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Strictly Country Magazine A Northwoods Country Halloween title

Scary music for a haunting good time!

 

By: The creepy staff at Strictly Country

 

   In a small northwoods town of a small northwoods state the nights are getting longer as the cold north winds begin to blow through.  October has arrived with it’s vibrant colors and frosty air.  Mother Nature graces us with her beautiful palette filled with reds, yellows, browns and oranges.

  On every stoop there is a pumpkin eager for the sharp knife that will bring it alive.  A ghost, a goblin and a skeleton or two—that is what you need to bring this scary season its essence!

   Wouldn’t it be nice to be young again? To traipse around the old neighborhood all dressed up.  A knock on the Miller’s door will bring the best candy bars.  But you remember that the Johnson’s always gave out your favorite candy.  A bit of trick-or-treat is just what you need.

   Nonetheless, you are older now and your childhood costume has since seen better days.  Perhaps a party would do, to bring the spooks right to you… Ah, a Halloween party is just what Dr. Frankenstein has in order!

   You have gathered up the tricks, the treats and the spirits too! You have invited some friends, even some scary ones. A bit of decorating to scare your guests, but not to much as you need just the right touch.   Everything is in order—but is it?

   Oh no!  You forgot the most important part!  You forgot the music!

   Need not fret and no need to run out on your own party, because your scary friends at Strictly Country are here to help.  The creepy staff at Strictly Country have ransacked the local cemetery for a list of the best songs perfect for any Northwoods Country Halloween…

   Let’s begin with the most obvious of Halloween music...original scores from some of the Horror movie genre.  These songs include “The Exorcists,” “Halloween Main Title,” “The Twilight Zone,” and “Theme From Friday The 13th” to name a few.  But, you don’t want your Halloween party to be lame and like everyone else's. So let’s opt for a much better choice…

   Out to the graveyard we go, to dig up the best and most popular Halloween themed songs.  Some are from long ago, that you may have heard before.  Nonetheless, from the freshly opened crypt we unearthed some that you may not have heard...

   Beyond the movie scores, one of the most popular Halloween songs is “The Monster Mash.”  The song was written by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and fellow band mate Lenny Capizzi in 1962.  As the story goes, Pickett was performing with his band The Cordials one night when he did a monologue in the imitation of famous horror movie actor Boris Karloff while performing the Diamonds’ song “Little Darlin’.”  The audience loved it!  Lenny encouraged Bobby to do more Karloff imitations.  The two eventually got together to compose and record “Monster Mash” and on the B-side “Monster Mash Party.”  The two songwriters teamed up with several other musicians including Leon Russell to record the two songs as a group called The Crypt-Kickers.  These two songs were released during the dance craze era. “Monster Mash” was danced to a variation of the Mashed Potato, with the footwork the same but added a Frankenstein-style monster gestures with the arms.

   In 1958, a songwriter named Ross Bagdasarian Sr. wrote and released a song called “Witch Doctor.”  You may not know Ross by that name, but you do know him as David Seville.  The same David Seville who created Alvin and The Chipmunks.  Oddly enough, this was David’s first number-one single.  The song went on to more notoriety when Alvin and the Chipmunks released it on their 1960 album Sing Again With The Chipmunks.  Variations of the song have been recorded by a wide variety of entertainers.

   In our research for this list we were stunned to find that “Dem Bones” is actually a well-known spiritual song that was inspired by the Bible (Ezekiel 37: 1-14).  Credited for the melody is James Weldon Johnson, but some sources also credit his brother J Rosomond Johnson.  The first known recording was made in 1928 by the Famous Myers Jubilee Singers.  The Halloween version of this song is nothing more than a shorten version of the original as it talks about how all the bones are connected.  Makes us wonder if the radical religious types, who are against this haunted holiday, know about this?

   Louis Armstrong gave us many great songs throughout his musical career.  On August 7, 1936, Armstrong teamed up with Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra to record “The Skeleton In The Closet.”  The song was written by Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke who wrote the song for the film Pennies From Heaven, which starred Louis.  Many credit this song as portraying Louis Armstrong at his finest: storytelling, acting, singing, swinging and playing quite beautifully!

   You are not a true Halloween fan unless you rightfully know Washington Irving’s story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  The story was first published in 1820 and is considered one of the earliest examples of American fiction.  Since then many people have adapted this story into movies as well as songs.  In 1949, Disney adapted Irving’s story into a cartoon called The Adventures of Ichabod And Mister Toad.  Disney hired Don Rage and Gene De Paul to compose a song called “The Headless Horseman.”  Disney then hired Bing Crosby to sing the song as well as other songs from the soundtrack.

   Our next song was once recorded by Judy Garland and even Jimmy Buffett, however it was Sheb Wooley who originally recorded the song “The Purple People Eater.”  As the story goes, the premise of the song came from a joke told by a child who happened to be a friend of Wooley’s.  After hearing the joke, Sheb finished composing the song within an hour. 

   There are so many Halloween songs that are taken from notable films.  Perhaps the most notable of these songs is “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead” from the ever classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. What fans of the movie do not know is that a reprise of the song and a scene was cut from the movie.   The song was composed by Harold Arlen who later recorded a duet of it with Barbara Streisand in 1966.  Covers of the song were recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr. and Bing Crosby to name a few.

   In 1972, Don Henley and Bernie Leadon wrote the ever popular song “Witchy Woman.”  The song was recorded and released by the Eagles as the second single of their self-entitled debut album.  The lyrics speak of a seductive enchantress and as the story goes, the inspiration came from a number of women.  However, Henley credits one particular woman—Zelda Fitzgerald—the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  At the time Henley was reading a biography of the woman who was given the unofficial name of the first flapper girl.

   “I Put A Spell On You” may not be considered a country music Halloween song, nonetheless, it has become a favorite around our crypt.  Written and originally recorded by Jay Hawkins in 1956, the song was classified as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.  Covers of this song have been recorded by a wide variety of artists across many genres including Creedence Clearwarter Revival, but it’s Bette Midler’s version in the film Hocus Pocus that captures our attention.

   We were shocked to find out that David Bellamy of the Bellamy Brothers had co-written “Spiders & Snakes” with Jim Stafford.  The song was originally recorded by Stafford in 1973.  Later versions of the song were recorded by Ray Stevens and Pirates of The Mississippi.

   Many of these songs cross over into country, but are deemed rock-n-roll.  “Clap For The Wolfman” is a novelty song that was written by Burton Cummings, Bill Wallace and Kurt Winter; and it was originally recorded by The Guess Who.

   As we move around the cemetery in search for creepy music, we come upon a new crypt marked Rock-n-roll.  Other Halloween type songs from this genre include “Bad Moon Rising,” “People Are Strange” and “Black Magic Woman,” “For Whom The Bell Tolls” to name a few.  We would be happy to go into each of these, but we’re sure that you would rather hear the country side of this spooky holiday.

   As we walk out of the Rock-n-roll crypt, we turn to the left and find one of the biggest and most popular songs to hit our list of Halloween songs with The Charlie Daniels Band and “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.”  Vassar Clements originally wrote the basic melody of the song in a tune called “Lonesome Fiddle Blues.”  Nonetheless, the Charlie Daniels Band moved the tune up an octave and gave it words.  This ever popular song was released in 1979 to high praise and it soon became Charlie’s signature song.

   In 2010, we were introduced to a great entertainer by the name of Mason Douglas when he unearthed his album My Wild Heart.  On this album we found “Big Bad Wolf” a fun song that utilizes fairytales within the lyrics that were written by Mason and Cory Batten.

   Just off to the left we found another grave marked Cabin Fever by Corb Lund.  In this grave we found a great song that pays tribute to cemetery caretakers with “Dig Gravedigger Dig.”

   Bluegrass entertainers are quite known for creating some morbid songs that are performed with upbeat melodies.  When we explored the crypt marked Bluegrass, we found a quite of few songs. In 2008, Angel Band released their album With Roots & Wings.  From this album we were enchanted with the song “Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep” which is an adaptation of the 1932 poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye.  However, it was the first song that captured our attention!  “Hey Papa Legba” is perhaps the most potent of the Halloween songs.  Why?  Papa Legba is a powerful spirit in Haitian Vodou.  It is said that he stands at a spiritual crossroads and gives or denies permission to speak with certain spirits.  It is also said that he can open and close doors amongst the spirit worlds.  In Haiti, he is known as a great elocutioner who facilitates communication, speech and understanding.  Word of warning, you do not want to mess with Papa Legba, he is a powerful entity that requires respect.

   Another Bluegrass song we came across is “Drivin’ Nails In My Coffin.”  The song was written and originally recorded by Jerry Irby in 1945.  The song was made famous by Floyd Tillman one year later.  Other entertainers to record this song include Ernest Tubb, Hank Thompson, Willie Nelson and Rhonda Vincent. Rhonda went on to record Carl Jackson’s “Ghost of A Chance” for her 2005 Ragin’ Live album.
   What would Halloween be without songs about the devil?  Well, when we found the crypt marked The Devil, we were a bit hesitant to enter.  Nonetheless, for the sake of music we went in.  That is where we found The Brothers Comatose and their song about the devil with “It Feels Like The Devil.”   Where as Antsy McClain and The Trailer Park Troubadours include a some what comedic song called “The Devil Gets More Credit Than He Deserves.”  In this crypt we also found Gary Allan’s “The Devil’s Candy.”  We were about to leave this crypt when we came across David Ball’s “When The Devil Wants To Wrestle.”   Hidden deep amongst the recesses of the crypt we also found Rodney Atkins’ song “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before The Devil Even Knows).”

   As we snooped around this old cemetery, we came across a ghoulish man who said that he had been a pallbearer for many funerals.  In talking with us he handed us a song called “Pallbearer” that was recorded by Josh Turner.

   Walking along a row of tombstones we came upon one marked “Rosewood Casket.”  In our research we can not find who originally recorded this song that is dated back to 1924 when it was written by Damien Jurado.  We did find that it was once recorded by Marty Robbins in the 1950’s.  Nonetheless when Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris teamed up for the Trio album, it is their rendition of this classic Bluegrass song we add to this list.

   Halloween would not be creepy or scary if it were not for skeletons.  The Eli Young Band sings about these creepy object in their 2011 song “Skeletons.”

   As we run away from all the skeletons buried in this cemetery we ran right into a bunch of ghosts!  Now some of you rightly don’t believe in ghosts and we find that fascinating.  Why, you might ask?  Well if you are a church going person then you will certainly know the line in the Nicene Creed that states “I believe in the Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit…”  How is it that you can believe in that line, but not believe in ghosts?

   Amongst the ghosts and or spirits that we came across we found Jason Aldean’s “I Believe In Ghosts.”  Now we are not much of an Aldean fan, but we will add this one to this list.

   Another specter we came across was Enter The Haggis as they add “The Ghosts of Calico.”  Jake Owen includes his haunting ballad to the mix with “Ghosts.”  We found a song about a ghost with Kenny and Amanda Smith’s “Huntington River.”

   Now we are unsure when this next song was recorded as the date was erased from the tombstone and our research turned up so many variations. Nonetheless, the song “Tennessee Hillbilly Ghost” emerged from the cemetery somewhere between the 1940’s and 1950’s and was recorded by Red Foley as well as Eddy Arnold. 

   One of the best songs about ghosts is one that is quite unknown.  In 2010, we unearthed “My Sittin’ Window” by Blue Moon Rising from their album Strange New World.  This is a beautiful ballad about a spirit who still resides in the house they once lived in and all the things they get to see.  The kicker of this carol is that you do not know it is a ghost until the very end of the song.

   One of the most popular songs about ghosts comes from Mark Wills.  In 2011, Mark impressed everyone with his album Looking For America.  But the biggest impression came when he released his song “Phantom Of The Opry.”  This song captures the true essence of the atmosphere of the original Opry that was performed at the historic Ryman auditorium.  More so, it was the songwriters—Billy Lawson and Chris Lindsey—who captured the ghost of Hank Williams Sr. within this unforgettable song.

   In 1978, another Halloween hit was discovered in a crypt by songwriter Steve Martin.  “King Tut” was performed by Steve and the Toot Uncommons, who were actual members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.  The song paid homage to the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamen as it presents a caricature of the traveling exhibit that toured seven United States cities from 1976 to 1979, called Treasures of Tutankhamen. Nonetheless, the song gained its most popularity when Martin previewed the song in a live performance during the April 22, 1978, episode of Saturday Night Live.  Martin teamed up with Steep Canyon Rangers to record a new rendition of his song in 2011 on a collaboration album called Rare Bird Alert.

   As we continue to wander throughout this graveyard we are reminded that we all die.  Bluegrass duo, Gibson Brothers, remind us of this in their song “One Step Closer To The Grave.” 

   In 1996, author Linda Ellis wrote a poem called “My Dash.”  In the poem, Linda reflects about life.  In 2011, want-to-be country artist David Wood took the substance of that ever popular poem and wrote a song with the same title.

   We told you about Papa Legba—another voodoo character is Marie Laveau.  However, Ms. Laveau was a real Louisiana Creole practitioner of Voodoo in the 1800’s.  Mostly known in the New Orleans region, Ms. Laveau also practiced rootwork, conjure, Native American and Spiritualism and had a great influence with as many as twelve thousand or more followers.  In 1971, Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show recorded a song called “Marie Laveau.”  Written by Shel Silverstein and Baxter Taylor, this song was actually about a fictitious witch who lived in the Louisiana bayou swamp.  This song tells the story of a scoundrel named Handsome Jack who asks Marie to conjure up $1,000,000 in exchange Jack will then marry Marie.  Country Music entertainer Bobby Bare went on to record the song and make it popular in 1974.  This version is not to be related to the 1954 composition of the same title recorded by Oscar “Papa” Celestin.

   Hopefully, you haven’t been so haunted and scared as you have read through this article.  Getting scared is exactly what this holiday is really about.  As we engage into the long, dark winter nights; we must think about our ancestors who had to endure those nights without electricity to light their ways.

   Hauntings are a staple of this season and it is Susan Cattaneo’s “Haunted Heart” that we bring to this list.  This is a beautiful and gentle jazz like melody that speaks about the feelings behind a break-up.

   We were about to head out of the cemetery when someone tripped over a tombstone that read “This Haunted House.”  We had researched high and low about this song and came up with the fact that there are several songs out there with this title.  We came across one that was simply called “Haunted House” that was written by Robert L. Geddins and recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis.  Later on it was recorded by Bobby Bare, Grandpa Jones and Roy Clark to name a few. 

   Ms. Loretta Lynn also recorded a song called “This Haunted House.” Written by her late husband Oliver Doolittle Lynn, Ms. Lynn recorded this song in 1964.  Oddly enough, Loretta and her husband purchased a 1,450 acre ranch called Hurricane Mills in April 1967. Just after the couple moved in, they found out the place was haunted.

   As we are about to leave this beautiful cemetery with all its ornate tombstones and crypts, we come across a group that is really unfamiliar to the country music genre.  Their music is quite exotic and strange, but nonetheless it is sure to set the scene for your Halloween party.  With over twenty albums to choose from, Midnight Syndicate can help create one of the most horrific parties of all time!  The absolute attraction to this group is their ability to set any scene from circus, to vampires to traditional monsters you can choose which spectacle you wish to bring to your party.  Perhaps you need to start with Midnight Syndicate before you begin with any other Halloween party plans.

   For those of you who just wish to sit home and hand out candy, well we have you covered their as well!  Simply tune in to Strictly Country’s Friday night radio show—Around The Campfire—on October 27th for our Annual Halloween Spook-tacular! 

(This article was printed in the September / October 2017 issue of Strictly Country Magazine.)

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