The Best of the Songs, Movies and Artists of Halloween

Cover, Oct 28, 2011

Story: Sandy Graham

The word Halloween is first attested in the 16th century and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All-Hallows-Even ("evening"), that is, the night before All Hallows Day. Although the phrase All Hallows is found in Old English (ealra hālgena mæssedæg, mass-day of all saints), All-Hallows-Even is itself not attested until 1556.

However, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English folk lore: "Certainly Samhain was a time for festive gatherings, and medieval Irish texts and later Irish, Welsh, and Scottish folklore use it as a setting for supernatural encounters, but there is no evidence that it was connected with the dead in pre-Christian times, or that pagan religious ceremonies were held.”

The imagery of Halloween is derived from many sources, including national customs, works of Gothic and horror literature (such as the novels Frankenstein and Dracula), and classic horror movies we all have known through the decades, as well as the songs, videos and even artists that all bring out the ‘scary’ this time of year. Similar to Christmas, there are songs that get played on radio every Halloween. Here are Cashbox Canada’s Top Songs, Movies and Artists that come back year after year (just like Freddy Kruger!).

Thriller: Michael Jackson

Released November 30, 1982, this classic video and song stands the test of time . Thriller enabled Jackson to help break down racial barriers via his appearances on MTV and meeting with President Ronald Reagan at the White House. The album was one of the first to use a music videos as a successful promotional tool and the video for  Thriller set the bar for regular rotation on MTV. In 2001, a special edition issue of the album was released, which contains additional audio interviews, a demo recording and the song "Someone In the Dark", In 2008, the album was reissued again as Thriller 25, containing re-mixes that feature contemporary artists, a previously unreleased song and a DVD.

Monster Mash: Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett

Monster Mash is a 1962 novelty song and the best-known song by Bobby "Boris" Pickett. The song was released as a single on Gary S. Paxton's Garpax Records label in August 1962 along with a full-length LP called The Original Monster Mash, which contained several other monster-themed tunes. The "Monster Mash" single reached number one on the Cashbox Hot 100 chart on October 20 of that year, just in time for Halloween. It has been a perennial holiday favorite ever since.

Bad Moon Rising: Credence Clearwater Revival

Bad Moon Rising is a song written by John Fogerty and performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival. It was the lead single from their album Green River and was released in April 1969, four months before the album. The song reached #2 on the Cashbox Hot 100 singles chart and #1 on the UK Singles Chart for three weeks in September 1969 (see 1969 in music). It was CCR's second gold single. The song has been recorded by at least 20 different artists, in styles ranging from folk to reggae to psychedelic rock. In 1981, it found its way onto the soundtrack of the movie ‘American Werewolf in London’, partnering in the major scenes with Van Morrison’s Moon Dance.

There are also movie soundtracks that immediately identify with horror and fear. The Exorcist theme song Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, Jaws; da dum da dum dam dum speeding while the water churns is an instrumental theme that needs no translation as to what movie it is from, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho had a repetitive, mind numbing theme which also stood the test of time. It was recently used on Dancing With the Stars as a frenetic routine with Riki Lake and Derek Hough.

And what can you say about Ghostbusters? Just a great silly part song that has you ranting‘I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghosts’. In the same send up vein and remaining a seasonal classic is 1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which came with its own dance, the unforgettable Time Warp.

We have had some scary rock artists over the years as well, Ozzie Osbourne notorious act of biting the head off a live bat in 1982 on stage leading the field. Ozzie claims it was unconscious and he thought it was plastic before he realized he had a live bat in his mouth. Regardless, this will be his claim to fame forever. Alice Cooper had tremendous stage make-up and scary antics and was brave enough to sing songs like Only Women Bleed and the classic School’s Out For Summer. Then we have Kiss, who really scare us as Gene Simmons continues to dress up in not very attractive costumes, and the Kiss make-up et al. What is really scary is his reality show Gene Simmons Family Jewels – or maybe it is just his haircut that is really scary.

David Bryne’s haircut wasn’t scary until he opened up and started singing Psycho Killer (1977) and all of a sudden he looked just like that serial killer down the block. The Who pulled a similar changeup with Boris The Spider (1966) which starts like this kind of children’s song, with John Entwhistle’s spooky bass lines leading the way to a whole different story altogether.

On the other hand, if you’re the Werewolves of London (1978), the hair must be perfect to be terrifying, an approach adopted wholesale by the gentlemen of Bauhaus for the video to Bela Lugosi’s Dead (1979). Best Halloween love ballad ever is I Put A Spell On you (1956), especially the original featuring Screaming Jay Hawkins, another scary gent who sported perfect hair.

When Jackson dropped the “Thriller” video he knew that, along with the market for Michael Jackson there was a market for Halloween dance music. At that time the Halloween boogie scene was book ended by Monster Mash and The Devil Went Down To Georgia (1979). The genre continues to thrive and conjure up its own contemporary classics, including early Will Smith rocking the joint on Nightmare On My Street (1988), the Squirrel Nut Zippers chanting D-A-M-N-A-T-I-O-N on Hell (1997), Rob Zombie’s creepy take on K.C. & The Sunshine Band’s I’m Your Boogieman (1996) and Marilyn Manson’s demented cover of This Is Halloween (2006)

Music is always part of everything we do, birthdays, weddings, funerals, divorces, and holidays. So on behalf of the Cashbox Canada’s staff of beasties and goblins enjoy your Halloween!  And no snacking on passers-by.