THE SCRATCHY NEEDLE 005: Music to Murder By

Scratchy Needle 1alt\ By Donna Lypchuk for TorontoMoon.ca \

I have murder on mind lately, not because I particularly feel like killing anyone, but because I ran across a YouTube video of an Alfred Hitchcock album I used to love as a ten-year old called Alfred Hitchcock Presents Music to Be Murdered By.  This wonderful 1958 novelty album features the dry portentous old Hitchcock doing his signature droning prefaces to each song, very spooky orchestrated versions of such classics as “I’ll Never Smile Again”, “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You”, “Suspicion”, “Body and Soul” and “Lover Come Back To Me”.

This album was already over a decade old by the time it became part of my easy-listening routine as a nine-year-old in 1969.  It was the kind of record that your elementary school teacher would play in class on Halloween and I already loved most of the tunes, because my mother used to play classics like “Body and Soul” on our Heintzman upright piano.  While listening to the album, the fact that my own mother would play these ominous feel-good tunes every single damn day added to my creeping sense overall that all things normal, including my suburban and banal life, could, at any minute, explode into an insane and Id-driven explosion of smiling, sophisticated and spontaneous mass murder.

Helter Skelter movie poster

Movie poser for “Helter Skelter” based on Charles Manson murders

My best friend Debbie had a copy of this album, purchased from the bargain bin at the local Brockville Woolco, which featured an unusually slender Hitchcock holding both an axe and a pistol to his head at the same time.  It used to make me wonder, “Why doesn’t this pompous fat old fogie finally go ahead and do it?”  Anyhow, we used to listen to this album, again and again on her portable powder blue General Electric record player during sleepovers in her back yard on a hot summer night.

Quite a few people would disagree with me, but I find the music on this scratchy old vinyl novelty record —originally released by Thorn/Emi to try and make up some financial losses incurred by the 1960 film “Circus of Horrors” by interspersing horror film sound bytes with classic tunes from the thirties and forties— to be truly entrancing.  This odd album features Hitchcock talking about murder interspersed with an unusual, hypnotic arrangement of mid-century modern musical baubles that clash together in a very pleasing, odd and quite kinky way.  It is a mix of Carl Stalling cartoon-like like piano trills, triangle tings and trumpet blasts mixed with a plethora of different classic orchestral swells from the classic band era.  Covers of old romantic love songs are blended cleverly with the suspenseful scores of Franz Reizentein and Hitchcock’s stand-up horrorlogues.  If there was such a thing as Tiki Horror music, this would be it, because there is lots of theremin mixed with clarinet and the occasional soft feathery clash on a cymbal that seems to pull you gently away into another world, and it is a bit like being put under gas at the dentist.

“Are you still with us?”, intones Hitchcock with his usual sense of droll irony between songs just as my mind is wandering to a land of fearful things.  “The difficulty with this album is that we keep losing listeners, leaving me feeling like a man wandering about in a self-service mortuary.”

Although the humor is definitely there, the album has its frightening moments, because there is a kind of dispassion and cheeriness about the music that prompts thoughts about clowns and smiling, handsome obsessed men with knives.  It also didn’t help that Charles Manson and his Girls were on the cover of The National Enquirer and other tabloids sold at the Thousand Islands Mall.  Debbie and I would have to leave our backyard and go sleep in the house with the lights on because we were scared that Charlie Manson and his gaggle of crazy giggling girls was going to come out of the trees and stab us to death through the tent.  I would almost start crying thinking about how our screaming mothers would find the bloody puncture holes in the canvas in the morning.

However, as I was listening once again to Hitchcock’s concluding joke, just as I did as child, (“Show her how you really feel about her. Go ahead.  Reach out and put your hands around her neck…”) I started remembering how, back then, mass murders and serial killers were very much a part of our lives, how this remark would never be questioned, especially by any woman, as this was before the age of political correctness and the everyday murder was just something you hoped would never happen to you.  Listening to this album yet once again, on a hot summer solstice night, an evening devoted to human sacrifice in ancient cultures, had me wondering what killers like to listen to when they go a stabbin’, a smotherin’ and a poisonin’.

A little bit of Googling revealed (allegedly), according to popular lore of the internet, some of “the music that real life killers like to murder by”:

* Aileen Wuornos, who killed seven men in one year in Florida in the seventies, was a fan of Natalie Merchant, and asked that Merchant’s catchy pop tune “Carnival” be played at her funeral;

* Arthur Shawcross, also known as The Genesee River Killer, murdered at least 11 prostitutes between 1988 and 1989 while feeling inspired by creations of G.G. Allin, which may be the most non-ironic direct inspiration offered to a serial killer by a musician who is also a cutter and extreme grisly performance artist;

* David Berkowitz, also known as The Son of Sam, killed six people and wounded many others with a .44 caliber pistol during eight attacks in New York 1979, and when he was not murdering, he was listening to the chill cosmopolitan sounds of “Rich Girl” by Daryl Hall and John Oates;

* Jeffrey Dahmer who was working in a chocolate factory in 1978, raped and murdered seventeen men in a very grisly way while drinking martinis and listening to Black Sabbath blasting on his eight-track player;

* John Wayne Gacy who dressed up like a clown and raped and murdered countless young men between 1972 and 1978, was a big fan of REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Loving You”;

* South California’s murderous sadist Richard Ramirez, who invaded people’s homes and tortured them before killing them in the mid-eighties, supposedly adopted the AC/DC song “Night Prowler” as his personal anthem;

* Toronto’s own Luka Magnotta, who kidnapped a Chinese student and made a snuff film, was often seen online bopping around to Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” while addressing his many fans in his YouTube videos;

* Roy Norris, also known as the Tool Box Killer and who tortured and raped five teenage girls in California in 1979, was a big fan of Mariah Carey and The Bee Gees;

* One of the most prolific murderers in Atlanta’s history was Wayne Williams, a music promoter who killed 28 African-American children and who enjoyed the dulcet tones of B.B. King and Bobby Bland’s “I Like To Live The Love”.

So who says murderers don’t have good taste in music?  Just kidding. 170520 Support the Moon

Of course no discussion of Music to Murder Be Murdered By would be complete without the homage in blood that Charles Manson paid to the Beatles’ White Album by murdering nine people in four locations in the Los Angeles Area. Inspired by the songs “Helter Skelter”, “Revolution 1”, “Revolution 9” and “Good Night”, Manson concocted a conspiracy theory equating the four Beatles band members to the Angels of Apocalypse in the Bible. This frustrated music composer then decided that his “Family” was being divinely appointed, through the lyrics of the Beatles, to jump start a final race war so that African-Americans could overthrow the white man and create a utopia of freedom and equality.

It is hard not to feel terrible for the lovely Sharon Tate and think about how one of the members wrote the word “Pig” in her blood as a macabre tribute to the song “Piggies” on the front door during the mass killings at 10050 Drive on August 9th, 1969.  This was right about the time when Debbie and I would be listening to Alfred Hitchcock wax on poetically about murder while camping in a backyard under the stars near the St. Lawrence River, not actually ever thinking for one minute, that music could inspire such a terrible reality.

You can listen to Alfred Hitchcock’s Music to Be Murdered By, Side 1, at
https://youtu.be/KWI2J6WFJxs and Side 2 at https://youtu.be/I6va1u_ZLK0