By James Sandham
Well folks, we’ve already got one autumn holiday under our belts – along with several pounds of turkey and a few thick slices of pumpkin pie. But hold on, because the celebrations aren’t over quite yet. You may have thought it was finally safe to put away the decorative gourds, but no, not so fast! You might as well keep ’em out, because it’s time to carve them into demonic semblances of our worst Thanksgiving table guests, which is to say that it’s almost Halloween. Call it the dessert course to Thanksgiving and give these tunes a spin to help get you in the spirit.
BUCK 65 – “ZOMBIE DELIGHT”
Well, well, what do we have here? It’s CBC Radio 2’s Rich Terfry (a.k.a. Buck 65) and a whole lot of zombies – many of whom appear to be played by Terfry himself. As do the zombie killers. As do the generals and news anchors. This tune has taken a turn for the terrifying, indeed!
ROBBIE ROBERTSON – “GHOST DANCE”
We’ve survived the zombies, so how about we check in with Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Robbie Robertson to see how we do up against the ghosts? This track comes from Robertson’s 1994 album, Music for the Native Americans, which was really his first foray into writing songs inspired specifically by his Mohawk heritage. Suffice it to say that this song isn’t so much about the sort of ghosts that go “boo,” but is more about the historic oppression of indigenous cultures in North America, which is really the more frightening of the two concepts.
WILL SMITH AND DJ JAZZY JEFF – “NIGHTMARE ON MY STREET”
Alright, let’s lighten things up – and what better way to do so than with the musical work of Mr. Will “Big Willie Style” Smith? This track, which bears a striking resemblance to a certain TV theme song, joins a long list of tunes that pay tribute to that king of 1980s horror Freddy Krueger. If you grew up in the ’80s, this will probably still give you the shivers (the vocal presence of Will Smith notwithstanding).
BRUCE COCKBURN – “GET UP JONAH”
Now let’s check back in with our Canadian Music Hall of Fame alumni. This little ditty comes from the CMHF’s 2001 inductee, Bruce Cockburn, and while it’s not exactly “scary” per se (that is, there’s no mention of zombies or ghosts or the suffering of our country’s Aboriginal Peoples), it does have some pretty dark imagery, including these lines: “There’s howling in the factory yard/There’s pounding in my head/I’m swollen up with unshed tears/Bloated like the dead….” And yet Cockburn manages to make it all sound so sweet.
MICHAEL JACKSON – “THRILLER”
Last but not least, what’s a Halloween playlist without Michael Jackson’s macabre mega-hit? “Thriller” is a must-have contemporary classic and it really brings us full circle with our songs: right back to those irrepressible zombies. In fact, I think it’s a safe bet that this song may have been something of an inspiration for Buck 65’s zombie tribute – specifically his line that when it comes to zombies, “there’s very little information and no answers/One weird thing is that they’re excellent dancers.”
Hope these songs get you dancing, too. Happy Halloween!
By James Sandham
So it’s Halloween. But somehow, in the midst of stringing up cobwebs and planting your yard with coffins in preparation for your big party, you’ve overlooked what might actually be the most important element: the music.
It’s always an easy fix to just throw on a recording of spooky sounds – or, perhaps even more predictably, to just put on “Thriller” and “Monster Mash” on repeat – but if you’re looking for something a little more unique, a party mix that incorporates some specifically Canadian spookiness, then maybe these tunes will help get you started.
PAT LEPOIDEVIN – “GHOST OF CARBISDALE CASTLE”
Vancouver-born troubadour Pat LePoidevin brings us this spooky track, along with a video of sprinting and biking sheet-clad spirits that was filmed right in the heart of the great Canadian North – that is, Front Street in Dawson City, Yukon. He recently wrapped up a performance at Halifax Pop Explosion, but you can still catch him later this week at shows in Moncton, New Brunswick, and in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where he’ll be promoting his latest album, American Fiction.
NEKO CASE – “THINGS THAT SCARE ME”
Neko Case may have been born in Virginia, but we’ll give her honorary placement on this list for the time she put in in Vancouver – first as a student at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and then later for her work with Canadian indie rock staples The New Pornographers and The Sadies. This creepy little ditty comes from her 2002 album, Blacklisted.
FEIST – “GRAVEYARD”
This song comes from multi-JUNO Award-winner Leslie Feist’s most recent album, Metals, which itself won the 2012 JUNO Award for Adult Alternative Album of the Year and features fellow Canadian crooner Chilly Gonzales. It’s a mellow track about zombies – OK, well maybe not about zombies per se, but it does reference bringing people back to life in the graveyard, which is practically the same thing. Great music for all you necromancers out there.
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE – “ROMANCE TO THE GRAVE”
Speaking of both Feist and graves, we couldn’t omit this little number, “Romance to the Grave,” courtesy of her primary collaborative collective, Toronto’s Broken Social Scene. This song comes from the band’s 2010 release, Forgiveness Rock Record, their fourth and final studio album to date. It was a No. 1 chart topper in Canada and , in addition to Feist, also featured guest appearances by Emily Haines and Scott Kannberg of Pavement, among others. This song is sure to add some romance to your spooky night.
MATT MAXWELL – “C’EST L’HALLOWEEN”
Finally, what Canadian Halloween playlist would be complete without a little shout out to our francophone friends? This song may be familiar to those who attended elementary school French classes and was actually written in 1981 by a young teacher named Matt Maxwell. It turned out to be such a hit that he eventually left his teaching job to begin a 15-year career as a children’s performer. Thousands of concerts, six albums and a JUNO Award nomination later, it seems like he made the right career choice.
Have a happy Halloween!