A new collection of horror songs that The Cramps (allegedly) taught us.
I’m not sure if I internally committed to not reviewing one of these pseudo Lux and Ivy compilations or actually wrote it down, but here I am with the latest instalment, resolution-breaking as it’s Halloween themed. Why more bands don’t write horror-related songs nowadays is beyond me – still now, there’s a pitifully short list of tracks which will be wheeled out seasonally to back a TV channel’s October 31st line-up – usually Bobby Pickett, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins or, more recently, The Automatic. I don’t mean to reduce music to a financial commodity but in terms of marketing, the acts of the Fifties and Sixties represented here are miles ahead of the game, at the very least ensuring their legacy is still being listened to generations later.
Collectors of Halloween and monster music will be largely disappointed at some of the choices across the two discs – the aforementioned Screamin’ makes an appearance, which is fine but I Put a Spell on You? Lazy. Bo Diddley’s Bo Meets the Monster is one of the great Halloween songs but again, unlikely to be of interest to anyone beyond the very casual listener – the very nature of this line of releases is to appeal to the collector of deep cuts, and anything approaching filler jumps out glaringly.
Disc one launches with Round Robin’s I’m the Wolfman, a rather vanilla R&B number which leans a little towards Chubby Checker, accentuated by some impressive growling noises. Lee Ross’ The Mummy’s Bracelet is annoyingly slight and twee, with only a line “where his fingers touched the flesh it began to crack” catching the ear. You won’t be surprised to learn that the following track by Don Sargent and the Buddies, Voodoo Kiss, is similarly flaccid, neither evocative, catchy nor deserving of recognition in a field festooned with great tracks oddly overlooked in its favour. It’s not until the strangely abstract The Rockin’ Ghost by Archie Bleyer that you feel that the project has succeeded in any way. The Rockin’ Ghost was co-written by polymath Steve Allen, who you can picture in your mind’s eye as the genial TV host allowing a youthful Frank Zappa to ‘play’ a bicycle.
Bill Buchanan’s Beware is a truly great Halloween songs, one which deserves to be wheeled out far more often, though once more the likes of the dismal Frankenstein Rock by Eddie Thomas takes the whole collection right back to its ‘will this do?’ status. The flitting of musical styles is as jarring as the wayward quality, the unifying bond of horror doing little to paper over leaps from bop to pseudo-twists, doo-wop and crooners, some of whom are firmly on the ‘so bad it’s bad’ side of the line. It’s a strange achievement as there are plenty of Halloween-themed collections out there that serve perfectly as background to parties and the like but here, it feels very much like a job half done. As with each of the compilations in this series so far, Ken Nordine makes an appearance, bafflingly on an instrumental track that somehow missed a permanently open goal.
Kip Tyler opens disc two with She’s My Witch, a real grower of a track, with some frankly dirty saxophone worthy of the Las Vegas Grind compilations adding to the general oozy feel. No-hit wonder, Archie Kings resets the clock to humdrum, He’s a Vampire having nothing musically or lyrically other than mention of a vampire to keep you entertained. Truly, there were so many horror pop songs released over a twenty year period, it seems inconceivable that these have been chosen for quality – presumably the rights allowed for these to be used on the cheap, which takes us right back to the previous release… it all just smacks of exploitation of the listener and the artist.
Salvation comes in the form of Jerry and Mel’s Cannibal Stew, a track both pleasing to listen to and in highlighting two songwriters who spent their entire career, save for this one single (actually the B-side), in the shadow of others. Jerry Marcellino and Mel Larson’s careers has seen them write scores of Motown hits, as well as such fun diversions as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Mongo Santamaria and The Rivingtons and it’s nice to hear them under their own names. One of the best tracks across both discs is from Leroy Bowman and the Arrows with Graveyard, a fine balance between spooky and melodic. Another excellent alternative to Bobby Pickett is The Mummy, a much-featured track on such compilations, by Bob McFadden and Dor. Bob’s whiny, nasal voice will be familiar to many, having voiced many cartoon characters over the years, of particular note the ferociously annoying Snarf from Thundercats.
With both Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Bo Diddley on this disc (Bo Meets the Monster is imperious) it sets the standard high and there are odd tracks which are good support band fodder, stuff you’d wait until the end of their set to go to the bar for – The Interiors’ doo-wop slap-to-the-face Voodoo Doll is particularly worthy of replays and The Five Blobs’ theme to The Blob movie is a nice way to round off the disc. Some odd choices; some plain bad choices; some lazy; some very good. It’s a compilation, maybe that’s what you are geared to expect – not around these parts though.