Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Vertigo Shtick Halloween Playlist (Part One)

Since I'm not doing much this Halloween, Vertigo Shtick contributor Matt Burstyn and I decided to safari through our respective music libraries and dig up a few fun and chilling songs in honor of the lively holiday and those out celebrating and in need of a soundtrack. This is the first of two, for all you night owls enjoying your tricks and treats a little early this year: check back on Sunday for the second, scarier set!

1. "Spiderwebs" No Doubt (Tragic Kingdom, Interscope, 1995)

Play any 20-something the first few seconds of "Spiderwebs" and he almost certainly will manage to identify it before the first trilling cadence of Adrian Young's drums gives way to the guitar and brass theme that opens Orange County ska-punk-alt-rock-new wave-dance-pop band No Doubt's blockbuster album Tragic Kingdom, so ingrained was this album (along with Nirvana's Nevermind and Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill) in the musical psyche of an entire generation. So what if the titular Halloween staple really just serves as an unnervingly prescient songwriting metaphor about the downsides to an increasingly connected digital/cellular world? It's No Doubt: any opportunity to include them is more than welcome.DS

2. "Murder on the Dancefloor" Sophie Ellis-Bextor (Read My Lips, Universal, 2001)

Though it was the most played song in all of Europe back in 2002 and blazed the often impossible trail across the Atlantic to the U.S. dance waves, "Murder on the Dancefloor" was always runner-up for my favor to the single that followed, "Get Over You." Perhaps I was less interested in dance floors than in skillfully crafted zingers about relationships gone sour (still am); perhaps I gravitated more to the pop musicality of the latter rather than the billowing disco groove of the former; or perhaps I appreciate an element of the figurative in music videos, as in the eerie/clever mannequin shtick of "Get Over You," rather than the almost comical literalism of the lead single's video (she wins a dance competition by playing dirty. REALLY dirty). But while mannequins are scary and all (I still shudder whenever I see Kim Cattrall), it's hard to beat a little disco homicide on a Halloween playlist! DS

3. "Scream" Michael Jackson featuring Janet Jackson (HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, Epic, 1995)

Whether it's the title, the allegations of sexual abuse and countless other bizarre eccentricities involving the late King of Pop to which the song responds, or the sheer amount of talent collaborating on one mere track (not even its own single!) that scares you, it's hard to find a more hair-raising duet that's more fit for the season of thrills and chills. After Michael's first attempt to sing and dance the omnipresent paparazzi off his back, 1989's "Leave Me Alone," proved insufficient, and following the first round of child sexual abuse accusations in 1993 (yes, young'uns, how history doth repeat), the two most famous Jackson sibs joined forces for the first time since Janet sang backup on "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" in 1982 and unleashed a ferocious and deliriously exciting second round. Although the track was recorded to support the hits collection HIStory, "Scream" was a bonafide collaboration that drew influence from both singers, particularly in its production by Jimmy Jam and Tim Lewis, who helmed Janet's Rhythm Nation 1814 and more. (Fun Fact: "Scream" was Michael's first song to include profanity!) DS

4. "Veridis Quo" Daft Punk (Discovery, Virgin, 2001)

The french masters of house music used “Veridis Quo” in their animated movie "Intersetlla 55"5 which doubles as the long-form music video for their 2001 album Discovery. "Veridos Quo" plays as the heroes of the film enter a creepy night-shrouded mansion, but it doesn’t take an hour long music video to hear the “haunted mansion” feel - we've fast tracked it for you. MB

5. "Feed Me" Levi Stubbs & Rick Moranis (Little Shop of Horrors: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Geffen, 1990)

Sure, homicidal maniacs with origins and motivations beyond reason or fault aren't the type you'd necessarily want to run into at an abandoned summer camp or Indian burial ground. But what's REALLY terrifying is the homicidal maniac of one's own creation (e.g. Frankenstein, Jurassic Park, Sarah Palin). Although the film adaptation of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's irreverent musical about a murderous houseplant severely wussified the ending after test audiences objected to the original, Hamlet-esque finale, wherein the flesh-hungry vegetable ultimately devours its very keeper and his put-upon sweetheart, don't let the movie's feel-good resolution fool you: it is never a good idea to feed mutilated human flesh to your talking venus fly-trap. DS

6. "Supermassive Black Hole" Muse (Black Holes and Revelations, A&E, 2006)

Muse’s uptempo yet chilling sounds are dark and devoid alongside heavy distortion for some more alternative dancing for Hallow’s Eve. The U.K. band's track also peaked at #6 on Billboards Hot Modern Rock in 2007. MB

7. "Help, I'm Alive" Metric (Fantasies, Last Gang Records, 2008)

This indie rock band from Canada gained some popularity in the US with this track, which charted at #30 on U.S. Billboard Rock Songs and #21 on Billboard’s Canadian Hot 100. Thematically in the wake of the living dead and vampires (not, we assume, the lethargic ones that look like Robert Pattinson), Metric here offers a shaky pulse and seasonally apropos lyrics like “I tremble” and “they’re gonna eat me alive." Yum. MB

8. "Aliens Invading" Ke$ha (Animal (UK), RCA, 2010)

Ke$ha has boasted that anything can be a pop song, and this one is out of this world. It really captures the creepy fun that was omitted from her debut album Animal (although it appears on the UK release, along with similarly delicious "V.I.P."). Say what you will, but Ke$ha's got an imagination (and by the way, Katy Perry,  "E.T." makes two rather blatant Ke$ha ripoffs (after "California Gurls"). We're on to you); her website’s homepage blares “I AM CANNIBAL, I WARNED YOU,” referring less to a penchant for human flesh as to her upcoming EP/LP hybrid of the same name, which will accompany Animal's re-release. The party at a rich dude’s house just got eerie. Have your fingers crossed that you don’t wake up in the morning feel like an alien abductee. Maybe you shouldn’t kiss N’ tell, but remember: “Don’t be afraid!" (Okay, we'll stop now.) DS/MB

9. "Ghost Town" Shiny Toy Guns (Season of Poison, Universal Motown, 2009)

Here's a haunted electric roller coaster song - or at least that’s how I feel when I listen to it. The track features a lead vocal by the band's singer Sisley Treasure, who (Fun Fact!) was a contestant on the first season of Robin Antin’s Quest For The Next Doll, the CW Top Model remake wherein the choreographer and creator of the brilliant burlesque genre-busting girl group the Pussycat Dolls set out to select a sixth member for the group (it didn't pan out). She was eliminated early on, but was briefly a member of The Paradiso Girls (also created by Robin Antin) before finding her true niche with this indie rock band. Although she’s apparently not up to doll standards, Sisley definitely fits her niche with Shiny Toy Guns (plus, she gets to actually sing instead of serving as window dressing for the great PCD songstress Nicole Scherzinger). DS/MB

10. "Tear You Apart" She Wants Revenge (She Wants Revenge, Geffen/Perfect Kiss, 2006)

The duo’s most successful single peaked at #6 on Billboard’s Hot Modern Rock in 2006. She Wants Revenge creates a blend of music that Justin Warfield, lead vocalist of the group, calls “dark dance.” Forget the monster mash...he wants to fucking tear you apart. SCARY. (For the squeamish: don't worry, it's not really about assault - it's about sex.) MB

11. "Not Alone" Sara Bareilles (Kaleidoscope Heart, Epic, 2010)

Easily the grooviest track from Sara Bareilles' recent sophomore set Kaleidoscope Heart, which debuted at the top of the Billboard 200, "Not Alone" is a refreshing approach to the "don't wanna be alone" song. Bareilles gives the well-worn subject matter a clever new setting: think the Cardigans' "Lovefool" meets Friday the 13th, complete with metaphorical monsters and other sinister things that go bump in the night. To top it off, this tale of terror and artistic license is told as a slinky, almost sexy mid-tempo jazz riff, accented with a few creepy synth screeches, a couple of ghostly "woo-woos," and an ominous Hitchcock audio sample tossed in for atmosphere. As with "Lovefool," the result is an entertaining success that doesn't just revitalize an oft-used subject matter, it also manages to come across as something other than pathetic - a true feat for the typically whiny genre. DS

12. "Freakshow" Britney Spears (Blackout, Jive, 2007)

When Blackout dropped in late 2007, the melodrama of the self-destructing pop icon entirely overshadowed what actually was one of the better albums of the 2000s, and arguably the best of Britney Spears' lengthy career. Those with no sympathy for the spiraling Spears could easily dismiss it without resistance, while even the strongest of the star's many fans found Blackout enveloped with layers of guilt or sadness - even for a diehard Spears apologist like me it was difficult to justify enjoying the new Britney Spears album while the real Britney Spears was so clearly and publicly falling apart. But now that Brit-Brit is fine and dandy and medicated and has returned to working, touring, and making more money than you'll ever dream of, I highly recommend a fresh listen to Blackout for any pop or dance music fans - I think you'll discover that, nearly a year before one Lady Gaga steamrollered her way onto the scene and danced away with the credit for changing the pop music landscape, the change had already arrived via Britney Spears. Now THAT'S scary. DS

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