Cameron Hawk, guitarist/vocalist of the spookily-titled The Dead Girls (Full disclosure: I’m the drummer), has his own excellent music blog called Record Geek Heaven and has already written one great Top 10 for Scene-Stealers, the Top 10 Uses of Pop Songs in Movies. This new one may be a day late, but isn’t everyone experiencing a Halloween rock hangover?
The full title of this list is Top 10 Great Halloween Rock Albums That Are Not Slayer’s “Reign In Blood”, AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” or Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast.” Here’s Cameron:
There are no Misfits on this list because that’s a given at any Halloween party, and no “Thriller” on this Halloween music list either. I mean, come on; it’s not even that scary. The whole point of this particular Halloween rock Top 10 list is to avoid the super-obvious stuff that people mention all the time. On that note, there are a few records when making a list like this that simply must be mentioned, so read on!
10. Kiss—Alive! (Casablanca, 1975)
Most people probably think the skariest thing about Kiss is their bloated presence, but I had to give one of my favorite bands a spot on this list. First of all, their whole deal is that they dress up in kostume, make-up and all. What’s more Halloween rock than that? Sekond, their kname has been rumored to stand for “Knights in Satan’s Service”, so their rekords should definitely be made within reach on old Hallow’s eve. The live show is always the way to go, though—which is exaktly why I picked Alive! to be on the list. It’s the one album that kulls all the best songs from their best era as a band, and all the live versions are far superior to the original rekordings. But since the classic Halloween rock image of Gene Simmons hoarking blood down his face alone can take any Halloween party to the next level, always show aktual live footage whenever possible.
9. Television—Marquee Moon (Elektra, 1977)
The mysteriously grim subject matter of the songs on Marquee Moon would be enough to make this album Halloween party worthy, but when you factor in the chemistry of Television as a band—the murky noodlings and chilled chant of singer/guitarist Tom Verlaine, the precise dissonance of guitarist Richard Lloyd, and the barely-controlled chaos of bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca—it becomes a Halloween rock necessity. Maybe not every song fits that template, but the title track—my all-time favorite song—certainly does. In fact, whatever really happens in the song “Marquee Moon” might as well be happening on Halloween. It paints the perfect picture of one of those nights where things just don’t seem quite right, and the only way you can explain this strange fear is in broken sentences and obtuse phrasing. And guitar solos…glorious, glorious guitar solos.
8. The Cure—Seventeen Seconds (Fiction, 1980)
The Cure may be British, but they can still be scary. It’s not all hooligans and ruffians over there—those Brits get into some serious darkness, just like everyone else. The Cure have stories and stories of dark, bleak synth-rock, much of which delves way further into the black than Seventeen Seconds seems to go. However, this album offers a subtler brand of scary Halloween music, which can be more effective if done right. In this case, it’s done almost flawlessly. The songs on the album are top notch, simple little sing-along melodies, stripped down to a stark nakedness and suffused with layers of quietly disorienting noise. Creepy jams like “A Forest” and “Play for Today” could be part of the soundtrack to some of your more disturbing dreams—not the really nightmarish ones, but the ones that wake you up confused and vaguely afraid.
7. The Velvet Underground—White Light/White Heat (Verve, 1968)
John Cale, VU’s uber-talented multi-instrumentalist genius, once stated that “White Light/White Heat” was created as something that was supposed to represent “anti-beauty”. I don’t think there is a single soul in the world who has heard this album—whether they love it or hate it—who would disagree. Everything about WL/WH—from the album cover to the music within—is BLACK. People say Spinal Tap had the first black album (theirs preceded Prince’s and Metallica’s), but I like to argue the Velvet Underground did. Obviously it’s a better album than any of those, but more importantly, it wears its black better, too. There may not be a more appropriate unorthodox Halloween rock jam than “The Gift”, an eight-minute spoken word tale set to an ear-splitting jam session that details one man’s fatal attempt to mail himself to an ex.
6. The Jesus Lizard—Goat (Touch and Go, 1991)
The Jesus Lizard is simultaneously one of the funniest, scariest, and most incredible bands in history. If it wasn’t for their sense of humor and self-effacement, they would probably end up a lot higher on a list like this, because they would just be TERRIFYING. And not in a campy GWAR kind of way, but in a way that would make you feel truly violated. Surely, some moments on Goat would probably succeed in that area for certain folks, particularly lyrics to songs like “Then Comes Dudley” (“Dudley’s gonna do us all a favor and tear them both a new asshole”) and frontman David Yow’s insistence on singing as if he is undergoing some sort of autoerotic asphyxiation. But jarringly frightening jams like “Seasick” and “Monkey Trick” are simply perfect for keeping the Halloween party going without losing the deathly vibes.
5. Melvins—Houdini (Atlantic, 1993)
Melvins are the purveyors and current captains of sludge metal, and they have multiple albums that would have worked on this list (see: Ozma, Egg Nog, Stoner Witch, Stag, Honky, etc.). I guess I chose Houdini mostly for nostalgic purposes, because when I think of Melvins and how scary they were to me when I first got into them, I can’t help but think of the Houdini album art, and that incredible bass intro to “Night Goat.” And come on, the song is called “Night Goat,” for chrissake. These guys are freaks, and they will kill you! That’s always how I thought of them, anyway. I know it’s not their best album, but Houdini is a goddamn creep show. What ups its Halloween music factor even further is the inclusion of “Goin’ Blind,” a sweet kover and a killer knod to the Knights themselves (see #10).
4. Pink Floyd—The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (Capitol, 1967)
Wanna hear a scary story? One time in the 60s, there was this really great pop music songwriter named Syd Barrett who played in a cool new band called Pink Floyd. Syd liked drugs, but hey, who didn’t back then? Drugs like Syd too … or at least Syd thought they did. After all, they helped Syd to write an amazing first album for his band called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. It seemed like drugs would never turn on Syd; never steer him wrong. But when it came time to record Pink Floyd’s second album, drugs would only allow Syd one song, and the band was forced to replace him. Syd recorded some solo work, much of which was quite good. But by then, drugs and Syd weren’t exactly simpatico. Drugs were eating Syd’s brains! AAHHHHHHHHHHH! Moral of the story: Well, it’s NOT “don’t do drugs”, because I WANT YOU TO LISTEN TO THIS ALBUM ON DRUGS! In the dark, on Halloween. Believe me. Halloween music for sure.
This album represents what I think Hell would probably sound like if it existed. The Butthole Surfers have this kind of comic-book mentality that somehow keeps them outside of reality’s realm and in some sort of eternal, twisted Halloween party. Their live shows are, literally, drug circuses, and they seem to be the one band that can put out a great album like Locust, go all commercial for a hit like “Pepper,” and still maintain most if not all of the cred they have ever procured. If the Devil existed, the Buttholes would be his right hand band, and Locust Abortion Technician would be his favorite album. From the moment it starts, with a heavenly celestial intro and super-creepy father/son conversation that kicks into a psyched-out cover of Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf” (re-titled “Sweat Loaf”), there is an unspeakable dark presence, the kind that laughs at you like a wide-eyed lunatic while you cower in the corner—kind of like Bob from Twin Peaks. Bob’s all over this fucking Halloween record.
“Death Valley ‘69” has frequently been cited as one of the scariest songs of the modern rock era, and I am not ashamed to second that emotion. Though I am not a huge fan of much else that I have heard from Lydia Lunch, her vocal performance more or less makes this song what it is. Without it, it would just be another Sonic Youth song, which would be great, but it wouldn’t have had that over the top, 45,000-kilowatt climax kind of effect that the finished product has. It’s the perfect finale to a scary and downright maddening album. Everything about Bad Moon Rising, from the songwriting to the playing to the production, feels alienating, and this feeling of alienation—this potential loneliness or utter nothingness—is precisely what scares many of us the most. The CD version features an appropriate bonus track (“Halloween”), and the exploding pumpkin head scarecrow album art pretty much says it all.
1. Black Sabbath—Black Sabbath (Vertigo, 1970)
Black Sabbath: The Great Unavoidable when it comes to great Halloween music. On lists of scary bands or scary albums, they will pretty much always rank highly. In this case, they are top of the heap, because really—and this isn’t said enough—this is THE SCARIEST ALBUM OF ALL TIME. It’s also probably the best Black Sabbath record period, and we’re talking the fiery fingers of Tony Iommi, the occult obsessions and acceptable bass playing of Geezer Butler, the trollish thudding of drummer Bill Ward, and Ozzy Osbourne, people! OZZY! Not just Ozzy, but Ozzy in his rawest, most evil-sounding form. His vocals on album opener “Black Sabbath” creep out from under the doomed sounds of funeral bells and thunderstorms, and the hellish drone of Iommi’s minions. Something about Ozzy’s voice here really freaks me out—it sounds like it has never sounded since. I can’t be sure if it can be chalked up to simple inexperience, or if Ozzy actually pushed himself into a state—mental or otherwise—that he himself would never want to revisit again. Considering the fact that I feel the need to have the lights on for at least three hours after hearing Black Sabbath in its entirety, I don’t blame him.