Saturday 31 October 2020

10 more great Halloween novelty songs

DEoL's readers will recall that last year, on the final day of the annual Halloween Badvent calendar, I posted links to 10 of my favourite Halloween novelty songs. Well, by popular request, here's ten more to get the Halloween party going.

#10 - The Beast of Sunset Strip - Teddy Durant - this is the B-side of Durant's only 45, all the way from 1965 (the A-ide was 'The Night Stalker', which is also great and worth checking out). 'The Beast' has three writing credits, namely Mr Durant, Darrel Dee and one C. Francis, popularly believed to be the Coleman Francis, legendary director of 1961's The Beast of Yucca Flats starring Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson and guest actor in a number of Ray Dennis Steckler movies (Teddy was also the publicist for this flick). Anyway, as well as being released on 45, it was also included as a track on the superb 1967 compilation LP 'Mondo Hollywood' (the soundtrack to the Robert Carl Cohen film of the same name, in which Teddy appears as himself conducting an interview) credited to 'Terry & Darrell' with the writing credits including 'T. Charach', apparently Teddy's real surname, his first being Theodore. In real life Darrel (real name Daryl) was actually Teddy's brother: they recorded a spoof album called 'These Are the Hits, You Silly Savage!!' in 1967, which included covers of songs like 'These Boots Are Made for Walking' and 'Strangers in the Night'. Anyway, I digress. This is two minutes and twenty five seconds about monster drag racers, and it's a weird blast:

#9 - Cha Cha with the Zombies - The Upperclassmen - all the way from Inglewood, California come The Upperclassmen, a four piece doo-wop group active from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, when two members, Ritchie Rotkin and Arnie Marcus, split off to form The Rip Chords, who had a smash hit a few years later with 1964's 'Hey Little Cobra.' Anyhow, this song dates from 1959, and feels like the kind of tune you should be mixing a cocktail to, while firmly ensconced in your tiki bar:

#8 - Rockin' in the Graveyard - Jackie Morningstar - Willie Morrell Sr was born in Florida in 1938. By the time he was signed in 1957, his agent had given him his new 'Morningstar' title - and in 1959, he recorded his one and only single under that name. But Morningstar wasn't some dyed in the wool psych-rocker, despite what the song might sound like. 'Rockin' in the Graveyard' was the B-side to a soppy number called 'No Date' putting it very much in the novelty record category. But one listen to those primitive drums and scratchy guitar confirms, along with the background howls and screams, that this is one outta sight song. Written by Morrell himself, this is a blatant attempt to cash in on similar songs by selling "a million copies too." (hence his reference to Sheb Wooley's 'Purple People Eater' from the year previously).

By 1967, Morningstar had been dropped and he was plain ole Willie Morrell again, releasing a single entitled 'Brother, I'm Gettin' Ready' backed with 'I'm Making Plans to Be With Jesus.' Sadly those plans would have to wait until 2006 when Morrell died in obscurity at the age of 68, not knowing that his hit had sold more than a million copies via 7" re-releases and on numerous Halloween compilations:

#7 - Rockin' Bones - Ronnie Dawson - little Ronnie Dawson, with his blond buzzcut and high pitched voice, was 19 when he broke on the scene in 1959, first with the rather perky 'My Big Desire', which was followed by a must hear rousing little number called 'Action Packed' which found a whole new audience when it was featured on the soundtrack of Season 6 of The Walking Dead. His third single that year was the fabulous 'Rockin' Bones', all about a musician who, when he dies, wants first to be buried with his rock and roll records, then changes his mind and wants his body to be hung on a wall to show "the rotting gears of a bopping machine" (surely one of the finest lines ever heard on a rock 'n' roll single). Originally recorded in 1957 by Elroy Dietzel and The Rhythm Bandits (who recorded it rather differently), 'Rockin' Bones' was later covered by The Cramps, who reverted to Dietzel's version. Dawson revived his musical career in the 1980s, and his song 'Rockin' in the Cemetery', recorded in 1989, is also worth checking out:

#6 - The Monsters Hop - Bert Convy - Convy started off his extensive career as a singer in the 1950s and 1960s before branching out to become an actor in musical theatre (he was in the cast of Roger Corman's 1959 movie A Bucket of Blood) and then finally a game show host in the 1960s and 1970s. As a member of vocal group 'The Cheers' in 1955 he had a Top 10 hit with 'Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots.' 

The Monsters Hop, backed with 'The Gorilla' (also good but not really seasonal), was Convy's third, er, wax, released in 1958 and co-written by Convy and Robert Emenegger. I really like the song's driving beat and there's some great sax work combined with background weirdness. The B-side does include a reference to 'The Purple People Eater' but I'm still not including it.

#5 - The Monster - Bobby Please - probably one of the most batshit insane Halloween novelty records out there, and interesting not just for Please's execution (and the fact that the song kind of runs away from him at one point) but the very story specific nature of the lyrics, almost as if this was a sequel to an earlier song about his creation of the Frankenstein monster. Released in 1959 by 'Bobby Please and the Pleasers' as an A-side (the B-side was the more straightforward dance craze themed 'The Switch'). A Billboard review at the time concluded that 'the flip appears the money item.' Yeah, what do they know? Oh and two years before this Please had recorded a single titled 'Your Driver's License Please' in which he is harassed by the man when he's just trying to get frisky. No I know nothing about this bloke so I'm just padding the paragraph out with some random facts.

#4 - The Mortal Monster Man - The Savoys - The Savoys hailed from San Jose, California, and played throughout the bay area during the late 50s and early 60s.They comprised Albert Richie (lead vocals, piano), Beverly Soares (vocals, percussion), Chris Ray (lead guitar, vocals) and Bruce Hird (rhythm guitar, vocals). Their total output was three 7" singles between 1959 and 1960. The B-side of this 1959 single, called 'Watching the Sea,' emphasised the close harmony origins of the group, but the A-side comes from a different place altogether. From the slightly out of tune start to the singer's gruff oration about his rock and roll credentials, the more up tempo sound is possibly due to the addition of 'The Bella Tones,' the house band of Bella (the record label), on the disc.

#3 - Transylvania Twist - Baron Daemon and the Vampires - to 1963 we go for Number 3 in the chart. The bastardised Bela Lugosi impersonation adopted by Mr Daemon was the voice he used to make his living. For the Baron, or Mike Price to give him his birth name, was a popular TV horror host. His career started in radio, but Mike is best known for his "Good News" segment on WSYR 9 news on weeknights. Baron Daemon was a vampire-like character who hosted a late night movie show. He also became the host of a weekday afternoon children's show from 1962-1967. Price just retired in June 2008, but back in 1963, this record was a huge hit in the Syracuse area. The backing band on the record, The Vampires, were actually Sam and The Twisters, led by Sam Amato. Here's the Baron, socking it to 'em in 1993 where he revived the character (and the song) for one night only.

#2 - The Headless Horseman - Kay Starr - a version of this song, sung by Bing Crosby, was used in the 1949 Disney movie The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Catherine Laverne Starks aka Kay Starr covered the song at around the same time, with slightly different lyrics. It was never released as a single and first cropped up on a 1998 compilation. There are no details of who wrote the song, but it's a favourite from childhood, so it's rather baffling how I remembered it from being a kid.

#1 - Dinner with Drac - John Zacherle - horror hosts weren't a feature of TV when I was growing up, mainly because any fright flicks shown on UK television were programmed way after the watershed, where adults wouldn't have really enjoyed a wisecracking thesp yacking on and on when all they wanted to do was watch the movie.

In the US of course it was a very different scene, with local TV stations needing personalities to draw ratings, and with 'creature features' regularly broadcast during the daylight hours. One of the most famous was John Zacherle, who between 1957 and 1960 hosted two different late night horror shows, 'Shock Theater' and 'Zacherley at Large.' Initially, he played 'Roland,' a ghoul who performed skits in-between moments in the film while speaking to his wife, a character who never exited her coffin. In 1958 he moved from Philadelphia's WCAU to New York's WABC, where he changed his name from Roland to Zacherley (the station added the "y" to his last name), and his show continued as if nothing was new.

Zacherle was also a recording star, releasing four albums and a number of novelty singles, of which 'Dinner with Drac' was the loopiest, and broke into the Billboard Top 10. To be honest, you probably only need to listen to one Zacherle song (they were all pretty much a muchness) but this is fine, fine, nonsense.

Happy Halloween...whatever you are!

No comments:

Post a Comment