On the morning of October 30th, 1973, one day before Halloween, Buck Owens and his Buckaroos, including guitarist Don Rich, entered Owens’ Bakersfield studio to record the song that would serve as the title cut of his next Capitol LP.
Although Owens had written and recorded lighthearted songs that had been peppered throughout the nearly 50 albums he had released up to that point, two of the last three Top 10 hits he would have (until the 1988 Number One duet, “Streets of Bakersfield,” with Dwight Yoakam), were novelty tunes, including the supremely silly “(It’s a) Monsters’ Holiday.” A kitschy cross between the “Monster Mash” and George Jones’ “The Race Is On,” it’s far from Owens’ finest hour but certainly worth revisiting on this, the scariest day of the year (other than Election Day, that is).
Taken from the album of the same name, released in 1974, this “Monster” mash-up brings a Mount Rushmore of spooky ghouls back to life, as they take turns attempting to scare Owens while he tries to sleep. In quick succession, Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Wolfman and the Hunchback (a/k/a Quasimodo) all show up, followed by goblins, dragons and zombies but Owens vows to fight back. In the song’s second verse, he’s on his way to visit his ailing uncle Bill when he passes by a graveyard where there’s a whole lot of “screamin’, moanin’, wailin’ and groanin'” going on. It all ends, mercifully, in just under two minutes and 30 seconds with a creepy spoken, “Gotcha,” but the journey to country’s Top 10 for the tune was perilous and ultimately tragic.
Released as the first single from the album of the same name, “(It’s a) Monsters’ Holiday” was promoted on the LP with a crudely drawn caricature of the familiar movie monsters: the Creature from Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman and the Hunchback, who perhaps only coincidentally bears something of a strange resemblance to Roy Clark, Owens’ then-co-star on Hee Haw. The single was actually serviced to radio in mid-summer, months ahead of Halloween, for some unknown reason. But in order to grab the attention of the song’s intended audience — children — promoters sent radio stations boxes of Franken Berry and Boo Berry, the relatively new but already popular “monster” cereals produced by General Mills. Whether the cereal giveaway scared up additional airplay so far ahead of Halloween is uncertain, but the song did manage to reach Number Six on Billboard‘s country chart, peaking at that spot in mid-September 1974.
As an LP, (It’s a) Monsters’ Holiday, which peaked at Number 10 in December 1974, only contained the one Halloween-related novelty song, but another of its cuts, released just prior to the title track, was a parody of a recent pop hit. In March 1973, up-and-coming band Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show recorded Shel Silverstein’s comic number, “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone’,” reaching the pop Top 10 with it. Owens and band member Jim Shaw penned a twangier version of the song titled “On the Cover of the Music City News,” a tribute to the then-popular country music magazine owned by musician Faron Young. Owens would place just one more solo single in the Top 10, with “Great Expectations,” which originally appeared as the B-side of “(It’s a) Monsters Holiday.”
The ghostly fun of this harmless Halloween single was no doubt largely lost on Owens at the time. On July 14th, 1974, three weeks before the song was issued, Owens’ longtime guitarist, harmony singer and close friend Don Rich died in a motorcycle accident. Owens would soon depart Capitol Records for the Warner Bros. label, before retiring from the concert stage. He was eventually coaxed out of retirement by Dwight Yoakam in 1987, after which the two recorded “Streets of Bakersfield,” which led to Owens’ re-signing with Capitol Records, bringing his career full-circle. The legendary entertainer died peacefully in his sleep on March 25th, 2006 at age 76.