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Halloween Novelty Tunes Don't Wear Off

Stocks in this article: VIA CMCSA GOOG

That's a firm backbone and a nice bit of nostalgic holiday listening, but it's been more than 30 years since just cutting a single was enough to make a song a must for a holiday playlist. Thank Michael Jackson and director John Landis for that development. While it's tough to think of the title track of a multiplatinum album and pillar of modern pop music as a "novelty," a song ostensibly about horror movies and featuring a Vincent Price spoken word bit about how "grisly ghouls from every tomb are closing in to seal your doom" is only separated from the above 45s by Jackson's talent and the recording's production values.

Thriller wasn't released until late November of 1982, while Landis' 14-minute video for the title track featuring scary movies, zombie dance numbers and Jackson as a werecat didn't appear until that December. That didn't stop "Thriller" from becoming a Halloween favorite or, decades after its release, making highly choreographed "Thriller" zombie flash mobs a staple of public Halloween events around the world.

Thriller and Weird Al Yankovic's reaction to it set the standard for novelty songs that exists to this day. Where they were once relegated to radio and specific programs like the Dr. Demento Show, novelty recordings could reach a huge audience just by including some visual aids. Even as music migrated off of terrestrial radio and music videos were exiled from MTV (VIA), the combination of a goofy single and an equally entertaining video was still enough to get your song a few plays. While Patrice Wilson's trite, train-of-thought earworms of questionable musical merit including Rebecca Black's Friday, Nicole Westbrook's It's Thanksgiving and Alison Gold's Chinese Food made money for ARK Music Factory and Pato Music World, novelty tracks are far more effective when the songs behind them have even a baseline of quality and the videos are worth more than an occasional hate watch.

This is where Psy comes in. There were any number of Halloween costumes -- from suited, sunglasses-clad Psy himself, his would-be garage dance-off partner, his crew of sexy ladies, etc. -- culled from the Korean rapper's horse-dancing, toilet-sitting, car-flashing video for "Gangnam Style." While the song alone isn't really much of a novelty, its beat, its dance and its video's genuine, engrossing weirdness placed it in the U.S. cult canon. Google (GOOG) CEO Larry Page called "Gangnam Style" a "glimpse of the future" as Psy was able to make a bonafide bankable hit through a video/download approach that had since been reserved for lesser novelties such as The Bed Intruder Song or Rebecca Black's Friday. It didn't take airplay or major label backing to be a hit -- it just needed to catch people's attention, hold it and let the $1.2 million he made from YouTube pageview royalties alone roll in.

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