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New Wave Halloween

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If the early days of rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly were a well-packed goody bag full of seasonal novelties, the early days of punk ‘n’ new wave could be almost as bountiful when it comes to junky musical Halloween treats. New Wave Halloween, a seasonal companion to Rhino’s fifteen-volume Just Can’t Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the 80’s series, takes its cue from an era when the hairstyles could be just as frightening as the costumes.
The “new wave” title is a bit of a misnomer, though. Where Rhino’s original series stuck to the 1978-85 timeline (opening with Plastic Bertrand’s pop-punkish “Ca Plane Pour Moi” and concluding with Lords of the New Church’s mocking cover of “Like A Virgin”), the Halloween anthology wedges in post-punkers like Sonic Youth and Mudhoney – and opens with “The Time Warp” from the Rocky Horror soundtrack! (Definitely not new wave – barely rock ‘n’ roll.) Skip the opener, however, and you arrive at Ministry’s “Everyday is Halloween,” predating the band’s industrial-strength noise-a-rama by several years and more appealing to these ears for it. Then a trio of the usual suspects – B-52’s, Oingo Boingo and Ramones – show up at the door with theme-worthy, if obvious, selections (too bad no one thought to include Fred Schneider’s “Monster” from his solo album) before the disc ventures into quirkier territory with MX-80 Sound’s metallic mash-up of John Carpenter’s “Theme from Halloween” and the underrated Comateens’ synth-laden “The Munsters’ Theme.” Put both of these instrumental tracks myself on Halloween party tapes back in the 80’s, and they still hold up.
For me, though, one of the period’s great Halloween songs remains the track in disc middle: Dave Edmunds’ happily heartless “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” which sounds of a piece with the best 50’s/60’s monster hoppery. Written by Rockpiler Billy Murray (a.k.a. Bremner), the song takes its inspiration from the 1954 Universal monster pic – and its images of a rampaging creature lunging forward to grab a screaming swim-suited Julie Adams. “When his last intended did the dirty on him,” Edmunds grimly pronounces in the chorus, “Didn’t last five minutes in the swim.” Classic Edmunds, that.

Following that gem, New Wave Halloween gets a bit cutesy, back-to-backing six tracks entitled “Halloween” by Siouxsie & The Banshees, Dream Syndicate, Sonic Youth, Dead Kennedys, Mistfits and Mudhoney in turn. (The Mudhoney track’s a cheat since it’s a cover of the Sonic Youth original.) Stand out here is the Dream Syndicate’s Velvety cut from that band’s first long-player. How the song relates lyrically to All Hallows Eve isn’t all that clear, but it sounds ominous and droney and has great guitar besides. (Which reminds me: if they can include a Mudhoney song from 1989, why not Lou Reed’s “Halloween Parade” from his New York album?) I also enjoy Jello Biafra’s celebration to October 31st vandalism, though its finale along with the spoken-word refs to being “fucked with” on the Sonic Youth/Mudhoney entries pretty much guarantee that this is one disc that won’t be played much at kids’ parties. Ah well, there are Dr. Demento and Elvira discs out there for that.
New Wave Halloween concludes with psychedelic wildman Roky Erickson’s “Creature with the Atom Brain,” from his unjustly neglected 1981 album, The Evil One. Can’t really call the song new wave – or punk either, for that matter – just some basic hard-rockin’ blues-based riffery that wouldn’t sound out place on a Blue Oyster Cult album. But, c’mon, where else are you gonna find Roky Ericksen on a Halloween theme album?
As a representative set, the Rhino collection misses a few choice cuts: no Flesh Eaters or Rezillos? How about a coupla psycho killer tracks like Dead Boys’ “Son of Sam” or the Undertones’ “There Goes Norman”? And, by everything that’s unholy, where the hell are the Cramps? No “TV Set,” no “I Was A Teenage Werewolf,” no “Zombie Dance” or “Goo Goo Muck” or (here’s an answer to Dave Edmunds) “Creature from the Black Leather Lagoon”? Inexcusable, I calls it.
Still, this disc shows up in regular rotation at my house around this time of year (aw, who’m I kidding? – it gets played year ’round!) Just can’t get enough of pop-rock with that crazy Samhain sow-und . . .

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.
  • http://www.resonation.ca Jim Carruthers

    One of the biggest problems Rhino has is securing copyrights, I imagine the trail of Cramps copyrights is a nightmare (featuring undead lawyers) since they probably liscenced their tunes up the poontang.

    How about playing Gun Club for ol’ Jeffrey Lee?

  • http://oakhaus.blogspot.com/ Bill Sherman

    I had Gun Club included in an earlier draft of this piece, but somehow they dropped off by the final version. They did a really creepy version of Credence’s “Run in the Jungle,” I recall. . .

    The Cramps’ “Teenage Werewolf” shows up in one of Rhino’s Elvira collections, but perhaps that was a one-shot deal.