[Mourning Jams] Day 17: “Hell”

October 2019 is a celebration of horror and musicThis October, Daily Grindhouse is celebrating the collision between music and horror with a series of posts under the banner of Rocktoberfest 2019. There will be daily features, recurring bits, and some special posts around the subject.

Mourning Jams is your daily kick off every morning with a different music video that has some horror elements to it. Crossing genres, decades, and more, it’s a good way to get in the spooky mood this Halloween month.

Younger readers may not be aware of it, but for about 18 months or so, there was a full blown swing revival in the United States. That big band sound with walls of horns and lyrics slinging old slang crawled from its grave under an old USO Tour stage and shambled towards being a bonafide “fad” for a while. Many ska bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Reel Big Fish got swept up in the current (what is that? a trumpet? they count!) to lucrative results, while acts like Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy were legitimate viable musical acts (because nothing says “this ain’t your parents’ music” like having the word “daddy” in your band name). Two pieces of pop culture happened to hit at the exact right time (1996) and joined forces with this renewed interest in boogie-woogie for their own benefit: Doug Liman‘s SWINGERS (starring and written by Jon Favreau, who also does swing dancing and says “daddy” a lot) and Squirrel Nut Zippers’ album, Hot, thanks to its big band adjacent song, “Hell.”

Squirrel Nut Zippers were never really part of the swing revival. Their sound was always a blending of calypso, gypsy jazz, blues, klezmer, and, yes, some swing music (toldja! it’s the trumpet!); but they just happened to drop an album with an infectiously poppy and fun single that sounded a whole lot like what the zoot suited former punk band refugees were playing on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. Even for those unfamiliar with the swing revival (…I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…), the song has popped up in a bunch of places—DREAM WITH THE FISHES, DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS, BLAST FROM THE PAST, MONKEYBONE, pilot episode of Dead Like Me, BANISHED, EPIC (2013).

It’s a fun fire & brimstone ditty that makes hell seem like a happening place,  and the sound would belong well with GRIM FANDANGO or the Robot Devil from Futurama. There’s also aspects of FORBIDDEN ZONE in “Hell,” a calamitous song of eternal damnation that you can tap your toe to. The video for “Hell,” directed by Norwood Cheek and Grady Cooper, starts off as a Lawrence Welk parody (y’know…for the kids) as it slowly teeters into weird vignettes that feel akin to INLAND EMPIRE, as the host grows more demonic and hellfire erupts periodically.

Tune in tomorrow and every morning in October for a new music video to help start the day on the frightening foot as Halloween swiftly approaches.

Rob Dean
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