Saturday, October 19, 2013

ILL-ustrated Songs #26 - The Hitmen - BATES MOTEL

"Man," Lenny Bruce once said, "the movies did screw us up."

Sure did. When there's a murder, tornado or a bombing, what do the witnesses always say? "It was just like a movie!" So it wasn't all that real or shocking. It takes more and more to shock us all the time, although I think "Psycho" would still scare even the most jaded tween ghoul. Too bad most wouldn't watch a Hitchcock film this time of year, just vampire love movies and zombie gunk.

Zombie stuff is just ooky-spooky. You can see the rubber on the mask and the creature is on the loose and easy to spot a mile away. Hitchcock's monsters were likely to be named "Uncle Charlie" or "Norman Bates," and seem normal most of the time. This is a little more unsettling, and you can't blame the violence on the supernatural. The inhuman killer is all too human.

Master Bates inspired the hard pounding "Bates Motel," a masterpiece from the two-album-and-gone group The Hitmen. Their first album "Aim for the Feet" didn't impress anyone, and despite issuing "Bates Motel" as a 12 inch and pushing it to disc jockeys and rock magazine editors (which is how I acquired it back in 1981), the excellent single from their album "Torn Together" did not do well enough to get them re-signed to Columbia.

The group's leader, Ben Watkins, would go on to various forms of musical infamy and success, but nothing he or The Hitmen did compares to this track, which has a menacing beat, strangled guitars, and even a touch of humor. It seems to be about a Hitchcock fan who is now a copycat killer in the real world, one who might even be filming his victim before and after (and maybe even during) the attack: "Lying in wait with my Super 8 [this was before VHS, folks], fame will be bait..." His bloody mission? "I'll turn my home into Bates Motel." He addresses Hitchcock's legacy: "The Master has gone, but you'll carry on…Biting your nails forever…"

The song rumbles along with an exaggerated heartbeat of bass and and even the jokey chorus can't really lighten the grim mood: "Check in, check out, check in, check out…I'll turn my home into Bates Motel!"

Some critics insist "Psycho" was a black comedy, and somehow even more delicious in that sense than Hitchcock's "The Trouble with Harry." So it is, that this number goes overboard at just the right times, so you're more likely to dance or doo-wop along than do someone in. That's an odd thing about classic horror movies...they do lend themselves to parody so well, and many of the best, including James Whale's "Bride of Frankenstein" and "Invisible Man" already have some humor to them and clear satiric intent. Which is why we love Karloff, Lugosi, Lorre and Price...all with a good sense of humor...their monster creations not pure evil like hockey-mask Jason or Freddie Krueger.

After The Hitmen went hitless, its two key members moved on to some actual success. Alan Wilder joined Depeche Mode. He was also in Recoil. Ben Watkins was on New Asia's album "Gates," and formed The Flowerpot Men. He was later part of Juno Reactor. In composer mode, he scored the Japanese film "Brave Story" and worked on the "Matrix" movie soundtracks. Another unusual credit: he contributed a key song to a Traci Lords album.

As the lovable Lolita Ms. Lords recalls, once she began putting together her cash-in album, she decided to do something more than predictable erotica with a "sexy ambient vibe. Now I wanted something with a harder edge to add another dimension. I was introduced to producer Ben Watkins, who was known for his aggressive jungle beats. He was a wild man and very passionate about his music. I told Ben I wanted to do a song that had elements of rock and roll but with a techno vibe and he ran with it, creating a slamming heavy metal guitar intro on an insanely hyper track…"

Well, maybe so, Traci, but the slamming, insanely hyper "Bates Motel" is still a haunting number, a deadly heart-pumper that lives on…at least for fans of grunge-grave rock and Hitchcock.


1 comment:

Yuki Asakawa said...

Great post! Although The Hitmen aren't overall that impressive, Bates Motel surely is. Now if I only could grab Torn Together...