6 Songs To Upgrade Your Lame Halloween Playlist
If you think "Thriller," "Time Warp," or "Monster Mash" are a little too silly to sufficiently chill you this Halloween, oh boy, do we have a curated selection to fortify your nightmares.
No, this isn't a cutesy list. For those of you too cool to get your candy X-rayed, sit back, dust off your ripped black fishnets and pull out your book of Edgar Allan Poe short stories you stole from the library. It's goth time ...
"The Electrician" By The Walker Brothers
On the tide of The Beatles and Rolling Stones' success, The Walker Brothers rose to stardom as a more gentle, soulful band in the British Invasion. Never mind that the trio was composed of guys who weren't named Walker and who were neither British nor brothers. With melodramatic lyrics and intricate, buttery smooth harmonies, they could have easily opened for The Monkees.
Tossing aside bubble-gum acclaim, The Walker Brothers then chose more intense subject matter to delve into on later albums following a break-up in the seventies. By the time they regrouped to record the song "The Electrician" for their Nite Flights album, they weren't interested in commercial glory, though you wouldn't know it by the way they dressed. The only thing more unsettling than a song about hooking somebody's nipples up to a car battery is the promotional portrait of the group dressed as a KC and the Sunshine Band tribute act ("That's not burning flesh you smell, just my perm."):
"The Electrician" centers on what sounds like an interrogator conducting a torture session on a captive, set to a juxtaposition of soaring violins and harps interrupted by a slightly distorted, low-pitched narrator advising his prisoner, "There's no help" and "If I jerk the handle, you'll die in your dreams." The lyric "when lights go low" insinuates the power is being diverted to electrocute someone, as the perpetrator takes pleasure in his work. One can only imagine what the narrator implies by "drilling through the spiritus sanctus," but it can't be good.
"Black Sabbath" By Black Sabbath
Menacingly opening the album of the same name, "Black Sabbath," written by Black Sabbath (who'd have thunk it), notably features the return of the diabolus in musica, aka the devil's chord. Traditionally, the musical motif was widely shunned for its evil connotations. In this song, the chord oozes a gothic evilness, accompanied by the raspy pleading and lamentations of Ozzy Osbourne, gasping, "Oh, no, no! Please, God, help me!" face to face with his imminent demise …
… Or he stubbed his toe on the coffee table. You might be thinking this is pretty standard stuff for a man who chomped on bats. However, the "black shape with eyes of fire" isn't actually about Ozzy's visions. Turning away from his Catholic roots to experimental religions and black magic for inspiration, bassist Geezer Butler received an old book written in Latin on the occult, gifted by lead singer Osbourne. At that point, Black Sabbath was still a journeyman pub band, the members working dead-end jobs. Butler, submerged in the writings of Aleister Crowley and Satanism, would have gladly signed away his soul in exchange for rock stardom. Let's just say he failed the job interview.
After receiving his present, Butler woke up that very night and saw a shadowy figure at the foot of his bed; the badass rock star left, pissing himself in panic at the entity in front of him. In the morning, Butler's gift was nowhere to be seen, as if he was found lacking to join the ranks of the damned, the offer rescinded. After his nightmare, Geezer dropped out of the devil's fan club and (we hope) painted some kittens and rainbows on those walls of his condo he had painted black. Though we'd like to chalk it up to a demon, it's more likely just a simple case of sleep paralysis or Ozzy barging in drunk, looking for paper to roll up a doobie at four in the morning. Not that that isn't terrifying enough.
The morbid classic defined the sound and persona of not just Black Sabbath but all of the heavy metal genre. We're surprised this song isn't more popular among Evangelical Christians. If this anecdote doesn't scare the wayward back to Jesus, WTF will?
"Hamburger Lady" By Throbbing Gristle
The next song isn't necessarily terrifying unless provided the proper background. A pioneering industrial rock song from UK band Throbbing Gristle, "Hamburger Lady," was released in 1977. The song—which sounds more like a loon being shoved into a blender—chronicles a medical case relayed by one of the band's American acquaintances, a physician named Al Ackerman.
An unnamed woman Ackerman treated had suffered severe burns over much of her body. She also had the misfortune of being afflicted by chronic insomnia. The doctor recalled her shrieks of agony, which scarred him for years, compelled to witness her body, now a mess of tubes and disfigured body parts. We think the hamburger nickname has to do with the appearance of her rough, aromatic, charred flesh, but maybe it was gallows humor, one lyric describing a burn-ward nurse nonchalantly eating a can of beef-flavored chili-mac.
Stacked sound effects linger in the background as deadpan lyrics are over-processed until they sound like gibberish. The recurring, pulsating electronic synths and voices combine to create an unsettling low-fi aesthetic that sets the groundwork for the likes of Nine Inch Nails a decade later. It's so far ahead of its time nobody knew what the hell it was, and it would never get mainstream radio attention. But it's better that way. Anyone who did hear it on the radio back in 1977 would have spent the whole song fiddling with the antenna to unscramble the seeming cacophony of errant radio transmissions.
"Dead Babies" By Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper's accessible, tongue-in-cheek shlock works so well because fans have always been in on the joke. Sneaked among his cheesy horror classics and angsty-teen-rebellion anthems is "Dead Babies." The other songs in his catalog are light-hearted and humorous in comparison. "Dead Babies" reads like a police report, detailing a child who swallowed too many aspirin tablets, the mother not "there to save her, she didn't even hear her baby call," abandoning Little Betty at home, too inebriated to notice or care.
If parents, politicians, and critics reacted badly to it, it makes perfect sense. Cooper held up a mirror to neglectful parents for once, forcing them to take a look a long, hard look at themselves instead of their kids. The blunt lyrics of the song are punctuated by a baby's scream before the first chorus. That same distressed, wailing baby is noticeably absent by the arrival of the second refrain. You can figure out why by the song's title.
A childlike scrawl on the album cover adds a demented touch to the proceedings. Lyrics like "We didn't want you anyway" driving home the point about the dangers of crappy parenting, the elegy sung from the point of view of a cold, uncaring father & mother who treat their kid as a disposable object or burden. A lot of listeners could relate, which might be why the album sold so well. Of all Alice Cooper's songs, this ironically is the only one that strives to make a valid piece of social criticism. Adults didn't want to hear it. Hopefully, the kids took Uncle Alice's PSA to heart.
We challenge you to name a celebrity who has done more for child-safety cap advocacy.
"Psycho" By Eddie Noack
When country-western fans back in 1968 leafed through the vinyl bins, they were probably expecting a riff on Patsy Cline's "Crazy" when they read the title to Eddie Noack's newest song, "Psycho." What they got was a full-on murder ballad. Not hard to guess why the Grand Ole Opry passed on extending an invite to Noack, but we'd love to have seen the look on their faces when they heard this banger:
Don't let Noack's rhinestone cowboy outfit and twangy guitar fool you. The folksy song was a penetrating look into the mind of a serial killer who murders his ex-girlfriend in a fit of jealousy, a puppy while in a psychotic state, and a little girl named Betty Clark for no apparent reason. ("Don't you have any wholesome songs about smelly hippies or killing commies you can play instead, Mr. Noack?") If you're keeping count, that's two deceased children named Betty on this list. Hey, we warned you this list would get dark. Recounting his despicable actions to his mother's corpse, the song's narrator seeks explanation or forgiveness. His hazy, lame excuse for murder, "my mind walked away," sounds remarkably like those given by real serial killers when interrogated by police.
The song's writer, Leon Payne, was obsessed with Richard Speck. The resulting song attempted to empathize or at least dare take a look into the mind of a psychotic. Complaining of chronic headaches, the narrator's mysterious ailment is quite likely a reference to the brain tumors of a real-life Texas serial killer. Refused airplay by self-respecting country stations, the ode to the southern-fried Hannibal Lector managed to become a minor cult classic against the odds.
"It's Just A Burning Memory" By The Caretaker
We saved the most disturbing for last. What's worse than child neglect, torture, disfigurement, demonic fugue states, and psychosis? Losing your mind. To fully appreciate the song, you are supposed to listen to the whole album. Everywhere at the End of the Time is not merely an album, and "It's Just a Burning Memory" isn't any ordinary song. It isn't really music as much as it is an avant-garde art piece inspired by the composer's grandmother's dying years spent in confusion in a nursing home. And the stink of generic-brand disinfectant and Geritol is all over this behemoth of an album.
The project's creator, known as The Caretaker (James Leyland Kirby), is a reference to the film The Shining. All the songs on the six-and-a-half-hour concept album are remixes or snippets of reworked, peppy big band love songs. The album slips from slight distortion into an incoherent racket and finally a foreboding ambiance. Looping noises and melodies are metaphors for Alzheimer's-afflicted patients' habit of getting stuck in conversation loops, simulating the experience of mental implosion.
The opening track, "It's Just a Burning Memory," is meant to summon the image of an elderly person remembering better times just before they completely lose their mind, believing they are living in another decade, their collection of life experiences dwindling one by one. The movements of the recording are referred to as "stages," adding a clinical feel to the album. Even the album art is designed to cause confusion, so don't ask us why the dude slapped a roll of aluminum foil on the cover.
Reynolds Wrap will not be happy with this product placement. But, for anyone traumatized by these songs, take some comfort; there is something worse than having bad memories … none at all.
Top Image: Vertigo Records