Thursday, July 1, 2010

Horror rock

You know that sort of cheesy rock music they play on the radio every Halloween and stick on CD compilations? No doubt you've heard some of the classics: "Monster Mash", "Purple People Eater", "Witch Doctor", "The Munsters Theme"... this type of music represents a brief fad that lasted from about the late '50s to the mid-'60s, where everyone loved cheesy horror films and liked to poke fun at it. You know, like the Addams Family.
(Now, this style really lasted longer than that, and never really died out, but that's a subject for another time.)

You've probably also noticed that there are a lot of bands that recreate some of the vibes these songs had, mostly working in the psychobilly, deathrock, goth rock, horror punk, and New Wave styles. But the thing is is that I'm fairly certain that these sort of musicians recreated a style that was almost nonexistent.

Why do I say that?

Well, so far I haven't found very many examples of this type of music dating back to its origins. These are the ones I can name:

  • Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who released "I Put a Spell on You" in 1956 (arguably the first)

  • "Flying Saucer Rock 'n' Roll" by Billy Lee Riley, 1957

  • "Witch Doctor", by David Seville, 1958

  • "Purple People Eater" by Sheb Wooley, 1958

  • "The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor" by Big Bopper, 1958

  • "Jack the Ripper" by Link Wray, 1961

  • Screaming Lord Sutch, who released "'Til the Following Night" in 1961

  • The Undertakers, by a stretch, who dressed as... well, undertakers

  • Bobby "Boris" Pickett, who released "Monster Mash" in 1962

  • "My Baby's Got a Crush on Frankenstein" by Soupy Sales, 1962

  • "Trick or Treat" by Chuck Berry, 1963

  • The Munsters theme, 1964

  • It's Monster Surfing Time by The Deadly Ones, 1964

  • "Monster Shindig" and "Monster Jerk", from the Hanna-Barbera album Monster Shindig, 1965

  • Frankie Stein and his Ghouls, who released Introducing Frankie Stein and his Ghouls (and four other albums) in 1965

  • "The Mummy" from Mad Monster Party, 1967

...And that's about it. There are examples from later years, such as the Groovie Goolies in the '70s (not the punk band), but I'm specifically talking about the "first wave", so to speak. My point is that it wasn't exactly a movement in the usual sense.
It's difficult for me to include songs from the psychedelic era, because by that point they don't have that "oldies" sound that I'm using as my criteria (but a shout-out to "Spooky" by Classics IV from 1968 seems necessary).

So beginning with the glam rock of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the rockabilly revivalism of The Cramps, a new style of retro rock with campy horror themes emerged that had a very small foundation. I can imagine that perhaps rock and pop that had darker subjects (such as all those songs about teenagers dying in tragic accidents) also played a part in influencing these artists, but I think primarily they had to look at the very genres that these novelty songs sought to satirize in the first place.

Thanks to a friend of my mom, whose Halloween party we attended, we've greatly expanded our collection of vintage horror rock. Some of them are truly proto-pyschobilly. I complimented him on the music he was playing, and expressed interest in it. He said that he got most of it from various blogs that are possibly now defunct, and burned me a copy. Also, a few albums we downloaded ourselves but hadn't listened to yet are included here.
It seems that you really need to search high and low to find this sort of stuff (although it would seem that a lot of it can be found on various compilations)... and if what my mom's friend said is any indication, the '70s and '80s revival isn't quite so "out of whole cloth" as I previously suspected- he said that a lot of it was stuff that The Cramps later covered.

I also learned that there are more Bobby "Boris" Pickett tracks other than "Monster Mash" than I thought. I had previously thought that it was just "The Monster Swim". But then I heard "The Werewolf Watusi" and "Monster's Holiday" this year. Doing some research, it turns out that he did an album called The Original Monster Mash in '62. I'm not sure when "The Werewolf Watusi" was released- I'm assuming it was a single, but I haven't found it listed anywhere.

  • "The Gorilla" and "The Monster Hop" by Bert Convy, 1958

  • "At The House of Frankenstein" by Big Bee Kornegay, 1958 (date according to one Youtube video I found)

  • "Screamin' Ball (At Dracula Hall)" by The Duponts, 1958

  • "Frankenstein Rock" by Eddie Thomas, 1958

  • "The Creeper" by Jerry Wald, 1958 (actually kind of a hybrid of surf and big band! O_o)

  • "My Werewolf Mama" by Lenny Bruce, 1958

  • "Morgus the Magnificent" by Morgus and the Ghouls, 1958

  • "Frankenstein's Party" by The Swingin' Phillies, 1958

  • "Igor's Party" by Tony's Monstrosities, 1958

  • "The Mummy's Bracelet" by Lee Ross, 1958

  • "Teenage Creature" by Lord Luther, 1958

  • "Graveyard Rock" and "King Kong" by Tarantula Ghoul and Her Gravediggers, c. 1958

  • "Haunted House" by Chris Kevin, 1959

  • "Mad House Jump" by The Daylighters, 1959

  • "Nightmare Hop" by Earl Patterson, 1959

  • "Gila Monster" by Joe Johnson, 1959

  • "Nightmares" by John Sowell, 1959

  • "The Monster" by Pair of Kings, 1959

  • "The Monster" by Bobby Please and the Pleasers, 1959 (actually different from the first one)

  • "Midnight Stroll" by The Revels, 1959

  • "The Horrow Show" by Sharkey Todd, 1959

  • "Midnight Monster's Hop" by Jack & Jim, 1959

  • Monster Rally by Hans Conried and Alice Pearce, 1959 (sort of)

  • "Graveyard" by Leroy Bowman and The Arrows, 195*

  • "Transylvania" by The Mysterions, 1960

  • "Black Widow" and "Tarantula" by The Tarantulas, 1960

  • "Witch Doctor's Wedding" by Tomm Holmes, 1960

  • "Caveman" by Tommy Roe, 1960

  • Spook Along with Zacherley by Zacherley, 1960 (There are actually more pop parodies than rock 'n' roll parodies on this one.)

  • "Split Personality" by Jim Burgett, 1961

  • "Ghost Hop" by The Surf Men, 1961

  • "Scream!" and "Little Demon" by Ralph Nielson and The Chancellors, 1962

  • "The Goo Goo Muck" by Ronnie Cook, 1962

  • "Beware" by Bill Buchanan, 1962

  • "Suffocate" and "Drown" by Ralph Smedley, c. 1962

  • "The Monster Hop" by Jimmy Dee, 1963 (ditto)

  • "Spooksville" by The Nu-Trends, 1963

  • "Mr. Werewolf" by The Kac-Ties, 1963

  • "The Martian Hop" by The Ran-Dells, 1963

  • "The Transylvania Twist" and "Ghost Guitars" by Baron Daemon, 1963

  • "House on Haunted Hill" by Kenny and The Fiends, 1963

  • "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by The Crossfires, 1963

  • "Nightmare Mash" by Billy Lee Riley, 1963 (total knock-off of "Monster Mash")

  • "Skeleton Fight" by Mack Allen Smith, 1964

  • "Haunted House" by Jumpin' Gene Simmons, 1964

  • "The Chiller" by Googie Rene, 1964

  • "The Crusher" by The Novas, 1964

  • "Werewolf" and "Morgus Creep" by Morgus and the Daringers, 1964

  • "Zombie" by The Big Guys, 1964

  • "The Ghoul" by Jack Marshall, c. 1964 (The same guy who did the Munsters theme!)

  • The Newest Teen-Age Singing Group: The Munsters, 1964 (seriously)

  • At The Monster Ball by The Vampires, 1964

  • Monster Dance Party by Don Hinson And The Rigamorticians, 1964 (A Bobby "Boris" Pickett copycat- in fact, since this album includes "Werewolf Watusi" and "Monster Swim", I can't help but wonder if either it's Pickett under a pseudonym for unknown reasons, or if they passed those two songs off as Pickett because they sound so much like him.)

  • Dracula's Deuce (aka Halloween with The Ghouls) by The Ghouls, 1964

  • Dracula's Greatest Hits by Gene Moss and The Monsters, 1964

  • "Witch's Brew" by Jamie Jones, 1965

  • "Night of the Phantom" by Larry and the Blue Notes, 1965

  • "I'm the Wolfman" by Round Robin, 1965

  • "The Witch" and "Psycho" by The Sonics, 1965

  • "Frankenstein Stomp" by Larry and The Biters, 1965

  • "Do the Frankie" by Brian & Gary and The Chain Rattlers, 1965

  • "Hidden Charms" by Link Wray, 1966

  • "Goodbye, Luther" by Vic Mizzy from The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, 1966

  • "Waltz for a Witch" by Maury Laws from Mad Monster Party (*I swear that* this is also used in the Halloween scene in Here Comes Peter Cottontail.)

  • "Frankenstein's Den" by The Mighty El Dukes, 19??

  • "The Great Pumpkin" by The Jack O' Lanterns, 19??

  • "The Way Out Mummy" by Kwentin Qwisp, 19??

  • "Torture Rock" by Rockin' Belmarx, 19??

  • unknown song at the end of Why Fidelity #48

  • "I Was a Teenage Monster" by The Keytones, 19??

  • "Walkin' Through the Cemetery" by Claudine Clark, 19??

  • "Hindu on a Honda" by Count Down and the Moonsters, 19??

  • "Voodoo Doll" by Amelia, 19??

  • "Monster Man" by The MSR Singers, 19??

One thing that still stands is that very few artists worked exclusively within the genre, and novelty acts that do are probably all studio musicians. And most of them are very obscure acts.
It's also becoming increasingly obvious there was a "boom" of horror rock in 1958. I've seen "Purple People Eater" credited with causing that, but whatever caused it, it still strikes me as interesting that there should be such a sudden surge of songs in the style.

The collection also revealed to me a genre I didn't know existed: Horror country. But that's for another time.

UPDATE 2: Having started to dig through the blogs The Devil's Music, Blues for the RedBoy, and Magic Carpet Burn, I'm not so sure if listing all the songs found therein would do much good. I think maybe more one-by-one reviews would be more entertaining...

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