Some notes about a Christmas music Mix.

December 15, 2020 at 7:01 pm (Uncategorized)

At Christmas, some kids write letters to Santa. This (aging quickly) kid writes letters to a music mix. There’s that whole missing year thing, too. To start off with, you didn’t miss any 2019 holiday music mix from me…I didn’t make one. Or should say, I didn’t finish one. I got about 2/3rds of the way done, realized that for various reasons it felt…not right….to do a mix last year. And so I didn’t.

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Well Turn It Up, Man!

July 4, 2018 at 10:33 am (Uncategorized)

13 years ago (!) my buddy Rob Morton and I made this mix. I’d sort of forgotten about it but he reminded me of it today and well…it’s pretty damned good if we do say so ourselves. Enjoy and happy Good Riddance Day!


So yeah, that Family Dynamic mix is a corker, right?

I’ve known Rob for a few years now, and he and I have musical tastes that are eerily similar…but with slight variations, too. There’s enough overlap and dovetailing in the musics we both tend to listen to that, well, we had to do a CD mix together.

So yeah. He and I labored over this thing for a few weeks now, and here’s the results. Hope you like it. A holiday weekend gift from Morton and me, for you to listen to and enjoy. Again, it’s all joined together as one long .mp3 file to preserve the continuity and flow and segues. If you want to burn it to CD, be sure you used the “disc-at-once” method, or you’re likely to get weird “hiccups” in the transitions.

Oh! One other thing: Have a terrific weekend, folks!

Get Yerself Some Freedom…

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We’re All Skating on the Same Thin Ice (Christmas Music Mix, 2017)

December 19, 2017 at 1:21 pm (Uncategorized)

ice-skating-santa-download-videohive-18839308-free-hunterae-com-8Whew, just enough time to get this year’s Christmas music mix down the chimney and into the ears of every (mostly) good little boy and girl on Santa’s list. 2017 has had its share of ups and downs, but for the season I’ll set the bad bits aside and focus on the merry stuff. 2017 has been quite good to me personally, so I hope some of my good fortune rubs off.

This year’s Christmas music mix feels a little bit more “indie” than previous years. As I kept wading through the folder of prospective holiday tunes I keep, I kept noticing that there were so many major, obviously talented artists who utterly mail it in when they try to do a Christmas song. There’s a songwriter’s trick for creating a song within a certain theme that involves the writer simply listing some things associated with the subject, and then using that to get some inspiration to write a song with.

Far too many holiday pop songs sound like that’s as far as the songwriter got. There’s an absolute glut of songs that open with either cheap winter wind sound effects or sleigh bells ringing (always a sign that you’ve got more of a bad Christmas cash-in than real song). That eventually moves to a singer spending a couple of verses singing a grocery list of Christmas-ish non sequiturs with as much fake emotion as can be mustered.

And so I found a lot of stuff like that. But then I also found a lot of stuff like The Spook School’s winsome post-breakup gloriousness,”Someone To Spend Christmas With”. I found a spot for Belle & Sebastian’s “Are You Coming Over For Christmas”, which starts off sounding like a a flirty-but-without-the-rapey-stuff take on the “Baby It’s Cold Outside” formula, but then turns into something utterly beautiful and transcendent. At least for this year, it’s the lesser-known artists who are bringing the feels.

That isn’t to say I didn’t find some old favorites bringing the heat. Whomever in Cheap Trick suggested they cover The Move’s Wizzard’s (we’re all Roy Wood anyway) “I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day”, that person is a genius, because this is inspired. And hey, it’s time the Ventures returned to this annual mix, but this time marrying The Zombies to Greensleeves with a surfy twang.

It was also fun to go diving back into my 1990s alt-rock roots a little bit. I can’t believe I’ve never used the Pixies before in a Christmas mix, but I just love Frank and Kim’s call-and-response on the coda of this Neil Young cover. I found a great spot for a Cocteau Twins take on an old familiar kid’s song from back in the day. And then there’s the Throwing Muses track. If Tonya Donnelly’s guitar riff on this doesn’t get you going, you may need to get your ears checked.

It is also both great to find a spot for a terrific new Minus 5 track, “A New Christmas Hymn” while at the same time hearing that Minus 5 main man Scott McCaughey has recovered well enough from his stroke two months ago to be able to play guitar and bass again. That’s the song that provides the title for this year’s mix, too. For all the shouty-ness of 2017, this feels like a good summing up of things:

I’m offering this Christmas hymn
Not for any ghost or Tiny Tim
For both the naughty and the nice
We’re all skating on the same thin ice.

Wherever and however the holiday season finds you in 2017, I hope it’s a happy one for you and your loved ones. I hope you enjoy this mix of rock, soul, funk and a little country, all mixed together as one long MP3, and that it helps provide a little more good cheer. Let’s cue this sucker up and hit play!

We’re All Skating On The Same Thin Ice (Popnarcotic Christmas Music Mix, 2017)  (Right click to download and save.)

  1. Elf practice is not to be trifled with
  2. “Christmas All Over Again”, Tom Petty
  3. “Wake Up Christmas”, Lisa Mychols
  4. “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day”, Cheap Trick
  5. “Santa’s Got a Bag of Soul”, Saints Orchestra
  6. “Purple Snowflakes”, Marvin Gaye
  7. “Blizzard of ’77”, Nada Surf
  8. “Snowflakes”, The Ventures
  9. “Frosty the Snowman”, The Cocteau Twins
  10. “Someone To Spend Christmas With”, The Spook School
  11. “It’s a Marshmallow World”, Dean Martin
  12. “Santa Claus”, The Throwing Muses
  13. “New Christmas Hymn”, The Minus 5
  14. “The Reindeer Boogie”, Hank Snow
  15. “Christmas Time is Here Again”, The Flirtations
  16. “Are You Coming Over for Christmas?”, Belle & Sebastian
  17. “Winterlong”, The Pixies
  18. “White Christmas” Otis Redding
  19. “Cold, Cold Christmas”, Army/Navy
  20. “Remember (Christmas)”, Harry Nilsson
  21. “Song For A Future Love”, The Frank & Walters
  22. “Happy When it Snows”, Seafang
  23. “Winter Beats”, I Break Horses
  24. Sing us out, Shane and Kirsty.



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What Happened, 1972-1974

September 25, 2017 at 9:24 am (Uncategorized) ()


It’s easy to adopt a worldview on the history of popular music that goes something like this: The Beatles break up, for six or seven years music sucks, and then punk rock and rap and new wave come along to save everyone. If, like me, you grew  up in the postpunk era, you were trained to believe implicitly that the early 1970s were the famine years, the bleakest of eras in rock and soul music. As the yearly mixes from Scott Miller’s Music — What Happened show, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The barren years are indeed coming, but 1972 through 1974 are are a rich and vibrant musical landscape.

Think about it: after a year of post-Beatle breakup shock, you have a number of heady artists leaping into the fray to fill the void…some of whom are even represented here. During the early 1970s, Bowie, Zeppelin and The Stooges put out great records. Roxy Music exploded onto the scene. Badfinger  was ever present. The gas tank is about to hit empty…but Miller makes a great case here that 1972 through 1974 was a wonderful time to just stomp on the accelerator and enjoy things while they last.

And so here it is, three years of an end-of-the-world-and-I-feel-fine bacchanal for rock and pop music. This is where rock earns the whole “sex, drugs, and …” sobriquets, where the excesses truly manifest. The next three are going to be slim pickings, even accepting the premise that disco and prog rock were pretty good. Set the controls for the heart of the sun, and let’s jump into some notes on the year-by-year mixes.

1972: The biggest culture shift noted here is part of Scott’s writeup of “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”. This was the peak — and also the end — of musical racial integration. As the 1970s proceeded, FM radio caused a huge split and segregation of radio audiences and pop music fans in general. Miller notes that “By 1977, the tribe that had become disco people did not talk to the tribe that had become heavy metal people, and radio that wasn’t market-specific had become commercially unviable.” This final Temptations hit was the kind of song that would suffer the most in this break.

Also ushered in for 1972 is glam. We’re at peak Bowie with “Hang on to Yourself”, and Roxy Music comes zooming in with “Virginia Plain.” If you’ve ever wondered why the nerdiest of guitar nerds champion Richard Thompson above all others, the track here should answer that for you. Jethro Tull brings us another song in a 5/4 time signature, and also an anachronism alert. “Living In The Past” had been released in the UK as a single years earlier, but didn’t show up stateside (and become an FM radio hit) until the early years Tull compilation of the same name arrived in ’72. There’s a generation who won’t understand how perfectly Jethro Tull segues into Pure Prairie League, but that generation didn’t grow up on 1970s FM radio; that Miller takes it right into Curtis effing Mayfield is some kind of awesome genius. The year concludes with my favorite two songs from this year, one from Yes (don’t hate me) and one from Todd Rundgren.

1973: Buckle up kids, this is the longest single yearly mix to date. This particular year contains a number of radio edits that you’re unlikely to notice unless you’re a wonk, but I didn’t try to duplicate Scott’s homebrew edits of “All The Way to Memphis” or “Jet Boy,” and both are just fine as is. Miller also cleverly insists on the 45 rpm single version of “Everyone’s Agreed That Everything Will Turn Out Fine” by Stealer’s Wheel. I agree with him that the album version is far inferior, so the single version is the one I used.

This year’s mix is full of crowd-pleasers. We get our first and only Eagles cut, and it’s the only Eagles song I don’t actively dislike. I also love the way Miller describes beeing a 13-year-old kid in a record store and hearing Roxy’s “Do The Strand”, and how that probably transformed his life and career. Also, “Sweet Lady Genevieve” never gets mention with the greatest Kinks songs ever, and it should. Finally, although Scott Miller passed away in 2013, his eerie prescience on interesting music stuff written about in 2017 begins here with his inclusion of “So Very Hard To Go”, which is an incredibly amazing song, and whose inclusion at the opening credits of the game “Watch Dogs 2” this past year was one of the most noted uses of licensed music in a video game in recent memory.

1974: Look, buster. You got through 2 minutes of the Legendary Stardust Cowboy in 1968, you can get through 2 minutes of The Residents to kick off 1974…especially as the “song” intriguingly finds a melody of sorts after all that noisy craziness in the beginning.

Scott specifically notes that he segues out of that with the radio edit of “Radar Love”, and I’m happy for that. The song loses nothing with the loss of 3 minutes of single-note bass riffs. And then comes out of that with Barry Manilow. Take that, radio programmers. Elsewhere, Miller captures the quintessential Roxy Music track, “All I Want Is You”. Dave Marsh I think described the peak Roxy years as basically sounding like a DC-10 revving its engines, and that perfectly encapsulates the wall of beautiful rock noise here.

I didn’t try to copy Miller’s homebrew edit of John Cale’s “Gun”, and I think it stands as is just fine; if your only exposure to solo-era Cale was his hyperserious 1990s and onward work, finding out that he could rock like hell back in the day absent his Velvets compatriots is a revelation. Finally, ’74 concludes with the monumentally influential “Back of a Car” by Big Star. Miller requires this to be a vinyl rip, and so it is.

The other thing worth pointing out though is that with the Residents’ weird experimentation alongside Big Star, Roxy Music, Bowie, and yes, Barry Manilow in the same mix, we’ve essentially got the building blocks of inspiration on which Miller would build his own entire music career on.

What Happened, 1972

1972 mp3 to download and track list

  1. “Joy” Apollo 100
  2. “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” The Temptations
  3. “Virginia Plain” Roxy Music
  4. “Lean on Me” Bill Withers
  5. “C Moon” Paul McCartney and Wings
  6. “Living in the Past” Jethro Tull
  7. “Amie” Pure Prairie League
  8. “Superfly” Curtis Mayfield
  9. “Dirty Work” Steely Dan
  10. “Rocks Off” The Rolling Stones
  11. “Give Me Another Chance” Big Star
  12. “Roll Over Vaughan Williams” Richard Thompson
  13. “Big Brother” Stevie Wonder
  14. “Hang On to Yourself” David Bowie
  15. “Rock and Roll, Pt. 2” Gary Glitter
  16. “All the Young Dudes” Mott the Hoople
  17. “And You and I” Yes
  18. “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” Todd Rundgren

What Happened, 1973

1973 mp3 to download and track list

  1. “Can You Hear The Music” The Rolling Stones
  2. “Needle in the Camel’s Eye” Brian Eno
  3. “Speak to Me/Breathe/On the Run” Pink Floyd
  4. “So Very Hard to Go” Tower of Power
  5. “Everyone’s Agreed That Everything Will Turn Out Fine” Stealer’s Wheel
  6. “Jet Boy” New York Dolls
  7. “Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely” The Main Ingredient
  8. “Gimme Danger” Iggy and the Stooges
  9. “All the Way from Memphis” Mott the Hoople
  10. “Sweet Lady Genevieve” The Kinks
  11. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” Bob Dylan
  12. “International Feel” Todd Rundgren
  13. “Certain Kind of Fool” The Eagles
  14. “Drive-In Saturday” David Bowie
  15. “The Song Remains the Same” Led Zeppelin
  16. “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” Elton John
  17. “My Old School” Steely Dan
  18. “Do The Strand” Roxy Music
  19. “Living for the City” Stevie Wonder

What Happened, 1974

1974 mp3 to download and track list

  1. “Boots/Numb Erone” The Residents
  2. “Radar Love” Golden Earring
  3. “Mandy” Barry Manilow
  4. “Home” Roy Harper
  5. “All I Want Is You” Roxy Music
  6. “Jungle Boogie” Kool and the Gang
  7. “Boy Blue” Electric Light Orchestra
  8. “Just a Chance” Badfinger
  9. “Sweet Home Alabama” Lynyrd Skynyrd
  10. “#9 Dream” John Lennon
  11. “Gun” John Cale
  12. “Free Man In Paris” Joni Mitchell
  13. “Tell Me Something Good” Rufus
  14. “Amateur Hour” Sparks
  15. “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” Steely Dan
  16. “Killer Queen” Queen
  17. “Tangled Up in Blue” Bob Dylan
  18. “Sweet Thing/Candidate” David Bowie
  19. “Back of a Car” Big Star

What Happened,  1972-1974

What Happened 1972-1974 three-year mix to download or stream.

What’s all this then? It’s what happened, musically, during these particular years. No really! Hit that link for more info.

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I’m making a thing.

September 3, 2017 at 2:50 am (Uncategorized)

reel studio

My job is excellent, and some of the most fun, interesting, and exciting work I’ve ever done. But it also involves a lot of time moving data around painstakingly and creating spreadsheets and reports, all of which require focus, and can be a little mind-numbing after a while.

What I’ve found though is that a good music playlist can keep me focused. It can’t be just any slapped together group of songs though; if the music and the order of the tunes don’t engage some section of my brain on a certain level of interest, it doesn’t work. Thus, I’m always on the lookout for an interesting playlist.

About a month ago, I also just for kicks flipped open my copy of Scott Miller’s book, Music: What Happened? Push to shove, it’s my favorite book of music criticism out there. It’s pointed, sharply drawn, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. I’ll come back to the book in another post, but the premise of the book is that it’s a review of the best songs of every year from 1957 through about 2010.

To tie those two things together–playlist seeking and interest in that book–I discovered that someone had taken the time on Spotify to make a playlist of every song in the book. How amazing is that? (I’ll tell you how amazing further down this page). That playlist has gotten me through a ton of busy days of work over the past few weeks, and I’m literally only halfway through it. To cover every song that Miller writes about, it’s going to be a thousand-songs-plus playlist, probably close to 38 hours of music.

But that playlist being on Spotify creates some problems. First, it’s incomplete. In an average year, there are at least two songs that aren’t on Spotify for licensing reasons or other problems. To deal with that issue, whomever made it uses some live tracks (meh) or worse, in at least one case a really terrible cover version. There are also wrong versions of songs here and there.

The net result is that as I listen, I can’t help but be aware of these issues. It isn’t the fault of the amazing human who put that playlist together. That person or persons did some seriously amazing work, and this is all issues with Spotify and that medium. But this person’s hard work inspired me. What if this playlist of songs existed, but filled in the gaps and strove to clear in the proper versions of songs as described in the book? That would be kinda cool, right?

One of my favorite things to read about from people who create things is that in many cases, these creators make something because they wanted it, and it didn’t already exist. That explains some of my favorite documentaries, books, games, and works of art. I can’t make much of anything really. I’m too impatient to be particularly creative. But the one thing I can do fairly well is to make mixes. And I can definitely do that if someone else is providing me with the songs. So, to put it simply, I decided to make my own mixes of every single song in Music: What Happened. I wanted to do that because I wanted to hear it, and it didn’t exist in the form I wanted it.

I’ll explain the process and hop off for a bit, but there are a couple of reasons to explain why this book lends itself so perfectly to mixtape-making. The premise of the book is loosely based on mix CDs, mixes I assume that Miller may have actually made himself. In fact, that mix pretense forms the backbone of the book’s structure. In each given year, Miller restricts himself to only considering enough songs to fill a standard CD, about 80 minutes. That means that every year is about 20 songs or so, depending on track lengths.

The other thing Miller does is that he mentions that he’s clearly listing songs in a particular order because of how they flow together on a mix CD. The first song in a given year that he writes about is meant to be arresting and an attention-getter for the year. The mix then ebbs and flows through the songs that Miller loves the most from that particular year, building to the best tracks and culminating with the song that he feels is the very best of that particular trip ’round the sun.

I’ve been sort of surprised to discover how well his mixes work in practice, but I guess I shouldn’t be. He’d clearly put a lot of thought into the songs chosen, and the order they’d appear. Which is kind of stunning since — as mentioned — over the course of 50+ years/mixes, we’re talking about a thousand tracks. But damn, if there isn’t some inspired stuff here (I mean, “Reuters” by Wire shouldn’t flow so effortlessly into “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac, but damned if it doesn’t.)

As far as process goes, in making my mixes of these songs, I’ve tried as much as humanly possible to match the tracks to the ones described exactly by Miller. That means when we’re in the showtunes-heavy 1950s section, I’m using either Broadway or film cast recordings, depending on the author’s directives. Occasionally, he specifically lists that a song is the radio version, or the 45 rpm single version, and those are the ones used here.

There’s one other issue with particular song versions, though. Miller freely admits to cheating a bit on this in his book. To jam some extra tracks into some years but stay under that 80-minute limit, he freely admits to having used ProTools (a software studio package) to make edits to some songs to make them fit.

Now….Scott Miller was a professional musician and music producer who made at least four records using ProTools. I’m a dork who wouldn’t know where to begin with professional studio editing software. And, honestly even with some of Miller’s descriptive text, it’s impossible to know exactly where/how he made those edits (I mean, the guy cut the 17-minutes of “Dogs” by Pink Floyd down to 5:30 somehow). But, since digital streaming media no longer puts me under the tyranny of 80 minute CDs, I’ve decided to ignore those homebrew edits. Thus, you get the full force of John Cale’s “Gun” and the aforementioned Floyd cut. You’re welcome.

OK. That’s the “What this is,” and “Process” bits of this. Next post: why this mix of songs rules, and why something I made just for me is now something I’m sharing with y’all. And also, links to the mixes themselves, or at least as far as I’ve gotten (I’m up to 1979 as of Friday.)


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Winterlude in a Snowed-in Mood (Christmas music mix, 2016)

December 20, 2016 at 11:14 am (Music Mixes, Uncategorized)


If it’s holiday week, it  must (finally) be time for a Christmas and winter-themed music mix, right? Sorry for being a bit late again, but I can explain! As crappy a year as 2016 has been in a meta sort of way, personally it’s been pretty dadgum solid. Work has been fun and extremely busy of late, which helps scooch things back a bit when getting into that Christmas spirit. (Things were also notably hampered when I knocked an empty coffee cup off my desk and onto a storage drive that had about 2 terabytes of music I’m still trying to recover all of. That was a good time.)

I couldn’t help but note that this year’s mix had a sort of bleak feel to it the first couple of runs I made at it maybe understandably. Still, who has time for that? It’s the holidays. It’s a time for family, friends, and celebration, even if it feels a little bit like we’re all collectively Slim Pickens riding that missile into the ground in Dr. Strangelove. No matter. We’ll whoop and holler a bit all the way down if that’s the hand that’s been dealt.

This year’s mix is almost all new stuff, not as in “New this year,” but rather “New stuff for this mix.” I really wanted to get a Sharon Jones song in for obvious reasons early on. I’ve known since about March that Trapper Schoepp’s tale of being stranded in a blizzard in western Nebraska was going to be on this mix. Love those songs to death.

Two wonderful recent finds were discovering a secret, hidden Leisure Society version of the late Greg Lake’s “I Believe In Father Christmas”. I’ve credited it to The Leisure Society, although Nick Heming says it’s just him and bandmate Helen Whitaker, but it sure sounds like the whole band.

The other cool song I’m really loving is the one from Sloan. They recorded a couple of holiday themed songs this year, and while both are good, “December 25” is just transcendent. Jay Ferguson has always been Sloan’s secret weapon, a guy who maybe only gets a couple of songs per record, but they’re always ace. With “December 25” he’s outdone himself here.

Let’s see, what else? Oh, the best part of the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix was seeing Grant Lee Phillips reprise his role as town troubadour, and we’ve got the song he plays in the “Winter” episode, the gorgeous “Winterglow” here. I’ve also brought in a few old favorites. Seemed like this mix really wanted some Vince Guaraldi, for instance, so it got that. It also wanted Vashti Bunyan and Broadcast too. Finally, Jason Ringenberg’s aching “Merry Christmas My Darling” seemed far too appropriate not to bring back…and we needed the twang.

As ever, this mix is one long mp3, with volume normalized and sequenced and whatnot. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I’ve enjoyed making it, and…I’ll let “Father Christmas” sum up the rest:

“I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish, pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear”

Winterlude in a Snowed-in Mood
(Popnarcotic Christmas Music Mix, 2016)

1. Christmas Letter
2. “Just Another Christmas Song” Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
3. “Ogallala” Trapper Schoepp
4. “Snow Globe” Charlie’s Hand Movements
5. “Willing and Able” Helene Smith
6. “I Believe In Father Christmas” The Leisure Society
7. “Child’s Christmas in Wales” John Cale
8. “Christmas Eve” Night Flowers
9. “Work Christmas Party” Faye & The Scrooges
10.”December 25″ Sloan
11.”Funky Funky Christmas” Electric Jungle
12.”Hey Santa!” Brian Setzer Orchestra
13.”Mistletoe and Holly” Frank Sinatra
14.”Coldest Night of the Year” Vashti Bunyan
15.”Soul Santa” Funk Machine
16.”Christmas and Everyday” Best Coast
17.”Skating” Vince Guaraldi Trio
18.”Winterglow” Grant Lee Phillips
19.”Merry Christmas My Darling” Jason Ringenberg
20.”Sleigh Ride” Squirrel Nut Zippers
21.”Winter Now” Broadcast
22.”You Bring The Snow” The Crookes
23.”Driving Under Stars” Marika Hackman
24.”Fairytale of New York” The Pogues

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Trick or Treat!

October 29, 2015 at 9:34 am (Uncategorized)


Quick: think of three or four authors of really good short horror fiction. I’m going to guess that most folks would come up with Stephen King, with some H. P. Lovecraft, Peter Straub, Edgar Allan Poe, and perhaps even some Shirley Jackson thrown in. Those folks are all fine, and quite good. But none of them write in a way that scares me more or more consistently than a British author who remains mostly unknown to the world. His name was Robert F. Aickman.

In the few bits of biographic information about him that can be found online, it appears that Mr. Aickman was probably kind of a dick. Admiring peers describe him as “prickly” and “crusty”. He could be fussy, condescending, and blunt to the point of social ineptitude. Though he was born in 1914, he seems to have possessed an almost Victorian bearing about himself, though he insisted on living in the heart of Swinging London in the 1960s, where his primness must have seemed completely out of phase.

Born in 1914, like most lads in their twenties Aickman likely “did his bit” during World War II. The first time he was published was in the early 1950s. He had a few stories appear here and there in magazines that weren’t much elevated above pulps. He finished a novel and novella in the 1960s, published a few volumes of short stories in the ’60s and ’70s, and died in 1981 of cancer, with perhaps 50 short stories to his name. His story collections sold decently in his native England, but went out of print rather quickly. He never had any impact in the States.


He wasn’t completely unknown in his time, though. A number of young horror writers knew him and were in awe of him. Fellows like Peter Straub and Neil Gaiman specifically. Perhaps the best tribute to Aickman’s genius at crafting horror fiction was paid him by Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory among other works.

Dahl had been commissioned by an American television network to come up with an omnibus television series in the early 1960s. The network wanted him to be the creative force behind a series that was envisioned to be something like The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits. Each week would be a new, half-hour or hour-long filmed teleplay, based on a horror short story. Dahl agreed to sign on for this, under the stipulation that he, and only he, be allowed to pick the 30-odd short stories that would be featured in the various shows. As Dahl tells it, he spent nearly a year reading nearly 740 scary short stories from the national library in London. In doing so, he came to an alarming conclusion: none, or at least precious few, of the stories were particularly scary at all. He concluded on the spot that there simply were too few scary stories. He bowed out of the project.

A few stories did have an impact on him, and Dahl collected those for his own anthology, the utterly wonderful Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories. Dahl chose 14 stories for this collection, including works by esteemed and well-known authors like Edith Wharton and J. Sheridan Le Fanu. He also chose a story by Robert Aickman, a clever and shivery tale called “Ringing the Changes.”

It’s easy to see why Aickman never caught a break from his publishers in the ’60s and ’70s when you read him now. His style is mannered and stately, though rarely florid and obtuse. He sounds like a gentleman out of time, as if Charles Dickens had suddenly plopped into the era of Nixon and Vietnam protests. With some shortsightedness, publishers likely figured that audiences would prefer something more…lurid. Explicit. Modern.

The success of J. R. R. Tolkein and H. P. Lovecraft show how little publishers understood their audiences. If Aickman can be a bit stuffy at times, he’s nowhere near as stilted as either of those aforementioned writers. And Aickman uses his stylistic gestures to excellent effect. His wonderfully British prose is an effective stage patter to distract while the writing magician works to pull a rabbit from his hat for us.

Most of all, though, Aickman is just a damn good writer of scary stories. He always preferred the term “strange stories” to describe his work, and I suppose that fits the best. His stories are interesting, ingeniously plotted, and all have a clever, if often chilling twist in the plot. You get the feeling as you read his work that the reason he wasn’t prolific is due to him constantly polishing his stories to a high gloss finish before deciding they were done.

In the past few years, Aickman’s undergone a bit of a renaissance. Many of his short story collections have come back in print, as more and more modern horror authors cite him as every bit the foundational genius that Lovecraft, M. R. James, or Poe were for the genre. First edition paperbacks of his collections from the 1970s will fetch upwards of $70 in used marketplaces these days. I personally first heard of him when, during a discussion of great horror fiction, a fellow posting online under the handle DrCrypt suggested that there was Aickman on one tier, and everyone else sitting well below. DrCrypt did more than that, though. He’d gotten his hands on an HTML version of one of Aickman’s best short story collections, a chilling anthology called Cold Hand In Mine. Someone had lovingly transcribed all of the book back in the early days of UseNet and posted it online. It’s long gone, of course.

Except I saved a copy and converted it to PDF. And because it is Halloween, and because I love giving out treats for the season, I’m sharing that with you all right now. Here it is in all its chilling glory, Robert Aickman’s Cold Hand In Mine. Give the story “The Same Dog” a read, if you’re looking for a good entry piece. If you like what you’ve read, consider buying the book and other Aickman collections from Amazon or the online retailer of your choice. Happy Halloween!

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