In the early 1980s there was a growing panic regarding hidden satanic messages in rock and roll music. Some Christian groups, the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), and several television news outlets claimed that certain musicians were in legion with the devil. This began a crusade to expose Satanists and to save the souls of America’s children. In an episode ripped from the headlines, the television show CHiPs, then in its sixth season, aired “Rock Devil Rock” on October 31, 1982.
In the episode, Ponch and Bobby find themselves on a security detail at a rock and roll concert for a pseudo Kiss act, complete with pyrotechnics, spooky props, and band members wearing pancake makeup and wild costumes. Moloch (played by Donny Most of Happy Days), the front man for the band, takes the stage at an outdoor matinee concert, apparently to sing a total of one song for the CHiPs gang and a collection of stock footage concert-goers. He belts out the lyrics to “Devil Take Me” with the wild-eyed gesticulations of a man possessed. Moloch ends the song in a grand finale of fire-breathing, prompting Ponch to quip, “I wonder if he does barbeques?” As the stock footage audience goes wild, Moloch jumps in a hot-rod hearse and speeds away leaving secondary CHiPs cast members to manage the angry anti-Moloch protesters waiting outside the venue.
With Ponch and Bobby as an escort, Moloch drives the California highway leaving his one-song concert behind him. “Devil Take Me” plays on the hearse’s tape deck and is abruptly interrupted by a demonic voice repeating the phrase, “Moloch must die.” The Moloch mobile begins to fill with smoke as a terrified Moloch realizes that he is no longer in control of the car, attempting to steer and brake to no avail. Ponch and Bobby give chase, coordinating a death-defying rescue. The remaining acts of the episode feature similar attempts on Moloch’s life, convincing him with no uncertainty that the devil is out to destroy him. Meanwhile the CHP officers try to organize a wild Halloween a party. I won’t divulge too much more to avoid spoiling it for anyone who has not seen the episode, but it does culminate in an exciting twist that causes Moloch to reevaluate his way of life.
I’m sure that if I had watched this episode during its original broadcast, I would have been sufficiently spooked, but watching it now I find it delightfully corny. Try as he might, Donny Most is unsuccessful at shedding his Ralph Malph persona from Happy Days. Ultimately, “Rock Devil Rock” plays out like an episode of Scooby-Doo complete with a guest appearance by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. The campiness, even if unintentional, makes for a fun Halloween episode.
The episode was directed by John Aston, famous for his role as Gomez of The Addams Family, a man who knows spooky. It also features an appearance by a young Robert Trujillo, of the bands Suicidal Tendencies and Metallica.
I dare you to watch this episode and try not to get “Devil Take Me” stuck in your head…
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