In Random Reviews, I’m reviewing a random hit song from any point in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 going from the chart’s beginning in 1958. To make my site more interactive, if you like what I’m doing comment and let me know what random hit song you want me to review.
Classics IV- “Spooky”
PEAK: #3 on February 10, 1968
SONG AT #1 THAT WEEK: Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue”
What does Halloween music sound like?
Halloween, like Christmas, is a holiday that’s full of immensely popular songs that come to define the holiday being played constantly throughout the season every year. But where Christmas songs are more indebted to the symbols and sounds of the holiday to where they don’t make much sense being played elsewhere in the year, Halloween songs are much more fluid in its use. Many popular Halloween songs are songs that you could easily play all year long and not have a problem with. Lots of times the songs mention scary iconography even if they don’t sound remotely scary which seems to be where popular Halloweens songs fall under. Take Classics IV’s “Spooky.”
“Spooky” certainly sounds scary in its music and even mentions Halloween but it’s a song about mixed messages in a relationship and uses the holiday as a way for this guy to solve these problems. Like a lot of Halloween songs, it doesn’t exactly fit lyrically with the holiday but certainly doesn’t sound that out of place.
The story of Classics IV begins in Jacksonville, Florida where local Dennis Yost started out playing drums and occasionally singing in a band called the Echoes which played mostly doo-wop and R&B. When the Echoes broke up, Yost joined another local group in the mid ‘60s called Leroy & The Moments but there was no Leroy and there was already another band called The Moments so they renamed themselves the Classics taken from the brand of Yost’s drum kit. (If it wasn’t Classics, then they might have named themselves the Ludwigs.)
The Classics were your typical local Top 40 cover band starting out as an instrumental band before people started requesting vocals so Yost took the place as singer. At one of their shows, a local talent agent discovered them and offered to manage them moving them to Atlanta and getting them a deal with Capitol Records in 1966. On the label, the Classics released their debut single “Pollyanna,” a clear Four Seasons pastiche. It sounded too much like the Four Seasons to the point where their management took offense and minimized its airplay. Add to that, there was already a vocal group called the Classics and threatened the band with legal action so Yost and the band renamed themselves Classics IV, referring to the four members in the group.
Soon after, their contract with Capitol was up and moved over to Imperial Records where guitarists J.R. Cobb and Buddy Buie heard a jazz instrumental called “Spooky” by local Atlanta saxophonist Mike Sharpe which had peaked at #57 on the Hot 100. The original is a pretty solid piece on its own anchored by what sounds like either a fuzz organ or guitar with Sharpe playing the main melody on sax with echoing backing vocals buried in the mix along with a standard Bossa nova drum beat. Cobb and Buie used the song to write lyrics about some type of spooky little girl. They took it to the group who recorded their take on it.
In the first two verses, Yost describes situations where he thinks his girl might be onto something. He calls her one night about going to the movies. She says no and has other plans but goes along with it anyway. She winks at guys who hit on her but still holds his hand. In the third verse twist, Yost gets tired of this girl haunting him so to put it all to rest he proposes marriage to her on Halloween. His main takeaway from this is that love is a spooky thing with his girl.
This strikes me as pretty ridiculous. Yost sounds like he’s paranoid when he probably has no reason to. Maybe his girl had a schedule change or is just being nice to those guys. Also, do people propose to each other on Halloween? I guess if you’re into scary stuff than fine but I don’t exactly picture the holiday as a picturesque one for marriage proposals. Maybe things were different in 1968.
The music certainly lives up to its title with the band bringing a solid groove that largely sticks to the original. There are eerie oohing background vocals throughout along with a sticky guitar riff, busy bass playing, a satisfying sax solo, and a similar Bossa nova drumming beat like the original. If there’s a weak part of the song it’s Yost’s singing, a cartoonish type vocal delivery that may be fun but ultimately gets annoying after awhile. On the whole, “Spooky” is a slight song but one that serves its purpose fine as a piece of catchy late ‘60s pop-rock.
Classics IV managed to stick around longer through the late ‘60s with Yost putting his name upfront with the new group name Classics IV featuring Dennis Yost which like Wham! Featuring George Michael is a very weird and redundant billing. Dennis Yost is already featured in Classics IV so this makes no sense. It’s more interesting than their music where they made the Top 10 two more times with “Stormy” later in 1968 and “Traces” in 1969. (“Stormy” peaked at #5. It’s a 6. “Traces” peaked at #2, one spot higher than “Spooky.” It’s a 5.)
The band wouldn’t have this success again where their subsequent singles and albums failed to match their peak peaking lower on the charts. Going into the ‘70s, the name was changed again to Dennis Yost & The Classics IV but soon Yost would become the only original member left as band members moved on. A couple of them, Cobb and keyboardist Dean Daughtry joined the Atlanta Rhythm Section which had big chart success in the late ‘70s. (Atlanta Rhythm Section’s two highest-charting singles both peaked at #7, 1977’s “So Into You” and 1978’s “Imaginary Lover.” Both songs are a 6.)
In the years since Yost kept the band going performing constantly on the nostalgia circuit but later in life developed various health problems including a throat condition which he underwent surgery for and suffered heavy brain trauma after a fall which led him to withdraw from the group before dying of respiratory failure in 2008 at age 65. Despite his death, Classics IV are still together now continuing to tour before the pandemic hit.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the smooth and sultry gender-flipped version of “Spooky” Dusty Springfield released in 1970:
(Dusty Springfield’s highest-charting single, the 1988 Pet Shop Boys collaboration “What Have I Done To Deserve This?,” peaked at #2. It’s an 8.)
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the Atlanta Rhythm Section’s 1979 instrumental take on “Spooky” that returned the song to the charts peaking at #14:
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the version of “Spooky” Ashleigh Murray recorded for a 2018 episode of Riverdale:
And here’s Murray performing her version on that 2018 episode: