BOO! Happy Halloween, dudes! And to all you Christian fundamentalists who think Harry Potter is Satan — um, happy “Holy-ween,” dudes!
Christian fundamentalist or not, you will certainly agree that when it comes to Halloween-themed pop songs, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is king. Well, alongside “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett, of course. The truth is, without “Monster Mash,” there would be no “Thriller.” Come to think of it, without Boris Karloff — whom Pickett mimics so charmingly in “Monster Mash” — there would be no Vincent Price, guest rapper on “Thriller.”
In terms of Halloween-type music, I also have a special spot for 1967’s “Spooky” by Classics IV (same group that did “Stormy”), because I am a girl. You know the song: “Just like a ghost, you’ve been a-hauntin’ my dreams/So I’ll propose . . . on Halloween/Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you . . . ” “Spooky” hits that Nancy Drew, crisp-October-evening, getting-ready-to-go-out, dark-at-7-p.m. sweet spot. It marries innocent sexiness with even more innocent spookery, and that is all right. (The always-witchy Peggy Lee covered it as well.)
But for overall good-time spooky value, “Thriller” and the entire Thriller album are a pretty good deal. Even the liner notes are creepy. (Remember that MJ doodle of him and Paul McCartney nearly ripping some freaky girl in half?) The opening track, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” features a dying baby and the lyrics “You’re a vegetable/You’re a vegetable/Still they hate you/You’re a vegetable.” That’s some solid creepiness value right there. And while the title song and video are overtly zombie-based, I would contend that the album’s best song, “Billie Jean,” is covertly Zombies-based.
I don’t remember how it happened, but one day I got “Billie Jean” stuck in my head, as one does, and then it somehow morphed into “She’s Not There” by the Zombies. That’s what I call a mental mashup. It happens all the time when I’ve got a song stuck in my head while doing other things — laundry, dishes, etc. And I don’t even like mashups.
Anyway, these two songs rose up from the vast swamplands of song-sludge in my head, and floated toward one another like long-lost soul mates, then wrapped around each other and spun in a circle. It turns out these songs are kindred spirits. And, not surprisingly, “She’s Not There” is a pretty good Halloweeny type of song too. It has an ominous, something’s-gonna-happen feel. I’ve played the two songs together in my mind so many times now, I can hear them simultaneously.
It’s not that I think MJ was ripping off or even inspired by “She’s Not There” when he wrote “Billie Jean.” But the two songs have an awful lot in common — starting with their noirish opening lines, both recalling a femme fatale of the past/possible present: “Well no one told me about her, the way she lied . . . ” (“She’s Not There”). “She was more like a beauty queen from a movie scene . . . ” (“Billie Jean”). In “She’s Not There,” Rod Argent’s organ pairs perfectly with the background synth in “Billie Jean” — a rising/falling chord progression leading to nowhere, over and over. Even the bass lines are sorta similar. Both feature prechorus bits that feel like bridges and tease with the suggestion of a possible escape route from the inevitable chorus to which they lead. Oh! And those effeminate male narrators whom we can’t even trust — I mean, if she’s not there, what happened to her, and why doesn’t he want anyone to look for her? And what about that “Be careful what you do/’Cause the lie becomes the truth” bit? Was Billie Jean his lover or not?
But, like I said, the mental mashups happen all the time. Last week, after hearing “My Sharona” in a Mervyns TV ad, I got that song somehow spliced together with Devo’s “Girl U Want.” Such pairings are fine and dandy when you actually like the songs involved. However, there is also a dark side of the spectrum: For the past six months I have been subject to a chronic mental mashup involving four different songs — none of which I liked very much. In fact, I heard those four songs so many times in my head, I actually started to warm up to them. It was like my own sick, internal form of radio repetition.
It was all the Dodgers’ fault. During the radio broadcast of games over the past season, they’d play a snippet of music to go in and out of commercials that sounded like “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand. The guitars, mainly: That sort of marching, mechanistic post-punk stompy bit. You know, the hook. You’d hear that snippet a solid, oh, 10 times per game, I’d estimate. I am quite certain that I’m one of thousands of Southern Californians who have spent the past six months with that fucking thing in their heads. Anyway, during the postgame hours, the mental loop would mutate all by itself. I’d be cleaning the sink, and I’d just hear that damn Franz Ferdinand mashup rocking inside my noodle. Nothing I could do. It had a life of its own.
The first mutation was relatively welcome. “Take Me Out” (or whatever it was) d/evolved naturally into its original form: “Trampled Underfoot” by Led Zeppelin. That seemed fair. “Talkin’ ’bout lo-uh-ove! Talkin’ ’bout love!” (And no, I don’t know the rest of the lyrics, and neither do you. Talkin’ ’bout love!) The guitar riffs in these two songs are not identical — and yet they may as well be. At any rate, you can’t have the FF one without the Led Zep one.
So I was diggin’ that okay. I’d have it in my head maybe 15 percent of my waking hours. And then, a few ball games later, one absent-minded early summer evening, I’m doing my thing. I’ve got the Led Ferdinand rockin’ upstairs; it’s all good. I’m making some salad. Suddenly, I realize a whole ’nother band has taken the stage in my mind and joined the jam — and they’re singing about the love! too. They sound kind of like Chicago, but the song is pretty Zeppelin, in its way. Good gorgonzola: It’s the freakin’ Doobies. They’re just droppin’ by to lay some of their heavy-ass grooves on us. I will find out later that their version of the jam — “Long Train Runnin’?” (1973) — came out two years before “Trampled Underfoot,” so there. “Without love, where would you be now? Without lo-uh-uh-ove!”
At this point, it’s getting pretty smelly up in this joint. I mean, I’m trying to make some dinner here in 2006, and I’ve got about 10 long-haired mid-’70s hippies in my head — with beards; with bongos; with B.O. and terrible denim shirts. Not to mention the post-punk guys, who have bad breath. Overall, the pot stench is pretty strong.
I guess that’s probably why, a few months later, toward the end of baseball season, my mental hippie punks and their endless, endless jam took a turn that seemed surprising at the time — but in retrospect was inevitable. I mean, you can only smoke so much pot and bang on so many bongos before the Rastas show up.
Yes, round about late August, Bob Marley and the Wailers turned up for a cameo while I was filing old bills. In truth, I suspect it was primarily their backup singers, the I-Threes, who instigated the move. You see, Rita and the girls were kinda diggin’ on the verse lyrics in the Doobies’ tune, and they felt inspired to join in and do their own little rap — from “Could You Be Loved” — right on top. The Doobies go, “Down around the corner/A half a mile from here/You can see them long trains run/And you watch them disappear.” And the ladies go, “The road of life is rocky/And you may stumble too/So while you point your fingers/Someone else is judgin’ you.”
The Doobies go, “Without love, where would you be now?” The ladies go, “Could you be, could you be, could you be loved?”
And me? I go slightly mad.
POSTSCRIPT: Dodger baseball has been over for a while, and yet — scary but true — the mashup lives on in my head. He’s several weeks too late, but now James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, is knocking on the door, trying to get down with us by singing “Living in America” over the whole mess. So far, the hippies and I have refused him entry, but we can only hold him off for so long.