Monday, October 31, 2005

Top 5: Hey Stupid, You Forgot "Witchy Woman"

So it's Halloween, which has become in the last 15 years or so the second-biggest holiday of the year, next to Christmas. In some places--like the public schools, for example--it's bigger than Christmas. With religious references making Christmas a potential political minefield, it's become a thoroughly secularized "winter holiday" lacking a hook. Halloween, meanwhile, has got hooks aplenty. And while I wait for the neighborhood trick-or-treaters to arrive (and they'd better, or I'll have to eat this giant bowl of candy myself), here's a list of five Halloween horrors from our Top 40 past.

"Captain Howdy"/Simon Stokes. From the summer of 1974, here's a record so obscure I can remember only a fragment of the hook, and Google doesn't help much. I've figured out that it's apparently not the same song recorded by Twisted Sister, and for which Dee Snider takes a writing credit. Trivia question: Who was Captain Howdy? Answer below.

"Kashmir"/Led Zeppelin. The lyrics have nothing to do with Halloween, but in what pit of sonic hell did Zeppelin find the edgy, menacing sound of this record? says it's the drums stomping in 2/4 time while the musical theme plays against it in 3/4 time. Whatever it is, it's damn creepy. I've known some DJs who were reluctant to play it late at night if they were alone in the building.

"Monster Mash"/Bobby "Boris" Pickett. The happy comic-book version of Halloween, which reached Number One at Halloween of 1962. Parrot Records tried rereleasing it in 1970, but it went nowhere. In 1973, they tried again, and this time, a new generation of 13-year-old 45-buyers (of which I was one) pushed it back into the Top 10. In the middle of the summer. Which tells you a lot about the 1970s.

"Tubular Bells"/Mike Oldfield. As used in The Exorcist, this record is a perfect fit. Somber and hypnotic bells explode into chaotically distorted guitar and bass and then return, sounding somehow far more ominous than before. But it's only a small slice of the entire Tubular Bells album, and you really ought to hear it in its natural habitat: a kaleidoscope of musical sounds and textures that foreshadows new age music, but is far more interesting.

"Sympathy for the Devil"/Rolling Stones. What makes this record particularly terrifying is the story of the line "I shouted out 'who killed the Kennedys?'" It was written as "who killed John Kennedy," but the recording session took place the morning after Robert F. Kennedy was shot, so Mick made a change on the fly--before RFK actually died. (The Stones' Hot Rocks 1964-1971 was one of the first albums I ever bought--I was 13--and this song was new to me then. For years after, I wondered if I would be going to Hell just for listening to it. Well, I'm older and wiser now, and I know today that the answer is: Yes.)

Trivia answer: In The Exorcist, "Captain Howdy" was how little Regan referred to the voice inside her that turned out to be Old Scratch. Very scary, and appropriate viewing for Halloween night. Not for me, however. I'm an It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown man myself.


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