When my daughter was little, we had a cassette tape of spooky sounds that we played on Halloween night, when the kids approached the house for trick-or-treating: blood-curdling screams, howling wolves, creaky doors, bubbling cauldrons. It got a laugh from the grownups, and scared the little ones just the right amount. The perfect background track.
Tomorrow afternoon I’m playing the piano for a Halloween party in a retirement community. The volunteer director told me to “just play anything.” My music will take a back seat to the games and costume contest she has planned. Maybe that’s a good thing, because when I tried to think of songs I could offer with some relevance to Halloween, I came up pretty empty.
There’s Charles Gounod “Funeral March of a Marionette,” theme music for the television program Alfred Hitchcock Presents in the 1950s and 60s:
This little motif from “Mysterioso Pizzicato” was used by pianists who accompanied silent films. The music instantly alerts to the presence of a villain:
Brecht and Weill’s “Mack the Knife,” from The Threepenny Opera (premiered as Die Dreigroschenoper in Berlin in 1928), might be sufficiently creepy for Halloween. Despite its sinister theme and lyrics, the song was a swingin’ hit when Louis Armstrong introduced it to the U.S. in 1956. Bobby Darin recorded the #1 version in 1959.
I suppose I could find the sheet music for the Ghostbusters movie theme, but I don’t think my elderly audience would warm to it.
My personal favorite Halloween song requires not just a pianist, but a band and a Boris Karloff impersonator. Bobby Pickett and Lenny Capizzi wrote “Monster Mash” and recorded it in 1962 with a group they dubbed the “Crypt-Kickers.” Pickett’s imitation of horror-movie actor Karloff proved irresistible. The song topped the charts just before Halloween that year. Pickett narrated—rather than sang—his part. The actual singing on the recording was done by The Blossoms, a group that included Darlene Love.
It’s a better accompaniment for a Halloween party, I think, than a volunteer pianist playing “Witchcraft,” à la Frank Sinatra.
Copyright © 2015 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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