Missing the sounds of horror.
COLUMN: DOWN at the one
I've written about horror books in pre-Halloween columns a few times now, and managed to reference more than a few movies in the process. But I have never touched upon that which Henry David Thoreau called "the universal language," music.
Plenty of musicians have reached into what lies beyond and pulled out something more than fitting for play on Halloween. But you won't hear weeks dedicated to these songs like you hear at Christmas.
On Halloween, fitting music is spread out over the day. You may hear "Werewolves of London," but likely not followed by another appropriately themed song and too often followed by a medley arrangement that starts with "Monster Mash," ends with "Ghostbusters" and leaves you feeling like you're on the "Highway to Hell."
I'm far from a Christmas music hater. In fact, I have been told that playing "Dominick the Donkey" one more time before the Thanksgiving dishes are cleared from the table could require surgery to remove a gravy boat from my intestines. But radio needs to give some of the darker songs of our times their due.
I don't need a month of terrifying tunes, but something longer than a lunch break trio is certainly fair recompense for all those years of hearing Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" immediately followed by Springsteen hollering through "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," every two hours or so.
So here are a few suggestions I hope to hear next Wednesday. Since lists like this are subjective, I should explain my criteria before you voice your disapproval.
"MacArthur Park" was big hit in 1968 for Richard Harris. And that scares me. The song was also covered 50 or so times, including versions by by such luminaries as The Four Tops, Glen Campbell and Donna Summer. That scares me more. But it didn't make the list, because the subject of the song should be terrifying, not solely that the song was published.
OK. Now you can voice your disapproval.
I also didn't want to list those songs that are dug up every Halloween, like "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," "Nightmare on My Street" or "Somebody's Watching Me."
And I wanted a few songs children could enjoy too; that is until they are old enough to think about it, like "The Little Blue Man," the first song on my list. They don't make songs like this anymore, for good reason. But a song about a little blue man appearing out of nowhere and stalking a woman for weeks is sufficiently creepy enough to make my list.
Like many songs of its day, they didn't release the British version in America, and vice versa, so there are two versions of this tale of unreciprocated love from 1958. They are both very similar, though I suggest Petula Clark's version, because scary things sound better when said in British.
While "The Cockroach that Ate Cincinnati" is also suitable for children, that's not why it made the list. It made the list because anything that can find a backbeat to match lyrics like "he must have needed a seltzer. It's amazing how much he got down," deserves recognition.
I have a feeling I haven't heard Julie Brown's "The Homecoming Queen's got a Gun" on the radio in years, even on Halloween, because of political correctness. Come to think of it, I believe it was banned at my homecoming 27 years ago. So, for that reason, it's probably not suited for children. But it should make some people uncomfortable, and if you can't make people uncomfortable on Halloween, when can you? It's on the list.
The fact that I've included "Dark Lady" doesn't mean I'll admit to being a Cher fan if we run into each other on the street. So don't ask. But it deserves a place on the list. About the same time Vickie Lawrence was singing about "The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia," Cher's solution for dealing with a cheating spouse was more mystical than redneck, and it had a higher body count too.
Plus, by adding Cher to the list, I've covered my 70s ladies of rock quota, so I can avoid mentioning "Angie Baby," by Helen Reddy. Far creepier than "Dark Lady," it probably should be on the list, but you'd have better luck getting me to admit I know every word of "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" than admitting I know a Helen Reddy song.
Zombies are big business right now, but Single File was ahead of the trend with its song "The Zombies Ate My Neighbors," which grew in popularity while they were still a garage band in the mid-2000s. More modern than any other song on this list, the chorus earns it a spot on this list because the line "So call the neighbor kids with trash can lids and buckets on their heads," creates the heroic image the other songs on the list lack. And where would humanity be without hope? (Insert Helen Reddy concert joke here.)
The Cure's "Subway Song," from the band's 1979 debut album, is short, deliberate and should be played loud. Just not when driving and not around people with heart problems. Like the "Little Blue Man" 20 years earlier, this one is more disconcerting when you think about it, but in no way can it be mistaken for a children's song.
There you have it, a list I truly hope makes you "Clap for the Wolfman," a song that makes the list, despite being about a man and not a werewolf, because, ultimately, disc jockey Robert Weston Smith became a better known Wolfman than even Lon Chaney Jr., and he displayed much more passion for the role.
Michael Kane is the editor of The Banner, who would like to sincerely apologize to anyone who likes Helen Reddy or the song "MacArthur Park," but he can't bring himself to do it. He can be reached at (508) 835-4865, ext. 4792, or email@example.com.