In our new series looking at Rock and Pop’s dark corners, the mighty Motown take a left turn into macabre territory. RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES wholeheartedly approves.
R. DEAN TAYLOR – There’s A Ghost In My House
US – VIP 25042 (30th March 1967)
UK – Tamla Motown TMG896 (3rd May 1974)

It’s Tamla Motown, but not as we know it. It sounds more like The Seeds (accompanied by Lurch from The Addams Family on organ) broke into Hitsville USA and held the Funk Brothers at knife point while they recorded this piece of what can only be described as Garage-Psych-Gothic-Motown (now there’s a hybrid), under the direction of Roger Corman, before making a quick getaway. The truth isn’t quite that exciting, but is still quite a tale.
R. Dean Taylor joined Motown as a writer and performer (emphasis on writer) following a modicum of success in his native Canada. Working with the mighty Holland-Dozier-Holland team, he scored a regional hit in some cities with “Let’s Go Somewhere” in late 1965. However, its funereal follow-up didn’t appear until April 1967, despite being recorded the previous year.
“There’s A Ghost In My House” opens with a fuzz-drenched guitar hook which sets the suitably chilling scene for a 2:20 psychodrama, as Taylor laments his empty home, populated only by the ghostly memory of his departed love.
I just keep hearing your footsteps on the stairs, when I know there’s no-one there…
Did she leave for another? Or, in the style of an Edgar Allen Poe tale, did R. Dean end the affair by taking an axe to her before hiding her remains in the basement? My slightly morbid and horror inclined sensibilities like to think the latter in this case, and the dark tone of the record suggests likewise. Mr. Taylor may disagree though…
Whatever the thinking behind the song, the end result pulled Motown into unfamiliar, darker territory. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t a success at the time, and didn’t secure a UK release. Taylor went on to write hits for The Four Tops and Diana Ross & The Supremes before finally hitting his own winning streak with “Gotta See Jane” and “Indiana Wants Me”. However, “Ghost” would enjoy a surprising afterlife…
Fast forward to the early 1970’s, and the UK Northern Soul club scene. US copies of the track found their way into the hands of DJ’s and became a floor filler. Motown’s UK division (then based at EMI) decided to finally issue the single in the UK in 1974, and suddenly it was sitting at number 3, no doubt boosted with support from Motown fanatic Tony Blackburn at Radio 1.
A slightly bemused Taylor (who had since moved labels to Polydor) duly headed to the UK for a promotional tour, only to be met with puzzled stares by soul fans who weren’t expecting a Caucasian Canadian…
Cover versions would follow, most infamously from The Fall, whose take would be voted worst cover ever in a poll of Northern Soul DJ’s (once described by Fall main man Mark E. Smith as “some sort of ****ing masonic society”). I think of it as a work of demented genius myself, but…
The original, however, is quite possibly my favourite Motown record EVER, despite stiff competition. As with most 60’s singles, the mono version trumps the comparatively sedate stereo. Never again would Motown sound so sinister…

 

Richard Phillips-Jones
Leave a replyComments (2)
  1. jeff 8 July 2018 at 6:29 pm

    It’s a song full of metaphors about lost love, not real ghosts. Have you actually listened to the lyrics? Holland, Dozier & Holland too subtle for ya? 😀
    If you want a really macabre ghost song, try The Ghost of the Girl in the Well by Willard Grant Conspiracy.
    Or maybe Jezebel Spirit by Brian Eno and David Byrne, and Feel the Thunder from Blue Oyster Cult?

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  2. Alan Toner 21 July 2018 at 10:56 am

    Wow, I absolutely LOVE this song! One of my endearing memories of the spring of 1974. Love the way the song is full of metaphors. Along with Monster Mash and Camouflague (remember that ghostly marine from 1986?), one of my all time favourite “spooky” records.

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