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Dr. Demento's Blog - October 30, 2011
Happy Halloween everyone! Our second Halloween show for 2011 is now online.
A few of our best-known Halloween songs have been given a rest this year to allow for more variety, but be assured you can find “Werewolves of London,” “Nature Trail To Hell,” etc. on our many past Halloween shows available right here for streaming. Meanwhile, this week’s show has lots of your requests, some fun new things, and some oldies I just discovered or re-discovered. That seems to happen every Halloween, even after I think I’ve heard them all!
Continuing our little history of Halloween music from last time: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell On You,” released in 1956, was the scariest song of the Fifties (or maybe any decade). It didn’t chart in 1956, though. The first big Halloween hit of the rock ‘n roll era was John Zacherle’s “Dinner with Drac”. Oddly enough, it hit the Top Ten in the spring of 1958. (Of course, Dracula is scary any time of year, and so is Frankenstein). That same spring brought us “The Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley, the fastest selling novelty 45 ever, and still a Halloween favorite, though I never thought of it as being especially scary or spooky. My pick for the most frightening 45 of 1958 is one that didn’t sell a lick: “Dead” by the Poets, five kids from Thomas Jefferson High School in L.A. It was amazingly ahead of its time, almost doo-wop rap. (We are told that Roy Ayers, the great jazz vibraphonist, was one of the Poets, who have absolutely nothing to do with The Dead Poets Society).
Over the next few years dozens more spooky songs were released on 45’s. Hundreds may be more like it – I seem to run across a few more every year that I hadn’t heard before. Of course we’ll probably never know many early 1960s novelty records there were…there’s certainly no handy discography like there is for the Beatles, for instance, or for records that made the Billboard charts, which very few of these did. “Dead Man’s Stroll” by the Revels did chart in 1959, after it was re-titled “Midnight Stroll”…and “Castin’ My Spell” by Johnny Otis, “Frankenstein of ‘59” by Buchanan and Goodman, and the original “Haunted House” by Johnny Fuller also got play that year.
I suspect much of that activity was inspired by a 1958 megahit made for another holiday, “The Chipmunk Song.” That kicked off a flood of Christmas novelty records, as seemingly every record label in the business, large and small, tried for an out-of-nowhere holiday smash with some sort of clever or would-be-clever angle on the Christmas legend. The same activity soon spilled over to Halloween, whose cast of witches, warlocks, goblins, ghouls, werewolves, vampires, zombies and other bizarre creatures were tailormade for rock ‘n roll.
Just before Halloween 1962, one of those out-of-nowhere records totally hit the jackpot: Bobby (Boris) Pickett and his “Monster Mash” on Garpax Records in 1962. (You can hear Bobby telling the story of the song’s creation on our show dated Oct. 31, 1999; a later interview with Bobby is on our show for Oct. 29, 2006. Both are available for streaming at www.drdemento.com).
A great time capsule of those years is a lamentably out-of-print CD, Monster Rock ‘n Roll Show, released by DCC Compact Classics in 1990. Compiler Alan Warner links the songs together with vintage radio ads for horror movies. While you’re trolling for that one, you might also seek out Doo-Wop Halloween Is a Scream (Wanda) which includes “Dead” by the Poets and 26 other scary melodies, most of them even more obscure!
The days of novelty 45s may be gone, but Halloween’s traditions continue to inspire the creators of funny music in today’s era of do-it-yourself Dementia. I could easily do a month’s worth of Halloween shows without repeating myself.
Have a happy, safe and demented Halloween, everyone!
Dr D - Is there any way to buy, beg, borrow, steal or download Dr D. Basement Tapes I just finished listen to #5 and #8 Basement CD tapes…. Got to find more! -chips moondogs
Chips – There are 17 Basement Tapes CD’s. Due to our contracts with the artists on the discs, we can only sell them to active members of the Demento Society. When you join, you get #17 as part of your membership kit…and then you’re able to purchase the others, for $9.95 each plus shipping. Some of the earlier ones are in very short supply, but as of now we have them all. See membership info right here at www.drdemento.com.
From: chips moondogs
Thank you very for the info on Basement tapes. Will do that when I get paid.I appreciate the time you take to do your blog to keep in touch with us. That is a great price considering what there asking for on Eby and Amzy.Again thank you!!!
40th anniversary of Watergate
Hi,Doc-I realize I'm jumping the gun but I have an idea for a topic that I hope you consider airing-Next June 17th marks the 40th anniversary of the Watergate scandal-I know a lot of mad music & crazy comedy was inspired by this dastardly deed-Keep up the great work-Scott
Any future compilations
Dr D, it seems to have been a while since a compilation has been released. Do you think downloadable music has made this more difficult? Compilations that are put together by musicologists should continue to be relevant--right? Who else is going to expose listeners to novelty music than yourself?