This week’s song blog post will not serve as this year’s official Halloween entry, as that post will come next week, but there will be some spooky music season love this week. The reason is simple. Listening to amazing Halloween music cannot be limited to one day. It must be enjoyed the entire month of October.
Instead, this week’s entry is more focused on the art of creating curated playlists. While the theme of the playlist I will discuss is focused on Halloween, I’ll be speaking more about what one thinks of when they create a playlist. The process over the content. This will be a great set-up for next week’s entry when I write my annual Halloween post.
Compared to most of my music-loving friends, I have very limited experience making curated playlists. Crafting the perfect sequence of songs was just never a priority for me. Even in situations where some semblance of a playlist was expected such as college radio. My college radio station was strictly formatted except for the hours of 10 PM to midnight where students could propose and audition genre-specific specialty programming. For three years, I had an independent soul music show, the only soul-oriented show at our station, and even then I did not put much effort into what songs I would play. I would make it up as I went along.
I also never really made playlists for people. Not for friends, girlfriends, or anyone else. I cannot say what the reason why was. Perhaps it was because I felt my tastes didn’t mesh with the those of my peers. Perhaps that is bit of an elitist reflection, but it is the best explanation I can offer.
Now, when I was younger, I was no stranger to recording music off my stereo onto a cassette tape. I did that in my later elementary school years during the late-90s. Recording songs I heard on Casey Kasem’s show, I filled several tapes with top 40 songs of the era that I enjoyed. And I would use whatever tape I could find. I once re-recorded over a tape that contained audio of me reading from storybook in class from when I was even younger. My parents were upset with me after that.
Once Internet file-sharing became bigger and people did not make playlists on tapes anymore, that is when my playlist-making days started to dwindle. We had the Internet, but it was extremely slow during those days. And my Internet usage throughout middle and high school were strictly monitored. No way in hell was I allowed to download music from the Internet. In those days, it was believed that everything on the Internet you could illegally download was full of viruses (not a wrong assumption) or that doing the crime would land you some time and hefty lawsuit fees, the latter being one of the reasons to limit my use of the Internet. Though, I did find some ways to download illegally from time to time.
By senior year of high school and well into my college years, the iPod was here. Hit shuffle and you had an instant playlist. No thought or creativity required. Fill up your device with over 10,000 songs and hit one button to kick off your experience. Though, unbeknownst to me, the experience would be cheapened by the effect of instant gratification. I would skip songs endlessly before letting them playout like some kind of music junkie chasing the music dragon for the perfect song for that moment then and there, an experience that could be found when listening to the radio when you could not control what came on next.
So, considering the increasing influence and availability of technology, I had lost interest in making playlist. Even in the early days of streaming audio, it still was not enough. While friends were jumping on the Spotify train early and sending eachother playlists, I had moved on.
After college, after so many years, I decided to give making playlists my first serious go. I set up a private Facebook group and invited a bunch of friends. The idea was that we would send eachother mix CDs. However, there were some guidelines. The mix had to have a theme, one of which was voted on by the group. Stuff like songs about travel or summer. Then, I would put the names in an online pairing randomizer. It would automatically generate who you would make your mix CD for. It worked ok for a while. I made some decent playlists, but other than one instance when someone sent me a Spotify playlist instead of an actual CD, all the people I got paired with never sent me anything. I think we went through three or four rounds before I just stopped.
Fast forward to autumn 2019 and I’m watching television one night. I’m watching an episode of The Righteous Gemstones; a new Danny McBride comedy show on HBO. As with McBride’s previous shows, Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals, the soundtrack choices are remarkable. And his latest show was no exception. Whoever he hires to do that does an incredible job at finding the right song to convey the right messages. Songs that can oscillate between being incredibly obscure to more well known, but add so much thematic depth.
During the credits of one episode, I hear a song I had never heard before. There was a sinister guitar, and a deep-voiced growling laughter, all over this four-on-the-floor disco beat. Men chanting “walk the night” turned this spooky song into a creepy anthem and I was loving it. I had to immediately look this song up. I had to figure out who this band was and to learn their story.
The song was “Walk the Night” by Skatt Bros., a group of leather-clad masculine gay men. Their story is that they were signed to Casablanca Records, the group formed by Sean Delaney after he worked with Kiss, and released their first album Strange Spirits in 1979. “Walk the Night” broke the top ten in the disco charts. The band was considered a rougher, more sexualized version of the Village People, a comparison not appreciated by the band who considered themselves real musicians who played real instruments. Their second, and final, album would me more rock-oriented.
I loved this song instantly because it sounded so hard-driven and spooky. Listening to the lyrics, you realize the content is a lot more homoerotic than Halloween, with the vocalist singing that the creeper following you has something in his coat that he’s gonna make you take and you’ll beg for more, but it still felt like a fun song to play at a Halloween party. Perhaps a Halloween party that would be more at home in the Al Pacino film Cruising than a teenage costume party, but perfect for Halloween nonetheless.
I posted the song on Instagram, along with a sample, and captioned it with the hashtag “spookymusicseason.” Since then, every day in October, I have been slowly building an alternative Halloween music playlist. Where everyday, I post the single or album art representing a song, a clip, and a small piece of trivia or comment about the song.
I love Halloween music. I really do. Every October, I go through my morning routing listening to the curated Halloween playlists on Apple Music and Pandora. Though, even then, it is the same songs every year. You’re either hearing campy tunes like “With Doctor” or Monster Mash,” songs from Halloween-appropriate movies like Ray Parker, Jr.’s “Ghostbusters,” the same Halloween perennial stalwarts like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” or random songs strewn in like Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra.” I enjoy all of these, but it is the same thing every year.
So, with these daily Instagram posts, I have been slowly building an alternative Halloween playlist. One that features Halloween appropriate songs that are not found on most playlists. Songs running the gamut from the obscure to more well-known, but all of which are not featured among the more traditional Halloween music fare.
Playlists require thought. And I know some people who spend a lot of time crafting the perfect playlists. Since I don’t have a lot of playlist making experience, I’m still not putting a lot of time into this. I wake up, think of a song that feels right for that day, post, and then move on. I have asked for some feedback, and I have taken it, but I still want to spontaneity involved with the process. As a result, there are various points where I go in interesting directions. I can’t wait to see what comes up next between now and Halloween, where I’ll add the 31st song and then post the playlist for friends to enjoy. Perhaps I’ll continue this as a hobby and build a small library of non-traditional seasonal playlists. I love finding obscure, quirky music. The more, the merrier.
The Skatt Bros. would then fade into obscurity after disbanding. So much so that the producers of the video game Grand Theft Auto IV hired a private investigator to locate Delaney’s relatives, since he died in 2003, and get permission for the use of the track thus becoming the first pop culture use of the song since its release in 1979 until the song’s use in the 2019 episode of The Righteous Gemstones. I can’t be the only person who was amazed by the song and shared it. So, I hope my Halloween playlist gives it some extra life in some small way.