As Halloween approaches, a number of oldies music selections — especially those with a “spooky” theme — may come to mind.
You may be inclined to sing along to some of those tunes, or you may be more likely to hear some of them on terrestrial or Internet oldies stations.
Although opinions will vary on what may constitute a “spooky” (or Halloween-season song), this article will attempt to point out some of those recordings that had an impact on the Billboard Magazine pop charts, along with a few appropriate songs that didn’t.
Some of the songs — including chart-toppers such as “Witch Doctor”, “Monster Mash” and “Purple People Eater” — actually fall more into the comedy area than true “spooky-type” tunes, but they are included here, nevertheless.
Certain songs, such as “Devil Woman” by Marty Robbins and “Witchcraft” by Frank Sinatra, are not included because they deal with simple seduction themes. By contrast, a different song titled “Devil Woman” by Cliff Richard is included because the lyrics refer to a stray cat with evil eyes, a psychic medium, a witchlike potion and a curse.
At any rate, here is an attempt to list the Top 10 songs with a “spooky” theme from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, and to hear any of them, simply click on the title.
- 1. “MONSTER MASH” (Bobby “Boris” Pickett, 1962): This attempt at a Boris Karloff sound-alike by Pickett, an aspiring actor from Massachusetts, topped the Billboard pop charts for two weeks in the autumn of 1962, and it also acheived Top 10 status when re-released in 1973.
- 2. “WITCH DOCTOR” (David Seville, 1958): The creator of The Chipmunks, born Ross Bagdasarian in Fresno, Calif., took this song to the top of the national pop charts for three consecutive weeks in the spring of 1958.
- 3. “PURPLE PEOPLE EATER” (Sheb Wooley, 1958): Another novelty-type recording by a singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, this one spent six weeks at the No. 1 position on the Billboard Hot 100.
- 4. “BAD MOON RISING” (Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969): This is one of five songs that reached the No. 2 position for this El Cerrito, Calif., rock group, which never managed to chart a No. 1 record.
- 5. “SPOOKY” (Classics IV, 1968): Peaking at No. 3 on Billboard, this was the first major hit for the Jacksonville, Fla., quintet headed by lead singer Dennis Yost.
- 6. “THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO GEORGIA” (Charlie Daniels Band, 1979): Although not truly a “spooky” song, this Nashville band had a big No. 3 record with this “deal with the devil” theme.
- 7. “DEVIL WOMAN” (Cliff Richard, 1976): This song reached No. 6 on the American pop charts for the superstar English vocalist, who had no less than 10 chart-topping songs in the U.K.
- 8. “DINNER WITH DRAC” (John Zacherle, 1958): This novelty recording ascended to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 for a Philadelphia TV personality who was sometimes called The Cool Ghoul.
- 9. “WITCHY WOMAN” (The Eagles, 1972): This became the first Top 10 hit for the L.A. superstar group, and its lyrics certainly fit with a Halloween-type theme.
- 10. “HAUNTED HOUSE” (Jumpin’ Gene Simmons, 1964): After the officials at Hi Records failed in an attempt to get Sam Samudio — later known as Sam The Sham — to record this one, Simmons volunteered to do it, and he wound up with a No. 11 national hit in the process.
Some songs that merit Honorable Mention status
- “DON’T FEAR THE REAPER” (Blue Oyster Cult, 1976): This hard rock quintet from New York City took these “grim reaper of death” lyrics to No. 12 on the U.S. pop charts.
- “LAURIE” (Dickey Lee, 1965) … Subtitled “Strange Things Happen”, this vocalist-songwriter from Memphis had a No. 14 charter with a song that is often played by oldies radio stations around Halloween time.
- “THE WITCH QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS” (Redbone, 1972): With lyrics that include “She lived in a world of magic, possessed by the devil’s skew, from a shack near the swamplands made of mud-pile brick, Marie stirred her witches brew”, this song, which charted at No. 21, fits the mold.
- “WEREWOLVES OF LONDON” (Warren Zevon, 1978): This recording — produced by Jackson Browne, and sung by a Canadian performer, with backing vocals by Mick Fleetwood and John McVie from Fleetwood Mac — hit No. 21 on the Billboard charts.
- “MIDNIGHT STROLL” (The Revels, 1959) .The Philadelphia group took this one — originally called “Dead Man’s Stroll” — to No. 35 on the Billboard charts in late 1959.
- “D.O.A.” (Bloodrock, 1971): This group from Fort Worth, Texas — headed by lead singer Jim Rutledge — took this unusual song to No. 36 on the national pop charts.
Five “bonus selections” that failed to hit the Billboard Hot 100
- “MARIE LAVEAU” (Bobby Bare, 1974): This didn’t hit the pop charts, but it was Bobby Bare’s only song to hit No. 1 on the C&W listings. Bare is most famous for such songs as “Detroit City” and “500 Miles Away From Home.”
- “DEVIL DOLL” (Lee Denson, 1958): This Mississippi-born rockabilly singer was friends with Elvis Presley, and he actually helped teach the two-years-younger Elvis how to play guitar. Eddie Cochran played guitar on this record.
- “SWAMP LEGEND” (The Four Coachmen, 1961): This haunting tune by an obscure New Jersey quartet got some significant airplay in a few markets, but not enough to chart on the Billboard Hot 100.
- “LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW” (The Monotones, 1958): This was the Newark, N.J., group’s third release on the Argo label, the first being the No. 5-charting “Book Of Love.”
- “WALKIN’ THROUGH A CEMETERY” (Claudine Clark, 1962): This was the Philadelphia songstress’ follow-up to her big hit “Party Lights”, complete with the singer making creature sounds during the instrumental break.