As Hallowe’en approaches, Getintothis’ Will Neville picks out a top 10 of spooks, tricks and treats to get you in the mood.
Hallowe’en. A time for pumpkins, skeletons, apple bobbing, chucking loo rolls into people’s trees and knocking on strangers’ doors dressed up as something spooky or just plain bizarre in order to menace sweets or chocolate from them.
Back when this writer was a youngster, Hallowe’en wasn’t really much of a ‘thing’, with it mainly being experienced as something that happened in American films and TV shows. Now as a parent of a small person obsessed with ghosts, Scooby-Doo and spiders, it plays a more significant role.
For the uncertain, here’s a quick history lesson. Hallowe’en is a contraction of All Hallows’ Eve, the start of a three-day Christian remembrance of saints (or hallows), martyrs and the faithful departed.
More importantly for all music lovers, it’s a time that can be celebrated with a load of great music. While it hasn’t ‘inspired’ musicians in quite the volumes (or, perhaps, standard) as Christmas or summer, there’s still plenty to choose from.
From novelty tunes about ghosts and ghouls, rock’s flirtations with Lucifer and the dark side, to the whole goth subculture, the world of music has gained a surprising amount from Hallowe’en.
So, sit back and stick all these tunes onto your own personal playlist while struggling to hollow out a pumpkin. And be careful with those candles out there!
One quick spoiler alert – we realise there’s no Thriller by Michael Jackson in this list, so feel free to consider that as the number eleven if you like…
10. Ghostbusters (Ray Parker Jr.)
Let’s kick things off with a real pop classic to get everyone shouting along. The 1984 film this was the title song to was a massive hit, becoming the biggest comedy movie of the decade.
This song hit the top spot in the US, staying at number two in the UK for three weeks behind Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called To Say I Love You. For the trainspotters out there, who knew that Parker played guitar on Wonder’s classic Talking Book album from 1972?
Parker was later sued by Huey Lewis for plagiarising I Want A New Drug on this song, which was settled out of court.
Altogether now, “Who you gonna call?”
9. Werewolves of London (Warren Zevon)
From his 1978 LP Excitable Boy, this track features the talents of Fleetwood Mac’s drummer Mick Fleetwood and John McVie on bass (i.e. Fleetwood and Mac) and was produced by 70’s hit singer/songwriter Jackson Browne.
It kicks off with some jaunty piano and the line “saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand, walking through the streets of Soho in the rain, he was looking for a place called Lee Ho Fook’s, going to get a big dish of beef chow mein”, later somewhat bizarrely voted as the greatest ever opening to a song by Radio 2 listeners.
The song namechecks silent horror movie actors Lon Chaney senior and junior, who between them played The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, The Phantom Of The Opera and The Wolf Man amongst many horror roles.
No Hallowe’en should be complete without a good old-fashioned murderer, especially one who’s a bit of a nutter. David Byrne’s motivation for serial killing appears to be no more than “I hate people when they’re not polite”, so watch out…
The song featured on seminal debut album Talking Heads: 77, but was written back in 1974 based on a phrase commonly used by Byrne’s friend Barbara Conway. The “fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa”s are surely inspired by either Otis Redding’s Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) or The Kinks’ David Watts.
7. I Put a Spell on You (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins)
According to Hawkins, he originally planned this as “a refined love song, a blues ballad”, but the producer “brought in ribs and chicken and got everybody drunk, and we came out with this weird version … I don’t even remember making the record”.
The best known version was his second attempt at the song, in 1956, and he regularly performed it wearing a long cape, adding a coffin and smoke effects to his act, followed by tusks in his nose, as well as fireworks, snakes and a cigarette-smoking skull!
The spell is cast due to the singer’s (seemingly justified) jealousy – “I put a spell on you because you’re mine … you know I can’t stand it, you’re runnin’ around”.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t a hit, but it later hit the charts when covered by the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Nina Simone and Bryan Ferry. You can hear Hawkins’ influence on the likes of Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart and Nick Cave.
6. Sympathy For The Devil (Rolling Stones)
From witchcraft to Satan himself. It is written from the point of view of the actual lord of darkness, set to a samba rhythm. It was originally titled The Devil Is My Name, with Mick Jagger writing the bulk of it, assisted by Keith Richards.
The lyrics focus on atrocities throughout history as the tension mounts throughout the song, including the death of Jesus, Russian revolution, Second World War and the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers. It was released on 1968’s Beggars Banquet and is one of the band’s very finest numbers.
5. The Witch (The Sonics)
This band from Washington state in the US formed way back in 1960, with this scuzzy number released as their first single in November 1964. It apparently became the biggest ever selling local 7” in the American north-west, despite its subject matter ruling out much airplay.
However, the powers of this enchantress don’t actually seem that threatening according to the lyrics as she will only “put you down” or “make you itch”.
4. There’s a Ghost In My House (The Fall)
Another band influenced by The Sonics (also covering them) is The Fall. And there’s no way this writer is passing up the opportunity to include Mark E. Smith’s mighty combo in an article such as this, if there’s any excuse for their inclusion.
This is a cover of a fairly obscure Motown single by R. Dean Taylor from 1967, which he wrote with the crack Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team. It wasn’t a hit at the time, but reached the UK top three, seven years later after being taken up by the Northern Soul scene.
It became The Fall’s first Top 50 hit in the UK, reaching the heady heights of number thirty, still their highest ever placing. This is one of many songs from around this period where Smith makes use of a megaphone for some of the vocals.
3. Bela Lugosi’s Dead (Bauhaus)
A real ‘none more goth’ song – about an actor famous for playing Count Dracula amongst other horror roles. It was Bauhaus’s first single in August 1979, failing to chart, and is often proclaimed as the first goth record.
Lyrics such as “the virginal brides file past his tomb, strewn with time’s dead flowers, bereft in deathly bloom” seem rather laughable when written down, but work effectively within this song. Less so in a recent perky, synthpop cover by Chvrches recorded for the Vampire Academy soundtrack.
Unlike much of what it inspired, this remains an innovative, intriguing record. It is nine minutes long with a dub-influenced guitar sound, starting off with just some skittering drum beats before David J’s brooding bass joins in.
To keep in the Hallowe’en mood, the cover of the single was taken from the 1926 film The Sorrows Of Satan.
2. Monster Mash (Bobby Pickett)
Time for another novelty number with this smash from 1962 that reached the number one spot in the US. It was banned by the BBC at the time, but hit the top three in the UK when re-released in 1973.
It is narrated by a mad scientist who creates a monster that gets off its slab to perform a new dance that becomes successful when the scientist hosts a party for other monsters. If this piques your interest, then maybe you should explore the Christmas-themed follow-up, Monsters’ Holiday!
The band on the record includes Leon Russell on piano who had considerable solo success in the 1970’s.
1. Halloween (Sonic Youth)
This list has to end with a song named after Hallowe’en itself. It was released as a double A-sided single with Flower in 1985, and these days can easily be found on the CD of that year’s Bad Moon Rising album (or just grabbed online if you don’t need anything tangible or want to give the artists any money…).
The song is probably the spookiest in this list, with Kim Gordon almost whispering lyrics such as the opening line “there’s something shifting in the distance”.