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Music on trial

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Sometime in these past few weeks, your parents likely purchased their tickets to Christmas Festival, or perhaps you have submitted a plea to the St. Olaf Extra email alias for said tickets. Maybe you have considered camping outside of the Buntrock Office to secure your spot as first in line for student tickets or have been prowling Craigslist, ready to capture your prey as soon as it presents itself. Christmas Festival certainly deserves the enthusiasm of its attendees. It is an absolutely joyous celebration presented with passion and the talent of our musically-inclined peers. I do love Christmas Fest; believe me, I have participated in many a Fest night.

I am, however, a bit saddened by the fact that its music overshadows that of its surrounding holidays. Mostly, those fine tunes associated with Halloween. Many of you will likely be celebrating the holiday this upcoming weekend and might be unsure of how to truly engage in the festivities. I have compiled a short list of my favorite Halloween songs in hopes that you will listen and find in them a true holiday spirit.

1. “Werewolves of London” from Warren Zevon’s 1978 album Excitable Boy

This song might just be the greatest party rock anthem ever written. Need I say any more? I will. Zevon opens with the line, “I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand,” painting the werewolf as a civilized being, but Zevon’s werewolves wreak havoc upon London – mutilating little old ladies, ripping out lungs and drinking Piña Coladas at Trader Vic’s. This is a great Halloween jam, not only for its subject matter, but also for the opportunity it presents in a group setting to sing a collective “Ahh-oooh” in imitation of the werewolves of London.

2. “The Witch” 1964 by the Sonics

Many have deemed the Sonics as the “first punk/grunge band,” and their 1964 hit “The Witch” certainly testifies to that title. The lyrics warn of a new female in town with “long black hair and a big black car” and advise listeners to steer clear of her “’cause she’s the witch.” Although she may not be the witch we would associate with Halloween a woman dressed in black with frizzy hair and a broomstick, it remains a fine tune for the holiday with its chromatic and distorted guitar lines and trembling organ accompaniment that make for a great boogie. I hope you do not meet the Sonics’ witch at the Grand or your various other weekend destinations.

3. “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” from “30 Rock,” Season 2, Episode 2, “Jack Gets Back in the Game”

If you have not seen this episode of 30 Rock, I highly recommend watching it – solely for this song. Tracy Jordan presents to his producer his novelty song “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” and it becomes the most memorable three minutes of the episode. In it, a werewolf comes to Jordan on the eve of his Bar Mitzvah celebration and gives him an order. “He says tomorrow, my son, you will be a man, but tonight’s the time to join the wolfen clan.” The narrative is sung over a good party groove featuring horns and female back-up vocalists – perfect for any Halloween celebration.

4. “Psycho Killer” 1977 by the Talking Heads

Talking Heads frontman David Byrne once said about this song: “When I started writing this, I imagined Alice Cooper doing a Randy Newman-type ballad.” If you have heard the hit, then you can perhaps understand Byrne’s remark. Over a driving bass and bright guitar groove, Byrne sings his chant-like melody, flying into his falsetto following refrains and slipping into French for the bridge. Although the singer claims, “I’m tense and nervous, and I can’t relax,” hopefully you will not be should this song start playing at upcoming Halloween gatherings.

5. “Nightmare on My Street” 1988 by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince aka, Will Smith

Do not listen to this song immediately before going to bed. It will keep you up awake and sweating in fear. In it, Will Smith tells his story of a night spent watching “Nightmare on Elm Street.” After returning home and climbing in bed, he awakens to the sound of the television and, thinking he is alone, walks into the living room and turns it off. His action does not go over well with the man watching TV: his sweater-clad neighbor, Fred, who says in a demonic voice, “You turned off David Letterman … now you must die!” This is a fantastic Halloween hit – check it out!

raben@stolaf.edu