Monday, October 29, 2007

Halloween Songs

Most holidays do not have very many songs associated with them. As an example, one can look no further than Thanksgiving. Can anyone name even one Thanksgiving song? And when one gets down to minor holidays such as President's Day or Labour Day, one might as well forget finding even one song associated with those holidays. Of course, there are exception, the big one being the Yuletide. There are probably millions of carols in existence, from ancient times to the present. July 4th (when patriotic tunes would seem to be fitting) and Valentine's Day (where love songs would seem to fill the bill) would also seem to be exceptions. Another exception could be Halloween. Quite simply, any song dealing with that which is frightening can be considered a Halloween song.

Of course, the song associated with the holiday is probably "Monster Mash." The song grew out of comedian and singer Bobby Pickett's uncanny imitation of Boris Karloff. A member of his band, The Cordials, suggested that Pickett use his Karloff impersonation in a song. The end result was "The Monster Mash." Released in October, 1962 and credited to Bobby "Boris" Pickett and The Cryptkickers, it was a smash hit that Halloween season. It has been associated with the holiday ever since.

Another song that could be fitting for Halloween is "I Put a Spell on You" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins. "I Put a Spell on You" was originally meant to be a blues love song. When it was being recorded, however, Hawkins and everyone present at the recording had a dinner of ribs and chicken. They also proceeded to get drunk. The result was not a blues love song, but an eerie tune in which Hawkins sounds positively demonic in claiming a woman as his. The song became a hit, even though many radio stations and even stores banned it outright. The bizarre nature of the song would also result in what may be the first shock rock performance, the forerunner of the stage antics of Alice Cooper, KISS, At performances, on a stage filled with smoke and artificial fog Screamin' Jay Hawkins would rise out of a coffin, wearing a long cape. The performance even featured a cigarette smoking skull named Henry.

Of course, when it comes to Halloween songs, Alice Cooper could well be the master. Indeed, Cooper's stage performances for much of his career drew largley from Gothic literature and old horror movies. At his concerts there would be guillotines, electric chairs, boa constrictors, and tons of fake blood. Naturally, Alice Cooper would record several songs with horror themes. In fact, he did an entire album, the concept album Welcome to My Nightmare,centred on the nightmares of a boy named Steven. That album featured what could be one of the best, all time Halloween songs, "The Black Widow." With opening narration by Vincent Price, the song concerns the domination of a certain arachnid over mankind. Welcome to My Nightmare may have been Cooper's crowning achievement in musical scariness, but it was not his last by a long shot. He recorded the theme song "Prince of Darkness" to the John Carpenter movie of the same name. On the same album featuring "Prince of Darkness," Raise Your Fist and Yell, Alice has a trilogy of songs based around a serial killer: "Chop, Chop, Chop," "Gail," and "Roses of White Lace."

Of course, Alice Cooper does not have a monopoly on Halloween. In fact, Blue Oyster Cult performed one of the all time great Halloween songs: "Don't Fear the Reaper." Because of references to Romeo and Juliet, the song has been misinterpreted as being about a suicide pact. In truth, according to Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, "Don't Fear the Reaper" is actually about how love transcends time. Indeed, it seems to me that anyone who has listened to the song's final stanza will know it is about something other than suicide. In the last stanza, in which the wind appears, candles blow and disappear, and the curtains fly, sounds more to me like a dead lover returning to claim the one he loves. In other words, "Don't Fear the Reaper" owes more to "Eleonora" than Romeo and Juliet It was Poe that Roeser was evoking, not Shakespeare.

"Don't Fear the Reaper" is not the only Blue Oyster Cult song fit for Halloween. One of their best songs, from the album Fire of Unknown Origin, describes what could be the most terrifying situation anyone could face--Joan Crawford rising from the grave in the song, appropriately titled, "Joan Crawford." Blue Oyster Cult has derived much of their inspiration from classic monster movies and horror literature, from "Nosferatu" and "Godzilla" off their album Spectres to "Tattoo Vampire" from Agents of Fortune.

Another heavy metal artist who has done his share of songs for the holiday is Rob Zombie, both as leader of White Zombie and by himself. Indeed, White Zombie took their name from the classic horror movie of the same name. Their very first EP, Gods on Voodoo Moon featured the song "King of Souls (which sounds as if it is about zombies being drawn from the grave)" On their album La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1 featured the song "I am Legend," based on the classic Richard Matheson horor novel. On their album Supersexy Swingin' Sounds they even turned the disco song into something frightening. As a solo artist Rob Zombie has gone even further into Halloween territory, recording such songs as "Dragula (about Grandpa Munster's race car)," "Living Dead Girl," and "American Witch." Of course, this is to be expected. Rob Zombie is openly a fan of the horror genre even directing three horror movies himself (House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects, and a remake of Halloween).

Given its focus on gloom and doom, one would quite naturally expect some Halloween oriented music to emerge from the Goth movement. In fact, the prototypical Gothic band Bauhaus created one of the quintessential Halloween songs, "Bela Lugosi's Dead." The song describes the funeral of Bela Lugosi as if it was the funeral of his most famous role, Dracula. That other prototypical Gothic band, The Sisters of Mercy, all did their share of Halloween oriented songs. Indeed, the song "Ribbons," from their album Vision Thing, sounds as if it describing outright murder. Type O Negative, another one of the central bands of the Goth movement, did their share of scary songs Their song "Bloody Kisses (a Death in the Family)" sounds as if it is about two lovers united in death (the title even brings to mind vampirism).

Of course, there are many other songs out there that are fit for Halloween; "Bad Moon Rising" by Credence Clearwater Revival, "Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon, "Season of the Witch" by Donovan, "Black Sabbath" by Black Sabbath (inspired by the movie of the same name), "Boris the Spider" by The Who, and nearly anything from the soundtracks of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Nightmare Before Christmas. Indeed, it would seem that ultimately there are as many songs fit for Halloween as there are Yuletide carols.

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