I give you an early edition of the blog this week, in time for Halloween. Unlike many holidays, there are lots of tunes that have themes or title, or words in their titles, that relate to All Hallows Eve — particularly if you’re kind of flexible in your definition.
That’s what I heard on my favorite sat radio channel, Deep Tracks, yesterday. (I could have got a lot more material for this post by waiting for Earle Bailey’s Halloween-themed Daily Bailey Head Trip today, but it’s more fun winging it on your own.)
A lot of the Halloween music played then consisted of songs with magic in the title, like “Do You Believe in Magic” (although this wasn’t what you’d expect, the Lovin’ Spoonful version). And “Black Magic Woman” (the Fleetwood Mac original, not the Santana version with the bonus Gabor Szabo “Gypsy Queen”).
If you’re going to go there, you could really milk it: “Magic Man” by Heart, the Drifters’ “This Magic Moment,” “Magical World” by Rotary Connection” (Blackmore’s Night did a song with the same title, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it), the Who’s “Magic Bus,” “If It’s Magic” by Stevie Wonder and Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.” Or, if you really want to torture yourself, “Could It Be Magic” by Barry “Squish Me Like a Bug” Manilow.
Also turning up in Sunday’s Halloween-themed set was “Clap for the Wolfman” by the Guess Who. Todd Rundgren contributed “Wolfman Jack” to that theme, but more Halloweeny is “Werewolves of London,” even with Warren Zevon’s tongue in cheek. (A fright of a different kind from that master of dark humor would be “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” or “Excitable Boy.)
I think I remember a song being played Sunday with the word “devil” in it, and there’s some material to work with there, too: the Dead’s “Friend of the Devil,” Presley’s “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise” and “Devil with a Blue Dress on” by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. The best of that batch, though, would be the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” which put the Prince of Darkness in a whole new light.
You could do the same thing with witches. There’s “Witchy Woman” by the Eagles, and “Season of the Witch” by Donovan (or my preferred alternative, the “Super Session” cover by Al Kooper and Stephen Stills et al), the latter being particularly appropriate at this time of the year. Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” is about a Welsh witch, as I recall, but that’s a reach.
The Incredible String Band did a song “Witches Hat,” on its “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter.” But that Scottish psychedelic-folk group had a couple lyrically scarier songs on that LP, most notably “Swift as the Wind.”
“Evil” in the title would work, too, as in Santana’s “Evil Ways,”“Evil Hearted You” by the Yardbirds and Blue Öyster Cult’s “Career of Evil.” “I Put a Spell on You,” either by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins or Creedence Clearwater Revival, would make it based on its title — but the Crazy World of Arthur Brown took it to another level.
Couldn’t come up with much in the way of ghosts, though. The Police did “Ghost in the Machine,” but it’s an album title — although the LP does include “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” and, better yet, “Spirits in the Material World.”
Voodoo is spooky enough, and Hendrix did “Voodoo Chile” (and its differently-spelled — what’s with that? — reprise) on “Electric Ladyland.” But, as we transition from random words in titles to song themes, we have Dr. John the Night Tripper’s “Gris-Gris” stuff, particularly “I Walk on Gilded Splinters.” Elkie Brook’s “Mojo Hannah,” perhaps better known as a Neville Brothers cover, is about a woman who “voodoos the voodoo man.”
Songs that are more thematically Halloweenish include most anything from the Alan Parson Project’s Edgar Allan Poe album, “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” but particularly “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Raven.” Lots you could pluck from Alice Cooper’s overwrought oeuvre, for instance “Welcome to My Nightmare,” or better yet, “The Ballad of Dwight Fry.”
Another group that was trying to explore ominous themes, often with tongue a bit in cheek, was BÖC. “Astronomy,” “Workshops of the Telescopes,” the aforementioned “Career” and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” could all be played on Halloween.
“House on the Hill” by Audience. although not well known, has a definitely creepy story line: “The rat becomes a maiden, a soul endowed by Satan.”“Haunted House” by Gene Simmons (the Jumpin’ one, not the guy with the freakish tongue) has a spooky theme, but comes off more as a comedy/novelty song.
(If you’re looking for Halloween novelty songs, the cream of the crypt is Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash,” but there’s also David Seville’s “The Witch Doctor” and “Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley.)
Not so obvious “themers” — songs where you have to listen more closely to the lyrics — would be Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” “Marquee Moon” by Television, Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill,” “The Battle of Evermore” by Led Zeppelin (in which the Ringwraiths are riding), and Bob Seger’s “Fire Lake.”
Creedence’s “Bad Moon Rising” is about ominous omens (although there may still be some people out there who think the lyric is “There’s a bathroom on the right”). The Eagles’ “Hotel California” was about lodging where you can check in but never leave.
The Doors got weird at times, not surprising considering that Jim Morrison was doing a lot of the writing, for instance in “The End” and “Not to Touch the Earth.” Pink Floyd used a lot of science fiction themes, but “Careful with that Axe, Eugene” has a great title and a weird sound; the group’s “One of These Days” also sounds like horror-movie music.
Part of “Part One” of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” did make it onto a scary soundtrack, of “The Exorcist.” The Airplane’s “Chushingura,” from “Crown of Creation,” is not well known, but it always made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.
There are few songs that directly reference All Hallows Eve itself, one of those being Van Morrison’s “Autumn Song.” But it’s a bouncy , upbeat song.
But if you want a real Halloween song, it’s a sleeper: “Tam Lin,” by Fairport Convention. Based on a traditional English folk tune, it’s the story of a knight who is captured by the Fairies, but is saved by his true love on Halloween night. And the song rocks, with a ripping electric fiddle, a driving beat and a powerful vocal by Sandy Denny.
That’s plenty of Halloween music, and yeah, “It’s Only Make Believe” (Conway Twitty or Connie Francis) and “Superstition” (Stevie Wonder). But I’m going to end this now, before (in the words of Dan Hicks) “I Scare Myself.”