One of the great attractions of the 45 rpm record is its populist ideal. Independent labels, bands, even individuals – they all could afford to record and press a 45, no matter the eccentricity of the musical vision. America, after all, had a great precedent for fluke hits, and, even if yours wasn’t the next “Monster Mash,” it could be, at the very least, a vanity to amuse you and your friends – or something to sell at your high school auditorium gigs.

Thanks to low overhead costs and its potential for infinite self-expression, the 45 rpm record was, before the ’70s at least, the principal format for the more uncommercial, unusual, and exotic impulses of the American pop consciousness. Consequently, there are millions of Halloween records. Steering clear of the wacky monster voices, these selections, while not marketed specifically as Halloween fodder, make for a spooky threesome.

1. The Last Word, Sleepy Hollow (Downey)
The Last Word’s update of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is so authoritative, so gloomy, that its three minutes of tremolo guitar and creepy Munsters-style organ makes it easy to forget that the tale was originally set in the 18th Century woodlands of New York’s Westchester County.

The Last Word may have sounded like the real thing, but they weren’t actually a band proper. Rather, they were a group of Las Vegas studio musicians. Their musical competency only adds to the wickedly potent “Sleepy Hollow,” which they pulled from some forsaken corner of their collective psyche in 1966. The Last Word were like so many American ‘60s garage bands in that they did an impeccable job at both emulating the British Invasion sound (gritty R&B groups the Animals and Them, in this case) and simultaneously taking matters into deeper, more demented territory. (See also Overhauling the British Invasion.)

2. Little John and The Monks, Black Winds (Jerden)
Little John and co., to their credit, did not chose an easy lyrical route. Not your typical teenage girl trouble garage band fare, this is what I can only describe as an Appalachian-style murder ballad. A weird, gloomy variant of girl trouble, I suppose, but, still.

Hailing from Blue River, Oregon, Little John and The Monks recorded this droning, wonderfully dark dirge in 1965 for Jerden records, one of the Pacific Northwest’s great rock ‘n’ roll labels of the ‘60s. This was their only record.

Albert DeSalvo, Strangler In The Night (Astor)
I don’t know a woman
And yet I crave on.
My mind tells my body,
“Don’t just stand there – GET ONE!”

Yes. YES. The Bugs – the brainiacs behind “Strangler In The Night” – were Boston’s novelty response to the British Invasion, and it was their fractured imaginations which dropped the first person testimonial (or “thoughts, feelings and emotions,” according its sleeve) of putative Boston Strangler Albert DeSalvo into an otherwise unassuming teen-pop-style ballad.

The DeSalvo stand-in comes across like some square-jawed comic book hero unable to prevail against his darker impulses. An unsubstantiated story has it that Dick Levitan, tough-guy reporter for WEEI (Boston’s CBS affiliate), provided the voiceover narration on this 1964 oddball.

** Note: be sure to check out Steven Wintle’s fabulous Horror Blog, where he recently featured my guest post on Creed Taylor. Steven’s site is an effusive, literate, and wonderfully self-effacing take on the popular idea of “Horror.” Not only does he post with a sort of unnerving frequency, but he also features a lot of music. See you on the dark side. – Dan **

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10 Responses to Halloween

  1. Steven says:

    So literate I had to look up the meanings of effusive and self-effacing.

    Thanks again, Danny!

  2. Anonymous says:

    my god these are good!! – The Last Word sounds like early van the man – just a wee bit creepier 🙂

    but “strangler in the night” has to take the cake…

    that song (in all of it’s contexts and universes onto itself)
    re-affrims my love of the good ol’ usa happy halloween

    senor slow poke

  3. Blanca says:

    Strangler in the Night is sublime and romantic in a disturbing, creepy way.

  4. Yeah, really, Senor – the vocals on “Sleepy Hollow” are a shameless imitation of Van Morrison’s (in his Them days, at least). Even more snarly, though, somehow.

  5. Anonymous says:

    hmmm… i kinda think “the crusher” might be my fav of the halloween/wrestling, garage sound. pull up 3 more wrestling songs that remind me of halloween and you’ve got next years late october entry. now just 51 more ideas to conjure up in the mean time. good job Little Danny. “black winds” is amazing.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Danke, danke, LD. Yours is the sweetest, coolest, iciest edge of the blogosphere. But methinks thou edgest over into me copywright zone this time. Yours, Washington Irving.

  7. Hello Washington, dammit, you’ve got me there. All I can do is sort of lamely wave the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act at you and beg for your mercy.

  8. a73elkyss says:

    I can attest that your “unsubstantiated story” regarding the voice over for “Strangler In The Night” was indeed Dick Levitan. How do I know? I am his oldest son and have heard that recording many times. I’ve seen the record and we used to joke about it during family get togethers. We kidded my father that he was a true “rap” pioneer. How/where did you get a copy of it?
    My father had spent many hours/days/months on the Boston Strangler case and after Albert DeSalvo was captured, my father spent many more hours interviewing him one on one. I’m not sure where the lyrics came from, but they are kinda creepy. This was not my father’s personality/alter ego at all.
    I can also say with 100% certainty that the “Albert H DeSalvo” signature on the record sleeve is my dad’s handwriting. I had to forge that many times during high school report card days. The “D” in DeSalvo is a dead giveaway.
    Thanks for converting it over to a MP3 file. Please don’t delete it. I think it should be put on wikipedia’s “Boston Strangler”.

  9. Fantastic, fantastic story, Jay – thanks for writing and confirming that this was your father.

    I got this 45 pretty reasonably (in the $10-15 range) on ebay a few years ago; it seems to have been a pretty popular single around the Boston area back in the day…

    Best to you and your family.

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