Halloween falls on a Tuesday this year, which means that plenty of you party-hearty mugs will find yourselves celebrating for upwards of a week, starting on the preceding Friday (if not earlier, seeing as Thursday is the new Friday, and c’mon, nobody expects you to get meaningful work done on a Friday anyway). Costumes will be donned, scary movies will be streamed (or better yet, played on crusty old VHS tapes), countless pumpkins will be mutilated with extreme prejudice, and candy corn will continue its inexplicable, rightly contentious reign. To an aging, semi-retired hipster/record collector type (not that we know any of those), though, that can all sound a bit… exhausting. Luckily, Lucifer invented weird, spooky records and porch lights that turn off.
There are loads of good Halloween-friendly records out there, of course. Some of them are almost like an accidental form of experimental composition, with their oddball juxtapositions of bumps, screeches, and moans (conversely, some serious composition can be handily retooled as a good Halloween backdrop… but I digress). However, few spooky records are as firmly in left field, nor as ultimately satisfying, as Gundella’s Hour of the Witch, a private-press LP from the early 1970s consisting of spells mostly designed to woo, or repel, potential lovers. Gundella (née Marion Kuclo) recites these spells, plus a general explanation of witchcraft and her relationship to same, in a gentle schoolmarm fashion (before she was convinced to exploit her Wiccan knowledge for both public and personal gain, Kuclo was, in fact, a schoolteacher), but that’s not to say that she doesn’t occasionally rise to jarring fits of stern, fiery passion. Those periodic outbursts, combined with some creepy minor-key organ swells here and there, make for a spooky listen, even despite Gundella’s intention to destigmatize her craft. All in all, it’s a highly entertaining, scary, and educational listen. How many Halloween-friendly records can you say that about?
This writer had the good fortune of coming across an original pressing of Hour of the Witch while working at Encore Records, a used record store in Gundella’s old stomping grounds in southeastern Michigan, in 2010, but ended up selling it before moving across the country. Much to my shock, though — and as if someone cast a spell to spare me the pain of constantly kicking myself over the decision in years since — the album is being brought back into the world this Halloweekend by the good people at Modern Harmonic Records. Their deluxe reissue comes complete with redesigned cover art, heavy green vinyl for the LP version (Gundella identified herself as a descendant of the green witches of Scotland), extensive liner notes by Gundella’s daughter Madilynne, and even a faithful reproduction of a self-published 1978 collection of Gundella’s Witch Watch column, which she originally wrote for the regional Observer-Eccentric newspaper chain.
Even if you have some devilish party plans for this weekend, at some point you’re gonna need to just sit back, relax, and quietly enjoy a seasonally appropriate record. The fact that Hour of the Witch is widely available as an option again is a true creepy joy, kind of like the (g-g-g-)ghost of your favorite uncle coming back to life and slipping you some of his ghost beer. Even on one of the biggest party weekends of the year, sometimes it’s the little, quiet pleasures that are most worthwhile.