90% of everything I love about life, nature and the arts (and please make sure to pronounce that last one really posh, as in the aaartsss) is encapsulated all within the greatest holiday ever. Halloween. Pumpkins, ghouls, masks, the smell of cheap black vinyl vampire capes, bat shaped candy, plastic skeletons, the crunching of dead leaves and the chill of mid-late Autumn are just some of the ingredients that make it a truly special celebration. (The whole veil between the living and dead world being the thinnest thing is pretty sexy too. Though remind me of that whenever I end up having blood pour from the walls and the words “Get Out” appear in the bathroom sink. Also known as every other week.)
I am a firm believer that every special night needs a proper mix-tape or playlist. For a night dedicated to sights and sounds to raise the hairs on the back of your neck (as well your blood pressure and possibly sugar too), you need something fitting and unique. So on this grave evening (or afternoon or morning, I don’t judge), I bring you a two part shot and chaser of visual and sonic delights. Some of these maybe familiar, while others have not haunted enough, just yet, but all have helped me personally channel the many delights of All Hallow’s Eve and its connected fun. Also, a brief note of warning. There are approximately eleventy Halloween music lists that mention such moldy oldies like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Hey, I loved it as a kid too but that goose is cooked and stripped of its meat a long time ago. Your Halloween spirit deserves some more unique inspiration.
Now? Let’s get this party started.
- Alan Parsons Project — “Tales of Mystery & Imagination”
A progressive rock band fronted by two men in the form of Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson and a slew of session musicians may seem an unlikely place to start for darkly atmospheric music. Well, that is unless you are actually familiar with some of their work, from their weirdly eerie radio hit “Eye in the Sky” to such notable concept albums like “Eve” and “I Robot.” (The latter obviously influenced by Isaac Asimov’s Robot Trilogy, most notably the book I, Robot. The lack of comma in the album title was to keep things from getting legal.) However, if we’re talking the waning of Autumn, then their first album, 1976’s “Tales of Mystery & Imagination,” is where it is at.
Taking the works of legendary American writer, Edgar Allan Poe and infusing it with both evocative synth work and a sense of the theatrical, right down to even utilizing the vocal talents of actor Leonard Whiting, who is best known as Romeo to Olivia Hussey’s Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film, as well as the ultra-wondrous Arthur Brown, among others, “Tales of Mystery & Imagination” is a rich mix of early-mid 70’s rock with an acute feeling of arcane dread and dusty gothic wall. It’s a lush work that does justice to the unforgettable prose of the man himself.
Oddly enough, the bulk of the musicians on this album were members of MOR bands like Pilot and Ambrosia. (Both of whom had worked with Parsons before, naturally.)
- Rain Station — “Dark Ride”
Another two man band (minus the plethora of session guys), Rain Station was formed in the early 1990s by two multi-talented Americans, Mark Harvey and J. E. Moores. I found out about them years ago when listening to a now long gone Halloween themed internet radio station via Live365. This particular station stood out for several reasons and one of the biggest was the work of a band named Rain Station. Songs like “Trick or Treating,” “Things” and “Candy” grabbed and pulled me towards seeking out their Halloween themed album, “Dark Ride.” This was a move that I am still eternally grateful for, especially since it made me check out their non-spooky work, which is equally brilliant and beautifully unclassifiable. Rain Station are truly their own genre.
With the tone ranging from cute to somber to fanged-monster-mask-scary, “Dark Ride” is a work that should be played as much as “Monster Mash” in a world more just. It’s a perfect album for pre, during and post Halloween-themed capers. Whether it is the thrill of being a child in a cheap mask, going to strange houses at night in search for candy or being the grown up monster kid watching scary movies late at night with friends, “Dark Ride” is an album that lives up to its title. It is actually better than any carnival ride and you can be assured that the odds of getting sexually harassed by a carny named “Crutches” while visiting this particular dark ride are incredibly low.
- Verne Langdon — “Music for Zombies”
There are those who dream of making their mark in one particular trade. There are those who succeed, which is no mean feat, right? But then you have those who carve their own path in more than one arena. One cultural gladiator who glove-fits that bill is the late Verne Langdon. First making his mark with his creative and colorful creature masks for the famed Don Post Studios, including the super-rare “The Zombie” mask. In fact, the latter actually appears on the cover art for another Langdon work. Though instead of helping people scare their friends, foes and neighbors via monster masks, this time around Langdon got to utilize his musical skills with his album, “Music for Zombies.”
Originally trained in classical piano as a teenager and crafting monstrous costumes at the wee age of 7, Langdon was clearly a cut above the average Joe. Beginning his ghoulishly great musical journey in the early 1970’s, “Music for Zombies” is an absolutely wonderful starting place. Though barely over a half and hour long, what it lacks in length, “Music for Zombies” more than makes up for it in sheer and gloriously deranged ambiance. You can almost see a madman old timey magician playing the organs as his undead henchmen start to drool and breathe right near the nape of your oh so vulnerable neck. It is a work begging for the right minded filmmaker to create the macabre visuals worthy of such a marvelous album. Langdon sadly passed in 2011, but his work in both the creative world lives on. Any man who can accurately boast of being not only a one-of-a-kind musician and monster-artist, but also wrestler, magician, tiki drink maker and circus clown is truly a god in a Hawaiian shirt and that man’s name is Verne Langdon.
- Various Artists — “Vampire Themes”
For a lot of us who came of age in the 1990’s and 2000’s, it was often a compilation by California based Cleopatra Records that introduced us to many a goth and industrial band that we would usually end up fiercely loving. One of their best, for my money, was their 1997 compilation, “Vampires Themes.” If the title immediately makes you think of well meaning though slightly pretentious teenagers illegally smoking clove cigarettes, writing poetry about blood and depression and cutting out images of Peter Murphy from Propaganda magazine and posting said pictures on bedroom wall, then you seriously need to stop time traveling to my juvenile past. (Really, it’s better for the both of us.)
Slight kidding aside, “Vampire Themes” is a really fantastic mix that still holds up, featuring some expected masterworks (“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus), some good remixes (“Testify: Brimstone Mix” by The Damned) and several fantastic covers, including Two Witches rendition of Ed Tomney’s theme for the 1993 film, Dracula Rising and Electric Hellfire Club’s version of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” There’s also Bell, Book & Candle’s faithful cover of Fred Mollin’s classic theme for the cult (and wickedly underrated) TV show, Forever Knight, as well as Nosferatu’s “Graveyard Shift,” inspired by the 1990 vampire film of the same name. “Vampire Themes” is a mix I love pulling out all year round, though it does serve some extra inspiration to purchase plastic fangs and humiliate myself further in front of my lovely but cruel cats.
- Opium Den — “Secret Sky”
A mood album that lends itself more to exploring old woods and forgotten cemeteries than say, drunken Halloween parties with your friends and co-workers, 1990’s era Boston band, Opium Den’s second album, “Secret Sky,” is the supreme soundtrack for the former. Featuring a dark dreaminess that is as languid as it is murky, “Secret Sky” sounds and feels like a portal to a world that has one foot rooted in the dank earth and another foot placed in the smokey-realm of the unknown.
Fronted by the enchanting Annette Farrington, Opium Den were one of those bands who should have been better noticed than they were when they were still current. (And heaven knows that that the list of those who fit that bill is way too long as it is.) It was their song, “Dead Shall Rise,” that initially enchanted me, combining both beauty and a violet-hued dread, that led me to this entire album. It is very much well worth seeking out.
- Ruth White — “Flowers of Evil”
There are few things sweeter than the phrase, “Moog Pioneer.” Ruth White is a composer who earned that title signed, sealed and delivered. White was initially noted for her contributions towards educational recordings, but it was her wholly ethereal and gorgeously ominous take on Charles Baudelaire’s poetry collection, Les Fleurs du Mal, that have staked musical terra firm that is hers and hers alone.
Crafted in 1969, White’s “Flowers of Evil” is hypnotic, glorious and completely unsettling, leaving the listener with a feeling that they have been introduced to a realm that is human, hypnotic and nightmarish. White is an unsung musical pioneer who is beyond ripe for getting major recognition for her work in the field of electronic music and “Flowers of Evil” is great proof for this. Listen to this in a dark and abandoned attic and see what happens.
- Zacherley — “Spook Along With Zacherley”
John Zacherle aka Roland aka Zacherle aka Zacherley aka The Cool Ghoul, is more than an institution. He is a paragon of everything fantastic and whimsical in horror culture. Born in 1918 and has ever since aged in canine years, Zacherley came to cultural prominence with his initial horror hosting gig as “Roland” in 1957 for Shock Theater. He soon would be reportedly dubbed “The Cool Ghoul” by American Bandstand former-eternal-teenager himself, Dick Clark, and in 1960, released his album, “Spook Along with Zacherley.”
It does lack his best known song, “Dinner With Drac,” but “Spook Along…” features some key essentials for the holiday, including such chestnuts as “Coolest Little Monster,” “Come With Me to Transylvania” (a fine romantic song if ever there was one) and the rousing anthem of “Zacherley For President.” Everyone and their mother should have love in their heart for Zacherley and if you don’t? Then what the hell is wrong with you? Don’t answer that. Just listen to some Zacherley until you even yourself out.
- Various Artists — “Elvira Presents Vinyl Macabre”
In the vein of famous horror hosts, Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira, the Mistress of the Dark, is one of the most recognizable and fabulous ones around. With showgirl curves, vampiric good looks and a drag queen’s sharp wit, Elvira was one of my earliest role models as a kid. She also is one of the most glamorous totems for Halloween and has several themed compilations to back that statement up. All of them are notable but it was her first LP, “Elvira Presents Vinyl Macabre” that remains steadfastly, my favorite.
This particular comp has some usual suspects (Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash) but also features enough solidly unusual tracks to make it worth your while. There’s Mississippi born rockabilly artist ‘Jumpin’ Gene Simmons’ “Haunted House,” as well as the UK outfit, The Bollock Brothers, catchy “Horror Movies.” (Note the chord similarity to the 1960’s classic “Spooky” by Jacksonville, Florida band, Classics IV.) Any song that invokes Witchfinder General is a-okay by me. “Vinyl Macabre” also has the The Shaggs eternally charming “It’s Halloween” and the supremely goony but likable, “Drac’s Back” by Red Lipstique. (The latter was another pseudonym for The Bollock Brothers. C’est perfect.)
- Blue Oyster Cult — “Spectres”
Now it might be a smidge biased if I said that Blue Oyster Cult are one of the greatest rock & roll bands of all time. That said, Blue Oyster Cult are one of the greatest rock & roll bands of all time, not to mention one of the most consistent. (Even if Eric Bloom once yelled, “Woah tall girl,” at me when I was in line for a meet & greet once upon a time.) If all you know about BOC is “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and Will Ferrell in an ill fitting tee shirt from an old Saturday Night Live skit, then you really owe it to yourself to explore more of this band’s work. Their 1977 album “Spectres” is a fantastic place to start, especially for driving or walking around on chilly Fall nights.
Opening with “Godzilla” and ending with “Nosferatu,” “Spectres” is an album built for not only Halloween moods, but for those inclined towards the darker side of life in general. The album has not just one but two songs about vampires. (“I Love the Night” and “Nosferatu.”) All of the songs in between are equally evocative, from the insanely brilliant “Golden Age of Leather” (seriously, it’s like three songs in one…it is amazing), the cryptic and poetically violent “Fireworks,” which feels incredibly reminiscent of the 1976 film Through the Looking Glass, to the Eric Bloom and Ian Hunter penned “Goin’ Through the Motions.” From a band that has been one of the most fascinating rock acts that emerged in the late 1960’s onward, “Spectres” is a ridiculously great album.
- Various Artists— “Halloween Hootenanny”
Originally released on Rob Zombie’s short lived Zombie A Go-Go Records label, “Halloween Hootenanny” is the ultimate soundtrack for guys dressed like the Frankenstein monster spiking the punch bowl while half naked bump’n’grind pulchritudinous honeys frug into the late hours of the night. (Yes, I basically just described one of the greatest scenes in film history, for any of you House on Bare Mountain fans.) In short, it is a ghoulishly groovy mix featuring bands ranging from Southern Fried ass shaking (Reverend Horton Heat’s “The Halloween Dance”) to downright swanky (“Ribcage Mambo” by Frenchy).
There is also a ton of terrific B-Movie inspired surf rock, from The Dead Elvi (“The Creature Stole My Surfboard”), The Ghastly Ones (“Banshee Beach”), Los Straitjackets’ cover of The Munsters theme and one of the best modern day surf bands ever, The Bomboras (“A Fistful of Terror’). Actually all of the above bands are terrific and The Dead Elvi may sound familiar to some of you Something Weird Video fans, since the band’s music has appeared on several of their special feature supplements. To cap it all off, there is even an appearance by The Cool Ghoul himself, Zacherle, which is the audio equivalent of the Halloween gods whispering that they love you.
- The Screaming Tribesmen— “Date With a Vampyre”
Okay, I am admittedly though ever so slightly cheating here, since this is not an album, but a 12 inch EP. But screw it, this is my list and The Screaming Tribesmen’s song “Date With a Vampyre” alone makes this a must have and a must mention. Formed in 1981 in Brisbane, Australia, The Screaming Tribesmen are one of those bands that brought a punk energy to the catchier end of garage rock. (Also see the supremely and equally underrated Aussie band The Lime Spiders for more right side of a good thing action.)
Speaking of fantastic bands from Australia, former Radio Birdman guitarist Chris Masuak actually made his debut in the band with “Date With a Vampyre.” Any mix-tape entitled “Hanging Out in Graveyards” absolutely demands that this song be on it. Straight up aces rock for the candy fangs and faux blood drinking set.
- Clan of Xymox— “Clan of Xymox”
If it’s a goth album from the mid 1980s and from the 4AD label, then the odds of it being not only great but also effective for murky nights and the dimming of Fall right before Winter are extraordinarily high. Clan of Xymox’s 1985 self titled debut album slips into this description with leather glove precision. It is a fantastic record to channel the beauty of waning light and all of the nature shifting to dying mode. (Granted, anytime is a great time to throw on anything by Clan of Xymox.)
Formed in Amsterdam in 1981, their first album was a strong debut, opening with “A Day,” which blends Ronny Mooring’s deep, quasi-moody vocals with the danceable and exquisitely layered musicianship of Mooring, Anka Wolbert and keyboardist Pieter Nooten. (Nooten would go on to record some stellar non-Xymox work, including the masterwork of “Sleeps With the Fishes,” a collaboration with Michael Brook, who had previous worked with Brian Eno.) Strong tracks include “Stranger” which begins quietly ominous before swerving into some electronica primed for a modern horror film, as well as “7th Time.” (In a smart move, the 1986 episode entitled “Last Scene” from the cable-horror show, The Hitchhiker, actually uses part of “Stranger” in a club scene to memorable effect.)
- The Crazy World of Arthur Brown— “The Crazy World of Arthur Brown”
For any proper Samhain celebrations, you gotta have some prime 1960s strange psych-prog rock. Just witchy enough to make it interesting but not so sinister that you are summoning murderous dead rock stars. (Leave that mess to Skippy and Fastway.) Ladies and gents, I present to you The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and yes, you’re welcome.
Arthur Brown is what sociologists refer to as a “supreme badass.” In addition to this album, he has also worked with Hawkwind and completely stole the show from Eric Clapton when Brown played the Priest during the “Eyesight to the Blind” sequence in Ken Russell’s 1975 film, Tommy. As if the Ken Russell/Hawkwind connection isn’t proof enough, let’s note that Brown often performs with a helmet that is ON FIRE.
Speaking of the purest of the four elements, “The Crazy World of Arthur Brown” not only features his biggest hit, “Fire,” but also his superb cover of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” Given that there are several great covers of this classic, ranging from Nina Simone to Bryan Ferry, it is something special to have one stand out. Since this is Arthur Brown, the god of Hellfire himself, we are talking about, yeah it stands out and slaps your mother in the fanny while doing so. Also, it is great for Halloween.
Tune back on Halloween for part two, a look at the spookiest music videos of all time…