The philosophy behind the Sounds of Christmas is that there is a lot of great Christmas music out there, and most traditional radio stations stick to a tired, short list of songs that get played over and over. We play a very wide variety, and in addition to your favorites, we also play some artists and some versions of songs that you may not be familiar with.
We also do the same thing in October with Halloween music.
For example, we play Screamin' Jay Hawkins and his original version of "I Put A Spell On You". He wrote it and recorded the first version of it in the mid 1950s.
That recording was selected as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. It was also ranked on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was his greatest commercial success, reportedly surpassing a million copies in sales, even though it failed to make the Billboard pop or R&B charts.
Hawkins had originally intended to record "I Put a Spell on You" as "a refined love song, a blues ballad". However, the producer (Arnold Maxin) "brought in ribs and chicken and got everybody drunk, and we came out with this weird version...I don't even remember making the record. Before, I was just a normal blues singer. I was just Jay Hawkins. It all sort of just fell in place. I found out I could do more destroying a song and screaming it to death."
Hawkins first recorded "I Put a Spell on You" as a ballad during his stint with Grand Records in late 1955. However, that version was not released at the time (it has since been reissued after Hawkins became famous. The following year, Hawkins re-recorded the song for Columbia's Okeh Records – the notorious screaming version, which was released in October 1956. However, this version was banned from most radio programming for its outrageous 'cannibalistic' style. A shortened, edited version was later released omitting the grunts and moans from the ending of the song, but the ban generally remained.
Despite that restriction, the record still sold over a million copies.
"I Put a Spell on You" has been covered by hundreds of other artists. Most of the covers treat the song seriously; few attempt to duplicate Hawkins' performance.
Soon after the release of "I Put a Spell on You", radio disc jockey Alan Freed offered Hawkins $300 to emerge from a coffin onstage. He accepted and created an outlandish stage persona in which performances began with the coffin and included "gold and leopard-skin costumes and notable voodoo stage props, such as his smoking skull on a stick – named Henry – and rubber snakes." These props were suggestive of voodoo, but also presented with comic overtones that invited comparison to "a black Vincent Price."
Despite the commercial success of the gimmick, Hawkins resented the schlock-factor that made him famous. He found it exploitative, and believed it undermined his sincerity as a vocalist and a balladeer. In a 1973 interview, he bemoaned the Screamin' epithet given to him by his record label, saying "If it were up to me, I wouldn't be Screamin’ Jay Hawkins...James Brown did an awful lot of screamin’, but never got called Screamin’ James Brown...Why can't people take me as a regular singer without making a bogeyman out of me?"
From 1962 to 1971, Hawkins lived in Hawaii. He returned to New York after purchasing a home in Hawaii and established his own publishing company, sustained by the royalties from covers of "I Put a Spell On You".
Although Hawkins' own version never charted, several later cover versions have.
Nina Simone's version reached No. 23 on the U.S. Billboard R&B chart in 1965; it also reached No. 49 on the UK singles chart that year, and No. 28 when it was reissued in 1969.
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s version reached No. 58 on the U.S. Hot 100 in 1968. The band later performed it at the Woodstock Festival in 1969.
In the UK, Bryan Ferry's version reached No. 18 in 1993.
Jeff Beck, with vocals by Joss Stone, covered the song in 2010. It was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal at the 53rd Grammy Awards.
We play about two dozen versions during the Sounds of Halloween. In addition to those I’ve already mentioned, we play lesser-known versions, including Joe Cocker, Leon Russell and Manfred Mann. Plus, we have more recent versions, including Annie Lennox, William Shatner and a duet with Buddy Guy and Carlos Santana.
So it's quite possible that you'd tune in and hear a version of "Monster Mash" that sounds different than what you were expecting. You may not even know that the Beach Boys used to perform it in concert. Or that Stephen Bishop recorded it (with Andrew Gold and Linda Ronstadt).
We have five other versions of "Ghostbusters" besides the huge hit by Ray Parker Jr. We also have seventeen versions of "(Ghost) Riders In The Sky", including Johnny Cash, the Tubes, Concrete Blonde, Dean Martin, Burl Ives, Bing Crosby and Spiderbait.
There are lots of songs from Disney movies and shows. And lots of songs from horror movies and scary TV shows, alongside sillier songs from parodies and comedies. Even some Broadway showtunes.
I think the oldest song in rotation this October is Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues". The newest might be Whitney Avaolon’s Addams Family Style version of “Bad Guy".
I guess the point I'm trying to make is that I hope you enjoy listening, and that you don't have to worry about hearing "Purple People Eater" over and over (either by Sheb Wooley, Judy Garland or George Thorogood).
I'm looking forward to the new season of the Sounds of Christmas, and sharing tons of new music with you. But for now, I hope you have fun with the Sounds of Halloween!
May you always believe in Santa Claus! And the Great Pumpkin!