“do they know it’s hallowe’en?” – the north american hallowe’en prevention initiative (2005)

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As someone who loves novelty music, of course this also must include holiday music.  In our vernacular, what people generally consider as holiday music is pretty much the sounds of joy and cheer that only Christmas music can bring.  This makes sense.  Christmas is a major holiday and lots of money is made to capitalize on the season and it even branches to the music we hear.  That’s all well and good, but holiday music is a flexible term for me.  I apply the label of “holiday music” to whatever holiday is around the corner.  And with Halloween creeping towards us, you better believe I’ve been blasting the holiday sounds of Don Hinson, Bobby “Boris” Pickett, and all the other novelty recording artists singing about movie monsters, flying purple people eaters, and all kinds of kooky Halloween nonsense.

While I love Christmas music, Halloween music is a special treat.  All the songs I can find on YouTube, Spotify, and Pandora are ridiculously fun and don’t contain some larger message about a higher deity, goodwill towards all people, or peace on earth. At Halloween, I’m in it for the monsters, candy, and mayhem.  Give me the songs about Dracula drag racing, spooky movies, and artificially-flavored blood substitutes.  For all these reasons, Halloween music is just stupid fun.

Christmas music does really set the bar for seasonal tunes, though.  Think about it.  More people know “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” than they do “The Monster Mash.”  However, Christmas music isn’t always held with high regard and respect.  Christmas is big.  The biggest holiday of the year.  Granted, there are a lot of cultures, religions, and philosophies that don’t celebrate Christmas.  However, Christmas has its own fair share of cynics.  There are lots of people who celebrate Christmas who otherwise don’t really believe it and only do so to be a part of family tradition or fit in.  You don’t get to be the biggest holiday of the year all over the world and not inspire some snide and cynical comments.

There are dozens of Christmas-themed tunes that take the holiday and shed a light on the less merry aspects such as income inequality and social hypocrisy.  Those songs have their place, but it’s Halloween god damn it!  Christmas is still two months away so why waste time talking about it?  Because Christmas music has such an influence that it even inspires novelty songs for other holidays.

In 2005, a consortium of musicians and comedians gathered together to form the North American Hallowe’en Prevention Initiative.  Consisting of members including Beck, David Cross, Peaches, Win Butler, Feist, Karen O, and the legendary Elvira, the members the NAHPI recorded the single “Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en,” a fun little indie rock song about the horrors of Halloween.  Drawing inspiration from Band Aid’s 1986 Christmas classic “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” the NAHPI’s ode to Halloween horror was a charity single benefitting UNICEF.  While the source material is one the biggest examples of celebrity benefit grandiosity (though one of my favorite Christmas songs), “Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en” took that misguided self-righteousness and not only made a fun song about Halloween, but also to make an honest declaration against charity benefit singles that have colonial and western-centric perspectives.  While I may disagree with some aspects of that premise, I applaud the NAHPI’s brazen attempt to tackle a huge Christmas classic and do so in the name of charity.

“Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en” is a fun song about Halloween terror.  It is goofy and that goes a long way when satirizing the overall concept of charity singles while being one as well.  Musically, it is a barely interesting standard indie rock piece.  But, that isn’t what makes this song work.  It is a package deal; all the pieces coming together to make a whole concept work.  The talent on the track offer personality and humor.  The video is a ridiculous cartoon.  There is nothing to take seriously in this song.  And that should be the case with all Halloween music.  It’s a stupid holiday with stupid music.  Leave the preachiness and morality in Christmas music.  This is Halloween.  Give me something questionable to drink, a pillowcase worth of candy, and idiotic costumes.  Do I know it’s Halloween?  You better believe it.

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“monster swim” – don hinson and the rigormorticians (1964)

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Halloween may be my favorite holiday. There is so much to love about it because it has everything. Candy, people dressed in imaginative costumes, and spooky movies (or if you’re like me, then you prefer campy Halloween movies). Halloween just comes at a great time of the year as well. The air chills and the leaves turn. It is all so hauntingly beautiful. However, what I love most about Halloween are the seasonal novelty songs.

I love campy Halloween music. My Halloween playlist is full of diverse and playful music including tracks from the catalog of Dr. Demento, horror soundtracks, spooky surf rock, and even classics like “Monster Mash” by Bobby Pickett. Everyone knows “Monster Mash.” It is such a jaunty song about monsters coming together and rocking out. It is arguably the most famous Halloween novelty song. And with fame, imitators follow. Throughout the 1960s, there were many artists who attempted to capitalize on the fame of “Monster Mash.” If artists didn’t release their own take on “Monster Mash” (check out the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’s version), they released their own spin-offs. With songs like “Monster Hop,” “Monster Bop,” and “Monster Twist,” novelty artists attempted to carve their own niche in the world of Halloween novelty music. There are literally dozens of songs from that era that are nearly identical sounding, serve as sequels, or reference the original classic throughout.

My favorite Halloween song ever is “Riboflavin Flavored, Non-Carbonated, Polyunsaturated Blood.” I love the original by Don Hinson and the Rigormorticians and any subsequent covers (check out 45 Grave’s version). However, I want to talk about a lesser known song by Don Hinson and the Rigormorticians. “Monster Swim” was a track from their sole children’s novelty Halloween record that unapologetically references and attempts to cash on Pickett’s original classic. And it does it so well.

In the “Monster Swim,” the monsters are tired of doing the mash because it has become such a drag. So, what do monsters do when they need a hip, fresh dance? They do the swim of course! Everything this song has it owes to Pickett. The Boris character providing the vocals sounds nearly identical to Pickett and is backed by equally identical female vocals. Even the character references are completely ripped off; this time Dracula wants to know whatever happened to his monster mash (a throwback to the Transylvania Twist line).

This is a fun record and Hinson sounds like he is having a great time. It is a quintessential mid-1960s novelty record. Peppered throughout this poolside monster setting are references to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones (as the Rolling Bones which I assume are bluesy skeletons). Rock and roll music was hardly a decade old at this point so the musical frame of reference for the kids was relatively new. Most musical artists at the time, even outside the realm of novelty music, certainly had a mentality that if it isn’t broke, then don’t fix it. Essentially, whatever record sold well and was popular, you did that record. That’s why we have so many rip-offs and unofficial sequels to songs from that area.

Songs like these get lost because, frankly, they aren’t timely. They don’t have lasting appeal and were never meant to. “Monster Swim,” while being a stand-out song for me this time of year, is nowhere near the top of the list of truly great novelty songs from the era such as the “Monster Mash,” “The Hearse Song,” and “Purple People Eater.” However, it has a place in my heart for not only it’s ridiculous beach blanket concept, but for being so brazen in it’s attempt at being a complete rip-off. Rock and roll was a budding genre and it certainly had growing pangs, and the sound all the same.