Dead Beats: "The Gonk" by Herbert Chappell
We take a look at this iconic song that first appeared in George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.
By Jay Gervais
Earlier this year, George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead technically celebrated its second 40th anniversary, if you consider when the film released here in the United States back in April of 1979. This iconic horror film is essentially the epitome of a perfect zombie movie and was the most ideal sequel to 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, also helmed by Romero, one could possibly hope for.
Dawn of the Dead tells an apocalyptic tale about four survivors looking to escape the madness of a world being overrun by flesh-eating zombies and the resulting mass hysteria and crumbling social systems throughout. They take refuge inside a suburban shopping mall they have barricaded themselves in, but are they truly safe from the terrors of both the living and dead outside and of their own isolation?
While the film had its own exuberant original score by Italian progressive rock band Goblin (credited as The Goblins), which is featured heavily in its European version, it is often Romero’s choice of library stock music he selected from the De Wolfe Limited labels that often takes center stage whenever the soundtrack is discussed. One of the most recognized of the bunch is the late Herbert Chappell’s “The Gonk,” used during the end credits.
This marching theme is a rather silly listen but fans of the film will undoubtedly remember it. Honestly, Dawn of the Dead wouldn’t feel quite the same without it. It also speaks to Romero’s cleverness and sense of humor as he weaved serious stories to rollicking musical themes, seemingly poking fun at the social commentaries he succeeded in addressing as if to say humans are savages in the best and worst of times so we might have some fun while plummeting ourselves into an inescapable doom.
Chappell, who recently passed away in October, composed “The Gonk” way back in 1965. This iconic track also appeared in Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and it continues to be the ending theme for the Robot Chicken television series. A portion of the song was also reprised by John Harrison for Day of the Dead, Romero’s 1985 follow-up film to Dawn of the Dead. All things considered, this song rightfully deserves to forever be associated with the classic zombie feature and the composer’s musical legacy will live on with it for years to come.
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