In modern America, any holiday with profit potential gets a whole season, and those seasons last for an unbearably long time. Valentine’s Day decorations go up at CVS in early January, for example, and it seems like Christmas decorations go up sometime in June.
The one holiday that actually deserves an entire season is Halloween, the greatest of all. And yet it gets maybe a month. Which seems absurd to me. As soon as Starbucks decides to start pumpkin spicing things, there should be tombstones and skeletons in every store.
So, to set a good example, welcome to Part 1 of RIFF Rewind’s Halloween extravaganza!
While never reaching the ubiquity of songs about sex or songs about cars as a euphemism for sex, horror has been a big enough part of music to spawn several subgenres, all of which are great. So for each of the next three weeks we’ll take a look at five great songs from one of those genres, and we begin with perhaps the most prolific: horror punk.
The Misfits — “Dig Up Her Bones”
Obviously, any list of horror punk has to include the Misfits, the godfathers and reigning champion of the genre. The hard part is choosing which of their countless classics to include. After much consideration, I decided on “Dig Up Her Bones” for two major reasons:
1) It’s the only Misfits song with an accompanying music video, which means I can embed something from their official YouTube channel and not run the risk of it being a dead link in six months. Frontman Glenn Danzig has a habit for personally hunting down his image online and executing it.
2) It’s the first single after the Caiafa brothers, Jerry Only and Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, wrested the rights to the band from Danzig. I’m the rare Misfits fan who likes the Danzig era, the Only era, and the weird intermediate period where Michale Graves handled the vocals, but recently I developed a lifelong vendetta against Danzig, personally.
Recently, I covered a show by the Misfits’ original lineup in Oakland, and attached a short video to the post of part of their performance. It was from roughly four miles from the stage, so the performers were unidentifiably tiny, it was shot with my phone with a cracked camera lens so it was blurry with copious lens flare and awful sound, and also I was next to an aisle, so there was a constant stream of people walking through the shot. But Danzig still personally reported it as a copyright violation, and now the RIFF YouTube account has a DMCA strike. So he doesn’t get to be on my lists anymore.
The Ramones — “You Should Have Never Opened That Door”
While The Ramones are known for their pop-inspired ’50s throwback punk songs, they were big fans of horror movies and often let that leech into their music. It was rarely as overt as the last track from their second album, Leave Home.
Clocking in at less than two minutes and containing a grand total of six lines, it’s a weirdly unsettling way to close out an otherwise party-oriented album. After all those six lines are: “Mama, where’s your little daughter?/ She’s here, right here on the altar/ You should never have opened that door/ Now you’re never gonna see her no more/ You don’t know what I can do with this axe/ Chop off your head so you better relax.”
And really, what’s more Halloween than an unexpected and unsettling ending?
Plan 9 — “Blood”
Oakland’s own Plan 9 started as a Misfits tribute band, and that aesthetic clearly still exists not just in its sound but its devilocks and the prominent Crimson Ghosts on stage at their performances. And they’re great at it; if you listen to “Blood” with your eyes closed, you’d swear it’s a Misfits deep cut from the Danzig era.
What separates them from most tribute bands is that “Blood” is not actually a Misfits song. In 2008, they released Manmade Monster, an album of original songs, and it’s fantastic. If you’ve ever wondered what the Misfits would have sounded like if their lead singer wasn’t the worst, and they kept releasing new albums through the ’80s and early ’90s, this is it, and it’s awesome.
They’re still playing around the Bay Area despite their original singer dying in a motorcycle accident in 2008, so keep an eye on local venues and bars. They’ll probably even let you film them.
Balzac — “Wall”
The Misfits’ influence didn’t stay just in the U.S. Inspired by the Danzig incarnation of the band, Hirosuke Nishiyama founded Balzac in Tokyo in the mid-’90s, and its awesome.
Admittedly, I have to take their word for it that they’re horror metal, since I don’t speak Japanese, and most of the lyrics in their early stuff aren’t in English. And their more recent stuff sounds lighter and less horror-y, assuming that’s actually a word. [Gokhman note: It’s not]. But it’s great, and the parts in English certainly sound pretty dark so I’m counting it. Just try and stop me.
The Creepshow — “Zombies Ate Her Brain”
From the seriousness of Balzac to the ultra-campy horrorbilly [Gokhman note: Also not a word] of The Creepshow.
A bit of punk etymology, the -billy in horrorbilly is from rockabilly, not hillbilly. [Still not a word]. So punk music inspired by exaggerated rockabilly is psychobilly [nope], and in turn psychobilly about horror is horrorbilly [nope, nope, nope]. It really makes you appreciate the elegant simplicity of “surf punk,” doesn’t it?
Anyway, horror punk doesn’t have to be serious and sinister, just like horror movies don’t have to be serious and sinister. The genre has its version of fun B-movies, and this is it. And it’s just as good despite being pretty much entirely different.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.