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(This is part of a series of blogs Ive been doing on some of the groups and on some of the perhaps

lesser-known songwriters and players behind some of rocks classic artists and songs.
HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: SPELL ON YOU, FIRE, & MONSTER MASH
By Alan L. Chrisman
This is a special look at some classic Halloween-type songs and their creators:

SCREAMIN JAY HAWKINS is most known for his chilling, I PUT A SPELL ON
YOU. Hawkins wanted to be an opera singer and that voice would come in
handy for his classic song. The song was originally to be a ballad, but (like the
legend about another classic song I wrote about, Louie Louie), it was recorded
while the band and Hawkins were drunk and he added blood-curdling screams to
his deep R&B voice. An even-toned down version was released and it became a
hit in 1956, despite being banned on some radio stations because of its James
Brown-like guttural vocals and sensuality.

Alan Freed, legendary rock n roll DJ in Cleveland, Ohio, where Hawkins was also
from, suggested that, when he sang it live, he come out of a coffin. That soon
became part of his stage show as well as his wearing outlandish costumes, with
leopard skins and voodoo-like props. In the excellent film about Alan Freed,
American Hot Wax, in 1976, where several original 50s rockers played
themselves, Hawkins appears doing his signature tune. Hawkins would continue
releasing R&B-influenced albums and In 1991, he recorded, Black Music For White
People (a great title), including covers of Tom Waits. Hawkins was a particular
favorite of punk bands for his raw sound and theatrical appearances. He would
later open for the bands, The Clash, The Cramps, The Fuzztones, Nick Cave, and
even The Rolling Stones. He would also have a big influence on Alice Cooper, Kiss,
and Black Sabbath. Hawkins never had as big a hit again, but it became such as
classic that many later artists covered it, including Nina Simone and a stirring
version by CCR on their album, Proud Mary. Hawkins died in 2000, leaving behind
several women, fightingover his estate, and reportedly between 50 and 75
offspring.

Another classic, screaming song was Fire by British singer Arthur Brown. Brown
had originally been part of the group, The Foundations, who had the hits in the
late 60s & early 70s, Build Me up Buttercup and Baby, Now that Ive Found
You. They were the first mixed-race group in England to have a #1 hit.
But Brown released his own album, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, in 1968. It
was produced by The Whos manager, Kit Lambert, and was on the Whos label,
Track Records. Similar to Screamin Jay Hawkins in his R&B influenced vocals and
sound (he actually had a cover version of I Put a Spell on You on it that album),
and like Hawkins, he was also known for his theatrical shows and crazy costumes
and antics. He would sometimes set his head in a helmet on fire. Brown played
the priest in The Whos Tommy and sang on Alan Parsons Projects Tales of
Mystery and Imagination. Brown released three albums with his band, Kingdom
Come in the 70s and later was associated with Hawkwind and early electronic
musician, Klaus Shultz. But its his Crazy World album with its haunting song,
Fire that hes most known.

Another Halloween perennial song with an interesting story is Bobby Boris
Picketts, Monster Mash. The way the story goes is-one night, while recording,
aspiring actor/ singer, Picket, started imitating the voices of horror films Boris
Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The song was written by Gary Paxton, who had penned
the earlier novelty hit, Alley Oop. And It was also following a popular dance
craze at the time,the Mashed Potato, and thus the lines, Whatever
happened to the Transylvania Twist?. On the session for the B-side
instrumental, Monster Mash Party, was pianist, Leon Russell. It was first
released around Halloween in 1962, and became a big hit and has been popular
every Halloween since. The band was called the Crypt-Kickers (a later Crypt-Kicker
in the touring band of the 70s would be Paul McCartneys later guitarist, Brian
Ray). Its been covered by groups from The Beach Boys to the Misfits. Its a
novelty song, but has some funny Halloween lines. I remember seeing the
American Hot Wax film right before Saturday Night Fever and at intermission, I
heard kids asking who was this Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, duck-walking
across the stage and jumping on the piano. So long before videos, rock had a
theatrical side and these singers just carried it a bit further and foretold of others
to come.
These three classic songs and their theatrical performers should send chills up
your spine, but in a fun way, so Happy Halloween!

THE MONSTER MASH, Bobby Boris Pickett, the Original Monster Mash LP, 1962:
I was working in the lab late one night
When my eyes beheld an eerie sight
For my monster from his slab began to rise
And suddenly to my surprise

CHORUS
He did the mash
He did the monster mash
The monster mash
It was a graveyard smash
He did the mash
It caught on in a flash
He did the mash
He did the monster mash

From my laboratory in the castle east
To the master bedroom where the vampires feast
The ghouls all came from their humble abodes
To get a jolt from my electrodes

REPEAT CHORUS HERE

The zombies were having fun
The party had just begun
The guests included Wolf Man
Dracula and his son

The scene was rockin', all were digging the sounds
Igor on chains, backed by his baying hounds
The coffin-bangers were about to arrive
With their vocal group, "The Crypt-Kicker Five"

REPEAT CHORUS

Out from his coffin, Drac's voice did ring
Seems he was troubled by just one thing
He opened the lid and shook his fist
And said, "Whatever happened to my Transylvania twist?"
Now everything's cool, Drac's a part of the band
And my Monster Mash is the hit of the land
For you, the living, this mash was meant too
When you get to my door, tell them Boris sent you

See Screamin Jay Hawkins doing his I Put A Spell on You:
http://youtu.be/orNpH6iyokI
See Fire from the Crazy World of Arthur Brown album,1968 below:
http://youtu.be/FaHEusBG20c