The Weirdest Legends Abound About the Most Banal Pop Tunes
Music: it's an indispensable and ubiquitous aspect of the human condition. It is, in these days of instantaneous electronic communication, virtually everywhere, all the time, even when we don't want it. It programs us in shopping malls (Note: The author is a middle-aged man who still, fondly, remembers these institutions as centers of cultural commerce and exchange, dating from the fast-disappearing rearview mirror of his youth in the 1980s. You'll forgive him his anachronistic and somewhat out-of-touch references.) and grocery stores; it assaults us on the streets, in the cinema—everywhere. And, of course, because music (sound, vibration) is the magical stuff from whence the universe is formed, there are songs, and then, there are CREEP TUNES.
"Creep Tunes" collect horrors around themselves, sending out vibrations of fear, worry, and terror that accumulate in urban legends and weird, but undeniably TRUE, folklore. And, often, these are not even songs that HINT of horror, but, instead, are banal, saccharine pop songs that, nonetheless, can drive you as a mad as something from the Lovecraftian mythos.
And we have a few here to discuss. Turn it up, man.
John Denver "Sunshine On My Shoulder"
The first in our anthology of Creep is, undoubtedly, the most easygoing and laid-back tune on our whole damn album: "SUNSHINE ON MY SHOULDER."
You see, back before John Denver became the folksy voice of a reefer-toking, hemp-smoking, granny-glasses-wearing generation of pretentious hippie tree-humpers, he was, in point of fact, a HIRED KILLER FOR THE US ARMY. In De 'Nam, my man. You dig me?
Seems that "Sunshine on My Shoulder" is actually a sly (some might say, PSYCHOPATHIC reference) to the late Mr. Deutschendorf's ability to pick off the Viet Cong while hiding in the surrounding brush. When the sunshine hit his shoulder, it made him happy... TO KILL!
John Denver died in October of 1997, crashing an experimental plane. This, of course, adds a whole new macabre undercurrent of almost prophetic significance to his signature song "Leaving on a Jet Plane." (As in, permanently.)
The Ohio Players "Love Rollercoaster"
The weird world of "EVP" (Electronic Voice Phenomena) postulates that the voices of the dead can be picked up audibly, both on magnetic tape and now, of course, digital recorder. The pioneer of this was Dr. Konstantin Raudive, and HE, also, supposedly, communicated by EVP after his own death. Whatever the case, the results are baffling... and often quite eerie sentences of sing-song type speech. But, also, typically gibberish that has to be interpreted—as if a Ouija Board, for instance, came equipped with a "Read Aloud" function.
EVP, however, is NOT what is going on with The Ohio Players' 1975 hit "Love Rollercoaster." Oh, a mysterious sound is heard... screaming, of course. But no one is claiming that the voice doing the screaming is dead. At least, not while she is being recorded.
The story (there are variations) usually goes that The Ohio Players, while recording the song, picked up the weird, dying screams of a woman next door, or the cleaning woman, or somebody being murdered outside... SOMEBODY BEING VIOLENTLY KILLED, in other words. And they incorporated it into their song. And so it can be heard.
Alternately, a story made the rounds that one of The Ohio Players actually MURDERED his own girlfriend in the studio. And then it was covered up. But they liked her scream so much, they kept that part of it.
Alternately from THAT, it is also rumored the model on the front cover, a PLAYBOY bunny dripping honey, was the one screaming. Because they covered her in burning hot honey, and she had to have chunks of her skin removed to get it off, and the pain was excruciating so they recorded her screaming. So, yeah.
I don't know anything about Funk, except Curtis Mayfield and the theme from Sanford and Son, and that song he did, "Move On Up." Moving right along.
The Eagles "Hotel California"
There's a persistent rumor, going back decades and decades, that this song, which seems to describe someone entering a sort of temple that becomes a hotel or Garden of Elysium for wayward souls, was inspired by a member of the band having, for a short period, joined Anton LaVey's Church of Satan (which, by the way, was originally located on CALIFORNIA Street in San Francisco). This is untrue, but since the song describes a "beast" that "you cannot kill," (seeming to echo a saying by Anton LaVey that, "There is a beast in man that should be exercised, not exorcised"), the rumor developed, grew, and marks the song as a Creep Tune par excellence.
We defy ANYONE that knows this legend to listen to "Hotel California" and NOT be haunted by images of Anton LaVey in a horned cloak during the (in)glory days of the Church of Satan, in the late Sixties. You know, before Hell froze over.
The Beatles "Helter Skelter"
Everyone on Earth over the age of 40 knows about the Manson Murder Mystique: so many urban legends surrounding these events, it's like opening a can of worms, maybe some sort of psychic Pandora's Box, just to quantify it. As far as diabolical spiritual manifestations, this is the Higher Math here. So, interestingly, at the core of it are those lovable mop tops, The Fab Four, the Beatles; but, we all know the sacred, mysterious "Fifth beatle" was actually ABBADON, the "Angel of the Bottomless Pit," whose hair was as that of a woman, and whose burning breastplate was an electric guitar, and whose tail was the plug; and who was given great power and authority to wreak "HELTER SKELTER" upon the unbelievers during the final, bitter conflict that would bring about ARMAGEDDON.
The Manson Family members (most dead now, having been "paroled to the boneyard," as Charlie would say; Charlie himself died several months ago)—Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Bobby Beausoleil, Charles "Tex Watson", and Leslie Van Houten—committed a brutal two night mass murder which claimed the lives of jet set Hollywood-types Jay Sebring, Sharon Tate, Voytek Frykowski, anad coffee heiress Abigail Folger, as well as Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, a couple who owned a chain of supermarkets. This scared the living lillies out of common American television viewers who, at any rate, were becoming anesthetized to violence in Vietnam and probably needed a few jolts to shock them back into psychic awareness.
The murders were instigated, according to the prosecution, by Manson, who was a hippie guru cult leader living out on a deserted cowboy ranch that once stood as a filming location for old westerns, going back to the silent era. He did this because he thought John Lennon and Paul McCartney (presumably George and Ringo, as well) were sending him messages via the double-LP White Album. The song "Helter Skelter" Manson took as a call to imminent racial conflict, wherein militant black revolutionaries would overthrow the "pig system," but unable to run things, would call on Charlie and The Family (who would survive by hiding in "the Hole," or bottomless pit of Revelation Chapter 9) to come out and take over. And, hence, Charlie would literally rule Earth as a reincarnation of the Risen Christ.
John Lennon explained his song was actually about a child's playground slide.
I'll leave it right there.
Note: John Lennon was gunned down by psychotic fan Mark David Chapman in 1980, outside the Dakota Arms, a hotel used as a filming location for the Satanic thriller Rosemary's Baby. Which was directed by Roman Polanski. Who was the husband of Sharon Tate. Who was murdered on the orders of Charles Manson. Who was influenced by "secret messages" in the song "Helter Skelter." Which was written by—John Lennon.
As I maintain, a malevolent vortex of bad karma, dragging in lost souls.
J.W. Pepper (lyrics) "Only a Violet I Plucked from Mother's Grave When I was but a Boy"
Not by any stretch of the imagination could this old Victorian pub tune ever be considered "pop," but for its day and age, it was the equivalent thereof. On every drunken tongue at the time, one supposes, the fifth "canonical" victim of Gentle Jack (the Ripper) was heard singing this before meeting her destined and so-tragic fate at the hands of the jaunty, loquacious butcher. Departing to her slum lodging at Miller's Court with her newest (and last) client, the bedraggled prostitute was unceremoniously dispatched, thereafter disemboweled, mutilated, and defaced in a manner so grotesque and shocking that the crime photos, unseen for many, many long decades, still retain the power to disturb and sicken even jaded, modern people raised on such stuff as Faces of Death.
Afterwards, Jack departed, disappearing into the night and fog of historical speculation. But, this song, this jaunty, yet still somehow morose drinking song, has a seeming, weird power to send shivers up and down the knowing spine.
Here is one interpretation:
The Beach Boys "Cease to Resist"
Written, of course, by hippie "Guru of Apocalypse" and convicted mass-murderer Charles Manson, a friend of Beach Boy Dennis Wilson for a short time, the Beach Boys took Manson's paen to mind-controlling your bitch, and changed it to a sort-of harmless love ballad about Jilly or Jenny giving it up, probably after a picnic on a beach somewhere. Manson was unenthused, possibly because he never saw a penny in royalties.
I mean, he was, like, triple-life-sentenced, after all.
When the Music's Over
So much more we could write about (did you know, for instance, the entire lyrics of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" are said to have come to authoress Julia Ward Howe by automatic writing? Must have been an early medium); but this is an article, not a book, so, for our purposes, the "music's over" for tonight.
The record has played through (back when dinosaurs walked the earth, young ones, we had these things called vinyl records. They played on little wheels with arms that scratch-scratched across the surface of them, releasing the music. It's all very primitive. There was a tiny monkey hidden in a cabinet below, like in the Flintstones or something, bicycling very fast to get that wheel to move.). At any rate.
The needle has hit the "locked groove" at the end, is sending up scratchy fuzz. So we'll retire for now, with just one or two (or three) more tunes to play. One for the long, dark road ahead.
Guiseppe Tartini "Devil's Trill Sonata"
We know very little about Tartini, except that the Devil supposedly came to him in a dream, playing his "violin so wild" (to quote the loquacious King Diamond), and that, much like Coleridge with "Kubla Khan," upon awakening, he found he could only remember a little snatch of it. What he did remember has come down to us as a banal, if Satanically-inspired, piece of classical frolic.
Robert Johnson "Crossroads"
For obvious reasons, this one puts me in the mind of the 1986 horror thriller Angelheart, starringMickey Rourke and Robert De Niro (which was directed by Alan Parker, who helmed such rock musical spectacles as Pink Floyd The Wall and Evita.)
Mississippi Delta Blues man Robert Johnson supposedly "sold his soul" to the Devil at a crossroads in Dockery Mississippi, near a cotton plantation. There, he handed his guitar to a big black man that tuned it for him. Handing it back, the black man (a stand-in, Christianized version of "Legba" some have suggested, from voodoo legendry) told young Johnson that he would grant him the gift of musical mastery... but, at the aforementioned price, of course.
Whatever the case about the infernal deal, we'll let you judge the result for yourself. Was this Johnson making an admission of mortal, spiritual guilt via his own music?
Rezso Seress "Gloomy Sunday"
A song so infamous, it leaves the superstitious and credulous messing their britches with FEAR just to listen to the damn thing. Reportedly, this suicide song inspires the suicidal to commit suicide. Notable suicidal men and women that have committed suicide while listening to this dirge, (which has, depending on the player, either a mournful appeal, or a weird, "Spooks on the Loose," Tin-Pan Alley, 78 RPM jazziness) include unhappy Hungarians who drowned themselves in rivers or jumped out of windows, etc., just from the evil, twisted, undeniably SATANIC vibrations of this plaintive wail of existential grief.
Some vibrations, as every black magician knows, can send the Will out into the ether, and effect a blessing; alternately, a curse. ALL energy is eternal vibration, and everything is mental energy directed forward by the magician.
SEVENTEEN suicides in Hungary were said to be connected to the song by Mr. Seress (the lyrics were by Laszlo Javor) which was written in 1933. Supposedly, the Hungarian authorities banned it. Reportedly. Did they? Did they really?
Many suicide notes were said to reference the lyrics. And it was rumored to be the same situation in America, where numerous artists covered the song. And where, it is rumored, it was unofficially banned from the airwaves for many, many years.
And Seress's girlfriend, supposedly, committed suicide. And Seress? He, in point of fact, DID actually commit suicide by jumping from a building in 1968.
Life imitating art?
Addendum: Many, many, many artists have covered "Gloomy Sunday"; most notably "Lady Day" herself, Billie Holiday, whose smoky, tired and world-weary rendition is undoubtedly the most famous.
Others have included everyone from the insufferable Bjork, to Sinead O'Connor, Portishead, Sarah Brightman, and the "Black Pope" himself, Dr. Anton Szandor LaVey, with mistress Blanche Barton on vocals. For the purposes of concluding this little article, however, we have chosen to post the, ah, "loose" interpretation of operatic gothic demoness Diamanda Galas, whose mordant, hellish, cheerless vocalizations have the aesthetic flavor of a mass burial. On a rainy day. Somewhere in France.