ed Wood).
The song was featured in the 1983 Tony Scott cult vampire film The Hunger, where it played during the opening credits and introduction. A 7" promotional record featuring an edited version of the song was released to theaters playing the movie. The song was used as the intro music for the late 1990s Saturday Night Live skit "Goth Talk", which had Chris Kattan and Molly Shannon as two goth students. This song was also in an episode in the fifth season of Smallville, the vampire/Halloween-themed "Thirst." It was also played throughout the movie The Curve, and featured in the French movie, Sombre.
The song "Boys" was re-recorded at Beck Studios in spring 1979.
An excerpt of the song is parodied in Bill Bailey's Cockney Medley, a feature of his Cosmic Jam stand-up routine and also on a studio album of some of his works.
The Dirtbombs' cover of the soul song "Kung Fu" features an instrumental line that is virtually indistinguishable from that of "Bela Lugosi's Dead".
The original 12" release was on white vinyl and limited to 5000 copies. Various re-releases included the following: