Cultural Impact: 6 Halloween Novelty Songs

Cultural Impact is a column looking at musical albums that have found their way into multiple pop-culture mediums (films, tv shows, video games), and hopefully turns you on to music you’ve probably heard, but might not know much about.

In this slight deviation from the standard Cultural Impact formula, I’m taking a look at 6 great Halloween novelty songs.

Halloween is my favorite holiday (as evidenced here and here). My wife and I decorate our house like crazy and listen to a huge Halloween playlist pretty much the entire month of October (it’s over 11 hours long). The six following songs are all on our playlist and one of them is my all-time favorite Halloween song. I look at their impact on pop culture and why you should listen to them despite their novelty nature.

In chronological order:

1. “I Put A Spell On You” – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1956)

While it may not be considered a novelty song by some, “I Put a Spell on You” has developed into one of the most covered songs you’ll ever hear. The best part of this song is the story about it’s recording; originally intended to be a love song, Hawkins claims that the producer “brought in ribs and chicken and got everybody drunk, and we came out with this weird version.” Hawkin’s version never made the charts, but Nina Simone’s cover reached #23 in 1965. Other top 100 chart climbers include covers from The Alan Price Set, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bryan Ferry, and Sonique. Other covers were done by the likes of Queen Latifah, She & Him, The Kills, Iggy Pop, Marilyn Manson, and even Ray Charles.

One of the most iconic renditions is from the Halloween film favorite, Hocus Pocus.

2. “The Purple People Eater” – Sheb Wooley (1958)

This 1958 #1 hit is another classic novelty song that just about everyone has heard and knows the words to. “The Purple People Eater” plays on the radio throughout October, shows up on children’s television shows and albums, and is annoying as hell. In a little known trivia bit, the song has been covered by Jimmy Buffet on the soundtrack for Contact. The song inspired the nickname for the Minnesota Viking’s defensive line in the 70s as well as the 1988 feature film Purple People Eater staring Neil Patrick Harris.

3. “Monster Mash” – Bobby “Boris” Pickett (1962)

If you caught our list of 9 favorite Halloween songs last week, you might have noticed a question in the comments asking where “Monster Mash” was. Well it isn’t my favorite, but it is easily the most popular and listened to Halloween song. Written in 1962, it has been covered countless times. The most famous might be The Misfits, but it’s also been covered by The Beach Boys, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, The Smashing Pumpkins, and even Zoidberg of Futurama. “Monster Mash” even reached Number 1 on the Billboard 100 on October 20, 1962. It’s been a staple on the radio every October for the last 60 years, and likely will continue to be for another 60.

4. “Riboflavin Flavored, Non-Carbonated, Poly-Unsaturated Blood” – Don Hinson And The Rigamorticians (1964)

From the album Monster Dance Party, this lesser known novelty song fits right in with “Monster Mash” and is from the same producer. The original version became significantly more popular after being covered by 45 Grave, an American goth and punk rock band. Other than this cover, not much is known about the song, but it appears quite often on Pandora’s Halloween Party radio station.

5. “They’re Coming To Take Me Away Ha-Haaaa!” – Napoleon XIV (1966)

This amazing (and my favorite Halloween) song actually hit #3 on the Top 100. It’s been covered by a few artists and groups (The Monkees reference it, as do Mudvayne, Brighter Death Now, Biz Markie, and Kim Fowley), but none hold a candle to the original from Napoleon XIV.

6. “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” – Tracy Jordan

It’s difficult to call this a novelty song as it had a public (and fake) lifespan of 5 seconds on an episode of 30 Rock. Yet, a full version exists all over the internet. The best part of the full version? Parts of the song were sung by Donald Glover who does an excellent Tracy Morgan impression. One can only hope that this song has as long of a life as “Monster Mash.”

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