She got the moon in her eye

Anyone who knows the Hackett family knows that Halloween is our favorite holiday.  We hosted the “Hackett Haunted House” for 12 out of 13 years from 1998-2010 at our Stilson Circle home in the Peachtree Corners area of Atlanta, Georgia, and it makes me smile, with a certain ghoulish delight, that so many people mention our haunted houses as among their fondest memories of Halloween during those years.

We always worked to frighten people as best we could, emulating horror movie themes and time-honored scary creatures — Texas Chain Saw Massacre guys, mad scientists, Frankensteins, evil clowns, Samarra from “The Ring,” Gollem from “Lord of the Rings,” The Wicked Witch of the West on the roof, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, scary pirates, guillotines, electric chairs, and on and on and on.  You needed courage to make it through our maze of scares and freaky surprises.

Sad to say, I think popular music has been kind of lame in its attempt to give us Halloween soundtrack music.  The more popular examples — Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “The Monster Mash” (1962), Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” (1978) and Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” (1984) — just don’t quite light my fire as anthems of Halloween.

(The best music for this holiday has always been instrumental movie music:  The shrieking violins of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” soundtrack; the haunting piano-based theme from John Carpenter’s 1978 film “Halloween”; the creepy strains that carry TV’s “The X-Files” theme; the first four minutes of the epic Mike Oldfield opus “Tubular Bells” from “The Exorcist” soundtrack.  We used all these and more in the background of our haunted houses.)

This year, sadly, Halloween is pretty much a bust, with the COVID restrictions still in place. There’ll be no haunted houses, few Halloween parties and only modified trick-or-treating (“catch the candy, kids!”). As I see it, my job here this week at Hack’s Back Pages is to remind you all of great rock music tracks, popular or obscure, that might still make an appropriate setlist for next year’s Halloween get-togethers.  Here, for better or worse, are 15 selections.  Have a Spooktacular weekend!!!!

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“Black Magic Woman,” Santana, 1970

Written by the great blues guitarist Peter Green and released as a single with his band Fleetwood Mac back in 1968, this song became a huge #4 hit for Carlos Santana and his band in 1970, from “Abraxas.”  It was combined in a medley with the 1966 track “Gypsy Queen,” and utilised congas, timbales and Latin polyrhythms to give the whole thing a distinct voodoo feel: “Got your spell on me baby, yes, you got your spell on me baby, you’re turning my heart into stone, I need you so bad, magic woman, I can’t leave you alone…”

“Dead Man’s Party,” Oingo Boingo, 1985

This ska/reggae song by one of The Eighties’ quirkier bands is a perfect fit for any Halloween costume party where the crowd is keen to dance.  Songwriter/leader Danny Elfman, now one of most celebrated film soundtrack guys of the past 30 years, came up with this infectious tune, plus “Weird Science,” “Don’t Look in the Basement” and other Halloween-appropriate material.  “I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go, walkin’ with a dead man over my shoulder, waiting for an invitation to arrive, goin’ to a party where no one’s still alive, it’s a dead man’s party, who could ask for more, everybody’s comin’, leave your body at the door…”

“I Put a Spell on You,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, 1956

Well before Alice Cooper and other “shock rock” rock acts was Jay Hawkins, a blues singer who found his niche with the wild, mesmerizing 1956 recording of his titanic “I Put a Spell on You.” “I was just a normal blues singer,” said Hawkins, “but this version just fell into place one weird night in the studio.  I found out I could do more destroying a song and screaming it to death.”  His stage shows began with him in a cape, rising out of a coffin amidst smoke and fog, as he sang this chiller.  Numerous cover versions followed, by the likes of Creedence, Bryan Ferry, Nina Simone, Marilyn Manson, Annie Lennox, Jeff Beck and Joss Stone.  A true classic.   “I just can’t stand it, the way you always put me down, I put a spell on you, because you’re mine…”

“Somebody’s Watching Me,” Rockwell, 1984

Just as Motown mogul Berry Gordy’s impressive career was winding down, his son, Kennedy Gordy, burst on the scene as Rockwell, and rocketed to #2 with the stalker track “Somebody’s Watching Me,” which featured Michael Jackson on background vocals.  The song’s music video utilized a haunted house theme, complete with zombies, ghosts, ravens, graveyards, and references to the famous shower scene from the film “Psycho.” “All I want is to be left alone in my average home, but why do I always feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone, and I always feel like somebody’s watching me, and I have no privacy…”

“Time Warp,” from “Rocky Horror Picture Show” soundtrack, 1975

A clever blend of parody and kitsch, of horror B-movies and ’50s rock and roll, “The Rocky Horror Show” was a sensation when it debuted on the London stage in 1973, and its 1975 film version, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” remains a midnight movie cult classic 45 years after its release.  The whole soundtrack is appropriate for Halloween, but “Time Warp,” with its dance-instruction lyrics and singalong chorus, is ideal for any Halloween party.  “Drinking those moments when the blackness would hit me, and the void would be calling, let’s do the time warp again…”

“Thriller,” Michael Jackson, 1982

Jackson’s trailblazing 13-minute music video of his title track “Thriller” broke new ground as a short story, fully choreographed with gory zombie makeup, and the first to be preserved in the National Film Registry…and for the finale, horror movie legend Vincent Price recites the spoken section that ends with his maniacal laugh.  It has become a Halloween classic, and rightly so:  “It’s close to midnight, and something evil’s lurking in the dark, under the moonlight, you see a sight that almost stops your heart, you try to scream, but terror takes the sound before you make it, you start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes, you’re paralyzed…”

“Black Sabbath,” Black Sabbath, 1970

Death metal, Goth, Satanic rock — the bands who revel in these genres have plenty of disturbing, macabre lyrics that could certainly be deserving of space on a Halloween setlist, but frankly, I don’t claim to know much about them.  I do, however, recall the spooky chill that ran up my spine the first time I heard the song “Black Sabbath,” the leadoff track from Black Sabbath’s debut LP (and check out that creepy album cover).  An ominous tolling bell, a rainstorm with distant thunder, then huge power chords in a minor key, and Ozzy Osbourne demanding to know, “What is this that stands before me?”  Brrrrr. If this isn’t appropriate Halloween music, I don’t know what is.

“Psycho Killer,” Talking Heads, 1977

On their 1977 debut LP and again as the opening song of their brilliant concert film “Stop Making Sense” in 1984, new wave giants The Talking Heads offered up this chilling portrait of an unhinged loner.  Another character in a morbid Halloween gallery:  “I can’t seem to face up to the facts, I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax, I can’t sleep ’cause my bed’s on fire, don’t touch me, I’m a real live wire, psycho killer, qu’est-ce que c’est?…”

“Witchy Woman,” The Eagles, 1972

Don Henley has said the inspiration for this early Eagles single was the wild, bewitching Zelda Fitzgerald, who haunted novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald all his life.  “I was also reading the works of Carlos Castaneda, and dating a girl who was into the occult,” he said. “All of those things came together to create the witchy woman.”  Nothing more Halloween-like than that:  “Raven hair and ruby lips, sparks fly from her fingertips, echoed voices in the night, she’s a restless spirit on an endless flight, woo hoo, witchy woman, she how high she flies, woo hoo, witchy woman, she got the moon in her eye…”

“Don’t Fear the Reaper,” Blue Oyster Cult, 1976

Out of Long Island, New York, in 1971 came Blue Oyster Cult, in the hard rock/heavy metal genre.  BOC guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser wrote this 1976 hit single in his early 20s, imagining an early death for himself.  “I wasn’t suicidal,” he said, “just thinking cosmically about eternal love and premature death.”  Seems spooky enough to me to be perfect for a Halloween mix…   “Then the door was opened and the wind appeared, the candles blew and then disappeared, the curtains flew and then he appeared, saying, ‘don’t be afraid, come on baby, don’t fear the reaper’…”

“Too Much Blood,” The Rolling Stones, 1983

Mick Jagger gets the lion’s share of songwriting credit for this strangely compelling dance track that protests gratuitous violence in 1980s films.  Sparked by a lurid murder in Paris that year involving dismemberment and cannibalism, the song’s lyrics devolved into rap in the middle section, specifically mentioning “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and bemoaning, “I can feel it everywhere, feel it up above, feel the tension in the air, there’s too much blood, yeah, too much blood…”

“Old Ghosts,” Jethro Tull, 1979

Progressive rock bands have often written about strange creatures and happenings, and Tull songwriter Ian Anderson is no exception.  Minor chords and lyrics that lurk in furtive images are a prominent feature on the band’s 1979 album of nautical mystery, “Stormwatch,” which includes this spooky take of how ghosts have often threatened the well-being of sailors as they navigate the seas at night:   “Hair stands high on the cat’s back like a ridge of threatening hills, sheepdogs howl, make tracks and growl, their tails hanging low… I’ll be coming again, like an old dog in pain, blown through the eye of the hurricane, down to the stones where old ghosts play…”

“Spooky,” Classics IV, 1968; Atlanta Rhythm Section, 1979

Written in 1967 as an instrumental featuring the saxophone riffs of Mike Shapiro, “Spooky” stalled at #57, but the next year, Mike Hirsch added lyrics about “a spooky little girl like you,” and the Classics IV took that version to #3.   James Cobb of the Classics IV went on to form The Atlanta Rhythm Section in the ’70s, and their re-recorded rendition in 1979 reached #17 on the charts.  Not really a very spooky tune at all, but still appropriate lyrically:  “Just like a ghost, you’ve been haunting my dreams, so now I know you’re not what you seem, love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you…”

“D.O.A.,” Bloodrock, 1971

The two-note drone of a European emergency siren is the basic hook on which this gruesome song hangs, and embodies that feeling of dread you might feel as you approach a haunted house.  The lyrics graphically describe the thoughts of a plane crash survivor as he is brought into a hospital:  “I try to move my arm and there’s no feeling, and when I look, I see there’s nothing there…Life is flowing out my body, pain is flowing out with my blood, the sheets are red and moist where I’m lying, God in heaven, teach me how to die…”

“Season of the Witch,” Donovan, 1966

It’s hard to decide which version of this classic song grabs me more: Donovan’s five-minute original or the 11-minute track by Al Kooper, Stephen Stills and Co. on the legendary 1968 “Super Session” LP. Donovan, the British mystical folkie responsible for “Sunshine Superman” and other flower-garden reflections of the mid-to-late ’60s, wrote it as a somewhat creepy ode to October. Two years later, Kooper & Stills recorded a remarkable jam on Donovan’s chords that became something else entirely, also haunting and intriguing in its own way. “When I look out my window, so many sights to see, and when I look in my window, so many different people to be, and it’s strange, so strange…”

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Honorable mention:

Miss Ghost,” Don Henley, 2000;  “Scared,” John Lennon, 1974;  “Gypsy Woman,” Tim Buckley, 1969;  “Pay in Blood,” Bob Dylan, 2012;  “The Ghost,” Fleetwood Mac, 1972;  “Evil Woman,” ELO, 1975;  “Murder By Numbers,” The Police, 1983;  “Everyday is Halloween,” Ministry;  “Ghost Town,” The Specials;  “Witch Queen of New Orleans,” Redbone, 1972;  “This is Halloween,” Marilyn Manson, 2006.

  

Is that what it’s called?

When a pop songwriter finishes a song, he or she must decide on a title. Sometimes, it actually precedes the writing of the song; sometimes it’s an obvious choice, based on the phrase that’s repeated multiple times in the lyrics; other times it’s mentioned only once, but the composer thinks it sums up the song’s meaning.

On rare occasions, the song’s title is never mentioned at all in the lyrics. It might be alluded to, but the word or words themselves don’t appear in the verses nor the chorus. It certainly makes it more challenging for listeners to find the song on an album or on search platforms.

As an aside, I’ve always wondered how writers of instrumental pieces come up with titles for their work. They could almost pick any word or words from the dictionary and slap them on, since there no lyrics which might inspire a title. It would be interesting to hear how jazz artists from Miles Davis to George Benson decide on titles like “So What” or “Breezin'” for their compositions…

Here, for your enjoyment and/or edification, are a dozen pop songs that, for various reasons, have titles that don’t appear as part of the lyrics. There’s a Spotify playlist at the end so you can finally match the song with its title.

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“Badge,” Cream, 1969

Before Cream disbanded, they elected to do one last album called “Goodbye,” which would have three live tracks and three new studio recordings, with each member writing a song. Eric Clapton had been hanging around a lot with George Harrison at the time, so they collaborated, and Harrison wrote down the lyrics as they worked. When they came to the middle section, also called the “bridge,” Harrison wrote “Bridge.” Sitting across from him, Clapton looked at it and misread it, saying, “What is ‘badge’?” The inside joke stuck. The word “badge,” of course, was never in the lyrics…nor was “bridge,” for that matter.

“Baba O’Riley,” The Who, 1971

The opening track from The Who’s spectacular “Who’s Next” LP is, in fact, one of several songs from the album meant to be part of Pete Townshend’s rock opera “Lifehouse,” which he chose to abort. Many fans have taken to mistakenly referring to the song as “Teenage Wasteland,” an oft-repeated refrain from the middle section. Its actual title refers to two of Townshend’s mentors at the time. Meher Baba was an Indian spiritual guru whose teachings made a big impression on him, and Terry Riley was an America avant-garde musician keen on minimalism and electronic experimentation. The synthesizer in the intro is an example of Riley’s inspiration.

“A Day in the Life,” The Beatles, 1967

The final track from the “Sgt. Pepper” album, considered by many to be The Beatles’ very best song, is a John Lennon idea come to life, in which he took snatches of newspaper stories from an average day in fall 1966 and used them as lyrics. The middle bit (“Woke up, fell out of bed…”) was contributed by Paul McCartney as a kind of dream sequence before the band returned to Lennon’s theme (“I read the news today, oh boy…”) for the dramatic orchestral ending. There had been some talk of it being titled “A Day in the Life Of…”, encouraging listeners to fill in the name based on their interpretation, but they ended up dropping the “Of” as unnecessary.

“The Weight,” The Band, 1968

Guitarist Robbie Robertson’s marvelous Biblical parable about a traveler who arrives, visits and departs a town called Nazareth has taken its rightful place as a classic in the universal songbook. As Robertson said, “It’s about a guy who’s going somewhere, and he’s asked to say ‘hello’ to someone, and when he gets there, he’s asked to do someone a favor, and then he’s asked a bigger favor, and he feels put upon just for being a good guy. He’s taken on a burden he hadn’t bargained for.” So, although the words “The Weight” are never sung, instead there are multiple references to “taking a load off” and “putting the load on me.”

Original British cover

“Space Oddity,” David Bowie, 1969

During a time of keen interest in space flight, Bowie wrote this fascinating track about the fictional astronaut Major Tom and his musings of what it was like to be “sitting a tin can far above the world.” The lyrics take a sympathetic rather than heroic view of an astronaut’s profession. The record’s release in July 1969, which coincided closely with the Apollo 11 launch and the moon landing five days later, made him appear to be a novelty act. Bowie gave the song a title that plays on the title of Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but the lyrics don’t include any reference to Tom’s mission being an “oddity,” nor do they specifically mention outer space.

“Black Dog,” Led Zeppelin, 1971

More than any other rock band of the era, Led Zeppelin had a tendency to slap titles on their songs that not only weren’t mentioned in the lyrics but seemed to have no apparent connection to them. “Over The Hills and Far Away,” “The Battle of Evermore,” and “D’yer Mak’er” are just three of about a dozen Led Zep tracks with titles that don’t appear in the lyrics. “Black Dog,” a Top 20 hit in the US, has lyrics with overt sexual phrases about what the narrator would like to do with the woman to whom he’s singing. As it turns out, when the song was being written and recorded at an old stone building in Hampshire, a stray black dog would show up nearly every day, so they honored him by naming this song after him.

“After The Gold Rush,” Neil Young, 1970

Young’s previous album had been packed with hard-edged electric guitar and the full-band accompaniment of his erstwhile group Crazy Horse, so it was a surprise to critics and fans that his third solo release was largely acoustic and simply structured. One of the most intriguing tracks was “After the Gold Rush,” generally regarded as an environmental tune because of the line, “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s.” It’s actually a cryptic time-travel tune about past, present and future. The lyrics make no mention of a gold rush (neither before it or after it), and yet Young still liked the phrase enough to use it as the song title and the album title.

“Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen, 1975

According to the late Freddie Mercury, who wrote the song, “Bohemian Rhapsody” means “artist’s fantasy.” That was about all Mercury would say about the song over the years. The lyrics tell the tale of a man who killed someone and has sold his soul to the devil to escape the consequences. The track was a #9 hit in the US upon initial release, then reached #2 in 1992 after it was used in the film “Wayne’s World,” and then had another round of success in 2018 after the release of the Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” For a song that has received as much airplay as this one, it’s highly unusual for the title not to be mentioned somewhere in the lyrics.

“For What It’s Worth,” Buffalo Springfield, 1966

The reason this title wasn’t in the lyrics is an amusing one. As a witness to violent disturbances on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood related to young people protesting a new curfew law, Stephen Stills wrote the song and his group, Buffalo Springfield, recorded it. When he presented it to the guys at their record label, he said, “We have this new song here, for what it’s worth, if you want it.” Stills hadn’t given the song a title yet, but the label thought he meant “For What It’s Worth” was the title. They later added “Stop! Hey What’s That Sound” as the subtitle on the 45 so it would be more easily recognized by record buyers.

“Rainy Day Women #12 and 35,” Bob Dylan, 1966

Is this a drug song? Many people thought so at the time of its release as the lead single from Dylan’s 1966 double LP “Blonde on Blonde.” The oft-repeated line “Everybody must get stoned” seems straightforward, but the rest of the lyrics make it clear he was referring to the physical stoning from Biblical times. In his case, Dylan spoke of being criticized (metaphorically stoned) for doing new things people found offensive, like when he quit folk music and started playing rock. When the producer asked Dylan for the song’s title, he quipped, “A Long-Haired Mule and a Porcupine.” Nonsense, of course, but no more so than “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35.”

“Unchained Melody,” The Righteous Brothers, 1965

In 1955, the songwriting team of Alex North and Hy Zaret were asked to write a song for a little-known film called “Unchained,” about life in prison and the longing for freedom. The duo refused the moviemaker’s request to include the word “unchained” into the lyrics, instead focusing on a someone who is pining for a lover he hasn’t seen for “a long, lonely time.” By keeping the words more general, it could be interpreted as any couple separated by distance or breakup. It went on to become one of the most recorded songs of all time, over 1,500 versions in numerous languages, with the best known being the #1 hit by The Righteous Brothers in 1965.

“Valotte,” Julian Lennon, 1984

I was one of probably millions who got a huge chill up my spine the first time I heard this song, the first single from Julian Lennon’s debut LP in 1984. “Oh my God, his voice sounds so much like his Dad, and the song sounds like one John might’ve written!” As for the song’s title, which doubled as the album title as well, it comes from the name of the French chateau (Chateau de Valotte) where young Lennon had been sent by Atlantic Records to hone his songwriting skills. The lyrics mourn the breakdown of a relationship, the drifting apart of two lovers, but the word “Valotte” is not part of the lyric.

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