by Donny Kutzbach
Artvoice’s 2009 Halloween music playlist doesn’t hand you the obvious 1980s cliches of Ray Parker Jr.’s “Theme From Ghostbusters” or current hot new zombie Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Instead, here’s a selection from well below the rest of the shallow graves that’s guaranteed to set the mood at your haunted house, make a scowling jack-o-lantern smile, and perk up all of the ears around the bubbling cauldron of brew.
There’s no such thing as “too much horror business.” You could buy just about any one of the Glenn Danzig-fronted Misfits albums and be set with the greatest playlist of spooky music ever. Almost every single Misfits song has themes of murder, death, ghouls, zombies, vampires, and killer aliens—and always a sing-a-long chorus. Those original records by these fabled horror punk innovators are still the benchmark for a heavy-duty, heavy-rock Halloween soundtrack. Thus the aptly titled track “Halloween” gets the nod here.
Dr. John—“I Walk on Guilded Splinters”
From the masterpiece album Gris-Gris, hopped up on hoodoo, hooch, and who knows what kinda of psychedelic magic, Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack plays his swaggering N’awlins witch doctor character “The Nightripper” with elegant swagger and creepy perfection.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins—“I Put a Spell on You”
This is the original shock rocker! The peerless Jay Hawkins inspired many on this list for good reason. In the 1950s—the days of squeaky clean pop idols like Pat Boone—a menacing Hawkins was playing this kind of rocking graveyard blues, hollering and horrifying his way through theatrical performances in which he’d emerge from a coffin. This song had been covered by artists as disparate as Nina Simone, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Roxy Music. None were better than this testifying, devilish original.
Screaming Lord Sutch—“’Til the Following Night”
Going so far as to borrow his moniker from the aforementioned Mr. Hawkins, Screaming Lord Sutch recorded his gimmicky Brit R&B under the direction of sonic pioneer Joe Meek. Dressed in an undertaker’s hat, Dracula garb, and monster makeup, Sutch was not exactly the poster boy for 1960s Swinging London, but the proof of his power is in his recordings of monster movie raveups like “’Til The Following Night.”
Alice Cooper—“I Love the Dead”
If Hawkins invented shock rock, then the Coop certainly perfected it. The former Vincent Furnier eventually absorbed the persona of the titular character of his band’s moniker and made him a morbid, black-clad ringleader of concert productions rife with live snakes, decapitation, and dancing skeletons. All that would have relegated Alice Cooper to novelty status were it not for the greatness of the music. For big concept albums, it’s tough to beat Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies, which yields the dark “I Love the Dead”—half dirge, half doo-wop, a song that celebrates cold, rotting flesh like no other.
Kiss—“King of the Night Time World”
Maybe it’s the fact that lyrics sound like some drunken come-on at a 1977 teenage Halloween party (sample: “I’m the king of the night time world/And you’re my headlight queen”), or perhaps it’s just that this list would be totally incomplete without some sample of Kiss’s white-face bravado and the lispy machismo that only Paul Stanley can muster. Either way, this one definitely makes the list.
Tom Waits—“What’s He Building in There?”
A genius glimpse at millennial paranoia that is part Steven King and part Dr. Seuss, in which Waits plays a paranoid next door neighbor in a spoken-word epic complete with off-balance music, creaky noises, and menacing deadpan delivery. It’s the accusations, assumptions, and personal prejudices of the narrator, however, that make for the song’s scariest elements.
Pink Floyd—“Astronomy Domine”
Is it those “oooooh oooooh oooooh’s”? Is it that chord progression? No one is quite sure what is it about this classic Pink Floyd track from Piper at Gates of Dawn—the first and only complete Floyd record featuring apocryphal leader Syd Barrett—that is so off-putting and menacing? It doesn’t matter. It just is. Careful with that pumpkin-carving axe, Eugene.
Kraftwerk—“The Hall of Mirrors”
The Teutonic stalwarts of analog electronic music show just how cold and creepy they can get on “The Hall of Mirrors.” It’s a surreal meditation on fame and vanity with foreboding synths highlighted by Ralf Hütter’s haunting and detached vocal. The track that follows it on the 1977 classic Trans-Europe Express—“Showroom Dummies”—is a little funkier but almost equally as eerie, unsettling and great.
Dr. Octagon—“Earth People”
Hip-hop savant “Kool” Keith Thornton’s 1996 epic Dr. Octagonecologyst, in which he portrays the mad Dr. Octagon, features unnecessary surgeries, strange sexual proclivities, and universally spaced-out braggadocio, but none of the other tracks match this this one. Scary, freaky, and truly bizarre. Is this really that same dude from the Bronx crew Ultramagnetic MCs? Awww, yeah!
There’s nothing quite as elemental and scary as when the late Albert Ayler would squeal and squonk through his tenor sax: He exorcized an abstracted darkness. He got a spiritual, otherworldly release. So many great moments, and “Spirits” is one them.
The Walker Brothers—“The Electrician”
From the 1978 reunion/swan song of 1960s popsters the Walker Brothers, this is the turning point where the lauded vocalist/writer/arranger Scott Walker evolves from mysterious, existentialist crooner to a full-on, fevered, nightmarish sound sculptor. There’s a lush string section in the middle but that only briefly brightens the pervading doom of “The Electrician.”
We start with one “Halloween” and we end with another. With Stooges-born blood and bravado, a charged Mark Arm must be seeing demons when he howls, “Twisting along/And you slither up to me” before Steve Turner’s searing guitar immolates the whole damned thing. This is an aggro, blistering bit of punk rock perfection. Halloween is certainly here!blog comments powered by Disqus
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