Thursday, October 14, 2010

13 Horror Songs in 13 Minutes

So did I ever explain how much we like listing things here on the Dork Forty? I did? Well, alright then. Here's another list for you, a vampire's dozen of our favorite songs to sing while we're out pumpin' the blood fields, with accompanying videos. This was a tough one to pare down, I've gotta say. The Dork Forty horror song library is pretty big, and picking out just thirteen records actually kinda hurt. So we culled out most of the standards, the songs everybody knows and has heard a million zillion times. Unless, of course, we really like them...

1. “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

One of the first songs most people think of when they think of horror records, though they might be thinking about the Creedence Clearwater Revival version as much as this one. Or, depending on your musical bent, maybe even the Marilyn Manson. But Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ 1956 original is the best as far as I’m concerned. Nobody else has matched the barely-contained frenzy of Screamin’ Jay’s delivery. He really does sound like a man possessed, a man who might very well cast a spell to keep his woman in line. That quality especially comes out in the following live performance. Screamin’ Jay made a career out of being rock’s voodoo man, and it was a role he played with crazy relish (which I understand is really quite tasty when you put it on the Hot Dogs of Madness).

2. “Dinner With Drac” by Zacherley

I already talked about this one some, back on the first day of the Countdown, but here’s a little more background info on it. Zacherley was friends with Dick Clark, who encouraged him to make a record in the first place. But Clark found the original version of the song too gruesome, fearing it might not get radio airplay due to its lyrics about eating veins and swimming pools filled with blood. So he had Zach cut a second, much tamer (and lamer) version for the radio. Both versions were released together on a single, with this “radio edit” version as the A-side. It’s what got airplay, and what Zach performed on American Bandstand. It’s often labelled “Dinner With Drac Part One,” while the original gets stuck with a “Part Two.” But sometimes that gets reversed, so it’s impossible to tell which one you’re getting until you hear them. One of the few times I’ve been disappointed in Little Steven’s Underground Garage is when he picked the radio edit for his Halloween A-Go-Go collection.

At any rate. Zach’s original is better all the way around. The guitar’s hotter, the band’s tighter, the jokes are funnier, and Zach’s even in better voice (which, you know, is a relative thing when it comes to Zacherley records). But don’t just take my word for it; below I present both versions side-by-side, so you can make up your own mind...

Here’s the original:

And here’s the radio edit:

3. “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Cryptkickers

The official theme song of the Monster Kid Generation. When the Universal horror films were sold as a package to local TV stations, Karloff and Lugosi became hokey heroes to a whole new generation, and this record plays off that to great effect, with Pickett doing one of the better Karloff impersonations in history. I couldn't find any footage of Pickett and the Cryptkickers performing the song, but here it is accompanied by footage from the Groovie Goolies, one of my favorite cartoons from when I was a Monster Kid...

4. "Jack the Ripper" by Screaming Lord Sutch

Hoo-boy. Screaming Lord Sutch was one of the all-time great characters in rock history. Inspired by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Sutch recorded a bunch of horror-themed records in the early 60s, and was backed up at various times by such luminaries as Jimmy Page, John Bonham, Jeff Beck and Keith Moon. Some say he was able to get their assistance because he was their drug dealer, but it's just as likely that it was because they were young and unknown, and Sutch was wildly charismatic. So charismatic, in fact, that he ran for Parliament ... 40 times!

Here's what must be one of the earliest music videos ever, with Sutch in full Ripper costume.

Of course, he routinely performed in that get-up. Here he is performing "Jack the Ripper" live for British television. It's far more raw than the studio version, but holy crap! Look at those girls! Sutch was like the anti-Beatles!

5. "Coattails of a Dead Man" by Primus (with Tom Waits)

A great rickety spook-train of a song, rumored to have been written about the relationship between Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. It doesn't have a supernatural theme at all, but to me this song has always just sounded like Halloween. That's in part because of Tom Waits, who's recorded with Primus two or three times (he was also the voice of Tommy the Cat), and always to interesting ends...

6. "The Black Rider" by Tom Waits

My all-time favorite recording artist, and the musical patron saint of the Dork Forty. Waits has recorded a lot of great, spooky-sounding songs over the years, but this one to me always had the biggest "horror" vibe. It's from the album of the same name, the soundtrack to a stage play Waits wrote with Robert Wilson and William S. Burroughs (Burroughs, in fact, performs "T'ain't No Sin" on that album). It's the story of a young German lad who wants to win the hand of a pretty young girl, but has to impress her father by winning a shooting contest first. Unfortunately, he's not a good shot. But then the Devil comes along with some magic bullets to solve his dilemma. It all ends in tears, of course. Bloody, bloody tears...

If you want more: Lots of great Halloweenie Waits out there. All of The Black Rider fits the festive holiday spirit, and you can't really go wrong with his album Bone Machine either; Waits himself describes that one as sounding like Halloween. If you just want individual songs, though... you could try out "Cemetary Polka," "Black Wings," "What's He Building?" (a creepy spoken word piece), "Army Ants" (another creepy spoken word piece), "A Little Drop of Poison" (which he did for one of the Shrek movies), and the list goes ever on...

7. "No More Hot Dogs" by Hasil Adkins

HAH-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HAAA! If you think Jerry Lee Lewis was rockabilly's wild man, that's ony 'cause you ain't never heard tell of the Haze. Hasil Adkins was a West Virginia hillbilly who came... this... close... to stardom in the 50s. But a family crisis called him home, and there he stayed, playing his insane one-man-band style of rock and country in local dives, and recording songs on the four-track he had back in his mountain shack. And thank god he had that thing, because out of it came some of the rawest, pure-crazy rock and roll ever made. Hasil joins Mr. TomWaits in the Dork Forty pantheon of musical greatness, but I'm sure the uninitiated among you are still wondering why a song with this title rates on my list of Halloween classics. All I can say is, listen on. This song might be his best. It might be his worst. With Hasil, it's sometimes hard to tell.

One word of warning to the more pansy-ass among you: this is a fan-made video, and features some photographs that you may find a bit disturbing...

8. "Skulls" by the Misfits

Mr. Glenn Danzig has spent more than 30 years now making horror rock, and I think this is probably my favorite of his efforts on that front. It's loud, fast, unutterably stupid, and really freaking cool. The version of the song in the video below is not my favorite, but I like the way the video shows off what the Misfits looked like on-stage, and how it captures the insanely claustrophobic and sweaty feel of a truly great punk show. So I can deal.

9. "Brains!" by Voltaire

I would have felt remiss if I didn't include at least ONE goth on this list, and my choice is Voltaire. Though he's recorded a whole bunch of horror-tinged music over the years, Voltaire contributed this song to the really-pretty-excellent cartoon show The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, and in doing so wormed his twisted way into the hearts and minds of a generation of children. And that (along with it being pretty catchy) puts it on my list.

10. "Lotion" by The Greenskeepers

A song commemorating one of the creepiest scenes in movie history. This one is really very wrong, and it makes me laugh so very hard every time I hear it. Especially now that I've seen this fan-made video featuring lip-synced footage from The Silence of the Lambs...

11. "I Walked With a Zombie" by Roky Erickson

Not the most scintillating lyrics in rock history (though I do like the part where he says "I Walked With a Zombie"). And it's also not a song about the living dead: Roky Erickson knew the guys in the Zombies, and went for walks with one of them. But, still! Great horror record anyway!

12. "No One Lives Forever" by Oingo Boingo

Kind of a Halloween standard, but that doesn't mean I like it any less. Here's an interesting fan video for it, anyway, with a bunch of cool cartoon footage...

13. "The Insect God" by The Monks of Doom

So the guys from Camper van Beethoven who didn't join Cracker made up this band. And they recorded this song, adapted from an Edward Gorey book. Which might put it on the list even if it wasn't a pretty kick-ass horror record. I couldn't find the original studio recording, but here's the Monks playing it live for a reunion show in 2009. It's pretty close to the original, I must say; not bad for a bunch of old farts...

Honorable mention must go to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "The Curse of Millhaven," a ferocious little number about a wicked young lady who goes on a killing spree in her tiny hometown. Among a multitude of great lines comes my favorite: "I got a pretty little mouth, underneath all the foamin'." This tune would have definitely made the list, if I could have found anything other than a rather inferior live version on the YouTube. So go out there and give it a listen in the wide blood-soaked halls of the interwebs. It's a good'un.

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