Looking for some new spooky sounds to enjoy this Halloween? The Spooky Isles team have a few suggestions in our 2019 Halloween Playlist.
You’ve done the monster mash ‘til your sides ache, you’ve done the time warp again (and again, and again). Yes, Halloween is a bit like Christmas in at least one respect: It has a perennial list of the usual records which are dutifully pulled from the collection and placed in heavy rotation, year after year.
This year, we’d like to present something a bit different. Some of the Spooky Isles team (myself included) have selected their alternative sounds to accompany your October 31st celebrations.
Our choices all come from British artists, and tap into a range of influences from our folklore, literature and cinematic traditions. Not so much a collection of dancefloor fillers, this is a selection for after the last Trick-Or-Treaters have headed home to enjoy their booty, and the last visitors have left the building.
So, sitting by the dying glow of a flickering pumpkin with a hot toddy, enjoy our selection of creepy audio delights, along with our accompanying sleeve notes.
Under Your Thumb
Godley & Creme
(single, Polydor 1981)
Picked by Richard Phillips-Jones
The kind of record that makes you wonder how much people really listened to the lyrics on the radio before they went out and bought the record. I say this, because there’s been many a time when I have told people that Under Your Thumb is actually a ghost story, and they reply with “I never knew that!”
The protagonist in the song boards a train, senses someone get on behind him… but there’s nobody there. As he travels, he can pick up a mysterious smell of cologne, but still nobody there.
Suddenly, he sees her in front of him, leaning out of the train window, screaming “don’t want to be under your thumb forever”. We assume that she then disappears, for our storyteller picks up an old newspaper with the headline “Woman throws herself from speeding train, identity unknown”.
Accompanying the article? A photograph of the woman he has just seen.
Underpinned by a minimalist track of synthesisers conjuring up the rhythm of a train in motion, the record blended perfectly in the musical landscape of the period, but with a decidedly macabre edge.
Under Your Thumb peaked at number three, nestling just behind The Tweets with The Birdie Song. 1981 was a strange year.
The Musical Box
(from Nursery Cryme, Charisma 1971)
Picked by Jay Hollis
The opening track from Genesis’ third studio album expands on a short story written by singer Peter Gabriel and reproduced in the album’s sleeve notes. It tells of nine-year-old Cynthia, who strikes her playmate Henry’s head off with a croquet mallet.
Later, in the nursery, she discovers Henry’s musical box which plays ‘Old King Cole’ and opens it…
That’s where the song begins. The ghost of Henry appears and begins to age rapidly before her terrified eyes as a lifetime’s sexual desire surges through him.
Gabriel sings “Play me Old King Cole, that I may join with you” over a sequence of delicate arpeggios played on three 12-string guitars by Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett and Tony Banks. Henry tells Cynthia that there is no Heaven (“the nurse will tell you lies”) and that he is lost in a half-world.
“Play me my song. Here it comes again. Play me my song! Here it comes again!”…
All Hell is let loose with Hackett’s electric guitar and Banks’ keyboards, both overdriven, vying for dominance held together by Phil Collins’ powerful drums, at one point played with mallets! The song ends with Gabriel as Henry, now an aged man soulfully imploring “Why don’t you touch me? Touch me now!”
The story from the sleeve notes tells us that the children’s governess rushes into the nursery, picks up the musical box and hurls it at the apparition, destroying both in the process. Fans of the band will know this song well, but it should also be on the radar of those looking for a paranormally skewed musical fix.
Johnny Remember Me
(single, Top Rank 1961)
Picked by Michael Collins
Usual number 1 hit style record. Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, girl dies horribly, boy is visited by her ghost who eerily tells him never to forget her.
It took the death ditties that hammed up the charts, used guitars to simulate the windy moors, and told a ghost story in 2 minutes with the help of Joe Meek’s production and Lissa Gray’s haunting chorus. Spike Milligan predicted it’d flop. Rarely for him, he was wrong. The BBC responded by… banning the song from its airwaves for references to death in the lyrics!
Nearly 60 years on, however, Leyton’s tune stands out from the pack, and shows musical flair that Kate Bush, Big Country and others would borrow from then on.
The Sensational Alex Harvey band
(from Framed, Vertigo 1972)
Picked by MJ Steel Collins
The late Alex Harvey had an encyclopaedic knowledge of Scottish folklore. And it’s evident in this epic track recounting the story of Isobel Goudie, who was tried as a witch in Scotland in 1662.
The story is that Goudie was a bored and beautiful young wife who sought to liven up life by getting involved with Auld Nick himself at the Auldearn Kirk Yard. Her confession was said to be willing and highly salacious.
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band gives the story a deserving sharp turn in, recounting the entire tale, the music twisting and changing to match the story. Harvey’s characteristically intense vocals only add to the impact of a song that tore the house down whenever it was performed live.
Read more from Mandy on the story of Isobel Goudie here.
(single, EMI 1986)
Picked by Richard Phillips-Jones
Bush taps into the spirit of Nigel Kneale, and the British tradition of science-gone-awry horrors, unfurling a chilling tale of a secret experiment to create a sound that can kill. Naturally, by the end of the song we get the impression it’s all gone horribly wrong.
Unusually for Bush by this stage, the song was not envisaged as part of a larger work, but was conceived as a standalone single. Therein lies at least some of its brilliance, as its economic storytelling leaves the listener to fill in the gaps from the assembled ingredients: Doom, paranoia, government conspiracy of silence, and a warning to the public to stay away from the test site… all in 4 minutes and 22 seconds.
Experiment IV is perhaps one of Bush’s less celebrated works. Stalling at number 23, its commercial prospects can’t have been helped when Peter Gabriel’s record company released his duet with Bush (Don’t Give Up) at the same time.
Regardless of that, the track is a perfect, compact tale of terror told in song. The more you listen, the more you pick up on the layers of sound buried in the track, the more unsettling it becomes.
You can read more about Kate Bush and Hammer Horror.
That gives us the ideal note to end on before we bid you good night. Pleasant dreams.