Five Essential Halloween Albums
Sure, Halloween is a bonanza for kids and dentists, but any self-respecting, debaucherous adult holds the holiday in high regard as well. It comes with a requisite “get out of jail free” card for any and all misbehavior. Imbibing is encouraged. Scantily clad females – a must. Most of this is conducted behind closed doors, where privacy further encourages our willingness to indulge.
As we all know, music is an essential lubricant to any successful house party. So, what to play at said masquerade ball? Just how many times can Thriller and the theme from Ghostbusters be repeated? The Halloween playlist must be sufficiently weird to fit the occasion, yet relatable enough to prevent alienating the 30 year-old who spent the afternoon squeezing into her high school cheerleading outfit. Below, you will find five LP’s guaranteed to liven up your next ghoul fest.
Bloomington, IN’s Apache Dropout’s debut LP was built for Halloween, complete with cover art depicting the Grim Reaper stirring a cauldron of Big League Chew with the handle of his sickle. It deals directly with the subject at hand, without devolving into predictability. Did I mention that this album kicks ass? The release is a front-runner for my favorite Indiana album of the year. Classic, psychedelic garage rock of the highest order. Listen to the lead single “Candy Bar” below, and raise your street cred with party-guests by spinning one of the year’s under-appreciated gems.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – Cow Fingers & Mosquito Pie (Amazon)
Our own Ben Brundage covered the weird and wild world of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in his 13th installment of In the Dust. Screamin’ Jay is a character for whom Halloween is a daily event. The man wore a cape and face paint year-round. Cow Fingers & Mosquito Pie is a compilation, so its inclusion here is a bit of a fudging of the rules. The reality is that the entirety of Hawkins’ career is fit for Halloween. The theatricality, the bizarre growls, the costumes – all of it. The material on Cow Fingers & Mosquito Pie is all mid-50s material from his time at Okeh Records. Here, Hawkins’ vocal prowess at its peak. By the 70s he had devolved into little more than a talented lounge act spewing out novelty songs and recycled R&B classics. Listen to “I Put A Spell on You” below:
Fellow New Orleans native, Mac Rebennack serves as an obvious transition from Screamin’ Jay. Better known by the moniker Dr. John, he too had a flare for the theatrical and top notch R&B. His 1971 release The Sun, Moon & Herbs was heralded by Rolling Stone as a return to the good doctor’s Crescent City roots. Steeped in voodoo and shamanistic overtones, there is no shortage of spooky, spiritualistic moments here. From the hardly audible mumbles of an infant on “Craney Crow” to the foghorn bellow of the tuba at the outset of “Zu Zu Manou”, this LP is haunting.
Oddly enough The Sun, Moon & Herbs was cut during a brief residency in London and featured a mammoth cast of veritable legends sitting in on the sessions. Clapton on slide guitar. The Memphis Horns. Hell, Mick Jagger even showed up to lay down some backing vocals. Maybe it was the talent in the room. Maybe the distance between Dr. John and his hometown created just the right amount of longing to crystallize the artist’s thinking. Whatever the case, this album is worth a spin.
Next, we turn to the granddaddies of nerd rock – Ween. The recently defunct brainchild of Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman and Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo began as a collaboration between two grade school pals. Diehard fans will inevitably point to earlier material as both weirder and higher quality, but the band’s 2007 release La Cucaracha is one helluva party record. It’s all over the place: Spanished-tinged horns on album opener “Fiesta”, the absurdist, rockabilly knee-slapper “Learnin’ to Love”, falsetto lounge singing on “Object” – it’s all here. La Cucaracha doesn’t deal directly with Halloween, but it’s weird enough to make the cut. It’s also my personal opinion that the album’s closer, “Your Party” should be played at the back end of every house party, ever.
I’m a big fan of instrumental music at house parties. It tends to recede into the background in the way great party music should. It prevents the over-served from shouting along, while providing a sufficient backbeat to keep them awake. Unfortunately, the attention span for jazz standards isn’t what it used to be. Fortunately, Medeski, Martin & Wood has two decades worth of quality, fresh material to draw from. The band’s 2002 release Combustication serves as good a starting point as any. A sinister air tends to bluster throughout the tracks of this LP. Pitchfork’s Rob Mitchum broke down MMW’s style accurately: “Violating traditional jazz recording laws, MMW used overdubbing (gasp!) and post-production editing (well I never!) to make an increasingly spacey roar that rarely came unglued from their characteristically tight, deep groove.” Though the band’s decision to tour alongside jam bands and its tendency toward hip-hopesque production earns the revile of serious jazz fans, the songs will be met with eager nods of approval from masked revelers.
Written by Rob Peoni