Mr. Mixtape-ptlk, Track #1: "Frankenstein Walk" by Gene "Bowlegs" Miller (1969)

"I don't know what I'm tryin' to do! I'm a monster!"

I miss making mixtapes.

Mixtapes. Mix CDs. Whatever you want to call them (really, whatever I want to call them is what matters here...), I miss them. Back when practically every car in existence had a cassette player of some form – some holdouts even still played eight-tracks (look it up, youngsters) – most of my friends had players that played standard audiocassettes. Besides 33-1/3 rpm stereo LPs, 45 rpm 7" singles, and the radio (itself always a hit or miss proposition as far as variety was concerned), our standard form of non-direct musical expression (as opposed to picking up a guitar and singing your own song) was being able to figuratively cut and paste together collections of our favorite songs on cassette. 

Sometimes this was for our own amusement, but often it was for the benefit of others... or what we perceived as being for the benefit of others. For me, I was constantly upset that others in my ever-widening circle were not listening to the things that I thought were worthwhile, and so, in my rampant snobbishness, I would make tapes of songs that I thought they should be exposed to, without any real consideration as to whether they actually might like the songs in the playlist or not.

My mixtapes were often cued to how I was feeling about life in general at the time, and could be either maudlin enough to make you take up hard drugs or maddeningly overenthusiastic enough to borrow the syringe you were planning to use for those drugs and just simply stab your own eyes out with it. And I have no real way of knowing if any of the tapes that I gave various people in my life were ever actually played or if they just told me they liked it. And yes, I did do the occasional mixtape that had romantic longing attached to it, though there were also a couple of cases where there was no such notion attached where it was totally misconstrued as such.

BUT GETTING TO HALLOWEEN...

Yes, this is supposed to be a holiday-themed post, and assuredly, that is my true purpose here, despite my semi-nostalgic rambling to this point. Most of my mixtape power actually went into creating a pair of long-running series of tapes that I would assemble at two separate points each year that I would give to my closest friends. At Halloween and at Christmas time, it was so very important to me to throw together as many appropriate songs, comedy sketches, and whatever else I could find in time to hand them to my friends for seasonal enjoyment. These were not made and given in lieu of actual presents at any time. They were a pre-seasonal appetizer or supplement; an apéritif to prepare the spirits for the particular season if you will.

I delighted in creating these tapes, but stopped after several years. Somewhere well into the compact disc age, I created a single CD titled Vel-come to Boo-hemia! which was meant to be the start of a new series of Halloween discs. But it never went beyond that first disc. [If you want to read more about the story of that disc or see the artwork I created for it, click here.]

Of course, we are now pretty much past the CD age, though they are still around us everywhere. Everything is ultra-digital now, where we can't even understand the use of external media. What? It doesn't just play automatically on my computer the second I buy it? I have to slide what into where? Forget it! (Unless it's porn...) I have often thought about starting to build mixtapes again. Yes, I know that technically, if there is no tape, then there can't be a mixtape. But my reaction to the word "mix" on its own is the same that most people have to the word "moist"... utter revulsion. It needs to be appended with "tape" at the end to sound right, especially when you are talking about a collection of songs that you mean for someone else to give a listen. But I just haven't found the right means to do it, especially since digital rights are such a huge issue now. Things like Soundcloud seem cool to build a mixtape (see, I said it, and its fine), but they also seem to be pretty snippy about actual ownership of said titles.

What I am not going to do is provide songs for download, because that is just not my style. For now, I will just have to be content with pointing you in the right direction for the songs that I am going to post this month. C'mon... you are a resilient lot. You've had a computer how long? You know how to do what you need to do to have what you wish to have. If I can find a piece of music on YouTube and provide a link to the clip, it's all you from there on out. Do whatever you wish. My main purpose is to talk about some goofy and/or cool songs that have to something to do, however peripherally, with the Halloween season or horror movies or scary stuff.

Track #1: FRANKENSTEIN WALK

With that in mind, here is Track 1 for a collection that I have decided to title Mr. Mixtape-ptlk. (If you don't get the reference, you need to find a friend with comic book leanings, I guess. That person can probably help you with the pronunciation as well.)


Frankenstein Walk is about as silly and dopey as Halloween-oriented music can get (though I can think of a great many silly and dopey Halloween songs). It's a novelty version of an R&B groover, a booty-shaker by Gene "Bowlegs" Miller, a Memphis session trumpeter and sideman who also led a lot of bands in his time. He played with a lot of blues and R&B greats like B.B. King, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and Etta James. (Though he has been dead since 1987, Miller has, according to AllMusic.com, a trumpet credit on the soundtrack album for Suicide Squad. For the life of me, I cannot figure out which song on the soundtrack listing he may have performed on, but judging from the list, it could be a sample on one of the more modern songs. I am not going to take the time to figure it out however.)

Apart from his sideman work, Miller also released a handful of singles in the '60s and '70s under his own name. They are all pretty standard for the day but enjoyable (there seems to be no single collection of his songs that I can find), but Frankenstein Walk is the track that I really enjoy. From the moment that I first heard the opening twenty seconds of the song while listening on WFMU a few years back, I fell head over heels for Frankenstein Walk.

The opening is hilarious and completely unexpected. Over a bubbling groove, an unidentified female voice yells into the mike, "Hey, Frankenstein, baby!" A second voice, that of Gene "Bowlegs" Miller, plays the part of Frankenstein, though we learn really quick that he is the not the mad doctor of ill scientific repute. He replies gruffly, "What'chu want, woman?" and she asks, "What are you tryin' to do, baby?"

And this is the point where great loves are made. It floored me when I first heard it. Frankenstein's response is probably about as honest a thing as any woman would want her man to admit: "I don't know what I'm tryin' to do! I'm a monster!"

If I could go back to about 47, maybe 48 key moments in my life where if I had just said these words – "I don't know what I'm tryin' to do! I'm a monster!" each of those key moments might have gone so much smoother than they actually did. They might have led to happiness and trying to do a silly monster dance. Instead, they led to arguments and crying and anger and mistrust and sadness and... yes, even divorce. All I needed to admit was that my very monstrousness led me to act like a buffoon.

Back to the song, where the girl is accusing Frankenstein of some shoddy dance moves. She tells him she saw him trying to do the boogaloo and the Funky Broadway, but he is incredulous at these accusations (and believe me, he won't get over it either). "Boogaloo? Funky Broadway? Look here, I got my own thing!" Frankenstein, as played by Gene "Bowlegs" Miller, is a fast talker but a terrible giver of dance instructions. Still, that is not going to stop him, otherwise we wouldn't have a song to play. He likes to punctuate each of his lines with little asides like "Dig it!" and "Look here!" and sometimes even longer ones. He leads us into the actual lyrics by going a little crazy, announcing "And I'm gonna show ya how to do it! Ha ha ha! Dig this here! Look here!"

"There's a new dance comin' your way!
It's not the boogaloo or the Funky Broadway!
It's a dance that anyone can do,
so, hold it right there, 
and give me a minute or two.

(Look here!)

We gonna do a little thing!
(Uh huh!)
It's not gonna be the shingaling!
(Dig this!)
So if you just wait and let me talk,
the name of this dance is the Frankenstein Walk

[Chorus]
I know your gonna like this one
and we all can have some fun
doin' the Frankenstein Walk!
(Dig it, baby!)
Doin' the Frankenstein Walk!

(Let me show ya how to do it. Dig this here right here.)

Put your right arm out
(That's good. Do it right there.)
and your left one too.
(That's it. Right there.)
Just stand there for a minute
(Now, hold it.)
And I'll tell you what else to do.
(Cool it right there.)

Now, put out your right leg!
(Yes!)
Now, put out your left one!
(Ha ha ha! Like that!)
Now we get ready,
(Ha! Looky here!)
we gonna have some fun!
(I told ya, look here!)

[Chorus]

I know your gonna like this one
(Ha ha! Look here!)
and we all gonna have some fun
doin' the Frankenstein Walk!
(Dig it!)
Doin' the Frankenstein Walk!
(Now cool it right there. I gonna tell how to ride it! Dig it.)

Now, let your right and left arms a-stretch out,
(That's it.)
and your right and left leg too.
(Dig!)
Here are my following instructions
and they're as simple as one and two.
Just do the Frankenstein, baby!
(Look here!)
Just walk like that little ol' monster!
Just do the boogaloo if ya want to. Looky here, baby. How ya like that?"

After pretty much spending two minutes telling us to just stick out our arms and legs and then walk forward stiffly – along with making sure that we dig it and look wherever he tells us to look – Frankenstein is interrupted by the girl from the beginning of the song. She runs in and tells him, "Franky! That's a gas! Man, that's cute!" His immediate response is to ask her, "What about the Wolfman? Have you seen the Wolfman? What about Batman?" But she digs the dance he is doing, pretty much drowning him out by saying, "Man thats the Frankenstein Walk, baby! Just the Frankenstein Walk! C'mon lets go baby. You're a Frankenstein!"

And that's it. That's the Frankenstein Walk. A gloriously silly time. A lot of Gene Miller's other songs seem to be dance-oriented, including one song called "It's Bump Time" that needs no further introduction. I wouldn't mind having a mix of his collected singles, but there doesn't seem to be much call for one either given that it doesn't appear he had any major hits. But Frankenstein Walk is just calling out for someone to set it to animation, and it would be groovy to see that in the future.

Or maybe I will have to do that.

RTJ

[Keep checking back here throughout my Countdown to Halloween month on The Cinema 4 Pylon for more fun tracks. You can also follow my choices for this mix throughout the month by visiting my Mr. Mixtape-ptlk YouTube playlist by clicking here.]

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