MusicMusic featuresMusic lists

Even better than the real thing: Halloween cover versions edition

30 October, 2015 — by Leon Barton0

Misfits collection album cover

Me and my good friend David present a radio show that no-one listens to called ‘Sensations in the Dark‘.

It’s on community radio in Innsbruck, Tirol but you can listen to it online anywhere in the world. Not that anyone does. But we have fun doing it, which is the most important thing (I always tell myself when the listening figures come in).

One of the most fun shows to do is the last one in October… The Halloween fright-night Spooktacular!

We have a few regular features, and the Spooktacular is a great opportunity to stick a cloak and some fake fangs on them to get into the spirit of the season. ‘Even Better than the Real Thing‘ is where we play a cover version that we argue is far superior to the original.

We are happy for people to argue back (not that anyone ever does) but we always try and justify our selections.

The following have either been featured on previous Halloween shows or will be in future… if we haven’t been pulled off the air by then.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Dusty Springfield – ‘Spooky’
(Written by Mike Shapiro, Harry Middlebrooks Jr, James Cobb, Buddy Buie, originally recorded by Mike Shapiro/Classics IV)

This song has an interesting history, having been written and recorded as an instrumental by saxophonist Mike Shapriro in 1967. A few months later Classics IV set the tune to words about a ‘spooky little girl’ and had a massive US hit with it. But by far the best take is Dusty Springfield’s gender-flipped version from 1970. Surely one of the most sultry boy-meets-girl tales ever recorded by a lesbian. Or anyone.

The Lemonheads – ‘Skulls’
(written by Glen Danzig, originally recorded by the Misfits)

Perhaps no other band screams ‘Halloween’ like the Misfits. They are to October 31st what The Dropkick Murphys are to St. Patricks Day. Except, unlike the Dropkick Murphys, the Misfits were actually good. They must also be one of the most covered bands of all time. I considered going for Metallica’s excellent take on ‘Last Caress’, maybe the most famous of the many thousands of Misfits covers, but I’m not sure it’s quite ‘even better than the real thing’ as the original is pretty awesome. As is the original recording of ‘Skulls.’ But unlike the many Misfits covers from punk bands that just speed up the playing and beef up the production, The Lemonheads go the other way with this one, with Evan Dando plaintively strumming his acoustic guitar and strangely turning the horror-comedy of the original into a yearning lament. It’s lovely. And that’s not a word I ever expected to use to describe a Misfits song.

Stan Rogers – ‘The Witch of the Westmoreland’
(written by Archie Fisher, originally recorded by Barbara Dickson)

Fisher is a bit of a folkie legend in his native land, having worked with many of the most revered musicians in his idiom (The Clancy Brothers, Nic Jones etc) and presented a show on BBC Radio Scotland for the past three decades. He still has nowhere near the status that Stan Rogers does in Canada though. Rogers’ legend has grown since his tragic death caused by an on-flight fire at the age of just 33 back in 1983, but his music pretty much defined Canadian folk anyway, being as it’s a mix of Scottish, Irish and Maritime sounds and themes. There’s a warmth and richness to Rogers’ version of this great song that I don’t think Fisher or Dickson’s earlier takes got anywhere near.

Julie Driscoll with Brian Auger and the Trinity – ‘Season of the Witch’
(written and originally recorded by Donovan)

Donovan may often be dismissed (not entirely unreasonably) as a Dylan-wannabe but he’s still written some great songs and ‘Season of the Witch’ is one of the very best. I’ve only just discovered this epic version, recorded only a few months after the original was released and have been listening to it over and over in the past few days. I only really knew Driscoll previously for her version of Dylan’s ‘Wheels on Fire’ (as used in the opening credits to ‘Absolutely Fabulous’) so it’s been a very pleasurable surprise to ‘discover’ this strong vocalled, psychedelic pop take on one of Donavan’s finest moments.

Nina Simone – ‘I Put a Spell On You
(written and originally recorded by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins)

Hawkins intended this to be a refined bluesy ballad but the producer “brought in ribs and chicken and got everybody drunk, and we came out with this weird version… I don’t even remember making it.“ It’s great, but as with virtually any song, not something that couldn’t be improved by having Nina Simone sing it instead. Simone is an ‘Even better than the real thing’ regular and it’s not hard to hear why. One of the most soulful singers ever committed to tape, she seemed to inhabit virtually every song she sang as if every word and every note was entirely the product of her own making. With ‘I Put a Spell On You’, that ability is showcased to chilling effect. She sounds genuinely witchy. And I mean that as a compliment.

For more spine-chilling thrills check out 31 of the best horror movies to watch during Halloween.

Leave a Reply