Gravest Hits, 2008! (Halloween Music Mix!)

October 24, 2008 at 5:35 am (Uncategorized)

All Hallow’s Eve is just a week away, so the Popnarcotic 2008 Halloween Music Mix arrives just in time for your listening pleasure! Once again, I should probably explain some of the criteria for songs that make it and songs that don’t. Metal and goth? No thanks. As far as metal goes, I want to point out that this is a party mix. Presumably, there are chicks at your party. Ever see what effect Blue Oyster Cult, Iron Maiden, or Judas Priest has on the ladies? It’s like hot babe Deep Woods OFF. Suddenly every female at the party has to go to the bathroom/go outside to smoke/take a phone call outside/leave for a better party. Away with the over-obvious metal then. Goth is right out too. Again–party mix! I want a bunch of aging Peter Murphy wannabes stumbling around my party about as much as I want hot oil dumped on my head.

No, the idea is that Halloween is good creepy fun. I used the example last year, but I think it gets to the heart of this: there’s two vignettes that open and close the otherwise-mediocre Twilight Zone movie from the 1980’s that feature Dan Aykroyd. In the last one, he’s the sinister ambulance driver who puts a cassette with “Midnight Special” on, and John Lithgow blissfully remarks “Creedence? I love Creedence…” You know he’s gettin’ a one-way ride, and maybe this mix is the rest of Aykroyd’s cassette brought to you for your listening enjoyment.

Click Me To Download Gravest Hits, 2008!

Now, I recommend you give it a listen without knowing the track list in advance…but if you’re impatient, here’s some liner notes-y type stuff about the songs:

(Spoiler space!)

1. “Psychotic Reaction” by the Count Five: This one seems so obvious, I was sort of surprised that I’ve never thought to use it before. Along with the Sonics, these fellas were the pioneers of the kind of Cave Stomp garage fun that defines the kind of sinister goofy fun I look for in songs I consider for the Halloween mix each year.

2. “Raise The Dead” by Phantom Planet: While no one was paying much attention, these guys booted Jason Schwarzman from the band and set about making the best 1996 Radiohead album that Radiohead never made in 1996. This is the title track, and it neatly stomps on the accelerator just a bit from where we were with the Count Five…

3. “Dark Side Of Night” by The Foxboro Hottubs: This probably is news to no one, but the Foxboro Hottubs are better known by their other nom de rock, Green Day. Recording under the FHT moniker, they also put out an ace album of retro-sounding garage rockers, with this song (and the obvious nod to the Yardbirds’ “Heart Full Of Soul”) being their foray into some sort of Zombies meets Shadows Of Knight thing. Awesome is what it is.

4. “Is She Weird” by The Pixies: This song is one of two “repeats” from previous mixes (in both cases, 2003’s Halloween mix). I haven’t foggiest notion as to what this song is about, but it sounds creepy and sinister with the minor key verse melody and the descending, evil-sounding chorus.

5. “Mystery Train” by Elvis Presley: I actually almost used an earlier, Sun Records version of this song (maybe the original?) by Little Junior Parker, but hell…why not just use the Elvis version everyone knows? At any rate, what you need to know is that trains are cool, funeral trains are creepy, and black, ghostly funeral trains are the stuff of legend that get you on this mix.

6. “Zombie” by The Fallouts: These guys at one point in the mid-90’s sure seemed like they had something going on. Unfortunately they never rocked out as loud as Green Day or Offspring, and never had the pop smarts of Fountains of Wayne, so they sort of fell in between the cracks. At any rate, this is a nifty lift on a classic Flaming Groovies riff, and it totally gets us from Elvis to Beck in 3 easy minutes.

7. “Strange Apparition” by Beck: One thing that I try to avoid with a Halloween mix is making every damn song sound creepy and evil. At some point about 15 minutes in, listener fatigue sets in. Yeah yeah, we get it: trains, zombie songs, minor keys…whatever. You gotta drop a little bit of a changeup in here and there, and Mr. Hansen does that here while stayin’ on topic.

8. “What Is And What Should Never Be” by Led Zeppelin: Another thing I do on the Halloween mix is go by “feel”. I can’t tell you that REM’s “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” is meant to be a scary song, but it sounds damn creepy. That goes with this song, too–I haven’t the foggiest what this song is about, and I don’t think Robert or Jimmy knows either. But Plant’s croon on the verses ends up sounding downright freaky when he loses it on the choruses and when he tells his “pretty baby” that before she goes home with him, she better know the difference between what is and what should never be….well, it just works. Add to that that any mix benefits from having Zep, and here we are.

9. “My Beloved Monster” by The Eels: Again the idea is to shake things up a little at this point in the mix, and so I figure most folks if they know this song, know it from the Shrek soundtrack. Here we yank it out of that context, and give it back its ambiguity.

10. “Ghost Under Rocks” by Ra Ra Riot: Critical darlings of the moment, lemme tell you why these guys aren’t as good as Vampire Weekend, the group they get compared to a lot: the lead singer sounds way too much like Sting for anyone’s comfort. Putting that aside, this is still a cool melody (dig what the strings do here) and it works for shaking the rest of the cobwebs loose. This song should have us amped and ready to get back to the sublimely silly….

11. “Zombie Graveyard Party!” by Be Your Own Pet: Hated to read in August that this band was calling it quits, but lead singer Jemina Pearl is going to be a superstar at some point no matter what, so there’s that consolation. This song (don’t blame me for the “buried in the red” recording quality–that’s all on them!) just cranks and wails and threatens to come unglued.

12. “Lonely Is the Night” by Billy Squier: For reasons I can’t fathom, a month ago this song started running through my brain…I mentioned it to some friends, who thought “who the hell is Billy Squier?” and then a few days later the excellent show “Supernatural” opened with–you guessed it–this song. Does it belong here? Hell yeah. Listen to those lyrics and wonder what kind of psychotic episode preceded them. Plus the guitar solo that opens this song is one of the most underrated and brilliant riffs from the 1980’s.

13. “Chicago At Night” by Spoon: This is another “feel” song. It just feels like it belongs on the soundtrack of a black-and-white film noir with rain-slick streets and people following a heroine down dark streets with long shadows. The echo effect on the guitar totally makes this song work.

14. “Mystery Plane” by The Cramps: It ain’t a Halloween mix without at least one Cramps song on it. Since we’ve already gone through the real obvious picks in previous years–“Goo Goo Muck”, “Human Fly”–I’m going for a few less obvious but still gems. Nobody gets to the heart of what I want my Halloween mixes to feel like quite like the Cramps, god love ’em.

15. “Chainsaw (Denn Die Toten Reiten Schnell)” by The Deathray Davies: One of my favorite things about this mix is finding a band you’d never expect to be able to pull off a Halloween song that actually does it better than anyone else on the mix. Without a doubt this is my favorite song on this mix (the German text I think says “Because the dead ride fast”), and it comes from a normally goofy, sunny, funny bunch of Austin pop dorks headed by John Dufhilo. “I’ve got a fast car/It’s hot as rooftar” is the best couplet on the entire mix, bar none.

16. “Skin Man Palace” by The Grifters: This might be the most evilly unhinged song on the whole mix. With that crazy ass declaration of “I AM THE MAMBO KING!” this song goes straight over the top, the singer sounding like a more evil version of Hannibal Lecter. A friend heard this tune a few years ago and wryly remarked: “Jesus, this sounds like Jon Spencer without the restraint.” Yup.

17. “Witchcraft” by Frank Sinatra: Just keeping everyone on their toes, changing the pace, and staying on topic. Every mix needs the Rat Pack. Just saying.

18. “Gimmie Shelter” by The Rolling Stones: The Stones are always in the Halloween mix. I’ve used “Sympathy For the Devil”, “Midnight Rambler”, and “Monkey Man” in years past, but this time I went for “feel” again. There’s just something….wrong about this song. That honking blues harp, the wailing backing vocals, Watts’s unbelievable whipcrack snare, Richards’s sleazy guitar, Mick’s shamanistic vocals….the whole enterprise sounds like an invitation and invocation of Armageddon.

19. “Long Black Train” by House Of Freaks: If there was any justice in the world, Stella and Ruby Harvey would’ve grown up having their dad whip out his guitar on camping trips and backyard cookouts and wail a song like he does here. It’s only been recently that I’ve been able to listen to Bryan Harvey and House of Freaks without being overwhelmed by the tragedy that befell the family 2 1/2 years ago. At any rate: black trains and ghosts and a band that deserved a better fate on about a thousand different levels.

20. “My Wife & My Dead Wife” by Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians: Maybe as a palate-cleanser to follow that last song, we get Mr. Hitch bringing a wonderfully macabre short story to life in music; while most of the song is delightfully weird and funny, the wide-eyed sincerity with which Robyn sings the whole part about “I’m such a lucky guy, cos I got you babe and I’ll never be lonely” is either gloriously touching and charming or creepy as all hell. Depends on perspective, I guess. By the way, I used the live version of this tune (from the incredible live lp Gotta Let This Hen Out because there’s way too much compression in the drums in the studio version, and far too much chorus pedal too. This version is in every way superior to the other.

21. “Voodoo” by The Cripples: Changing the pace again with these punky new wave freaks. This nifty stop-start rhythmic song alternates creepy and sublime in equal doses and has a terrific Addams’ family with synths bridge.

22. “Tell Me Leza” by The Living Blue: This is yet another “feel” song–something about Joe Prokop’s snarling, swirling guitar wailing here feels like a monster chasing you through a bad dream–and the bass and Stephen Ucherek’s vocals complete the noir feel of this darkly catchy song.

23. “Bete Noire” by The Gutter Twins: You just cannot go wrong by putting any song Mark Lanegan sings on into a Halloween-themed mix. This darkly beautiful song sounds like a garage rock version of Calexico, with all the implied, understated macabre glory preserved intact.

That’s it kids! Have a happy and safe Halloween!

1 Comment

  1. Suge White said,

    Nice job, per usual, CH. I know you’re more in the party mix mode (and I do have one of those) but if you’re at all interested in a creepy soundtrack for trick or treatin’. Check it out:

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: