It probably has to do with the uprising of television, but in the mid-to-late 1950s, there was a horror boom in this country. Looking back over the pop literature and rock songs of the day, you’ll find innumerable references to Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the rest of the rogue’s gallery of classic Universal monsters. I don’t have the TV listings in front of me, sad to say, but this uptick in pop horror was likely the result of putting the Universal monster movies into heavy TV rotation. All of a sudden, kids all over the country had access to scary movies in their homes, and Dracula became all the more vivid and real. The famed Universal characters went from being classically creepy cinematic figures into ubiquitous, almost fun, TV heroes. And so, for the past 60 years, the Universal figures have officially become indelible parts of the pop Halloween firmament.
Monsters began popping up everywhere, and movie theaters began showing low-budget horror movies with a more enthused fervency than ever before. In many ways, it was a golden era for cinematic horror. Provided you didn’t mind that all the mainstream horror films of the era were, for the most part, cheap and stupid.
Monsters invaded pop music as well, and in a huge way. In the late 1950s, the record industry was flying by the seat of its pants. Sure, there were the big labels, but one doesn’t need to stray very far into 1958 Hollywood to find hundreds of fly-by-night labels, studios, and artists. Many records were made by labels that formed that morning, writers who banged something out in a few hours, and bands consisting of musicians who never learned each other’s names. By the evening, you had a 45 record from a group that only existed for 12 hours. My favorite of these obscure 45s were the quick, dirty rockabilly tunes made by greasy 1950s punkers. These guys were essentially singing punk rock before it was called punk.
And of that punk, there is an enormous representation of monsters and horror; the overlap between horror movies and rockabilly music is surprisingly strong. Indeed, rockabilly seems to be the only musical form (apart from, say, death metal) that openly and regularly invites horror themes. As such, there are literally thousands of horror-themed rockabilly songs lurking out there in the world. Most of them can be found on glorious horror rockabilly CD compilations (several of which I have collected). There are also many that only exist in 45 form. Those all belong to the estate of late, great Cramps frontman Lux Interior.
But here are 11 notable horror rockabilly songs that you should accumulate immediately. Maybe this will send y’all down the rabbit hole…
“Graveyard Rock” by Tarantula Ghoul and Her Gravediggers
Tarantula Ghoul was the screen name of one Suzanne Waldron, a TV horror host from Portland, Oregon who used to broadcast on KPTV. She is known for only three singles; this one, “King Kong,” and “Green Eyed Monster.” This song was written by John Ralston and B. Anson.
“She’s My Witch” by Kip Tyler
Kip Tyler, nee Elwood Westerton Smith, recorded this super-sexy, slow-grind zombie stripper’s anthem in 1958. Kip Tyler was a tough ’50s leather punker with a lot of attitude who worked with many famous studio musicians, all of whom became more successful than he ever did. Poor guy. He’ll always have “She’s My Witch.”
“Teenage Creature” by Lord Luther
Lord Luther, a.k.a. Luther McDaniels, was once a member of The Four Deuces, who would go on to work with Frank Zappa and Bob Dylan. In the ’50s, however, he wrote this silly/scary piece about being a Frankenstein and a Wolf Man.
“Screamin’ Ball (At Dracula Hall)” by The Duponts
I was not able to find any information about The Duponts, but I can say that they have no relation to the family of billionaires. But this wiggy dance about partying at Dracula Hall is a pleasure of the highest degree.
“The Goo Goo Muck” by Ronnie Cook & The Gaylads
It’s a scary song about becoming a beast at night, although I’m not sure what a “Goo Goo Muck” is. It’s also another dandy tune to strip to. Most people know about this song because it was famously covered by The Cramps… as well as every psychobilly band to form after The Cramps.
“The Cave (Part 1)” by Gary “Spider” Webb
Not so much a song as a miniature radio drama with spooky background music, Gary “Spider” Webb’s “The Cave” dramatizes a teen couple named Jimmy and Julie who are lost in a darkened space, and who cannot find one another. Whether or not the song is spooky or silly, I’ll leave for you to decide. The true marvel is that something this avant-garde made its way onto the radio.
“Spooky Movies” by Roy Clark
Roy Clark’s “Spooky Movies” is a tune about the narrator’s girlfriend, and how she can only be aroused by horror. Female horror fans are typically underrepresented in the genre world, so it’s comforting to learn that, even back in the 1960s, the ladies were digging on the spooky movies. Another good song in this vein is “Batman, Wolfman, Frankenstein or Dracula” by The Diamonds.
“Sleepy Hollow” by The Last Word
Low, dark, and sinister, The Last Word’s “Sleepy Hollow” is a wail of jazz fear into a blackened club. The Headless Horseman is a constant source of fear, and the character’s image is worthy of the generations of exploitation it has garnered. You can practically smell the whiskey on this one.
“The Hearse” by Terry Teene
It’s shocking to think how many children became so intimately familiar with “The Hearse,” a song about what happens to your corpse after you die (“The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out…”). It has been recorded innumerable times by dozens of artists, but Terry Teene’s is the jazziest, rockingest version of it.
“The Skeleton Fight” by Mack Allen Smith
It’s surprising to think that Mack Allen Smith’s “The Skeleton Fight” isn’t a Halloween standard. Like “Graveyard Rock” above, this danceable rock riff can almost come to exemplify the genre of horror rockabilly. No collection of horror music is complete without a copy of this one. But more so for the final entry…
“Rockin’ in the Graveyard” by Jackie Morningstar
If you have any records of Halloween rock, you likely have a few standards. You have Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party,” you have “The Monster Mash,” you have Siouxsie and the Banshee’s “Halloween,” you curiously own “The Time Warp” from ROCKY HORROR, and you most certainly have “Rockin’ in the Graveyard.” Jackie Morningstar’s classic is the Halloween standard that people don’t talk about. If you don’t know it, get to know it. It’s great.