'Tis the weekend to blast Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein," Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" or Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash" while you're eating candy, haunting a house or just plain partying.
But Halloween and its music isn't quite as fresh as it used to be, according to some observers.
"There has been sort of a cultural sea change," said Thane Tierney,
director of catalog development for Rhino Records, a reissue label that
has released several Halloween compilations. "There's not nearly as much
door-to-door trick-or-treating as there used to be. It's gotten where
kids tend to go to the mall ... and adults are going to parties. That's
probably had a ripple effect on how the music is treated."
"It's all older tunes like ... I don't know, [Sheb Wooley's]
'Purple People Eater' (RealAudio
excerpt), that are on a bazillion compilations already," Dennis
Brewer, manager of a Tower Records in Seattle, said. "It's already been
done before. And only a few people are interested in sound effects,
because not everyone does a haunted house."
While Halloween continues to be popular, it doesn't inspire a continual
flood of new songs the way Christmas does. Tierney pointed out that almost
all Halloween music is decades old; the youngest he could name was
"Werewolves of London" (RealAudio
excerpt), which Zevon recorded in 1978.
But Tierney also said he feels that a new crop of theatrical rockers
which includes Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson and Powerman 5000
might be able to bring spooky, macabre music back from the grave.
After all, even the nonschlocky R.E.M. covered Roky Erickson's "I Walked
With a Zombie" for a 1990 tribute album to the '60s psychedelic rocker.
Rhino offers compilations of old Halloween songs narrated by TV host
Elvira and radio personality Dr. Demento. On Thursday, the theme to the
macabre show "The Addams Family" played over the company's phone system
to callers on hold.
Jerry Only, lead singer for theatrical rock band the Misfits, said Thursday
that Halloween is his band's life. It is a life that has only gotten
better and more vibrant, not worse, he said. The Misfits perform a show
with fellow over-the-top acts Gwar and Speedealer at the Riviera Theater
in Chicago on Sunday.
"We've been doing the same thing for 23 years," Only, calling from
Milwaukee, said. "It took the planet that long ... to say, 'We accept it.
Why were we being so skeptical about it?' "
The Misfits base their act partially on the monster movies of the 1930s
and '40s. They've recorded a song called "Halloween" (RealAudio
excerpt), and their new LP, Famous Monsters, sports such
titles as "Pumpkin Head."
For now, though, folks have the old songs and the live sound of new ones
to fall back on, which Orfa Vanderhorst, an employee at the New York club
Webster Hall, thinks might not be such a bad thing. The club is holding
a party Saturday night that will feature stilt-walkers, tarot-card readers
and magicians, as well as a costume competition.
"It all depends on where you are and who you're with," she said.
The Cramps, the veteran theatrical punk band, will play their annual
Halloween show Sunday at the Fillmore in San Francisco. That event has
scared up a loyal following over the years, according to Michael Bailey,
who books their Halloween shows for the promoter Bill Graham Presents.
"Many people have costume parties. The extra thing you have to think
about ... is how much is this going to compete with what people are doing
on their own," Bailey said. "If it's not the right Halloween show, it
doesn't work well. We have the right show. It tends to bring a lot of
The Cramps are known for their straight-ahead, two-guitar assaults and
for campy vampire stage clothing. They've played Halloween shows in San
Francisco since the mid-'80s.
"Halloween's almost like any other night, except that bigger tours have
more competition from private parties and smaller clubs," said Gary
Bongiovanni, editor of concert-industry trade magazine Pollstar.
"It's true that most people do go out that night, and there are bands
[like the Cramps] who will perform one-off shows here and there, but for
the most part ... it's not that big a deal for us. People tend to go to
smaller shows and parties."
In New Orleans, the music this weekend won't take as much of a seasonal
turn as the atmosphere itself. The inaugural New Orleans Voodoo Music
Festival takes place at Tad Gormley Stadium on Sunday. The lineup features
rapper Wyclef Jean and hip-hop group the Roots, pop-rock band Third Eye
Blind, techno-rocker Moby and others.
Ultimately, though, Tierney said music, old or new, still plays a role
in shaping the holiday. "Because there are so many parties where people
get dressed up, and because there are haunted houses, there needs to be
a soundtrack for that kind of stuff," he said.
(SonicNet's Will Comerford and Correspondent Jenny Slater contributed to this report.)