Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Hits Past & Present

So, here we are on that final weekend of October; a weekend when we used to turn the clocks back one hour and revert to Standard Time. Now, we do that in early November, which makes for a little extra daylight for the kids to go about their rounds trick or treating on Halloween. Mind you, I have seen the little ones out just after 5 pm, when I have not even got the candy out yet.

These days, I don't even bother shelling out to the kids on Halloween; not because I am a grinch, but because I rarely get anyone coming to the door. The last couple of years, I got one bag of goodies to give out, which would cover at best a dozen kids, and by the end of the evening, I had all of it to myself. So now I don't bother; I figure if I want my Halloween candy fix I can head to the store on Monday and stock up on what's left at about half-off the price.

I got to thinking today of some of the music we associate with Halloween, and how we have a dearth of newer recordings appropriate for scaring the pants off the little ones as they come to your door. So, we always fall back on the tried and true standards, much as we do at Christmas.

Back in 1994, I picked up a disc on the Rhino label titled simply Halloween Hits, and it proved to be a pretty complete collection of Halloween material for any get-together. But you have to realize, being pretty complete means on this disc at least, we have only ten cuts and the entire length of the disc is barely half an hour. No wonder it is now long out of print! But you'll recognize much of the material on it, leading off as it does with the classic recording of Monster Mash by Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, a giant hit when it first came out in the late 50s during the sci-fi and monster movie era. Oddly, it became a big hit twice more over the years, and now you can barely get through Halloween without hearing it on almost any radio station or in the shopping mall. It is one of those songs, like Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" that transcends time and just seems to go on forever.

Other tracks on the disc reflect the changing times somewhat and the fact most of the material is over 40 years old now: "Haunted House" by Jumpin' Gene Simmons; "The Blob" by The Five Blobs, a 1958 hit from the movie of the same name I grew up with as a kid (incidentally, the song is by Burt Bacharach of all people, and the movie starred "Steven McQueen" in one of his very early roles); "The Twilight Zone Theme" (not the familiar one but the - I think - better one by Bernard Hermann) recorded here by Neil Norman & His Cosmic Orchestra; Sheb Wooley's "Purple People Eater"; Vic Mizzy with the main title from "The Addams Family"; "I Put a Spell on You" with Screamin' Jay Hawkins (whose act, you might recall, was to start singing this song while climbing out of an open casket); The Ran-Dells with "The Martian Hop" and believe it or not, Lewis Lee with "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes". Whatever happened to Lewis Lee, eh? Couldn't have been the material he was recording...could it? Anyway, the newest track on the disc, from the 80s is Ray Parker Jr. with the theme from "Ghostbusters". And that's as new as it gets.

Some the material is pretty dated now and a lot of it is truly awful, but we keep coming back to these, um, gems for Halloween every year, because not much else has come along over the years. Good thing Halloween only happens once a year.

In classical music, a lot of the material was not intended for Halloween, of course, it just worked out that way. Could you imagine J. S. Bach taking some of his 20 offspring out trick or treating while someone played his familar Toccata & Fugue everyone associates now with Halloween? The mind boggles...but Bach never imagined the work would become one of his biggest hits, thanks in no small part to Leopold Stokowski's lush orchestration of the work for the Disney classic "Fantasia". From the same film, Mussorgsky's Night on Bald (or Bare) Mountain will always be associated with Halloween, as will Paul Dukas' greatest hit, The Sorcerer's Apprentice. In the world of classical music, Harry Potter films seem to be the greatest supplier of appropriate music for Halloween now, especially since Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette" isn't heard with much regularity anymore after being associated for many years with Alfred Hitchcock. And what could be creepier than that association? Speaking of marches, the March to the Scaffold from Berlioz' opium-inspired Symphonie Fantastique still sounds great at this and any other time of year, but you rarely hear it now without some kind of association with Halloween.

What will our kids do in the future for scary inspiration? I suppose Lady Gaga is doing her best to keep the "creep" factor at a high level, and teen sensation Justin Bieber can be considered a little scary to some, given his mammoth popularity in a relatively short period of time. But associations with Halloween over the long term? I doubt it.

So, enjoy the night of October 31st, however you choose to celebrate it, and if that includes music, you have a wide variety of choices from the world of classical and pop music for the night. Of course, for all your musical requirements, scary or otherwise, A Web of Fine Music is here to serve you. Granted, it's too late to fill orders for Halloween this year, but for anything else you may be looking for, contact me through my website at or email me directly at

Happy Halloween!

October 29th, 2010.

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