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Vintage Halloween Music 78's 45's

Edison Phonograph magazine ad from around October of 1904, depicting a two-minute cylinder record-playing phonograph.  Note how the holiday is spelled "Hallowe'en," a contraction of "All Hallow's Eve."  One doesn't see Halloween spelled in this fashion today.  It's hard to tell from the ad how one would want to go out and buy an Edison Standard phonograph (pictured here), on time, for $25.00, at a dollar down and a dollar a week...for a Halloween party.  When phonographs took off with the public, most of them were sold during the Christmas season.  Well, perhaps Thomas Edison's sales team at Orange, New Jersey thought that the phonograph would make a great hit at Edwardian Halloween parties, much as a "boom box" would today.  The ad, with a cherubic child holding her glowing jack-o'-lantern, depicts a now defunct Halloween custom not seen anymore.  Young girls, on All Hallow's Eve, in the darkness of a room, were supposed to light a candle, look at a vanity mirror, look quickly away...and then gaze back....and hopefully...see the face of their future husband!  According to one newspaper account from 1916, it often caused "fainting spells."  For at this time, Halloween was almost an autumnal version of St. Valentine's which fortunes were told concerning future beaus...and hopefully...future wedded bliss that would be assured.  The Edison folks obviously knew of this then-contemporary custom...and thought that it would sell phonographs...for such "looking-glass" parties, a custom now a quaint relic of another time.  Much like cylinder record phonographs.  The jack-o'-lantern custom, however...has survived quite well! 

OK, so this post is not exactly about "Carolina history" as such.  (I have a lot of interests.)  But since I found these old Halloween North my usual "haunts" (no pun intended)...then I guess that makes these artifacts a part of "Carolina history!"  (Sounds good enough to me!)  And anybody who enjoys re-living the child-like memories of the fun that they had on those crisp Octobers of so many years ago (even if you weren't there)...will be glad that I posted this. 

Back in October of 2008, just for the fun of it, I entered a HALLOWEEN TOP TEN SONG CONTEST, sponsored by the local Amps 11 magazine, a free local music venue publication that was then available at a local Greek "home-cooking" restaurant that I like to frequent.  Upon entering it, I didn't win anything.  (I think two people entered the contest.)  And really...that was quite all right.  The hard heavy metal rock band that I could have seen would not have been my cup of tea.  So, I didn't mind losing and letting somebody else go who was really into "all of that."  But in entering this contest, what I really wanted to do...and what this contest forced me to do...was to take stock of what obscure Halloween hits, or more broadly speaking, what "haunting-style" music existed out there.  (I mean, think about it, other than Boris Pickett's "Monster Mash, which came out during the novelty dance craze "Mashed Potato" era of the early 1960's, 1962 in fact, most folks can't name another Halloween-related song.)  In the list I have below, save for some of the kiddie records, the holiday of Halloween is not even mentioned by name:  it's more, or less implied.  I try to put them in the context of their times, such as when the Great Depression of the 1930's had a lot of people on the economic and social edge...and scary themes seemed appropriate.  We know "spooky music" when we hear it as that it will sing about ghosts, skeletons, the grand potentate of Hades and such, or perhaps some kind of melancholy sadness that just seems to fit mood of that particular holiday.  Yes, just as when we hear lyrics about Santa Claus, sleigh rides, fir trees and the birth of Christ...we know that we are in Yuletide territory.  And we expect the ghosts and sprites to be banished from the merriment that is enjoyed...Scrooge getting visited by Jacob Marley notwithstanding.   

But sometimes, there is a collision of opposites, of holidays, that in recent years, seem to be occurring too close together.  In the retail world, Halloween decorations, more often than not, end up colliding with and overlapping Christmas decorations on the same store shelves.  But when that occurs, one can end up enjoying a strange new brew, that eventually coalesced into that wonderful musical holiday "Halloween/Christmas" hybrid of a movie  titled:  The Nightmare Before Christmas, which I believe...was a satire about these holidays falling all over each other in the great race for end-of-the-year cash register receipts.  (Back in 1993, yours truly, saw that movie, I think...twelve times!  I enjoyed it so much!  But I digress.)  Yes, the following is my top ten Halloween music list, greatly re-edited from the original post, as that I've had more time to research these songs....for the contest I didn't win.  (But I was quite all right with the outcome.)     

HALLOWEEN TOP TEN SONG LIST (published on Amps11 Forum on October 10th, 2008 for a prize contest.)

OK, hello all! Found your magazine at the local Skyland Restaurant. I pick it up from time to time, but I can't say that there is much that helps me. Could be a generational thing. But I enjoyed reading about the copyright laws...and I was sad to learn that pioneer local rhythm and blues artist, Nappy Brown, had passed away. I saw him perform at Spirit Square back around 1998. I went downstairs to his dressing room and had him autograph an original Savoy 45rpm record with his hits "Don't Be Angry" and "Nighttime Is The Right Time." I had my photo made with him holding up said record. Somewhere around here I have the original 78rpm version, but I haven't seen it in years. I do have a color 8X10 photo of Nappy Brown when he sang with a local gospel group here in Charlotte, North Carolina. But like I said, I only have two of his old original pressings. (I'm drowning in about 6,000 78rpm records that are stacked up like pancake platters all over the place which I have accumulated over nearly 30 years of collecting. I used to have a program on local public access television wherein I talked about victrola phonographs and the Christmas music that used to play on them nearly a century ago. Folks used to come up to me on the street all of the time and tell me how much that program meant to them.) Well forgive me, I digress.

Now when it comes to my Halloween Top Ten, folks, for most of the folks who read the Amps11 will be the road less traveled....very less traveled. Of all the holiday records I have ever tried to find...Halloween seems to be the hardest. I mean, there are Christmas songs galore, and I certainly do love them. But to find Halloween-themed records from way back when? Folks, it certainly was a challenge. But a rewarding one. And my personal research could certainly go beyond "more than ten," but I shall try to abide by your rules. Here they are, with some explanation as follows:

1. "The Skeleton Rag" as sung by the American Quartet, (and written by early 20th century ragtime artist, Percy Wenrich) from the year 1911, recorded on a Victor Talking Machine 78rpm record. (I've loved that song since an elderly man in the Cherry neighborhood, here in Charlotte, sold me that pressing when I was 14. Unfortunately, the record has a crack in it, but I did put it onto tape. Somebody should really digitize it for me. Also, I have the original sheet music which turns up on ebay quite often. Finding a recording of it is rare as hen's teeth. I tried to get an Edison cylinder of it from a man down in Georgia, but he broke it by accident before he could mail it to me.) Incidentally, the song is quite a rollicking rag about what sprightly spirits do in the cemetery after the sun goes down. I'll sing it to anybody who will listen. It's one of my personal top ten songs.



Very early Victor Record with the label that the Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, New Jersey used from about 1908 until 1915.  It portrays the famous Victor logo (later used for RCA Victor) of a Jack Russel terrier, "Little Nipper," listening to "His Master's Voice" on a "Berliner" front-mount horn phonograph.  The logo was from a famous painting by Francis Barraud that originally depicted this dog listening to "his master's voice"....on top of his master's coffin.  Meaning, that the Victor phonograph produced sound so faithfully, that a dog will respond to "his master's voice".....even if his "master" is long since deceased!  A bit morbid perhaps from the perspective of the very late Victorian/Edwardian era...but the logo sold a lot of phonographs and phonograph records....over several generations.

The American Quartet as they appeared in the Victor Talking Machine record catalog back in 1916.  Note the famous comedic tenor and prolific Victor recording artist, Billy Murray, and Mr. Steve Porter, who did many minstrel show type-recordings for Edison as well as Victor.  In "The Skeleton Rag" recording however, made much earlier than these photos, the then late Mr. Frank C. Stanley was probably the bass singer.

2. "The Skeleton In The Closet" as sung by Louis Armstrong off an old 1930's Decca 78 I found when I was a teenager. I think it was featured in the then Broadway play "Pennies From Heaven." I've misplaced the 78, but do have a cut of it on a 1960's-era LP record titled "A Rare Batch of Satch." You can imagine how Louis treated that song. Part of the lyrics go like this. "When the Skeleton in the Closet Started to Dance. All the witches were in the kitchen doing their rhythumy funk. But they nearly dropped their broomsticks, when he tried to do the bump! You never heard such unearthly laughter, when the Skeleton In the Closet Rattled His Bones!" (Need I say more!)

3. "Spooks!" again as done by Louis Armstrong with Gordon Jenkins and his Chorus and Orchestra. I found it off an old Decca 45rpm promo record from about the mid-1950's. Again, it has Louis' great treatment. Poor Satchmo himself goes downstairs just to check the lock, when he is invaded by ghosts who want to mess with the water pump and "harass the pup." And finally he's fleeing his house. I play this record, among others of this genre, a the Haunted Homesite at the Hezekiah Alexander Homesite on Shamrock Drive. I set up and display vintage Halloween masks, paper decorations, tin noisemakers....and get to play these old scratchy records. It's the only place and the only time I get to play my old Halloween records in public all year long.

4. "Jeepers Creepers" as recorded by Larry Clinton (the writer of the swing classic, "The Dipsy Doodle") and his Orchestra back in 1938 off and old Victor 78rpm disc...and with words and music by the venerable Johnny Mercer and Harry Warren, from the First National Picture "Going Places."  That film originally starred Dick Powell, Anita Louise...and future president Ronald Reagan and famous jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong in supporting roles!  It was a romantic screwball comedy, so popular at the time, that concerned the equestrian steeple chase industry...and a somewhat crazed horse that can only be tamed by the song "Jeepers Creepers."  Hardly a scary movie.  But you know, they made some horror movies nearly a decade ago using this song: Jeepers Creepers and Jeepers Creepers II! I'm telling you, where I found this record in an old antique shop barn near Little River, North Carolina, back around 1980, sure could have qualified for where that Jeepers Creepers monster could have hung out. I found it sitting on the barn floor in the remnants of the hay, near a bunch of busted old Victrolas...and little lizards running around. Place looked snake-infested, too. At least that's what my mother said who was with me. I got the record for 15 cents and have cherished it ever since. The song title was based on "hep cat lingo" of the time. Think "The Dead End Street Kids" movies.

5. "The Devil With The Devil Says I" which was on the flipside of that selfsame "Jeepers Creepers" record...and written by band leader Larry Clinton. The Great Depression was still in full swing and it more or less sang of "living it up and to heck with tomorrow or the Devil." Here are a few lyrics: "You're so afraid of Old Man Satan. Why don't you quit your hesitatin'. You're going to be a long time the Devil with the Devil says I! Watch out for the Devil. Watch out for the Devil. The Devil with the Devil says I!" A real swingin' number, too from the swing era.


6. "Dancing the Devil Away" off a Victor Scroll label from around the early 1930's.  (It's performed by the double band-leading orchestra from the early 1930's of Victor Arden-Phil Ohman, with the vocal performed by then prolific crooner, Frank Luther.  It was featured in the film musical "The Cuckoos" produced in the year 1930.)  Lord, I found this 78rpm disc when I was high school.  It was at very junky antique shop on US 29A in Kannapolis, North Carolina. It was run by Carl Patterson who used to sell groceries to my grandmother during World War II. Both are deceased now. The store had been his grocery place, but then became a junk shop worthy of Sanford and Son.  I bought my second portable suitcase Victrola there, a Brunswick from about 1925...for $50.00.  I was in the 12th grade at the time and our English class was reading The Great Gatsby.  We had a "Gatsby" party out on the lawn of Olypmic High School (class of '83 thank you)...and I brought and played that old phonograph which I still have after all of these decades. Oh sorry, my tangential thinking again. The lyrics of this song are also “Great Depressioned” themed. The song states, that that evil devil is only such a voodoo..."Just plant your feet on the ground and shake your hoo-o-o--doo. Now that you know how it's done. Stay out of the shadows and stay in the sun. Come on now and join in the fun...Dancin' the Devil Away!" (Goodness, we may just need some of these Great Depression songs what with all of the banks collapsing right now and the world economy in a tailspin!)--Do remember the fall of 2008 when all those headlines were making the news...and I guess they still are to an extent.  If you want to "see" this tune, just go to this link on YouTube.  So help me, they have everything on there!

7. "Spookville Chimes--Fox Trot" off an old 12-inch 78rpm Victor from about 1916 perhaps by the Victory Military Band. It's five minutes long of essentially what was then known as "society hotel" music. But one can see the men in their black tuxedos, with high starched collars, hair all slicked back, twirling their ladies in their shimmering art nouveau gowns. All while World War I was raging in Europe far away....

8. "Spooky Spooks--One Step" performed by possibly John Phillip Sousa's orchestra (or Arthur Pryor's Band). It's off an old 10-inch Victor Disc also from around 1916. This was military band type music with descriptive novelties thrown in that would make one think of spooks and skeletons prancing about. Quite rollicking and quite entertaining. I have long since misplaced this disc. But I still have a 5-inch Little Wonder record version of it (wherein it is listed as a fox trot) that lasts about a minute and a half long. Little Wonder Records, tiny as they were, sold for 10 cents at Woolworth’s from 1913 until about 1923.  (The band is unnamed, as they usually are on these tiny records, but it is most likely Prince's Band, Columbia's stock orchestra of the day, as that these records were Columbia Phonograph Company's byproducts.) I play this record at the Haunted Homesite event, too.

 9. "Punky Punkin" as sung by Rosemary Clooney (Geoge Clooney's aunt) on a child's Columbia record 78rpm disc from around 1952. The song was written by versatile songwriter, Cy Coben, who just passed away recently. He was a Jewish songwriter who made his home in Nashville and was good friends with many famous country musicians, and was personal friends with the late country guitarist, Chet Atkins. It's a great post-World War II Halloween song written for children, back when the babyboom generation was taking off and Halloween was becoming very child-friendly, ala door-to-door trick-or-treating. (The recordings I've listed from earlier eras was from when Halloween was more of an adult celebration.) Though not old enough by any means to remember when this song came out, I fondly remember it being performed on the Captain Kangaroo weekday kids' television show when this time of year came around. The performance of the song was nothing high-tech.  All it was was simply a smiling paper jack-o'-lantern puppet on a stick, bouncing up and down on a cardboard fence singing, "Punky Punkin the happy punkin'....and do you know why?  Because he's a jack-o'-lantern instead of being a pumpkin pie! Wel-l-l-l, how delightful is that? When I got that record off of ebay back around 2002, complete with the original picture sleeve, I played that record to death...and taught my little nephew how to sing it, too! Roy Rogers used to sing it as well. Great Halloween song!  And hey, if you want to hear it, here's the YouTube link for the 45rpm version of this song.

10. "The Wobblin' Goblin With The Broken Broom" This was the flipside of that Rosemary Clooney record. And she gives it her usual jazzy treatment. The tune was written by Johnny Marks, who also penned the smash holiday hit of 1949: "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."  I guess since he did so well with his famous Christmas number, he also tried his hand at writing a Halloween song as well.  If you listen to this song on YouTube, if you think about it, it is almost a "Halloween version" of "Rudolph."  Instead of Rudolph's red-nose getting him into trouble with his fellow reindeers, in the realm of Halloween, it's a goblin who can't ever fly right...due to his broken broom.  Well, the song goes as such: the poor goblin couldn't ever get his broomstick up in the sky. Upon ascending, he would just be left with a broken broom that left him dangling in the air. (Oh dear!)  He would then hear from the local airport, "Control tower to goblin, your broomstick is wobblin'. You better make a landing pretty soon....He could only go flying when the witches took him piggy back. But then one day he used his brain...and bought himself and aeroplane. So when you're looking up on Halloween, as he zips and zooms. No harm can befall him, no longer do they call him....The Wobblin' Goblin With the Broken Broom. Wooo-o-o-o!"  (And I guess his name went down in Halloween history ala Rudolph in the Christmas realm!)  What a great way to end this list!

Here again is another link on YouTube to find the "Broken Broom" song. 

Oh goodness, I've spent most of the night typing this. Dawn is not very far away. But perhaps its appropriate. There are more songs I could have covered. But I stayed in your rule of only ten. It matters little to me that I win a prize, or not. I'm not a big fan of loud guitar music. For me, the prize was....getting to write this list. It means a lot to me that you allowed me to do so. There is just something so special about the etheral autumnal October Twilight. Have a good dawn. I am

Most Sincerely Yours,
Dirk Allman 

"October Twilight," a slow dance R&B number from the 1950's as sung or "doo-whaaed" by Chris Powell and His Five Blue Flames, with tenor sax solo by Vance Wilson...on an Okeh 78rpm, white label "DJ" radio station recording from the early 1950's.  To be more exact, this recording was made in late 1951.  Chris Powell and His Blue Flames were originally a "jump" band residing in the Philadelphia area in the late 1940's.  They were signed by Columbia records at the time; and when Columbia restarted its Okeh label for the emerging R&B market in July of 1951, (I'm sure that the popularity of Okeh artist, Johnny Ray, had something to do with that) the Five Blue Flames were one of the first to be on there.  But for the purposes of this particular've gotta love the title

And that's how it was, my Halloween top-ten playlist of not too long ago.  That posting has shown up in many internet searches since then...and I occasionally get an email from it.  I'm glad to finally give it a home here on my own website.  I've no doubts that many people will enjoy reading it.  You have to admit, the list is a bit unique. So, wherever you are in the world, enjoy a little bit of old-time Halloween right here...even if it is nowhere near October.

An old Halloween invitation postmarked October 27th, 1931, Charlotte, North Carolina, 5pm.  The letter was addressed to Miss Edith Gainey (and another name I can't make out) of 521 South Church Street, Charlotte, North Carolina.  The invitation states:  "The J.O.Y. class invites you to come to a Hallowe'en party.)  Time:  8:00 o' clock.  Place 2127 Norton, R.S.V.P.  Date: Friday, Oct 30."  (I think the J.O.Y. class was kind of like a Christian Bible study group that met in public schools at the time.)  Edith Gainey eventually married Earl Knight and she, of course, became Edith Knight, and was a longtime member of Charlotte's uptown First Baptist Church.  She lived to be around 90.  Her husband served in the US Merchant Marines during World War II.  This old Halloween invitation was discarded from her estate.  Yours truly, of course, had to save it.  I could do no other.  Well, I got some actual "Halloween Carolina history" in this posting after all

UPDATE:  Here's something I managed to retrieve as concerns the estate of the aforementioned Edith Knight:  what looks like a Halloween photo from the World War II year of 1944!  The photo was a black-and-white negative, that I managed to make into at least a somewhat fuzzy positive.  Is it from Halloween?  You look at it and be the judge.  This may have been her children.  One appears to be dressed with rabbit ears upon his head...and wearing bib overalls.  The other; in a Hawaiian grass skirt.  Obviously homespun outfits from the World War II era. 


Just a small disclaimer here:  Many of the ephemeral artifacts found on this website are now, due to age, in the public domain and are from my personal collection.  Items and quotes of a more recent vintage, that are used here in part for newsworthy commentary and/or educational purposes, are covered by the Fair Use Act of The US Copyright Law. 

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