Sure, there's Gene Simmons' tongue, Rob Zombie's grindcore, Marilyn Manson's mechanical animals, and the Juggalo Nation's communal Faygo showers. But the trick to uncovering truly unsettling Halloween treats is to not just scratch the surface, but rather dig down deep into the haunted recesses of pop history. So join us, won't you, as we journey into a random hidden world of creepy artists, disturbing music and good otherworldly fun.
Bloodrock, The Buoys
Who knows what was going on in the music industry in 1971, but there were definitely some scary-good one-hit wonders infiltrating the AM airwaves. Texas band Bloodrock cracked the Top 40 with "D.O.A.," a funeral dirge about the aftermath of a plane crash ("Someone lays a sheet across my chest/Something warm is flowing down my fingers"). Meanwhile, the Buoys climbed to No. 17 with "Timothy," a song that injects a dose of Donner Party cannibalism into the plotline of the Bee Gees' "New York Mining Disaster 1941" ("Timothy, Timothy, Joe was looking at you/Timothy, Timothy, God what did we do?"). Fun fact: "Timothy" was written by Rupert Holmes of "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" fame.
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All
This Los Angeles hip-hop collective found overnight notoriety in 2011 when frontman Tyler, The Creator released his sophomore album, Goblin, to alternating currents of critical praise and condemnation. Thematically, Goblin succumbs to the shocking instincts of Eminem and Insane Clown Posse, but its bass-heavy grooves, smart arrangements and wicked internal rhyme schemes are no less stunning. Also, the voice of his psychiatrist between song skits is pleasantly disturbing.
Italian progressive rock band Goblin never got the name recognition of Yes, King Crimson, Emerson Lake & Palmer or Genesis, but then neither did Premiata Forneria Marconi, Maxophone or other acts from continental Europe's most prog rock-obsessed country. What Goblin did get was the opportunity to provide soundtracks for numerous films by Dario Argento, a director who had spent an inordinate amount of screen time killing off a character by having a clarinet shoved down their gullet. And that's something Rick Wakeman never got to do.
"I am blood-sworn to honor the legacy of the great Flattus and indeed the whole Maximus tribe." Thus spoke Pustulus Maximus, who recently came onboard as the new guitarist for shock-rock pioneers GWAR. What were the chances that frontman Oderus Urungus and his fellow refugees of the Scumdog Legion would find a talented replacement with such a perfect name? Clearly, the cyborg Techno-Destructo continues to watch over them.
Bela Lugosi is dead, but former Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy continues to show Dorian Gray-like longevity. It must be that aging portrait of David Bowie he keeps stashed in his attic.
There are spooky gifts aplenty in Velvet Underground's 1968 song "The Gift," in which John Cale delivers a classic spoken word narrative (written by Lou Reed): Boy meets girl. Girl leaves boy. Boy mails himself to girl. Girl opens box with sharp metal object, accidentally splitting boy's skull.
Back in the mid-'90s, Ultramagnetic MCs co-founder Kool Keith reinvented himself as Dr. Octagon, a fugitive extraterrestrial gynecologist who would become the perfect role model for a burgeoning horrorcore movement. Midwifed by Dan the Automator, who would later go on to produce the Gorillaz, Keith's 1996 album, Dr. Octagon, has been hailed as one of the best hip-hop albums of its era. Sadly, no action figures were commissioned.
Appalachian murder ballads are all well and good, but for truly gruesome imagery you need to go back to English folksong tradition, which is what Traffic did with the title track to their 1970 album, John Barleycorn Must Die. Adapted from a gruesome little ditty that dates back to the 16th century, its title character's torment is too terrible to recount here.
A musically brilliant, performance art-inclined upstate New Yorker, Wilson briefly surfaced in the new wave era in the late '70s and then slipped out of the spotlight until his reemergence last decade. Onstage, Wilson has always had a thing for cellophane, duct tape, flour, and mannequins, while his Frank Zappa-meets-Steely Dan songs are both endearing and creepy. Listen to the stalky nocturnal vibe of "Gary's In The Park" and you too will be taking the long way home.
Yes, we've finally arrived at the obligatory Norwegian black metal entry. On one hand, you can't beat Immortal's epic guitar solos and Kiss-goes-kabuki getups. But for pure grotesquerie, the hands-down winner is Mortiis frontman Håvard Ellefsen, who has racked up novelty points with a prosthetic face that would terrify King Diamond. But as Ellefsen reportedly told one interviewer, "I do not look upon myself as a goblin, or troll, or elf, or medieval. I am merely Mortiis."
Which artists do you equate with Halloween? Leave us a comment below.
(Bill Forman is a writer and music editor for the Colorado Springs Independent and the former publications director for The Recording Academy.)