Adam’s Halloween Hootenanny (Adam’s Mini-Reviews, Vol. 6)
One of the best things about living where I do- in this small corner of southern Ohio tucked somewhere between Appalachia and the Midwest- is that I get to fully experience every season. In the summer, the temperature exceeds 100 most days and we usually get a few blizzards each winter. Still, my favorite season has to be Autumn. When the leaves begin to change color and fall the result is stunningly beautiful. You can drive by and see farmers harvesting the last of their summer plantings while children play in the yard. You can hang out with your friends at hog roasts and bonfires, just drinking beer and having a good time. But the season also brings with it a chill in the air signalling the oncoming winter, telling us it’s time to pull that old, worn-out denim jacket out of the closet and reminding us of our ultimate vulnerability: to the weather, to the conditions on the roads this winter, perhaps to an escaped inmate, seeing as how the nearest prison is closer to us than the closest town and police station. Such thoughts serve to remind us that this time of year is the “Season of the Witch,” as Donovan said, and the ancient Celts believed that the door between the spirit world and our own was somewhat less difficult to pass through during what they called Samhain. In other words, it’s when all of the ghosts come out for their midnight creeping.
I don’t know how you celebrate Halloween. Perhaps by carving a jack ‘o lantern, handing out candy to the kids who knock on your door, maybe re-reading one of your favorite Poe stories, or watching horror movie marathons on TV. Perhaps by escaping from a mental institution and chasing teenagers around with a butcher knife. Regardless, I want make sure that your soundtrack is equally appropriate for this year’s night of fright.
Right now it is dark both inside and out. You’re the only one in the house still up, so maybe we should begin our celebration with a horror film. It’s usually not a good idea this late at night, but it’s also a difficult one to get out of your head. So how about some John Carpenter or George A. Romero? Or Tobe Hooper’s original version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? Or something a little more obscure like Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast? Maybe even Roger Corman directing some macabre tale adapted from Edgar Allan Poe and starring Vincent Price? We’ll get back to Vincent Price but why not begin with a terrifying piece of musical theatre starring Vincent Furnier?
“Who is that?,” you ask. Well, let me tell you. Vincent Furnier is one of the most underrated songwriters in the pantheon of rock music. Even Bob Dylan himself said so. Furnier, in 1971, released a song describing the details of teen angst that holds it’s own against anything from the pen of Kurt Cobain. Not only was Furnier’s early output among the best garage rock ever created, but also sits comfortably alongside bands like the MC5 and the Stooges as the first wave of punk. The real genius of his music was it’s ability to inject horrific themes with a hint of realism. Or maybe to inject realism with a strong dose of horror. Either way, his songs are, at their heart, all about society’s ills. Many of the same themes were touched upon by Roger Waters and others: the idea of school as a prison, the descent of a person into insanity, and the broken morals of modern culture.
Of course, all of that is well below the surface. Rising above that in the popular image is rock ‘n roll’s greatest showman and the shock rocker both revered and vilified by millions: the one and only Alice Cooper.
Alice Cooper’s impact on the world of music cannot be understated. In short, every hard rock group after him has ripped him off to some degree, if not through lyrics and music, then through album covers and music videos. Cooper is a veteran showman at his very best on stage and the new DVD Theatre of Death, featuring Furnier’s infamous alter ego performing a show in London last year is undeniable proof that, at age 61, he still has not lost it.
The familiar opening riff to “School’s Out” opens the show and Alice is shown to still be in fine voice and is very energetic on stage. He follows this with one of his most underrated tunes, 1975’s “Department of Youth,” which is hard-rocking look at society’s young and “I’m Eighteen,” perhaps his most enduring songs. During this number, he is seen wielding a crutch that seems to be made out of a human leg bone and the night’s first murder occurs during the next song, 2000’s post-Columbine tune “Wicked Young Man,” which declares “Got a pocket full of bullets/Blueprint of the school/I’m the devil’s little soldier/Devil’s little tool.”
Throughout the concert, Alice performs some of his signature songs, touching on subjects ranging from necrophilia (“Cold Ethyl,” “I Love the Dead”) and domestic abuse (“The Awakening”) to his own life (“Guilty,” “Go to Hell”). What many don’t know is that Cooper also has a sensitive side, with “Only Women Bleed” and “I Never Cry” both being heartbreaking ballads and the ’80s hair metal guilty pleasure “Poison” ranking as one of the best mainstream tunes in a decade of crap.
Another quality often lost in the public image of Alice Cooper is, as I touched on earlier, his penchant for realism. The best horror stories always have some element of truth, or at least believability. Psychological horror is far more frightening than supernatural tales and Alice understands this. His music speaks of the nightmares that are possible, albeit unlikely, in everybody’s day-to-day life.
Of course, you can get all of this on his albums, so what is the point of buying a concert DVD? The answer is to relish the full Alice Cooper experience, which is at least 40% visual. Women being murdered, babies being beheaded, Alice being forced into a straitjacket, Alice being seduced by a hot mental institution nurse, and, last but not least, four executions. As you can guess, this isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea, but I think all music fans should see Alice Cooper live at least once in their life and this DVD is cheaper than a concert ticket.
But let’s get back to the type of music you normally come here to read about, shall we? I’m sure that many of you are familiar with the modern-day honky-tonk of Jesse Dayton, but what you may not know is that last year he teamed up with metal legend turned horror director Rob Zombie to produce a few songs for Zombie’s remake of Halloween II and ultimately ended up recording an entire album of material under the name Captain Clegg & the Night Creatures.
The music found on the self-titled album includes everything from ’50s honky-tonk, to rockabilly, to surf rock, to Bakersfield sound, to early ’60s “teen idol” pop, all while staying very much in the realm of what a buddy of mine eloquently refers to as “fucked-up hillbilly shit” (a term he uses liberally to describe anything from Warren Smith to Pantera).
The album kicks off with the ’60s garage rocker “Zombie-a-Go-G0” and then moves onto the honky-tonk-on-speed of “Transylvania Terror Train,” perhaps the best tune here and certainly the catchiest. Things continue with the medium-paced rocker “Dr. Demon and the Robot Girl” and the pop tune “Headless Hip-Shakin’ Honey,” which provides a real showcase for Dayton’s vocals.
Another favorite here is “Macon County Morgue,” which sounds kind of like a rock-infused cautionary country tale by David Allan Coe, but even more fucked up (yes, that is possible). This is followed by the pure classic country “Honky Tonk Halloween,” with it’s lyrics about a Halloween party at the trailer park, followed by the Mexican-tinged spoken word piece “Day of the Dead” and the retro instrumental “Creeps for Cushing.”
Following this is “Redneck Vixen from Outer Space,” which is easily my favorite here. Just check these lyrics out: “She looked like Raquel Welch, man, but 10 feet taller/Hotter than a three-peckered goat/She said, ‘hello, Mr Earthlin’, I’m here to love you/And started takin’ off all her clothes.”
The album ends with “Two-Headed Teenage Transplant,” a great garage rocker ripped straight from the storyline of a classic horror film.
In summation, this is a fun-filled fright fest of a record that any self-respecting Jesse Dayton fan should have in their collection.
But let’s move on to another record. Who among us doesn’t love a good horror story? Now imagine having Boris Karloff around to tell you a scary tale any time you wanted. That’s what Mercury Records had in mind in 1961 when they released Tales of the Frightened, a collection of short stories written by Michael Avallone and read by Karloff.
Fast forward to 2010 and there has been a reworking of that original album with narration by Australian actor Vernon Wells (the villain in Mad Max) and music by Eban Schletter, who recorded an Americana album in the late ’90s but is better known for his work in scoring films and television shows.
The album is pure, horrific fun from start to finish with Wells sounding somewhat similar to Karloff and Schletter’s music never missing a beat. Throughout the record’s 13 stories you hear about a small town lawyer who meets his death in a cemetery, the Bavarian king who realizes his bride-to-be is a vampire, and best of all the tale of how a mysterious party dress caused a young girl’s death. These stories are all very much in the realm of mid-20th century pulp fiction and also scattered throughout are instrumental pieces that sound as if they were taken straight from old horror films.
In short, this is the perfect album to put on in the evening and try to relax. Note the word “try.” As a side note, if you enjoy the album, be sure to check out similar releases from Vincent Price.
We’ll conclude our Halloween party with Cow Fingers & Mosquito Pie, a collection from one of the top R&B singers of all time, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Hawkins first gained prominence through his 1956 recording “I Put a Spell on You,” which went on to become one of the defining songs of rock and roll and which was produced by Arnold Maxin, who was actually the cousin of our own Easy Ed. According to legend, it was Maxin who provided Hawkins and the band with the Muscatel that was, in large part, responsible for Hawkins’ demented performance.
But as the rest of the collection shows, Hawkins would have been one of the most distinctive performers of an era known for it’s legendary personalities even if he had never recorded the song. In one way, his music similar to Big Joe Turner and the early work of Ray Charles, but in another, more important way his vocal style was unique enough that it has never been successfully imitated in the almost 60 years since his debut.
Throughout the collection Hawkins delivers pure rock and roll such as “Little Demon” and “Alligator Wine,” fucked-up versions of vocal pop standards like “You Made Me Love You,” “Orange Colored Sky,” and “I Love Paris,” R&B infused cowboy songs such as “Take Me Back to My Boots and Saddle,” as well as decidedly politically incorrect numbers like “Hong Kong.”
When it comes down to it, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and his music was about nothing so much as having fun and, although his mainstream success was minimal, his music and public image was an inspiration for dozens of subsequent performers, perhaps most importantly the aforementioned Alice Cooper.
I’ll end with a simple reminder that the album of the year for 2010 is narrated by horror legend Stephen King, although the horror presented in the album is of a much more realistic nature.
Some more creepy favorites:
Waylon Jennings- “Delia’s Gone”
Buchanan & Goodman- “The Flying Saucer”
Dock Boggs- “Pretty Polly”
Stephen W. Terrell- “(I Lost My Baby to a) Satan Cult”
Creedence Clearwater Revival- “It Came Out of the Sky”
The Charlie Daniels Band- “The Legend of Wooley Swamp”
Jumpin’ Gene Simmons- “Haunted House”
Bo Diddley- “Bo Meets the Monster”
John Carpenter- “Theme from Halloween”
A.A. Bondy- “Oh the Vampyre”
Hasil Adkins- “No More Hot Dogs”
Ray Stevens- “Sittin’ Up with the Dead”
The Rolling Stones- “Sympathy for the Devil”
The Drive-By Truckers- “Demonic Possession”
Johnny Cash- “Ghost Riders (In the Sky)”
Kip Tyler- “She’s My Witch”
The Jeff Beck Group- “I Ain’t Superstitious”
Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper- “I’m Gonna Dig Up Howlin’ Wolf”
Donovan- “Season of the Witch”
Billy Lee Riley & His Little Green Men- “Flyin’ Saucers Rock ‘n Roll”
Bruce Sprinsteen- “A Night with the Jersey Devil”
Tom Petty- “Zombie Zoo”
Elvis Presley- “Mystery Train”
Albert King- “Born Under a Bad Sign”
LaVern Baker- “Voodoo Voodoo”
Billy Adams & the Rock-a-Teers- “The Fun House”
Zeke Manners & His Swing Billies- “Mr. Ghost goes to Town”
The Jimi Hendrix Experience- “Voodoo Chile”
The Bob Seger System- “Lucifer”
Shooter Jennings & the .357s- “Bad Magick”
Link Wray & the Wraymen- “The Shadow Knows”
Black Sabbath- “Black Sabbath”
Michael Jackson (and Vincent Price)- “Thriller”
The Misfits- “Night of the Living Dead”
Blue Oyster Cult- “Don’t Fear the Reaper”
Ronnie Dawson- “Rockin’ in the Cemetery”
Joe Satriani- “Surfing with the Alien”
David Allan Coe- “The Ride”
Neil Young- “Vampire Blues”
AC/DC- “Highway to Hell”
The Byrds- “Lover of the Bayou”
Bobby Bare Jr.- “Rock & Roll Halloween”
Creedence Clearwater Revival- “Graveyard Train”
Ozzy Osbourne- “Mr. Crowley”
Napoleon XIV- “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!”
The Ramones- “Pet Sematary”
John Carter Cash- “The Family Secret”
Bad Company- “Bad Company”
Marty Stuart- “Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten”
Warren Zevon- “Werewolves of London”
Robert Johnson- “Me and the Devil Blues”
Johnny Cougar- “Young Genocides”
The Doors- “Not to Touch the Earth”
The Cramps- “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”
Howlin’ Wolf- “Howlin’ for My Baby”