Just remember when you tell those little white lies
that the night has a thousand eyes
I’m haunted by The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.
If it isn’t already obvious, I’m a collector of vinyl records. I love the treasure hunt that comes with digging through the stacks at a record fair, the weird artwork, and the novelty of finding something particularly strange or rare. As basically anyone will tell you, I’m a sucker for taking shiny things home in general – so of course I’m into records. It makes sense, then, that when I saw the sleeveless 10-inch propped up against a wall outside my record shop, like a discarded coffee coaster, that I took it home and gave it a home. This was before I could afford to buy anything anyways, so I relished the thought of anything to add to the collection.
Plus, I couldn’t get over the names printed on the label: THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES on one side, and ANONYMOUS PHONE CALL on the other, both by Bobby Vee, copyright 1962.
Like something straight out of a creepypasta.
Who names a song that? Why do they both sound like the titles of b-movies from the 60s, and why had someone tossed this thing away? It was in decent enough condition to spin, but I didn’t play it when I got home. The name was too funny, it had to be a decoration on my wall. So I stuck a plastic tack into the drywall, skewered the record on it, and promptly forgot all about it.
Months passed. Folks would remark on it, or I’d brush past it and knock it onto the floor, but THOUSAND EYES never got played. It took the better part of a year before, at a party, I cranked the speaker, found the 10-inch adapter and threw it on. I was not prepared.
My little keyboard speaker roared to life: “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” is the kind of piano-driven, rollicking pop song that could only have been written in the sixties. It cold-opens at maximum volume with a breathless, driving piano-and-guitar combo; I practically jumped out of my skin at the sound. It was better than I could have hoped: not only did it play perfectly, but it was fun! It was weird, like the whole thing had been recorded at a tempo just past what the musicians could play. I was hypnotized. Then, Bobby began to sing:
They say that you’re a runaround lover
Though you say it isn’t so
But if you put me down for another
I’ll know, believe me, I’ll know
‘Cause the night has a thousand eyes
And a thousand eyes can’t help but see if you are true to me
So remember when you tell those little white lies
That the night has a thousand eyes
If there’s an innocent reading to this, I’m not sure if I can find it. No matter which way you look at it, Bobby is threatening his girlfriend. “If you lie to me, I’ll know”, he tells her, “I know everything“. At very least it’s creepy – but then we get to the metaphor(?) of the thousand eyes, always watching, always waiting for Bobby’s girlfriend to make a misstep. It unravels from a love song into a paranoid Lovecraftian horror, like a pop tune written in an adjacent dimension that had somehow leaked over into our own.
The frenzied tempo and Bobby’s wild-eyed, full-voiced chorus don’t do it any favours either, especially when played on a wobbly old turntable. The song, like its album art, is strangely confrontational:
It was only surpassed by the total strangeness of “Anonymous Phone Call” on the b-side, which was nearly the same song but later that night, after the ‘eyes’ had checked back in and found his girlfriend guilty. These two strange, creepy songs form a 2-act play: first the threat, then the showdown after, once Bobby’s shadow-informant calls in.
If it sounds like the plot-structure of a Slasher to you, you’re not alone. My friends and I could only laugh – what the hell was this thing? Where did it come from?
It turns out the answer was as bizarre as the song itself.
Bobby Vee owes his big break to profound tragedy.
The Shadows, fronted by a 15-year old Bobby Velline, were scrambled together at maximum speed. Bobby and his older brother Billy, along with some of their friends, were on their way to Moorhead, Minnesota to witness the ‘Winter Dance Party’ concert on February 3rd, 1959. By the time they arrived, the unthinkable had happened: the headliners, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and their pilot Roger Peterson had perished in a plane crash.
It was The Day The Music Died.
The ‘Winter Dance Party’ no longer had an act (save Dion Dimucci, who had opted not to fly), so an open call was made for capable volunteers who could perform in their stead. Bobby, Billy and their friends – suddenly known as The Shadows – found themselves taking their heroes’ place on stage.
It was the beginning of Bobby’s singing career.
From there Bobby Vee – first with The Shadows, and later without – became a sensation. His first single, “Suzie Baby”, was written in tribute to Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue”, and it scored him a deal with Liberty Records. His career soared from there.
And in 1962, he sat down to record a song called “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes”.
A year later, he released the album of the same name and headlined Dick Clark’s ‘Caravan of Stars’ tour. On the night of November 22nd, 1963 they cancelled their Dallas show moments before they hit the stage.
Kennedy had been assassinated.
Bobby probably didn’t know that “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” was the name of a spooky poem by Frances William Bourdillon, written in the Victorian era. Nor would he have known that it was also the title of a 1945 Cornell Woolrich novel about a phony clairvoyant who becomes a real one, and was adapted into a Film Noir movie by John Farrow in 1948. But none of that stopped him from participating in their proud tradition of uncanny imagery.
Take for example the music video below, from 1963’s Just For Fun.
There he is. Look at that face. Look at those weird, disembodied shots of 60’s legs. Look at the strange intensity in his glare, and the vaguely deranged energy of this dance party.
That’s the face of a man with a thousand eyes.
Not that “Anonymous Phone Call”, with its storyline about Bobby being informed by a mysterious shadow-man that his beloved is cheating, is any better. We have to assume the Shadow-Man is one of his thousand eyes, out on the prowl. Or maybe one of the actual Shadows. Who knows.
I like to think of these two songs in conversation back and forth forever, as Bobby lures new victims into his web.
Maybe there’s nothing frightening about “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” except some weird, dated lyrics and a too-intense stare. Who knows.
Sometimes the best, most personal Horror stories are the ones we write for ourselves by repurposing the world around us. My haunted Bobby Vee record is a perfect example – he doesn’t mean to sound evil, but he sure does when I slow the record down for laughs, or listen too closely to the lyrics. Life’s more fun when a record is haunted, sometimes.
And besides, one of these songs is literally “I’m watching you”, the other “Everyone is watching you”.
That’s plenty creepy for me.