Just in time for Halloween!  This week’s Pop Archaeology selection is probably the most famous “monster” song of all-time, “The Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and The Crypt Kickers.

Released in the late summer of 1962, the song was released as a single and on an album containing some other monster-themed tunes.  It moved up the charts to take the #1 spot for the week before Halloween.  It’s been an annual favorite ever since.

Bobby Pickett wanted to be an actor and sang with a group called The Cordials as a sideline.  He jokingly did a Boris Karloff impression and the audience liked it.  He and fellow band mate Lenny Capizzi penned the tune that summer.

One great piece of rock trivia is that the piano player on the recording is none other than Leon Russell.

imagesCA0ZUTFR lr1

Leon – then and now

The song was re-released a few times over the years and was even banned by the killjoys over at the BBC in 1962 for being “too morbid”.  Big surprise…


The song has been covered by a lot of people with decidedly mixed results.  In addition to versions from horror celebrities like Vincent Price and Boris Karloff, the song was subjected to treatment from Alvin and The Chipmunks and later punk bands like The Misfits.

The song was really a no-brainer for a horror-punk band like The Misfits and they had some moderate success with it as part of their cover album release Project 1950.  Marky Ramone, of The Ramones (the only living member of The Ramones in the R&RHoF is the drummer here).


Although the retro-purist in my soul likes Bobby’s 1962 version, I need to give a nod to The Misfits version. It rocks and is worth a listen even if just for Marky’s incredible drumming.




Jack Bruce (1943 – 2014)

Jack Bruce, the bassist for the band Cream passed away from liver disease on Saturday.  One-third of the power trio behind Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton, Bruce forged a new sound in rock as he used his bass not only to lay down the rhythms but also to act as a second lead guitar to Clapton’s mind-blowing guitar wizardry.

Born during the Second World War in Scotland, Bruce was trained as a classical cellist and, despite his “bass god” status, considered himself to be a jazz musician.  His pre-Cream work saw him in the Graham Bond Organization, a group that included future band mate Ginger Baker and guitarist John McLaughlin.  He later made his way to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers where he met Clapton.


Early Cream (l-r: Baker, Bruce, & Clapton)

Cream was formed in July 1966 and quickly rose to stardom on the sheer power of Clapton’s guitar work.  Baker and Bruce were huge talents in their own right and the three were the perfect combination.

Post-Cream found Jack in the group West, Bruce, and Laing.  Leslie West and Corky Laing were from Mountain, a group heavily influenced by Cream.


Jack – Back in the day….

R.I.P. Jack.

  1. “White Room” – Cream
  2. “Love Is Worth the Blues” – West, Bruce, and Laing
  3. “Rope Ladder to the Moon” – 1969 documentary about Jack (the video footage is mostly depressing but the clips of Cream are just incredible!)
  4. “Tales of Brave Ulysses” – Cream





“Rave on down through time and space down through the corridors,

Rave on words on printed page,

Rave on Walt Whitman, nose down in wet grass

Rave on fill the senses

On nature’s bright green shady path.”

excerpted from “Rave On, John Donne” by Van Morrison

Among the most literate of artists like Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (of Steely Dan fame) and Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground, stands Van Morrison.  I’ve blogged a number of times over the past few years about Van but haven’t touched upon one his master works, “Rave On, John Donne”.

In homage to Buddy Holly (“Rave On”) meeting England’s metaphysical 16th/17th century poet (Donne), Morrison takes the listener on a joy ride down through the ages of man – the industrial revolution, empiricism, the atomic and nuclear age.  It’s a whirlwind that stops for the Holy Rosary along the way.

imagesCADA6V12 JohnDonne

The term “rave on” is meant to speak or write with wild enthusiasm.  In their own times John Donne (1572 – 1631),  Omar Khayyám (1048 – 1131)  and Kahlil Gibran (1883 – 1931) were masters of their form.  Poets and philosophers urged on by a modern-day bard.  Rave on, Van.

The studio version of the song can be found on Van’s 1983 release “Inarticulate Speech of the Heart”.  A moody, introspective work (his last for Warner Bros.), it includes 4 instrumentals and includes strong influences of Van’s Irish folk roots and his more spiritual jazz adventures.  I also really like the version of Rave On (paired with “Did Ye Get Healed”) that can found on his later live performance at The Glastonbury Festival.  If you listen to the studio recording you’ll hear that he inserts other verses, other urgings to rave on as a poet.   True Van to the core…


“Rave on John Donne” by Van Morrison

Rave on John Donne, rave on thy Holy fool
Down through the weeks of ages
In the moss borne dark dank pools

Rave on, down through the industrial revolution
Empiricism, atomic and nuclear age
Rave on down through time and space down through the corridors
Rave on words on printed page

Rave on, you left us infinity
And well pressed pages torn to fade
Drive on with wild abandon
Uptempo, frenzied heels

Rave on, Walt Whitman, nose down in wet grass
Rave on fill the senses
On nature’s bright green shady path

Rave on Omar Khayyam, Rave on Kahlil Gibran
Oh, what sweet wine we drinketh
The celebration will be held
We will partake the wine and break the Holy bread

Rave on let a man come out of Ireland
Rave on Mr. Yeats,
Rave on down through the Holy Rosey Cross
Rave on down through theosophy, and the Golden Dawn
Rave on through the writing of “A Vision”
Rave on, Rave on, Rave on, Rave on, Rave on, Rave on




Billed as recorded by The Miracles featuring Bill “Smokey” Robinson, “Shop Around” was Tamla’s first number one hit in the Fall of 1960.

It is also noted for being the first million-selling record for the Miracles and for Motown Records.

Squeaking in under the wire, The Miracles’ version was ranked No. 500 on Rolling Stone′s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.


The original recorded version of the song had a much heavier blues influence, and was released in the Detroit area before Gordy decided it needed something different to go national.

As the legend goes, one morning around 3 a.m. the band and Berry laid down an upbeat pop version of “Shop Around” that became a major national hit. The original record label credits Bill “Smokey” Robinson as the writer, with Berry Gordy as producer.

The song’s been covered a lot, mostly famously by The Captain & Tenneile, and is a staple of rock history.



From a darkened vault deep beneath the streets of Cincinnati, Ohio I excavated a door that led to the storeroom of Fraternity Records.   If subterranean exploration isn’t your thing, you can also find this gem of pop history on the Nuggets’ compilation set.

Rockin’ out of Tyler, Texas (the birthplace of Doolie Wilson, the piano player in the film Casablanca), Mouse and the Traps recorded various singles between 1965 and 1969.  Two of their efforts , “A Public Execution” and “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win”, were regional hits.

The leader of the band, nicknamed “Mouse”, was Ronnie Weiss. Two of their best known songs, “A Public Execution” and a cover of “Psychotic Reaction”, are not actually credited to this band but to simply Mouse and Positively 13 O’Clock respectively.  They had a somewhat tangled history too arcane for this space but for me the highlight of the track is the presence of lead guitarist Bugs Henderson.

I had the good fortune to see Bugs play live a year or two before he passed in March 2012.  It was at a PRS Guitar Experience in Maryland and although there were lots of fantastic pickers on hand, Bugs brought some serious chops and a great sense of humor to the stage.  You could tell he was having a blast.  RIP Bugs.

The band had some comparisons to Dylan’s new electric sound at the time but went punkier with their “Maid of Sugar, Maid of Spice” release.  Many regard it as their best effort but it didn’t repeat their earlier success on the charts.   The Dylan influence is very strong here especially in the structure of the verses.  Very cool treatment and well worth a listen.





Okay, just when you thought it was safe to go back into my music collection, I’m offering something a bit closer to the edge of reality as you know it.  We’re about to color outside the lines in a way that makes Cecil Taylor or Ornette Coleman look like Top 40 pop.  But…it wasn’t always that way.

A few years ago, I worked with a guy who reintroduced me to the music of Sun Ra.  Although I had once experienced seeing Sun Ra and his Arkestra back in the day at The Joyce Theater in NYC (a wonderfully intimate venue), I’m chastened to report that I didn’t appreciate it enough for the monumental art that the concert offered.  My youthful self hadn’t matured enough to appreciate the avant-garde of jazz interpretation.  I would someday but…..

For the those of you who may not be familiar with this way out cat, he would have celebrated his 100th birthday this past May.  Unfortunately, he left this planet on May 30, 1993 at the age of 79.  Born Herman Poole Blount in Alabama, he changed his name legally to Le Sony’r Ra and professed a cosmic philosophy.  He claimed, among many things, that he was of an Angel Race from Saturn.  Who are we to scoff or disagree?  Perhaps that’s where he’s holding court right now.  It might raise questions about who is buried here but his soul maybe intergalactic.

In his early years he paid his dues and worked his way up to be fronting the Sonny Blount Orchestra but he knew it was going nowhere.  His vision told him he was other worldly and he adopted it fully.

Sun Ra was an early developer of free jazz improvisation.  He led orchestras (purposely mis-spelled “Arkestra”) of various sizes and personnel and they changed constantly.  His treatment of bebop and free jazz not only pushed the boundaries of jazz interpretation but influenced countless others to do the same.


Sun Ra, a piano and synthesizer player, very much in the same vein as abstract visual artists, knew his craft well and was prolific across all jazz genres.  With one of the largest catalogs in jazz, Sun Ra released over 100 albums and composed more than 1,000 songs.

I currently have eight of his releases (Okay, I have  way to go) in my collection and among my favorites is a 1977 release titled “Some Blues But Not The Kind That’s Blue”.


The tracks are mostly standards with Sun Ra’s interpretive touch.  Classics like Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s  “My Favorite Things” and “Tenderly” and even “Black Magic” by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen are very well done.  Listen with different ears to the treatment in light of how Trane or Monk would have handled these gems.

The AllMusic Review nailed it perfectly “Although the Arkestra is notorious for its outside playing and cacophonous tendencies, this album shows they could play it straight as well as anyone in the game. Wonderful stuff.”

I’ve also included an interview he did in Helsinki in 1971.  Dig it…






Venturing further into free jazz this week on my train rides home, I dug up my copy of Ornette Coleman’s 1959 tour de force masterpiece “The Shape of Jazz To Come” to add to the iPod.  I’ve had this CD for a few years and I remain amazed that this is more than 55 years old.  The music was clearly well ahead of its time.

TSOJTC was Ornette’s third album and like many of the jazz recordings from that time it was recorded in a single session.  This time it was May 22, 1959 at Radio Recorders out in Hollywood.  Ornette had assembled a heavy quartet that, in addition to his own alto sax, included Don Cherry on cornet, Billy Higgins on drums, and Charlie Haden on bass.

Coleman composed all the tracks and the opening track, “Lonely Woman“, is the sole one to have now reached the status of jazz standard.  The session also included two outtakes, “Monk and the Nun” and “Just for You” which were released years later on a compilation album.


None of the instruments used on the album play chords.  Like most jazz compositions, a theme is stated up-front and then the musicians improvise.  By introducing an approach where chord patterns are abandoned completely, Ornette forms the basis of free jazz.  Despite the off-road excursion, the album has a blues feeling and remains melodic.  This album is considered to be the start of the genre and is the foundation of its future development.

Born in Fort Worth, Coleman had made his way to Los Angeles. He was playing jazz at night and working as an elevator operator during the day.  He caught the attention of John Lewis who encouraged OC to enroll in the Lenox School of Jazz in Massachusetts.

Coleman composed and recorded TSOJTC when he was 29 years old and a month after its release he took up a residency at the famed NYC jazz club “The Five Spot”.


Once again, I find myself wondering what those nights must have been like.  The late ’50’s in New York City, coined the Big Apple by jazzmen eager to journey here to play for the like-minded,  a hot, stuffy club at midnight, located on Cooper Square at the edge of the Bowery, a smoky cigarette haze envelops the room as four young men make their way through the crowd,  the laughter and chatter diminishes slightly as all eyes turn towards the small stage… the picture below was taken on one of those nights.


(l-r) Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman, The Five Spot, 1959

The residency was intended to be a short stint but was extended to almost three months.  The New York cats, the jazz cognoscenti, came to hear this new sound.  Argument and spirited debate were ongoing from the press to other musicians. This was beyond bebop.  Towering figures like Miles and Mingus were not supportive while Leonard Bernstein and Lionel Hampton provided encouragement…and the four young men pushed on.

Reading about the clamor in the jazz world makes you realize the album had been given the perfect name.  It really was the shape of jazz to come…