An Eclectic Gastronomy of Sound
I’ve posted previously here about music and Halloween: about some of my favorite spooky album covers and also with a mix of some of my favorite creepy songs. Here are a few more that didn’t make that mix. Some songs of the season. The Halloween season, that is. Aha ha ha ha ha! [that’s supposed to be evil laughter]
Popol Vuh: “Ah!”
A not-stereotypically scary song, “Ah!” comes from the German experimental band’s 1972 masterwork Hosianna Mantra. Popol Vuh did a lot of soundtracks for director Werner Herzog, including for his atmospheric and arty Dracula movie, Nosferatu, but they weren’t really known as a “horror” band. Rather, band leader Florian Fricke’s music had a lot of spiritual and religious overtones (undertones?). “Ah!” is a beautiful piece of music, but when that repeating descending piano run starts about halfway in (around 2:12), it sounds to me, in the context of the music surrounding it, like the giggles of an insane nun locked in a medieval tower looking out over a world full of witch burnings, belladonna and mandrake.
Arborea: “Bad Moon Rising”
“There’s a bathroom on the right…” The parody re-write of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song cursed it for me, making those the words I unconsciously substitute when I hear it. Psych-folk duo Arborea claimed it back for themselves, and indirectly for me as well. As much as CCR’s original sounds like a finger-snapping walk down a country road, Arborea’s dark, funereal take on the track marry the music to the ominous lyrics.
Susan Christie: “Yesterday, Where’s My Mind”
I was surprised to find out the Box Tops (“The Letter”) did a version of this in the 60s. Theirs is a much shorter, straightforward rock take. Christie adds a whole beginning section which is very freaky where she, as the narrator, buys some drugs to help her find enlightenment and has one doozy of a scary, bad trip. Like, really bad, as you’ll hear. The track then goes into the “song” part, backed by a killer folk-funk band. Apparently, her mind is gone by then, but man can she still deliver the goods musically. Weirdly, this was recorded in 1970 as part of an album – Paint a Lady – that didn’t get released until 2006. Even weirder, this is the same Susan Christie who had a hit novelty song called “I Love Onions” in the mid-60’s on the Captain Kangaroo show. Someone spiked her onions, obviously.
Wendy Flower: “In the Attic”
This is a creepy song that’s an anomaly in the artist’s short catalog. Wendy Flower is best known as half of late 60s teen sister duo Wendy and Bonnie, who recorded some remarkable sensitive and intelligent soft pop. “In the Attic” is from her thus-far only solo album New (2012) (except for an album of kid’s music). New, from the cover art to the rest of the songs is summery and breezy, anything but spooky. In “Attic”, though, Wendy warns us of that room at the top of the stairs “where dangers lurk.” Tambourines jingle jangle like chains rattling in the background, the whole effect reminding me of a recurring dream I used to have of a haunted attic with an empty rocking chair and a dread air of invisible evil. “I can’t breath when I’m up there / Where dreams go to die / So I’m boarding up the attic / And pretending I’m safe.”
Classics IV: “Spooky”
From the lighter side of Halloween, this perennial favorite by the clumsily named Classics IV is romantic and somewhat loungy, with an infectious rhythm (infectious like the bite of a vampire? The curse of a gypsy?, like Love Potion #9?) which the band used on at least half of their other songs. If the formula works, keep using it! They never did it as well as here, though.
Red Sovine: “Phantom 309”
In the late 70s when truck driving culture was at its peak, I had a cassette bought at a local drug store of trucker songs. Included were Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever”, C.W. McCall’s “Convoy” and others. Somebody did a version of “Phantom 309” on the tape, but I can’t remember who. You can’t go wrong with Red Sovine, though (“Teddy Bear” is the most enjoyable load of schmaltz you’ll ever hear), and I’ve dug up his version of this classic about a hitchhiker picked up by a truck driver who, it turns out, is a ghost. “Have another cup and forget about the dime / Keep it as a souvenir of Big Joe…and Phantom 309”