Friday, October 30, 2020

Demento's Mementos

We're quickly burning through the last few songs before the big day! Since this will be the last year of this blog, I want to make the last posts special. Today's combines several things I love, starting with one of the greatest radio personalities who has been spinning discs since 1970 and is still going strong today. 

Dr. Demento started as a regular radio DJ in L.A., but as he played more and more novelty records (such as a good number of the songs we've featured on this blog over the years), his fame and reputation grew. Soon his show was all novelty songs all the time. 

Dr. Demento not only helped launch the careers of people like Weird Al, but also introduced new listeners to music from the early days of recording, and helped bring novelty hits from the 50s and 60s back into the limelight. One of those songs was 1962's "Monster Mash," so it's quite likely this blog (and much Halloween music in general) wouldn't exist without The Dr. Demento Show! Dr. Demento legitimately knows his stuff, too--he has a Master's degree in folklore and ethnomusicology, and has written many music magazine articles and liner notes for albums. 

A couple of years ago, musician (and Dr. Demento fan) John Cafiero produced an album of punk covers of songs that originally aired on Dr. Demento's radio show. Dr. Demento Covered in Punk features such inspired pairings as William Shatner doing "Garbageman" by The Cramps and the cartoon character Brak doing "Institutionalized" by Suicidal Tendencies. Today's song comes from that album and is a cover of one of my favorite horror-obsessed artists, Roky Erickson. Quintron and Miss Pussycat put their singular touch on Roky's "Creature with the Atom Brain," utilizing one-man-band Quintron's tricked-out organ/synth sounds. Puppets bring the startling story of the Creature to life, with a very special puppet cameo by Dr. Demento halfway through!


Check out the producer of Dr. Demento Covered in Punk, John Cafiero, and his band Osaka Popstar doing the theme song to The Dr. Demento Show. Tar pits! Tar pits!


Lastly, here's a short news piece and interview with Dr. Demento about the album and his whole career. Don't forget to stay deeeeeeeee-mented!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Be kind, rewind

It's tough to know what to do with all those 80s VHS cassettes you so lovingly collected back in the day by just paying one penny to Columbia House and waiting for them to arrive in the mail. Now that so many more options are available with better image and audio than VHS could ever provide, those well-loved, colorfully-cased little bricks are basically garbage, right? Perhaps... unless they are in fact the key to a super power you never dreamed of!

In today's video by the synthwave band Gunship, we enter a claymation universe where people have VCRs in their chests and can become their movie hero of choice just by inserting the proper tape. Need to fend off some bad guys? Simply insert Robocop or The Terminator. In fact, the name of the song, "Tech Noir," is taken from the name of a bar in The Terminator. Thanks to that movie, the phrase tech noir has now taken on a life of its own as typifying the retro-future blend of film noir and sci-fi that gives movies like The Terminator and Blade Runner such style and mood. 

That is certainly true of today's video, which even has a spoken intro by 80s film titan and synthwave godfather, John Carpenter. Carpenter narrated a documentary about synthwave that premiered at festivals last year called Rise of the Synths. Among many musicians, it features today's band, Gunship, as well as one of my favorite groups featured here last year, Carpenter Brut. Both bands combine the looks, sounds, and themes of all the best 80s genre films into a "neon soaked, late night, sonic getaway drive," as Gunship describes their music. So steal a car, pop Gunship in the tape deck, and let the feels flow!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Live at Carnage Hall!

Earlier this year, I finally got around to watching an oddball movie I'd heard about for a while but hadn't seen: Rock & Rule. It's a Canadian animated sci-fi fantasy featuring the musical contributions of such greats as Debbie Harry, Cheap Trick, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed

While the plot is fairly convoluted--something about a post-apocalyptic future where people are human/animal hybrids and an elderly rock 'n roll star is on the hunt for someone with just the right singing voice to release a demon. Huh? Yeah. At any rate, the plot isn't the reason to watch the movie, the music is. (And the animation is pretty good, too.)

This movie is sort of a companion piece to 1981's sci-fi animated musical Heavy Metal. Indeed, the company that made Rock & Rule, Nelvana, was offered the chance to work on Heavy Metal but turned it down to do this film instead. It's based on a 1978 Halloween special Nelvana made called The Devil and Daniel Mouse, which draws heavily on the themes from the short story "The Devil and Daniel Webster." 

Since Rock & Rule's source material is a bit more tame than the magazine Heavy Metal was based on, it's not nearly as graphic in terms of sex and violence, but its soundtrack is no less classic. Debbie Harry provides the singing voice of the angel-throated heroine whose pipes are needed to release the demon, and Lou Reed is the singing voice of the guy who has her under his spell, Mok. Today's song is Mok's villainous ode to himself: "My Name Is Mok." For a guy who looks like a deflated Mick Jagger, this guy sure thinks highly of himself! It's a great song, though, and since today happens to be the seventh anniversary of Lou Reed's passing, let's have a listen in his honor.

Night of 1,000 Damned Vampires

Just about this time last year, The Damned played an epic show at the London Palladium called "Night of 1,000 Vampires." The stage was decked out like a Gothic cathedral, lead singer Dave Vanian wore the most impressive Nosferatu make-up and costume this side of Max Schreck, and the audience was encouraged to dress as vampires as well in order to break the record for largest gathering of vampires in the world. I can't even imagine how glorious all of this must have been to witness in real life, and can only hope that one day they'll try to top themselves with a Night of 2,000 Vampires show here in the U.S.

Although hoping for any concerts right now seems like an exercise in futility, The Damned did recently announce that their original line-up is reuniting in the summer of 2021 for four shows in Great Britain. If they're able to go forward with those plans, they'll have some excellent new material to bring to their audiences. Two years ago they released the already-classic album Evil Spirits, last year brought the definitive anthology Black is the Night, and just this month they released the EP The Rockfield Files

Both of those last two albums contain today's song, "Black is the Night." The video is from the "Night of 1,000 Vampires" show, so at least all of us unfortunates who couldn't attend can get an idea of what we missed! Rise from your coffin, Count Vanian, and dispel the darkness of the tomb with your timeless baritone.
 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Uncle Arthur and the Witches

If you're in need of some high camp Halloween entertainment right about now (and who isn't??), check out the 1976 Paul Lynde Halloween Special. Lynde is probably best remembered for his recurring role of Uncle Arthur on Bewitched, and his long-running residence in the center square on Hollywood Squares where he turned raunchy one-liners into a high art. He also did a series of variety specials in the 70s, which showcased his snarky comedic delivery and featured a slew of guest stars.

His Halloween special is not only a treasure trove of camp-tastic Paul Lynde performances, but also of dream-come-true celebrity guests. Margaret Hamilton plays Lynde's housekeeper, and reprises her role of the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz, complete with green skin, black hat, and cackle! And her sister is Wilhelmina Witchiepoo, the beloved do-badder from H.R. Pufnstuf. Tim Conway and Betty White also guest star, as well as musical guests KISS!! 

KISS first plays "Detroit Rock City" and then comes back later with "King of the Night Time World." In both performances, there is so much pyro that I can't believe they didn't burn the set down. We'll hear the second song since it's a little more suited for Halloween, but check them both out if you can!


Hard to choose just one highlight from this show, so here's another: Florence Henderson singing a disco-fied version of "That Old Black Magic." Her voice is bewitching indeed!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Dark star, done

A personally curated Halloween
playlist by the Breeders!
As noted yesterday, one of the original members of the Pixies exited the group in 2013. Kim Deal left to concentrate on her other band, the Breeders, which of course had massive success in the 90s with their album Last Splash and its hit single "Cannonball." I vividly remember hearing that song almost everywhere I went in 1993, from the mall to the beach to my friends' cars. Guess I know I'm getting old when I find myself wishing pop radio still played stuff like this. Music just isn't what it used to be, by golly! Where are my glasses? Is it time for my mush??

In 2018, the Breeders released All Nerve, their first album in ten years and the first in twenty-five years to feature the classic Last Splash lineup. It's not just nostalgia and retreads, though. The new album is both fun and wistful, and as off-kilter as you'd want and expect The Breeders to be. 

The album's most chilling song, "Walking with a Killer," is a tense tale of traversing a desolate stretch of highway while knowing your companion is plotting your doom. Kim Deal says she was inspired to write it by her own experiences growing up in Dayton, Ohio, and fending off the shouted taunts of jerkwad dudes driving past her as she walked between her house and the store. Certainly glad none of her real life encounters ended the way this song predicts!

Death to the Pixies

Art by Kii Arens and
Ron Walotsky
The Pixies were a life-changing band for me. I remember the exact record store and the exact bin in that store where I pulled out Trompe le Monde, their fourth album but my first of theirs. I remember not taking the disc out of my CD player for months, and feeling devastated when I heard the band had officially broken up not even a year after I fell in love with them. For many people who attended high school in the early-mid 90s, their defining moment in pop music was the suicide of Kurt Cobain, but for me it was definitely the dissolution of the Pixies.

This band combined so many things I loved, like surf music, punk rock, dreamy melodies, and off-kilter lyrics about things like UFOs, sea monkeys, and obscure surrealist films. After a ten year hiatus, the band reunited in 2003 and has toured fairly regularly since then with only one of the original members exiting. They have released three new albums since reuniting, including one just last year! 

Beneath the Eyrie was recorded in a studio in upstate New York that was once a church in the 1800s. The location inspired Pixies frontman and songwriter Black Francis to "intermingle with the spirit world, with life and death and with the mystical and a more surreal landscape." That inclination definitely shows in today's song, "On Graveyard Hill." It's a rocking tune about getting bewitched by a woman who gains supernatural powers from a special witchy flower. As gothically wonderful as that sounds, the video is perhaps even better. It's a neon-drenched mashup of silent horror film imagery, Italian giallo stylishness, and Black Francis's head inside a Madame Leota-esque crystal ball. For a band that once hated making music videos so much that they eventually boycotted them, they have really outdone themselves! Treat yourself below to a feast for the eyes and the ears.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Johnny B. on a Rocket

Duck walkin'!
After marking the passing of Little Richard yesterday, I realized we had never noted the passing of another early rock 'n roll pioneer, Chuck Berry. While Little Richard is certainly one of rock's architects, Chuck Berry is the one person who comes closest to claiming the title of its inventor. He put rhythm and blues guitar, country twang, a swaggering stage presence, and teen-friendly lyrics in a cauldron and pulled out a whole new style of music.

Berry died in 2017 at the age of 90, and in that time not only recorded a slew of songs that became part of the bedrock of American pop music, but also inspired almost every rock band who came after him to follow in his duck-walking footsteps. His genius was such that in just a three-year period, from 1955-1958, he wrote "Maybellene," "Johnny B. Goode," "Roll Over Beethoven," and "Sweet Little Sixteen." Not bad for a guy who was convicted of armed robbery at age 18 and after three years in a reformatory, spent several years working in a car factory before he even started performing music with a group!

Although Chuck Berry has now left our mortal plane, he lives on in the songs he left us and the inspiration that musicians still take from his artistry. And he lives on intergalactically too--his tune "Johnny B. Goode" was the only rock song included on the golden records launched aboard the Voyager spacecrafts in 1977. Somewhere out there, in a galaxy far, far away, an alien might be rocking out to "Johnny" right now for the very first time!

The Chuck Berry song we'll hear today is a Halloween-worthy number called "Trick or Treat" off his 1963 album Chuck Berry on Stage. It's a sweet number about getting all smoochy with your beloved on the best night of the year. Nothing like a full moon on Halloween night to stoke up some romance!


Although Chuck Berry inspired some of the most influential acts of our time, like Elvis, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, he also duck-walked into the sounds of several lesser-known artists. Here's a cover of "Trick or Treat" by one of my favorite (and sadly defunct) horror-obsessed punk bands, the Groovie Ghoulies, off their album of Chuck Berry covers called Berry'd Alive. Trick or treat, what a sweet delight!

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Heeby Jeebies!

Amongst many sad losses this year, we lost one of the original architects of rock 'n roll, Little Richard. I'm pretty sure the word flamboyant was invented to describe him, with his teased-to-heaven pompadour, thick pancake make-up, and sequined duds complementing his bludgeoning piano style and powerful vocals. 

But who could expect anything less from a man who began touring with medicine shows as a teenager? The leader of one of them, Doctor Nubillo, taught Little Richard the importance of capes and turbans, and also prophesied that Little Richard was going to be famous. Probably didn't need to be clairvoyant to guess that, but I wouldn't argue with anyone who carries a big black stick and shows off a desiccated sideshow wonder called "the devil's child." Little Richard also performed in drag around this time, as his alter ego Princess LaVonne. Clearly he was a born mold-breaker, so it's no surprise that just a few years later in 1955 he unleashed his career-defining and genre-shaping hit "Tutti Frutti" on the world.

Little Richard would of course release many more hits after that, and would in turn influence pretty much every rock 'n roll performer who appeared in his wake. A few times over his decades-long career he left the music business to pursue his religious convictions, or would record only gospel songs, but eventually he was always drawn back to the wild, uninhibited style of secular music he had created. 

Numerous appearances in movies and TV shows helped solidify him as an American icon, and a few years ago we heard the theme song he recorded for the 1995 film Casper. While that might be the most Halloween-themed of Little Richard's songs, his 1958 song "Heeby Jeebies" also serves our purposes. A bad luck baby has put a jinx on him, so he's going to ring her door till he breaks her bell. Not to mention that piano! 

Rock in peace, Little Richard. You are missed.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Down Where the Alligators Grow so Mean

After getting thoroughly hoodoo-ed by Redbone yesterday, I'm not quite ready to leave the swamp. A rainy night in NYC has me thinking about swamp rocker Tony Joe White, writer of one of my all-time favorite songs, "Rainy Night in Georgia." Much like Redbone, Tony Joe White's early success was in having his songs recorded by people more established than himself. R&B singer Brook Benton made "Rainy Night in Georgia" a hit in 1970, and Elvis performed White's song "Polk Salad Annie" on a live album the same year. In the late 80s, Tony Joe White achieved a comeback by writing some successful songs for Tina Turner, which resulted in a new record deal for himself.

As much as I love other performers' versions of Tony Joe White songs, though, there's no substitute for the real thing. His voice is whispery, soulful, and growling all at the same time, and his guitar style is a driving, bluesy rhythm that helped create the term "swamp rock." He says he was inspired to start writing songs after hearing the masterwork of another deep south troubadour, Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe." So while Gentry's songs chronicled the people and ways of life around her home state of Mississippi, Tony Joe White does the same for the cotton fields and bayou backwaters where he grew up in Louisiana. 

Today's song is a perfect example of that--"Conjure Woman" is about an old woman casting spells by a fire in the middle of the swamp where she lived. Maybe a backwoods relation of Marie Laveau? It appeared on Tony Joe White's third album, 1970's Tony Joe, and does a fair job of conjuring a bad spell even without the required tongue of a hoot owl or tooth of a crawdad. Just don't get too close or she'll chunk you in a deep, dark well.

Friday, October 16, 2020

La-Voodoo-Veau

Although we heard a bunch of New Orleans-based songs several years ago, as well as one specifically about voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, I regret not including Redbone's excellent ode to that wicked lady, "Witch Queen of New Orleans." Since we just celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day this week, it seems like the perfect time to also celebrate this illustrious Native American group. The two core members, brothers Pat and Lolly Vegas, not only scored several hits of their own in the 1970s, but also wrote songs for and played studio sessions with luminaries like Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, and Elvis. 

Redbone is probably best known for their 70s anthem "Come and Get Your Love," but "Witch Queen of New Orleans" was their first big hit and it shows off their signature funky Cajun R&B fusion. Even the band's name is a Cajun term for someone of mixed race, which describes the Native/Mexican ancestry of Pat and Lolly Vegas, as well as the melding of influences in their music. Check them out below in all their fringed 70s finery!


If you're wondering what "Witch Queen of New Orleans" might sound like when played by Australia's answer to Bananarama, please let The Chantoozies make that dream a reality for you:

Thursday, October 15, 2020

They don't come in peace.

After yesterday's radio transmission to Venus, I just haven't been able to get enough of the Rezillos! I've watched/listened to "Destination Venus" at least a dozen times in the last 24 hours, and I'm still hungry for more. So today's song is another spacey Rezillos tune: "Flying Saucer Attack"!

This was the first song on their 1978 debut, Can't Stand the Rezillos. Like "Destination Venus," it also has an amazingly well-produced and well-preserved video from the band performing the song on Top of the Pops in 1978. Once again, co-lead singer Fay Fife impresses with her spastic dance moves and vinyl fashions, although this time she's rocking otherworldly polka dots instead of serving Wilma Flintstone realness. Her singing partner, Eugene Reynolds, opts for a purple vinyl leisure suit and his signature wraparound dark shades to protect his eyes from those alien laser beams. 

They have some good advice for when the skies fill with armies of enemy tin pie plates--lock yourself inside and never come out until it's oh-oh-oh over!


Since I seriously can't get enough of the infectious pop stylings of these geniuses, here's a song by the group Fay Fife and Eugene Reynolds formed after the original Rezillos disbanded. They simply replaced the Z with a V and kept on crafting pop masterpieces about voodoo, love bugs, and monster men for many more years as the Revillos. Check out the twitching, shimmy-shammy mutation pop that is "Graveyard Groove"!

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

More than Darkness Lies Between Us

Just one under-heard early British new wave/punk band isn't enough for one week when there are great groups like the Rezillos (aka the Revillos) still out there singing about flying saucer attacks and graveyard grooves!

But unlike yesterday's obscure British new wave group, Linda and the Dark, there's no mystery about who the Rezillos are and where they came from. They formed in Edinburgh in 1976, and although they were contemporaries of the Sex Pistols and The Clash, they were much more interested in performing songs about space travel and young love than government corruption and societal decay. Clearly the Rezillos were drinking the same glam rock/B-movie/thrift shop smoothie that The Cramps, The B-52s, and The Fleshtones were enjoying at the same time in America.
 
The Rezillos' 1978 debut album, Can't Stand the Rezillos, hit the top 20 UK album chart with an accompanying top 20 single. But despite the album's success, the group disbanded only a few months after its release. After a lineup shake-up, however, the band lived on as the Revillos for two decades. In 2001, the V became a Z again when most of the original line-up reformed, and they are still touring to this day! Pretty impressive for a group that technically only released one album during its heyday. 

Today's song is a single by the original lineup that came out shortly after the release of Can't Stand the Rezillos. "Destination Venus" chronicles the lengths true love can travel over both time and space. It is also one of the grooviest videos I have ever seen in my life. The futuristic yellow leisure suit! The plastic cavewoman dress! The coordinated back-up moves! This thing is aural and visual serotonin.


And because I cannot ever hear this song enough, here is a cover of "Destination Venus" by the excellent spaced-out surf group Man or Astro-man. The video isn't as exciting as the one by the Rezillos (how could it be?!?), but they do a great job of putting their mark on this addictive song!

Monday, October 12, 2020

Linda, come out of the dark...

Today's song brings with it a true mystery: who are Linda and the Dark? Where did they come from and where did they go? I heard their song "Horror Movies" a few years ago and have wanted to include it here, but sadly could find no trace of it (or anything about the band at all, really) online.

Luckily, a best of Linda and the Dark album was released last year, so their work is finally accessible, even if biographical info about them still isn't. All I know about this song is that it was the debut of Linda and the Dark, it came out in 1980, and was included on the soundtrack of Bernardo Bertolucci's 1981 film Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man. Whatever the story of Linda and the Dark may be, however, you don't need to know much to enjoy this early-80s goth/new wave tune about the joys of horror movies. I mean, we can all relate to lyrics like "Dracula, Frankenstein, they're my number one!" amirite??

Friday, October 9, 2020

The Gigglewitch brings the Gigglebeat!

Although Janie Jones is probably best known now as the subject of a Clash song, as we noted yesterday, she did have a singing career before them and before her stint running a prostitution ring that led to her notorious prison sentence. Her biggest hit of the 1960s is a fun number called "Witches Brew" that bubbles over with something the record sleeve advertises as "Gigglebeat." 

What is Gigglebeat exactly? I'm not sure, but I think it involves Janie Jones' wickedly gleeful witch laugh and boiling cauldron sound effects. This song is much more tame than yesterday's dominatrix-themed "House of the Ju-Ju Queen," but it's no less entertaining. It was written by her sister Valerie and is in keeping with the spooky pop style of several 60s songs that came out in the wake of the success of "The Monster Mash." 

But even though this was Janie Jones' highest charting record of her career, it wasn't her first brush with notoriety. In 1964, just a year before the release of "Witches Brew," she caused a splash by arriving topless to the premiere of London in the Raw, a documentary about London nightlife. Clearly this is a woman who knew who she was from an early age and was eager to show the world! Listen below and let the Gigglewitch enchant you with her Gigglebeat.