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Back Spin

By Rick Lyle

This is the debut of a new feature for our magazine. It will appear in various issues throughout the year, so keep an eye out for it. Having worked in the radio industry for a good portion of my life, I felt compelled to share some knowledge and fun facts about a huge portion of what steers the radio industry bus and that is MUSIC! With Halloween just around the corner, I thought it might be a good time to kick things off with some Halloween fun. Perhaps you will learn something from this and future columns from time to time that you can share with family and friends. That said, if you want to dazzle those family and friends, I suggest you study what appears on this page. It might come in handy at that next Halloween party! “Hey did you know that…?” (Then proceed to fill in the blank) You will be tested on this information, so study hard, cram, burn the midnight oil or do whatever it takes to take YOU to the top of the music trivia heap!

As I proceeded to dig into some Halloween music trivia, I discovered that these are the top, pop all-time Halloween songs according to Billboard Magazine:

#5} (Don’t Fear) The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult – This one might be a bit of a surprise. After three albums which achieved only marginal success, the five-man hard rock unit finally cracked the Top 40 Pop chart in late 1976 with this hit which peaked at #12. Since it remained on the Billboard Top 40 Chart for 20 weeks, the band enjoyed great success with this one during the Halloween season.

#4} Thriller by Michael Jackson – Now, if you had to pick the most popular Halloween hit of all time, you could make an argument for this one which appeared as the title track from the album of the same name. The man dubbed as the” King of Pop” was still ridin’ high on the success of his 1979 comeback record; “Off The Wall”, when 1982’s Thriller album hit the stores. The record spawned seven, count ‘em SEVEN, Top Ten smashes, including “Billie Jean” which turned out to be MJ’s biggest hit remaining at #1 for 7 straight weeks. The album helped by the popular Thriller MTV video sold a whopping 40 million copies and to this day remains the biggest selling album of all time.

#3} Superstition by Stevie Wonder – From Stevie’s 15th studio album, 1972’s “Talking Book”, this infectious groove has been covered by at least three other popular artists including a raucous live version by the late blues rock guitarist/vocalist extraordinaire, Stevie Ray Vaughn. The song has also been prominently featured in no less than 8 movie soundtracks! Even 45 years after its initial release, Superstition’s funky drum, clavinet and Moog bass intro (all played by Stevie himself) remains instantly recognizable even by the most casual of music fans worldwide.

#2} Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett – This chart topping novelty hit released in August of 1962 is considered the quintessential Halloween ditty by many boys and ghouls, (sorry, I couldn’t resist). The song was so popular that it was re-released in 1973 and once again showed up in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100. While more sophisticated sound effects were still a few years away, the producers had to resort to rudimentary studio tricks to replicate the creaky sound of a coffin lid being lifted, which was simply the sound of a rusty nail being pulled from a board. The B-Side of 45 rpm disc was called “Monster Mash Party”. Remember that cocktail party I mentioned earlier? Well then, go ahead and mention that none other than the late Leon Russell played on that flip side of the hit. He was initially booked to tickle the ivories on the hit side of the platter, but was tardy for the recording session.

#1} Ghostbusters by Ray Parker, Jr. – The song was the theme to the blockbuster hit movie of same name. One couldn’t travel far without hearing the synthesizer laden song with the ominous intro, since it was being played just about everywhere during the summer of ‘84. Heck, you could even ask Grandma the question; “Who ya gonna call?” and she’d reply, “Ghostbusters!” This #1 blockbuster became the biggest hit of Parker, Jr’s career. It was not lightning in a bottle for the Detroit born musician as he had a dozen other Top 40 Billboard charting hits including 4 others to reach the Top 10. Another little tidbit for you lovers of music trivia… Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham was initially offered the opportunity to compose and record the theme for the movie, but declined.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge the passing of Steely Dan’s co-founder, Walter Becker on September 3rd. Along with Donald Fagen, he co-wrote and played guitar on nearly every one of Steely Dan’s recordings. Walter Becker was 67.

Portions of the information included are courtesy of Billboard and Record Research, Inc.