Frankenstein’s Monster Talks! (Retrocast) (#20.2)
(Featuring the complete 1963 story, “Frankenstein’s Monster Talks!” written by Cherney Berg and performed by Hal Johnson & Gabriel Dell. Originally podcasted 9 October 2012.)
Dr. Victor Frankenstein was a scientist of some renown during the early 1800’s, and was not only responsible for the study of a number of fascinating aspects of medicine and biology, but also developed an extremely crude form of sound recording nearly 40 years before the technology was even conceived of by other inventors. Probably his most famous – and dangerous – creation is the Modern Prometheus, the monster that terrorized the world until it was presumedly destroyed in a mysterious fire.
What was not known until the early 1960’s is that Dr. Frankenstein’s monster used this primitive recording technology to document his side of the story. These recordings have been circulated over the last 50 years not only as a document of one of the oldest known recordings to exist, but offer a fascinating look into the life of this creature that terrified people until its tragic demise. (Or so we have been told.)
Now, as part of our annual Halloween Spook-tacular, we present these recordings without any alteration or editing, to give you a chance to decide for yourself the intentions of this often misunderstood creature. Dr. Frankenstein, for many years, has offered his version of these events in prose (as told to an unlucky sailor whom he met just prior to his demise). Now, it’s is the Monster’s turn to talk. To accompany these recordings, we’ve included music in tribute to The Monster, and the time of year associated with him. Brace yourself for a tale too chilling for broadcast radio, entitled “Frankenstein’s Monster Talks!”
As I’ve said numerous times in the past, there is something about Halloween Records that strike a chord and fills me with a certain kind of joy that is hard to explain. Perhaps it is because they embody novelty, a D.I.Y. spirit, childish glee and sense of nostalgia that is fully concerned with the kinds of stories you tell around a campfire, late at night, at the end of summer when you’re trying to build the courage to face the impending winter. There’s probably more to it, too, that any number of psychologists could elucidate I have a few fond memories of listening to Halloween Records as a kid, but to be honest, I never owned any until I was in my early 20’s, and didn’t start collecting with a serious fervency for a few years more.
The golden age of Halloween Records began in the 1950’s and ran through the 1970’s. There were a number of scary and spooky novelty records before that, and they were certainly popular. But in the post-war era the US had a number of things working for it: Television, the LP as a format for music and a burgeoning youth culture with an interest in things esoteric and unique. With the introduction of Shock Theater in 1957 (and Son Of Shock a year later), TV stations had access to over 70 classic horror movies they could package and use to fill air time in the evenings, where Horror Hosts of every variety dressed up in kooky costumes and waxed poetic about Edgar Allen Poe and Universal Studios.
This was also a period of social change in a number of ways. Culture was homogenizing as the family unit began to solidify and suburbia began to develop. The holiday of Halloween began to morph, and instead of carrying regional variety for reckless, drunken, and sometimes violent adults, became a candy-centric children’s romp with neighbors and at parties, the kind of holiday that middle America craved. The stage was set for Halloween merchandise of every variety to become the seasonal backbone of any company that wanted to manufacture costumes, candy, and of course, novelty records.
The correlation between rock music and Halloween Records seems to be almost too good to be true. Their origins stem from the same post-war realities, their audiences seem to be more or less the same, and when they work in concert with each other, the results are incredible. While the Misfits are an amazing modern example of what can be done when you blend rock music and horror themes, almost as soon as there was rock and roll, there were musicians singing about monsters, graveyards, and prowling the streets at night. It is no wonder that it is a trope that people return to again and again, and one of which I can’t seem to get enough. I have hours and hours (and hours) of Halloween music and scary sounds albums, and every time I think I’ve plumbed the depths, each year I uncover a new batch of things that get me excited about doing Halloween shows like this one.
This particular record, Famous Monsters Speak!, has been reprinted a number of times since its original release in 1963, and is now available in iTunes (and on CD). The production on it is actually quite good for the time, and is above average for Halloween Records in general. Hal Johnson created all the sound effects, about whom it is hard to find any biographical information. (It is safe to assume that he probably worked at A.A. Records, who released the album for Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, through which you could order the LP when it first came out.) All of the voices, however, were performed by Gabriel Dell, a member of the Dead End Kids, a group of New York actors who appeared in a series of plays in the mid-to-late 30’s, and then movies through Universal Studios. His career included a number of films, a stint on Broadway, and quite a few TV shows until until the late ’70’s. He died of leukemia in 1988, and while my Grandmother still waxes poetic about how great the Dead End Kids movies were, I will always remember him fondly from this recording. I was convinced that the other voices were done by different actors, and was pleasantly surprised to find that he’s just that good.
The writer of this particular story is Cherney Berg, someone with a level of fame between that of Hal Johnson and Gabriel Dell. Cherney wrote story adaptations for records, including two other Halloween Records, and two other story records (according to his “discogs.com” page linked above). While I can’t say that the writing stands out here (the great parts of this story are still owed to Mary Shelly), there is a certain style to adapting stories to an audio format that Mr. Berg certainly has dialed in. The B-Side of this record, “Dracula Returns!” is like this too, and sounds more like a one-person radio play making it particularly suited to this program.
Sadly, as the ’70’s wore on, Halloween Records began to decline quite drastically. Scary Stories appeared less frequently on albums, and Scary Soundscapes began to dominate before disappearing entirely. Fewer Monster Songs were recorded by artists to the point where they became actual novelties worse than “The Monster Mash,” performed only by novelty acts who specialized in z-level quality. As companies like K-Tel and Pickwick began to move into the market, re-issues and re-makes began to become the standard for this genre and fewer new compositions were entering into the market. By the ’80’s all you had left were bands like The Misfits and The Cramps keeping the spirit of Halloween Records alive.
The occasional band in the ’90’s and 2000’s (Satan’s Pilgrims, The Bomboras, The Ghastly Ones) worked to right this wrong, and no less an artist than Rob Zombie produced a fabulous Halloween Record featuring one of the most important figures in this genre, Zacherle himself (perviously known as Roland in his Horror Host days in the ’50’s). Now, with bloggers and websites working overtime to help gather material both new and old for modern consumers, the mode and media have changed dramatically, but the genre is sort of back on track. It seems that you can easily find any number of quality songs, new and old, that pay reverential homage to this by-gone era. It’s my dream that, in the not so distant future, the spirit of this Golden Age will return, and spooky compilations and audio oddities will return to the marketplace with the same creepy attitude these records used to embody.
In the meantime: Blasphuphmus Radio will bring you their Halloween Spook-taculars to help fill the void.
See you in seven!
Frankenstein’s Monster Talks!
Part I: Crude Recordings
01.) Frankenstein’s Monster Talks! (Part I) * Famous Monsters Speak!
02.) Doom At Midnight * Frankie Stein And His Ghouls * Shock! Terror! Fear!
03.) Frankenstein’s Monster Talks! (Part II) * Famous Monsters Speak!
04.) Over At The Frankenstein Place * The Rocky Horror Picture Show
05.) Frankenstein’s Monster Talks! (Part III) * Famous Monsters Speak!
06.) Monster Swim * Bobby “Boris” Picket & The Crypt-Kickers * “Monster Swim” b/w “Werewolf Watusi”
07.) Frankenstein’s Monster Talks! (Part IV) * Famous Monsters Speak!
08.) Graveyard * Leroy Bowman * Monster Bop
09.) Frankenstein’s Monster Talks! (Part V) * Famous Monsters Speak!
Part II: From Which Graves Did I Come?
10.) Frankenstein * Jad And David Fair * Sing Your Little Babies To Sleep
11.) Frankenstein * Edgar Winter Group * They Only Come Out At Night
12.) Frankenstein’s Monster Talks! (Part VI) * Famous Monsters Speak!
13.) Frankenstein Walk * Gene “Bowlegs” Miller * “Frankenstein Walk” b/w “Everybody Got Soul”
14.) Frankenstein’s Monster Talks! (Part VII) * Famous Monsters Speak!
15.) Midnight Monsters Hop * Jack And Jim * Midnight Monster Hop
16.) Frankenstein’s Monster Talks! (Part VIII) * Famous Monsters Speak!
17.) Frankenstein’s Den * Hollywood Flames * Doo Wop Halloween
18.) Frankenstein’s Monster Talks! (Part IX) * Famous Monsters Speak!
Part III: Frankenstein Conquers The World!
19.) Frankenstein Conquers The World * Jad Fair & Daniel Johnston * It’s Spooky
20.) The Black Cat * Ozzie Nelson & Orchestra * Halloween Stomp
21.) Frankenstein’s Monster Talks! (Part X) * Famous Monsters Speak!
22.) Frankenstein Meets The Beetles * Goodman and Ramal * The Monster Album
23.) Frankenstein’s Monster Talks! (Part XI) * Famous Monsters Speak!
24.) The Boogy Man Is Here * Tom Gerun & Orchestra * Halloween Stomp
25.) Frankenstein’s Monster Talks! (Part XII) * Famous Monsters Speak!
26.) Main Title (Theme From “Young Frankenstein”) * John Morris * “Young Frankenstein” Original Soundtrack
27.) Frankenstein’s Monster Talks! (Part XIII) * Famous Monsters Speak!