The Best Monster Songs You’ve Never Heard

A band that never existed made a corporeal record — and it’s great!

11 min readAug 26, 2021

“His engine’s heart is cold but it’s always in tune
His mechanic is the Creature From The Black Lagoon
He pumps his bat shoes when it’s time for braking
His every race is a great undertaking”

Ever come across a song that infected your little cinder heart so viciously that you knew immediately that you needed it in your ebony-clad life? Perhaps it was that first Pixies track or when you heard the hook to Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” or maybe the third snap to the Addams Family theme? Whether you heard it at a concert or on Spotify without skips (what the elders call “radio”) you’re not likely to forget the moment, even if you can’t describe the song to anyone else.

My conquering earworm was by a ghost band. A band that recorded an album with Capitol Records yet never appeared in the flesh.

What kind of hipster necromancy is this? A band so obscure that it never existed?

This is the story of that band.

This is the only story of that band, because there’s no Wikipedia on them. No Pandora channel. Only whispers and echoes… and the blog you are reading now. So please forgive if this one runs a little long and gets down in the weeds — being the inadvertent biographer of a band that never existed comes with responsibility.

The Ghouls

The Ghouls were mainly session musicians that played on a rotating rostrum of different one-off projects spearheaded by Brian Wilson co-writer Gary Usher, all more or less capitalizing on the surf-rock craze of the 1960s. The most successful of these shell bands was The Hondells, who scored a top-ten hit with “Little Honda” in 1964 (actually a Beach Boys cover) and can be spotted as the featured band in the Frankie and Annette film Beach Blanket Bingo. Put a stake in that — it’ll come back!

To understand why The Ghouls were formed, one must understand what was happening in the 1960s.

You’ve heard The Monster Mash, right? What? How old are you?? Go listen to The Monster Mash and come back. No, I’m not giving you a link, just open your damn window in October, it will be playing somewhere.

It’s like this — those old Universal monsters were plenty scary in the 1930s and 1940s, but by the time the 1960s rolled around, the teenaged boomers weren’t frightened by Bela Lugosi in a tuxedo or Boris Karloff in doc martens. They now had Hammer Films to scare them and they were a hair’s breath from Viet Nam for Christ’s sake! Those old monsters had become as campy as Freddy Krueger is today — they’d become “bubblegum horror”.

From left: Lyle Alzado, Elvira, Paul Reubens, Dave Vanian, and Naomi Watts

And it just so happened that Dracula entered the public domain in 1962. Frankenstein, werewolves and mummies were already there.

Thus, in the early 1960s, there was a slew of fun, poppy, horror-themed songs and tv shows to delight the kids and baffle the parents. Y’know, kinda like Slipknot and SpongeBob did in the 2000s. Yes, let’s say exactly like Slipknot and SpongeBob in the 2000s.

In 1964, producer Gary Usher saw the rising tide of surf rock and the appeal of retro-horror, and decided to gather his regular session musicians together to bite into that venn diagram at it’s bloodiest center.

Thus: The Ghouls.

Except the musicians that made up the band never practiced the songs. Never toured the songs. COULDN’T REMEMBER THE SONGS LATER.

I don’t know how much money the venture raised — I’d guess very little. The band never played live, its posters never adorned teenage walls, and the one album that was recorded never got a second pressing.

Several bands like this cropped up in the 1960s — studio musicians who record one album in a certain vein, are given a placeholder name, and the album is sold but nothing more comes of it.

But few put out albums as danceable as this:

The album Dracula’s Deuce (Capitol Records, 1964) is The Ghouls’ one and only release.

And the thing is, The Ghouls sound really good! They are competent musicians absolutely crushing a familiar genre and are clearly having a good time.

Pause the master tape for a personal story: finding the album was a decade-long quest. After first hearing them on a mid-2000s Halloween broadcast by a community radio station, I started searching for Dracula’s Deuce. At that time, there was ZERO online about the band, and I don’t mean zero like “there’s zero information about the next Marvel release calendar.” I mean Google returned a 🤷‍♂️ emoji. It wasn’t until a handful of years ago that some blessed saint uploaded the album and artwork to their own server.

I tell the story of my mission to find the songs here not because it’s interesting on it’s own, but because it mirrors the experience of someone who was actually in the band.

Vocalist Chuck Girard is the last living member of The Ghouls; he also sang in several of the other fly-by-night bands like The Castells and The Hondells. In a phone interview, he related to me how, once he recorded and delivered an album, he rarely heard it again. He himself only heard The Ghouls again in recent years when a small company from Japan began to digitize and rerelease the songs on niche-interest compilations. “I’ve had people find things I forgot I recorded… did I sing on that? It sounds like me…”

But as I quizzed him about The Ghouls, small toothpickings began to come back to him.

“That was one of the most fun albums we made,” he recalled.

Santa Maria Times, Dec 12, 1964

Chuck didn’t sing lead on The Ghouls album, that was fellow Hondells member Richie Burns, who really “locked into the whole Boris Karloff thing.”

“For about 3–4 years, we were working; every week we would do an album. Sometimes Gary Usher would have an artist and we’d do all the background singing for an artist.” The other times, Usher would write songs that the musicians would take a stab at, and then see if any record company would bite. “There were probably 5–6 guys that shifted around, working constantly, making good money for those days. Just alcohol and frenzy and getting paid well — for those days.”

Key Sidequest: The Hondells

“The Hondells was a good example,” he recalled, naming the most commercially successful of the puppet-mastered bands. “Mercury put the single (“Little Honda”) out and it got on the radio. So now we have a dilemma: we have a hit record but no ‘real’ group to perform it.”

It was Mel Brooks-level comedy: Chuck had done the lead vocals on “Little Honda” but didn’t want to go on tour when the studio gigs were so profitable. “And then the song went high enough on the charts that they commissioned a second album!” So the svengali’d band had to be svengali’d again for a tour, with Ritchie Burns singing for The Hondells, even lip-syncing Chuck’s vocals in Beach Blanket Bingo.

True fact: Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, and Basil Rathbone filled out the cast in several “Beach” movies

But then the whole circus got svengali’d once again for The Hondell’s album cover, where neither Chuck nor Ritchie appeared — Ritchie’s job at a bank prevented him from taking publicity photos, so he had a friend pretend to be the guy pretending to sing the song in a band that was pretending they didn’t just perform a track by The Beach Boys.

It all gets a little Man Of A Thousand Faces

“It’s a different kind of situation that does not exist today,” Chuck laughed, “to have a group that goes out and makes albums under different names.”

Returning To Main Campaign

Lest it sound like the musicians behind The Ghouls were exploited, Chuck has a more generous view. “I loved the studio. Gary was a wonderful and generous guy. We were all friends. It was like a group of your buddies going in on someone else’s dime and making records. It was kind of a dream job. The only downside is that I was the lead singer on a lot of tracks but never got any royalties… of course nothing sold enough to matter, probably. Nobody got rich, but no regrets.”

Documenting the members of The Ghouls isn’t easy. The album cover and non-existent liner notes don’t name the musicians. Even Chuck had a hard time swearing on who played. Certainly Ritchie Burns was on lead vocals while Chuck did backup vocals, with Gary Usher writing and doing backup vocals as well. Fellow Castells member Joe Kelly performed as well and Roger Christian shares a writing credit on many songs. Members of The Wrecking Crew (the famous 1960s session musicians including Glen Campbell and Leon Russel) filled out the band, though Chuck isn’t clear on which members of that famous clique were present.

Discogs lists the following additional musicians:
Bass — Bill Cooper
Drums— Hal Blaine
Guitar — Richard Podolor
Engineer [Recording] — Joe Polito
Producer — Jim Economides

And who is that on the album cover? It’s not anyone in the band or the crew. Chuck doesn’t have a clue. “Looks like an actor,” he offers, “Stock photo would be my guess.”

So here again — a band so invisible, someone else plays them on the album cover.

H.G. Wells would be proud.

From Mr. Hyde To Reverend Jekyll

Chuck’s life took a turn unexpected for a session musician, especially one who played songs with titles like “Blood And Butter” and “Shake, Rattle, and Rot”. He felt the call toward faith, becoming a Christian musician and formed the early Christian rock band Love Song, influencing the generation of faith rock that boomed in the 80s and 90s. He never gave a thought to resurrecting (see what I did there) his surf-rock past, until collectors from Japan started tracking him down. “Y’know, giving interviews about my old music might be an opportunity to get a word or two in for Jesus,” he mused. The plan for evangelism on a surfboard worked, and Chuck’s Christian music found a new audience.

Is it sacrilegious to say a surfer kinda walks on water?

Chuck brilliantly anticipated people searching up the category “love song” on Spotify when he named his band in the 1970s

“I didn’t own it for a while,” Chuck continued, “my wife didn’t even know I was in The Hondells until after we were married.”

I asked Chuck whether his background in singing about creatures rising from a graveyard helped him write solo songs about One Specific Person who rose from the grave?

Just kidding. My mama raised me too well to ask that question.

Chuck Girard today; Love Song in the 1970s

Surfing The Borgo Pass

“Oh my, I drive real fast and I’m really hip
I’m the sweetheart of the vampire crypt
When the moon is full I go kind of hairy
Making trial runs through the cemetery”

One excellent track on the album is an obvious Jan & Dean parody: “Little Old Lady From Transylvania”. It was the only track that had a female vocalist, and I asked Chuck if he had an inkling who it might be. “I *think* it might be one of Brian Wilson’s wife’s group,” he cautiously offered, “Marilyn Rovell, Diane Rovell and Ginger Blake had a group called The Honeys that Brian was producing. So it might have been Marilyn… or maybe it was just a union singer that Gary hired.”

Following up on the mystery of the second lead vocalist, I rang up Brian Eichenberger, guitarist for the Beach Boys, who reached out to Brian Wilson’s keyboardist Darian Sahanaja. Eichenberger and Sahanaja are both of the opinion that the vocals are not that of Marilyn Rovell Wilson or anyone else in The Honeys, but of Ritchie Burns himself, doing his best old-lady voice.

If so, Burns’ best old-lady voice is a strong swing!

One other bit of gossip I had to ask Chuck about:

Remember in “My Little Honda” how the call-and-response from the chorus of goes “First gear! It’s all right! Second gear! Lean right!” etc? At one point in the title track to Dracula’s Deuce (all about Dracula’s drag racing car, not about a nosferatu dropping a sixer in your latrine), you can hear a voice in the back yell “First Gear!” According to community DJ legends, that was yelled by Chuck as a dig at the whole arrangement. Ritchie Burns on lead vocals improvs a “Shut Up!” before recovering, inelegantly, back into the song with a “how much juice is there in a Little Honda?”

Chuck denies that it was an insult or anything negative. “It was certainly an improv; anything that wasn’t in 4–4 verse format was an improv. We were young guys having fun,” not musicians getting precious about their craft and their calling.

Chuck is tickled when I inform him that the band has a small cult following. A following that is perhaps limited by the criminally small amount of information about them. “It was one of the most obscure albums we did,” he laughs, “It sold, what, a thousand copies?”

“But I stand by the album,” he says, a successful Christian musician without a hint of shame about being in a monster band, “It’s a cool little album.”

And he’s right. Dracula’s Deuce is a must-have for your next Halloween sock-hop. It’s kid and adult friendly, and every other song is an instrumental. Essential tracks: “Dracula’s Deuce”, “Little Old Lady from Transylvania” and “Bela Be Good.”

It’s been over a decade since any kind of compilation appeared with reissues of The Ghouls. And even though Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” has an echoed theme, The Ghouls have never been covered as far as I know. But that doesn’t mean the band should decompose in a shallow discount bin. If you see a copy, buy it! It’ll fetch you $80–150 or so on ebay if you can attract a serious collector.

The number of bands that have sprung up, released material, and vanished are somewhere around a Shit Ton x 13¹⁰. And a few of those were one hit wonders, which is more than can be said for The Ghouls. But unlike other fly-by-night bands, The Ghouls’ only album has lasting appeal. Whether you’re a horror afficianado or a surf rock fan or you’re the DJ at The Batcave, there’s something of value here.

And the legend is made all the better when we’re talking about a band singing about ghosts, who is itself a ghost. A band singing about Dracula who was itself the prey of a vampiric recording industry. A band celebrating Frankenstein who was itself assembled together from the spare parts of other bands. I’m saying, this shit gets meta.

The fact that the music is good — like genuinely, actually good — makes the story better.

Chuck Girard is still recording at this writing. Check him out!

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Image Credits: Capitol Records, Universal Television, Garpax, American International Pictures, Chuck Girard




Investigating the Western fascination with vampires, one dad joke at a time.