Sunday, September 14, 2008

Halloween A Go-Go! Fuzztones, Stems, Minus 5 + More!

Halloween A Go-Go

Wicked Cool Records

A lot of us get into better music through compilations, whether official releases, playlists, or the still classic standby, the mix tape (Watch High Fidelity). The obvious example is the Nuggets compilations, but there's the Pebbles compilations and quite a few more that are known for getting people into music they might otherwise not hear or not care about until they can connect it with music they do like. In that spirit, at least before the rest of the spirits are appeased, Wicked Cool Records has released a little treat of great music on its Halloween special compilation Halloween A Go-Go.

With any good compilation, there are some expected standards and then some neat "treats" thrown in that one might not know about or hear otherwise. Although the songs aren't necessarily all about ghouls and zombies, there's an awful lot about bad dreams which also allude to perceived isolation or loss. A good illustration of this is the Electric Prunes classic "I Had Too Much To Dream." With a start like that, one can only expect more good things. There's also the almost "Pictures of Lily" mixed with LSD and a one night stand with Sgt. Pepper of "Walking Through My Dreams" from The Pretty Things. Also included with the dream/alternate reality theme is "Walking Through My Nightmares" from The Chesterfield Kings. Speaking of walking, it seems like a lot of creepy encounters have to do with walking on this compilation. There's "Walking With A Ghost" from Canadian indie popsters Tegan and Sara which has a nice touch of Gary Newman style synth, but the ultimate stroll comes from Roky Erickson And The Aliens "I Walked With A Zombie," which is an all time favorite that just about anyone can't help but to sing along to. Consequently, REM does a great cover on 1990's Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye: A Tribute To Roky Erickson.

Although one can say the songs are somewhat "traditional" (hmmm, "traditional" + "Halloween"?), the music used on the compilation runs the gamut a little more than others in an attempt to give good, ghoulish music that crosses genres to give a bigger picture of good rock 'n' roll. A prime example of this is "Put Your Cat Clothes On" by Carl Perkins, which is a cool, swinging rockabilly tune. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band on this compilation is no surprise, but the song choice of "Restless Nights," originally an outtake from The River, is a pleasant surprise with plenty of somewhat Poe like lyrics:

Wished we ran and lived as one
In another world my little one
Where strange trees and dark rivers run
I told a dream to you

The song also has a smooth organ part. Great song! As a side note, the "hit" from The River was "Hungry Heart," which was originally written for The Ramones by Bruce at Joey's request. Another suprising choice is "Season Of The Which" by Donovan, which by far one of his best songs.

One can't have Halloween without the usual assortment of ghouls, zombies, and wolfmen. There are some prime choices here. Garage rock and Halloween just isn't complete without The Fuzztones. They've been around for 30ish years or so and are among the chosen few torch bearers of garage rock through the decades. An obvious but always entertaining track of theirs included in the compilation is "I'm The Wolfman." In keeping with the '60s horror flick theme, there's a also a great track from the stellar but barely known outside of the UK band Jarvis Humby with "The Man With X Ray Eyes." Like the movie, Jarvis Humby presents a somewhat psychologically disturbing image coupled with a perfect mix of '60s Garage and Northern Soul that remains virtually unknown but among the most original acts playing "garage rock" today. A true standout garage rocker is "Lies Of The Living Dead" by The Minus 5, a powerpop/psychedelic supergroup of Scott McGaughey, Peter Buck, Steve Wynn, Bill Reiflin, and an assortment of alterna rock legends like Steve Turner, Lee Renaldo, and many others. This one rocks and is a great surprise. The other special treat is "I Am A Demon And I Love Rock 'n' Roll" from Finland's Sweatmaster. This song is a must hear with it's handclapping beat and deadpan cool delivery, much like fellow Scandinavians The Hives, but with a lot more '70s punk.

Perhaps the spookiest song of all since it reflects a common experience that many of us have had is a perfect farfisa and fuzz number "She's A Monster" from Perth, Australia's The Stems:

She tried to kiss me
I was terrified
'cause she had changed right before my yes

The Stems were very influential but relatively unknown outside of Australia. However, their catalog is not only excellent, but whose subsequent offshoots such as The Someloves, DM3, Dom Mariani and The Majestic Kelp, and The Rosebud Generation are all brilliant, guitar based, melodic garage to garage infused powerpop outfits that mostly only available as imports. In fact, The Someloves 1990 release Something Or Other, with Dom Mariani from The Stems and Darryl Mather, formerly of The Lime Spiders is known by many to be one of the best powerpop albums of all time. At present, Get Hip Records has the only Stems compilation released in the US, Terminal Cool. They also have the import version of last year's superb release Heads Up, which will be available soon in a US distribution from the label.

A great compilation presents some general themes that fit around an idea, but includes a combination of material that's familiar but loved, stuff that is relatively unheard of but among some of the best rock 'n' roll out there, and some well picked nods to the past. Halloween A Go-Go has it all. Even if some of it doesn't quite scare out the demon in you, many of the bands and songs featured are true testimony that some of the best rock 'n' roll out there can come from anywhere in the world, but remains relatively unheard. Finally, an objective of a great compilation is to give those bands that fit the previous description some great exposure, much like Nuggets, Children of Nuggets, Pebbles, and many others. Halloween A Go-Go serves up a witches brew of great rock 'n' roll that's a perfect treat for the season, but with quite a few special tricks thrown in.

Wicked Cool Records also offers Halloween A Go-Go in a bundle with pint glasses, t-shirts, and a bag included for those of you who haven't grown up yet and want to go trick or treating. Remember to not accept apples, baked goods, and opened candy, please.

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