Decades ago, let’s say the summer of 1981, maybe (?), I listened to a record with my step-brother on the turntable at my grandpa’s house on Higgins Lake, back home in Michigan. We played it a few times and, being 10 years old or so, I was TERRIFIED of it. It was a horror record, I remember, its cover was black and white, had small pictures of monsters on it, and the record had clips from a radio show or play or movie in between these strangely poppy songs and it just FREAKED ME OUT.
This record has stayed with me for years, despite having NO IDEA what it was. Those childhood memories that are now almost etherial– did this even exist? Is my memory of it EVEN CLOSE to the actual thing? I reach for the picture of the album in my head, but it is blended with old VHS horror movie cases (the original ZOMBIE? THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN?) and mixed in with my imagination and maybe some dreams and probably the thing itself, and that mental picture? It’s not even close.
Since the mid 1990’s, when, for some reason, I was reminded of it somehow, I have been OBSESSED with figuring out this mystery by remembering it or finding an answer. Before my grandmother died, I asked her if she had any memory of such a thing (no), did she keep the albums from the lake house (no), did my dad keep the record (no), did anyone remember this record (no)? Once in a while, the memory cycles around again and I think “Oh yeah, what WAS that?” and then it goes away again for a while. Usually, when I am making a mix of Halloween songs, I’m reminded again, and I am dying to figure it out, and so last week, listening to Halloween songs, I was haunted again by this unknowable thing and again, it remained unknown.
Have I conveyed how much I wanted to remember this record? Not remembering this record literally drove me crazy for DECADES and, with no information to go on, was an unsolvable mystery. My younger self could not give me a drop of information on which to go. Like searching in the dark for something, a specific thing, you’re not sure what it is, but you know it exists. Maybe.
So yesterday, I was in Athens, GA and I made my mandatory trip to Wuxtry Records on my way out of town. I spent like 45 minutes digging through crates and just reveling in being at such an amazing record store again, which brought its own memories flooding back, and as I usually do, I started flipping through the film soundtracks. They were on the floor, tucked tightly into a few crates in the back of the store, and so I got on my hands and knees and was loving the selections, remembering the movies. There are a few I always look for on vinyl and one of them is the original SUSPIRIA soundtrack by Goblin- I have the CD, but it is one I would love to own on vinyl. So, I am flipping through the “S” soundtracks and, truly, a LIGHTNING BOLT FROM THE SKY STRUCK ME.
There, in ‘S’ the crate, sat a record. I flipped past it, noticed the artist (who I love) as it flicked by, and flipped back to it. I stared for a second because I do like the artist, had just looked under his name in the “rock and roll” section and did not see this record in there. It looked weird and why was it in film soundtracks? Oh right, this movie was awful. Ha.
And then, suddenly, I had a complete sense of deja vu looking at the cover. It was jet black with a black and white photo of a bearded vampire. It was a horror record. It listed the artists and song titles, and had another black and white photo on the back of a graveyard. And then, suddenly, I just had a feeling that THIS WAS IT but I wasn’t sure because it didn’t match up with that hazy, obsessive memory I had been desperately trying to reconstruct in my head. But I was almost certain. I stared at it in the crate for a beat and could feel that my heart was racing. I pulled it, tucked it under my arm, and kept browsing but was completely distracted by the possibility that I just, somehow, 35 years later, found this record I had been looking for all my life. Of course, I bought it.
I also immediately understood why my 10 year-old self would have found it so strange because, at that time, I had absolutely no frame of reference for the music of Harry Nilsson. I didn’t get the camp aspect of it at all– I was too young, I didn’t know the Hammer films yet– all I knew was the record, completely out of context. When I got to the airport, I opened the sleeve and there, folding out on the front cover like a vampire’s cape, was a gatefold of all of the black and white pictures of monsters, and I knew for certain this was it. All of those fragmentary memories were replaced instantly by the reality of the thing staring me in the face and the memory and the reality merged and I knew I had found it. I texted my step-brother and suddenly he remembered it as well and sent me a link to the YouTube video of the song we had played incessantly that summer. When I got home to Brooklyn, I opened the record up and inside was the album and the original iron-on T-Shirt decal that came with it (!!!).
The record is the soundtrack to SON OF DRACULA with songs by Harry Nilsson (and Ringo Starr) and Paul Buckmaster, who did the score. It came out in 1974, when I was three years old. It has been re-issued, but my copy is an original with the gatefold of images folding out from the cape. It has clips of the film in-between the songs. It is the soundtrack to one of the (best) worst movies of all time. Why my grandfather had this record at his lake house in the early 1980’s will remain an unknowable mystery.
… and THAT is just one reason why I love taking my time at record stores.
DAYBREAK, The Song We Played Obsessively: