Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Halloween Special: Great Scary Songs for Samhain!

It's that time of year again! I love Autumn, and the pagan holiday that best defines the death of the year in both a figurative and literal sense, Halloween (or All Hallows' Eve, the night before All Saints Day in the Catholic calendar of feast days that no one has paid attention to since the Counter-Reformation). For this excursion into the macabre I considered the attributes of a well written scary song, the kind that causes the hair on your neck to stand up as you squirm uncomfortably in your seat: the suspenseful, the unexpected, the unnerving, the intense.

That being said, I have chosen to ignore death growls and death metal altogether. And I've decided to disqualify rock that sets out to mimic the camp theatrics of a Jaycees or Kiwanis Halloween haunted house, filled with such stale novelties as a fat guy holding a chain saw with the guard still on it, a bucket or two of pigs blood, and plastic skeletons with blinking L.E.D. lights in the eye sockets; therefore, no Slipknot, Cannibal Corpse, Rob Zombie, Slayer or Gwar. Sorry, much of it is as downright silly as the 14th sequel to a slasher movie (take your pick of titles) - much of it tries, almost desperately, to gross people out rather than truly terrify them. In that regard, I've kept Alice Cooper on the list because he was the progenitor of rock dementia and bloody stage theatrics.

No, I've picked out genuinely riveting and disturbing songs that do not require a music video for shock value (like Marilyn Manson, for instance). The songs should be able to creep you out in the dark without the added emphasis of troubling or disgusting visuals. So, here is 37 satanic tunes, followed by 13 Halloween rock standards of somewhat lighter seasonal fare, for an even fifty songs - plus seven scary symphonies for the classical crowd. All in all, a superb Halloween mix. Trick or treat! Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!

Oh, by the way, in a most appropriate nod to the spirit of All Hallow's revelry, the images lining either side of the selections are of Lon Chaney Sr., "Man of a Thousand Faces", the greatest make-up artist and silent film actor of his generation (aside from Charlie Chaplin). As an aside, the picture further down the page of Mr. Chaney with no legs is no camera trick or special effect. His legs are actually bound by straps behind his back and hidden beneath his overcoat. It was a very painful process, and he could only walk about for short periods on the stumps (actually his knees!).

The Tell-Tale Heart
Driven by the manic vocals of Arthur Brown (from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown), Edgar Allen Poe's tale of horror is given a musical reworking by APP.

Second Coming/Ballad of Dwight Fry
Perhaps the greatest rendition of musical madness in rock history, a display of insanity that would have made Edgar Allan Poe proud. This is well before Alice devolved into "Welcome to My Nightmare" schlock.

Black Juju
Another song from the eerie and atmospheric classic Love It to Death album.

Dead Babies/Killer
Parents and teachers lost their minds over "Dead Babies" in 1971. They still do. 

Them Bones
Jerry Cantrell's reverie on mortality and death, and how we all end up as "just a pile of bones". Unless you are a Jehovah's Witness, of course, in which case you hope to god you are one of the lucky 144,000. Considering there are approximately 19 million Witnesses alive currently, I don't care for their odds.

Revolution 9
The most debated and reviled composition of The Beatles. It is also one of the most unnerving pastiches in rock history. Forwards or backwards. And yes, the repeated words "Number nine"  played backwards are indeed "Turn me on dead man". I experimented back when I still used a turntable.

Black Sabbath
No one had heard such a hell storm prior to Sabbath's debut album in 1969. The eponymous song with its demonic wah-wah finale is a legendary creeper.

Into the Void
This song has the most evil chord progression in existence.

Ozzy's most ferocious performance, particularly when the song really kicks in at about 3:20. Love the back-tracked vocals.

We are the Dead
A ballad interweaving George Orwell's 1984 with allegorical asides to a "real world" Big Brother. The album Diamond Dogs is Bowie's most underrated.

Waking the Witch
Use this as your alarm song in the morning. I guarantee you will get up. Genuinely disturbing, and coming from Kate Bush, that is really saying something.

Drip, Drip
The weird vocals are unsettling throughout the Comus album First Utterance. The acoustic guitars are remarkable, the lyrics are disturbing, but it's the damn vocals that can irritate you to violence.

The Shankhill Butchers
A true story of a gang of Protestant terrorists who murdered scores of Catholics in Northern Ireland during the 1970s, given a superb and eerie folk song/nursery rhyme approach by Colin Meloy.

The Queen's Rebuke/The Crossing
Shara Worden is the malevolent queen intent on parting two lovers in the rock opera The Hazards of Love. One bitch of a mother played to the hilt by the superb Worden.

Riders on the Storm
"There's a killer on the road/his brain is swirling like a toad" - the imagery and the gloomy atmospherics of the song build a vision of a desolate road in the rain, and death waiting around the next bend.

Not to Touch the Earth
A fevered delivery reaches the realms of madness by the time the words "dead president's corpse in the driver's car" are uttered.
Horse Latitudes
One of the most disturbing spoken-word recordings in rock history.

The Spy
One of the eeriest takes on stalking - before stalking was a media phenomenon. Jim Morrison provides the vocal maleficence, and his delivery of the words "I know your deepest, secret fear" is altogether evil.

Hallowed Be Thy Name
The scariest thing about this song is that Greg Lake is singing like he's serious about what he's saying. Okay, maybe that's funny.

A fair maid meets a were-fox (precursor to later werewolf tales). The insinuation in Sandy Denny's beautiful voice when she sings "his teeth did brightly shine" leads us up the mountainside and the fate of all comely maidens entrapped by vile rakes.

Green Manalishi
The blues on an occult level, dragged from Robert Johnson's grave in the gory maw of the hellhound that chased Peter Green in his troubled dreams. One of the last songs Green recorded with Fleetwood Mac before schizophrenia, hastened by overuse of LSD, caused him to drop out of music for several years.

An altogether disturbing take on home invasion. Robbery is not the motive of the intruder; rather, Gabriel reveals the delight in the criminal's mind for entering a home undetected, the thrill of stealing up to the sleeping victim unaware, and then the sheer terror of the victim waking and realizing the intruder is hovering over them.

Moribund the Burgermeister
How often does a rock star sing about a medieval town afflicted with a plague of St. Vitus' Dance (Sydenham's Chorea)? Only from the warped mind of Gabriel.

White Rabbit
Lewis Carroll is thrown on his ear in this metaphor that juxtaposes Alice in Wonderland with 60s psychedelia. And really, who from that era hasn't seen a hookah-smoking caterpillar at one time or another? Grace Slick at her lugubrious best.

Loop Garoo
The Cajun legend of a bayou were-wolf (Loup Garou) is given some New Orleans bite by the growling Dr. John.

21st Century Schizoid Man
Satan on saxophone joins Robert Fripp on guitar for a demonic duel.

No Quarter
One of the proggiest of Zeppelin tunes, and it is bassist/ keyboardist John Paul Jones' magnum opus. The song itself is about, oddly enough, the term "no quarter", the military practice of taking no prisoners in battle.

Oh Comely
A campfire acoustic song for a reunion of serial murderers. Hey, who wants a Smore?

A harrowing ride through the vengeful minds of once sedentary sheep, who turn the tables on their canine oppressors. Using kung fu, of all things. Hey, it was the 70s.

Careful With that Axe, Eugene
One of the greatest demented song titles of all time. Love Roger Waters' screeches, and the visuals of Pompeii definitely add to the warped ambiance of the song.

The Turkish Song of the Damned
I picked out a YouTube video with the lyrics. A chilling story of a drowned sailor returning from hell to wreak vengeance on the mate who left him to die.

Repent Walpurgis
Okay, the animation here is really stylish and I like it. But the day exactly six months prior to Halloween is Walpurgis Nacht or Night, and appears in Goethe's Faust, Bram Stoker's Dracula and Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. So let the witches dance!

Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs in Florence, Italy was purported to be the span that condemned prisoners crossed on their way to be executed.

A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers
An epic nautically-themed allegory of isolation and despair. VDGG's greatest song and truly a progressive masterpiece.

What's He Building in There?
Tom Waits is the only man who can make the word "Indonesia" sound evil.

Little Drop of Poison
You might remember a snippet of this played by Capt. Hook in Shrek II.

Cemetery Polka
What's Halloween without a completely demented polka? Betcha Jimmy Sturr couldn't play this!


Boris the Spider - The Who
John Entwistle makes this song a demonic delight!

Don't Fear the Reaper - Blue Oyster Cult
Yes, I am afraid it's now obligatory.

The Black Widow - Alice Cooper
Vincent Price's campy introduction is priceless, and far better than Michael Jackson's later retake of Price on "Thriller".

Aint Superstitious - Howlin' Wolf
No, it aint rock and roll, but it's Howlin' Wolf, dammit!

Tubular Bells - Mike Oldfield
Association is everything regarding this composition by Oldfield. If you ever were freaked out by the original "Exorcist", you'll know exactly what I mean.

Bad Moon Rising - Creedence Clearwater Revival
There's a baboon on your eyes! Wait, that's not the lyrics. Ummm...never mind.

War Pigs - Black Sabbath
A hundred years later, and this is still a creepy tune. Okay, I exaggerate. Forty years later. Ozzy only looks a hundred.

Fire - The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Hey, the guy's head is on fire. What more can you ask from a video?

Season of the Witch - Donovan
You've got to pick up every stitch? Check. Beatniks are out to make it rich? Sure thing. The rabbit's running in the ditch? Well, obviously, it must be the season of the witch.

Werewolves of London - Warren Zevon
The line "I'd like to meet his tailor" still cracks me up.

Frankenstein - The Edgar Winter Group
Why is it called "Frankenstein"? Rick Derringer suggested to Winter that a 20 minute-long jam they called simply "Instrumental" could be made into something. So, they got stoned in the studio and spliced and cut until tape was covering the floor. At that point, drummer Chuck Ruff sighed, "Wow, man, it’s like Frankenstein!" The rest, as they say, is history.

The End - The Doors
From the the first few guitar trills, there is perhaps no song with the fundamental creepiness and ill-intent underlying Jim Morrison and The Door's oedipal epic, particularly when he repeats the word "Kill" several times at about the 10 minute mark. Altogether unnerving in a dark room.


In the Hall of the Mountain King - Grieg
From the fabulous Peer Gynt Suite. Imagine, if you will, the Old Man of the Mountain and his court, full of goblins, trolls and gnomish courtiers all shrieking that the Christian hero, Peer Gynt, must be slain for bewitching the Mountain King's daughter.

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor - Bach
Johann Sebastian was a rock god a few centuries too early. I always imagine this profound organ composition played when Lon Chaney's hideous face is unmasked in the silent movie classic "The Phantom of the Opera".

A Night on Bald Mountain - Mussorgsky
Mussorgsky drank himself to death by age 42. One can well equate this demonic composition to one hell of a violent hangover.

Dance of the Pagan Monster - Prokofiev
From Prokofiev's Scythian Suite. Emerson, Lake & Palmer did a violent arrangement entitled 
The Enemy God Dances with the Black Spirits on their Works Volume 1 album.

Danse Macabre - Saint-Saëns
Full of rattling bones and ghostly moans as Death (a fiddler, it seems) makes its annual visit at midnight on Halloween to call the corpses from their graves to dance their dance of death, or as they sang in 14th and 15th century France, "Je fis de Macabré la danse" ("I did the dance of Death"). A cock's crow (an oboe in this piece) signals the coming dawn and the end of the dance.

Ride of the Valkyries - Wagner
From Act III of Die Walküre from Wagner's mammoth  Der Ring Des Nibelungen. The Valkyries were a host of Odin's shieldmaidens who gather up fallen heroes slain in battle and carry them to Valhalla.

The Isle of the Dead, Op. 29 - Rachmaninoff
This symphonic poem was inspired by "Isle of the Dead", a painting by Swiss symbolist painter Arnold Böcklin. The beginning of the piece insinuates the rowing of oars as Charon's boat traverses the River Styx on the way to Hades.


AgProv said...

Oh, excellent! "Don't Fear The Reaper" is a classic, but I fear it's been played to death. (too much cöwbell? When a song gets parodied it's time to rest it). The BOC did a rafter of creepy songs - "Joan Crawford Has Risen From The Grave" is pure hokum and at first, viewing the accompanying video is a disjointed mess, but both have the power to make you feel very very uneasy. "Nosferatu" retells the story of the vampire movie. "I Love The Night" is about a lonley lady vampire looking for a boyfriend to share her interests. "Unknown Tongues" is about a Catholic schoolgirl into glossolalia and stigmata. (ie, the voices in her head tell her to cut herself with a razor blade). "Feel The Thunder" updates "Ghost riders In The Sky" to Hell's Angels on an ill-fated ride - on October 31st...

AgProv said...

Thinking about the classical music referred to. "Ride of the Valkyries" is a regimental march of the British Parachute Regiment for a reason - death dropping out of the skies - and perhaps the creepiest thing is that during the Battle of Kursk, it was played over the radio to German panzer crews - during the battle - to psych them up for combat against the Russian untermensch. It must have been the very last thing a lot of Germans heard, as Kursk turned a couple of thousand German tanks into expensive scrap metal.

One classical piece that is pure creep throughout is Berlioz' "Symphonie Fantastique". The second movement is a waltz theme, innocuous in itself, evoking thoughts of a grand ball at an upscale mansion with dozens of couples wheeling round the salon. But like a bad dream it gets faster and faster, louder and louder, progressively more out of control, suggesting the lunatics are breaking out of the asylum. The second movement is a "dance of the dead", a la Saint-Saens; the fourth is simply called "March to the Scaffold", in which Berlioz imagines himself in a tumbril on the way to the guillotine.