Pop Culture

Spooky, scary, and silly tunes

Some might suggest that music inspired by All Hallows’ Eve begins with Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers’s whimsical 1962 rock ’n’ roll novelty number “Monster Mash” and ends with “This Is Halloween” from the witty stop-motion animated special The Nightmare Before Christmas. But that would be wrong. In truth, the only celebration other than Christmas to be associated with a sizeable catalog of music is Halloween.

Unlike Christmas tunes that start hitting the shopping mall sound systems and radio airwaves by late November and can be heard all the way through December, Halloween songs generally get played at parties and events around the actual day or the weekend before. Although there may not be many songs that are specifically about the magical, mystical Oct. 31 festivities, more than a few Halloween albums are dedicated to creepy-crawly music with occasionally humorous lyrics in the spirit of the celebration.

Two of the coolest Halloween-y anthologies are Elvira Presents Haunted Hits, courtesy of buxom, double-entendre-tossing TV horror-movie hostess Elvira, and Dr. Demento Presents: Spooky Tunes & Scary Melodies, compiled by that impresario of musical oddities Dr. Demento. Both collections are programmed with familiar and obscure numbers to conjure up witches, demons, and ghouls. For instance, the Elvira release features “Monster Mash,” of course; plus “The Purple People Eater,” Sheb Wooley’s doo-wop style novelty number about a strange creature from beyond; and the bone-chilling, blues-fueled wail “I Put a Spell on You,” written and sung by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins way back in 1956.


Movie and television music is represented by Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters,” a beloved chart-topper from the classic supernatural film comedy of the same name, and the themes to the TV shows The Addams Family and The Twilight Zone, the latter written by master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite soundtrack composer, Bernard Herrmann.

Speaking of Hollywood-related material, there’s “The Blob,” a silly, lively Latin-flavored cha-cha actually written by Burt Bacharach and Mack David for the sci-fi B-movie of the same name and performed by what was probably a one-time studio ensemble dubbed The Five Blobs. And let’s not forget the venerable rock cuts “Welcome to My Nightmare” by shock rocker Alice Cooper, “Dead Man’s Party” by new-wavers Oingo Boingo, and “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” by punkabilly band The Cramps — all “spooktacular.”

The one thing the songs on these collections have in common is they’re tried and true. Ditto for the original compositions on Andrew Gold’s 1996 album Halloween Howls, a whimsical recording created with little trick-or-treaters and their parents in mind. The album has all the charm and good humor one might expect from the pop-rock purveyor of the perennial “Thank You for Being a Friend.” Choice cuts address expected topics, including “Don’t Scream (It’s Only Halloween),” “Witches, Witches, Witches,” and “In Our Haunted House.” But there’s one song from Halloween Howls that has crept out of the album to become a surprising viral hit over the past few years. It’s “Spooky Scary Skeletons,” the jaunty little ditty with the near-generic title that spawned enough remixes, covers, and tributes on YouTube alone to have racked up around 300 million views — and counting.


That “300 million” is not a misprint. Led by the 91 million-plus views (and listens) of a bootleg electronic dance music remix of the song by a renegade D.J. who calls himself the Living Tombstone and may have triggered the boom, the various versions of “Spooky Scary Skeletons” continue to attract an astonishing number of eyes, with the count sure to increase by the end of October. You’ll find a nifty video that syncs Gold’s unembellished take with the vintage 1929 “Silly Symphony” cartoon “The Skeleton Dance,” as well as sing-alongs, heavy-metal interpretations, dubstep remixes, a lounge vocal, tutorials on how to play the piece, an animated spoof with Lego figures, and so on.

I wouldn’t want to overlook a clip of funky rock ’n’ rollers Red Hot Chili Peppers opening an unadvertised Halloween gig in Calabasas, Calif., last year with a rollicking version of the song. As for my personal favorites, they’d be the one that features a live-action woman wandering through a Manhattan overrun with dancing CGI skeletons that she eventually starts bashing apart; and the hilarious short promo for a Nebraska television station that shows a guy in a black leotard and pumpkin head mask dancing like a lunatic to the EDM remix.

How popular has “Spooky Scary Skeletons” become? Popular enough that Concord Records is releasing the officially sanctioned, extended “Undead Tombstone Remix” on Oct. 18 via Amazon and other outlets. And as of this past month, you can get a stuffed toy beagle that’s decorated in Day of the Dead skeleton mode and will play the song and hop around when switched on.

Now that’s scary.

Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist. Follow Michael on Twitter:

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