Fur­ther be­yond the “Mon­ster Mash”

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A few years ago in this col­umn, right around this time of year, I pub­lished a list of songs I called “Be­yond the ‘Mon­ster Mash,’ ” a list of rock ’n’ roll hor­ror tunes for peo­ple who, af­ter 50-some years, are sick to death (in­sert evil laugh) of the “Mon­ster Mash.”

But this year I’m not go­ing to make an­other list. In­stead, I’m go­ing way back to the days be­fore rock ’n’ roll, the 1920s and ’30s, to the era of hot jazz and the smooth crooner. I’m not claim­ing that there were any Roar­ing ’20s Roky Erick­sons or De­pres­sion-era Rob Zom­bies. But ev­ery once in a while some singer got the bright idea of record­ing a nov­elty song about devils, ghosts, danc­ing skele­tons, and other top­ics that were spooky and/or mor­bid. Many of th­ese can be found in a com­pi­la­tion re­leased sev­eral Hal­loweens ago on Legacy Record­ings: Hal­loween Clas­sics: Songs That Scared the Bloomers Off Your Great-Grandma.

There are a cou­ple of fa­mous names on this 2007 col­lec­tion that ev­ery­one should rec­og­nize: Cab Cal­loway (per­form­ing one of his many “Min­nie the Moocher” se­quels, “The Ghost of Smokey Joe”) and Rudy Val­lée (who, in his best fake cock­ney ac­cent, sings “With Her Head Tucked Un­der­neath Her Arm,” a song about Anne Bo­leyn).

While I can’t say I’m fa­mil­iar with 1920s singer Fred Hall, I im­me­di­ately rec­og­nized his con­tri­bu­tion to this col­lec­tion. “’Taint No Sin (to Take Off Your Skin)” was part of Tom Waits’ 1993 al­bum The Black Rider. On Waits’ night­mar­ish ver­sion, author Wil­liam S. Bur­roughs pro­vided rather atonal vo­cals, en­cour­ag­ing lis­ten­ers to “take off your skin and dance around in your bones.” Ex­cept for the lyrics, Hall’s ver­sion sounds like an ar­che­typal up­beat speakeasy jazz num­ber. I see vi­sions of skele­tons danc­ing the Charleston.

So most of the per­form­ers here are lesser-knowns, and the songs they sing, for the most part, are even more ob­scure. The al­bum starts off with a chip­per lit­tle tune called “Hush Hush Hush (Here Comes the Boo­gie Man)” per­formed by Bri­tish band­leader and BBC reg­u­lar Henry Hall — who is more fa­mous for “Teddy Bears’ Pic­nic,” which he recorded in 1932, the same year as “Boo­gie Man.” “Hush Hush Hush” be­gins, “Chil­dren, have you ever met the Boo­gie Man be­fore/No, I’m sure you haven’t, for you’re much too good, I’m sure.” Then vo­cal­ist Val Ros­ing gives the kid­dies prac­ti­cal ad­vice on how to ward off the evil one.

Hal­loween Clas­sics has an­other song about the same guy, “The Boo­gie Man” by Todd Rollins & His Orches­tra. Here the ti­tle char­ac­ter is some­thing of a sex­ual preda­tor, threat­en­ing “bad lit­tle girls like you.” Rollins croons, “I’ll tor­ture you and hunt you/I’ve got you where I want you/A vic­tim of my dark and dirty plot/And at the slight­est whim/I’ll tear you limb from limb.” What kind of mes­sage does that send to the chil­dren?

There are a cou­ple of tracks by coun­try artists of the day, and, blow me down, both singers in­volved sound more like Pop­eye than Jim­mie Rodgers. One is “Min­nie the Moocher at the Morgue” (yes, an­other Min­nie song) by Smi­ley Bur­nett, who in the ’60s played train engi­neer Charley Pratt in Pet­ti­coat

Junc­tion. The other is “Ghost in the Grave­yard” by The Prairie Ram­blers, who later be­came more fa­mous when they started back­ing up Patsy Mon­tana.

A cou­ple of my fa­vorites on Bloomers deal with a creepy old man named Mose. Rube Bloom and His Bayou Boys recorded “Mys­te­ri­ous Mose” in 1930. Later that year, a dif­fer­ent record­ing of the song be­came the ba­sis of a Betty Boop cartoon. New Or­leans trum­pet man Wingy Manone does an­other about “Old Man Mose,” whose main of­fense is that he died and was dis­cov­ered by a neigh­bor not fond of dead peo­ple. This tune has been cov­ered by Louis Arm­strong as well as Betty Hut­ton. And there is also an ob­scene ver­sion (I’m not kid­ding) recorded in 1938 by Eddy Duchin’s band with singer Pa­tri­cia Nor­man. Google it. You’ll be amazed.

Just like the best me­tal, psy­chobilly, and garage songs of mod­ern times that deal with Satan, ghosts, and mon­sters, the best songs that scared the bloomers off our great-gran­nies were hu­mor­ous ways of con­fronting our fear of death and other un­knowns. They al­low you to ac­knowl­edge your im­pend­ing death and the boogey­men who haunt your night­mares. You can’t beat ’em, so join ’em. Dance around in your bones.

Here are some Hal­loween treats and tricks on the web: ▼ Santa Fe’s fa­vorite busker sings about New Mex­ico’s fa­vorite ghost: On a re­cent Satur­day at the Santa Fe Farm­ers Mar­ket, J. Michael Combs agreed to sing a song about La Llorona while my faith­ful cam­era crew (ac­tu­ally just me and my iPhone) recorded a video of it. You can find that here: http://tinyurl.com/Comb­sSings. ▼ Surf­ing spooks: Surf mu­sic and hor­ror themes have gone to­gether at least since the days of the 1966 teen beach flick The Ghost in the

In­vis­i­ble Bikini. Port­land vis­ual artist J.R. Wil­liams, who has been re­spon­si­ble for a ton of free retro rock ’n’ soul un­der­ground com­pi­la­tions, has a new vol­ume of his Hal­loween In­stru­men­tals se­ries on his blog, fea­tur­ing bitchen rock in­stru­men­tals in­ter­spersed with ra­dio ads for cheesy hor­ror flicks. Mostly there are ob­scure bands, but you’ll also find tracks by The Ven­tures, Duane Eddy, and R&B great Bill Doggett. That’s at www.jr­sprintsof­dark­ness.blogspot.com/2015/10/ more-hal­loween-in­stros.html. ▼ The 2015 Big En­chi­lada: My lat­est pod­cast is my an­nual Spook­tac­u­lar, which in­cludes a cou­ple of tracks from Songs That Scared the Bloomers Off Your Great-Grandma. You can find that here: www.tinyurl.com/2015Ter­rel­lSpook­show. And all eight (!) of my Hal­loween pod­casts are at www.tinyurl.com/SpookyEn­chi­ladas.

The best songs that scared the bloomers off our great-gran­nies were hu­mor­ous ways of con­fronting our fear of death and other un­knowns.

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