Nothing creates the right mood for Halloween like a spooky song, but the traditional horror hit parade can start to grate after the 4,000th time. For those who have had it with “Thriller” and (god forbid) “Monster Mash,” we’ve put together a fresh list of Halloween-themed jams.
Halloween—Misfits: Just about any Misfits song will do, but as Glenn Danzig’s definitive artistic statement on the subject, this one earned its name. Its under-two-minute gutter-punk assault is so bruising it takes several listens just to get a handle on the lyrics—but as usual, the wait is rewarded.
Monster—Kanye West featuring Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj: One of the best songs on Kanye’s masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, “Monster” is the American Psycho of music. The song messes with a different metaphor, comparing murder, mayhem and other assorted horrors to the music biz (rather than Wall Street), but the basic ideas have a lot in common. The controversial video really drives the point home, and if you ever wondered what it would look like if one of Nicki Minaj’s personas attacked another one, it’s a must see.
Devil Town—Daniel Johnston: From the reigning king of outsider music comes one of the most emotional and striking monster songs of all time. In under a minute, Johnston paints a vivid portrait of every goth’s dream hometown.
Zombie—E-40 featuring Tech N9ne, Brotha Lynch & Kung Fu Vampire: With a catchy hook (“if you’re a zombie, monster, ghoul or fiend”) courtesy of San Jose rapper Kung Fu Vampire, E-40 teams with Brotha Lynch—a horrorcore rapper longer before the word existed—and Tech N9ne to spin morbid rhymes for the perfect zombie apocalypse soundtrack.
I Am a Vampire—Future Bible Heroes: If “I Am a Vampire” had been written in the ’80s, it would have been an alternative dance-club favorite. The song takes the perspective of the eternally young, chic vampire. Sure, you have to feed off of people and avoid the sunlight, but that’s a small price to pay for an eternity of being fabulous.
Gangnam Style—Psy: OK, we’re sort of joking, but everyone’s going to be doing the dance on Halloween this year and there will be more than a few bar-hoping Psy look-alikes. You might want to learn it. It’s not hard.
Superstition—The Kills: From the moment the guitar kicks in on the Kills’ “Superstition,” it creates a sort of vague foreboding anxiety that the best horror movies conjure up in the first 20 minutes—before anything bad has happened yet. There is just something about the minimalist, dissonant sounds this duo conjures up that is just creepy. That compounded with a repetitive song about superstition, creates a scary Halloween tune, where the beast that lurks in the shadows is fear.
What’s He Building in There?—Tom Waits: What is scarier than a creepy, reclusive next-door neighbor that’s receiving a lot of mysterious packages? Tom Waits channels the fun, spooky ambience of the Disney’s Haunted Mansion (the ride, not the movie), as he narrates a brief story of a suspicious man in the neighborhood.
Mind’s Playin’ Tricks on Me—Geto Boys: Not just one of the best rap songs ever, “Mind’s Playin’ Tricks on Me” is also maybe the best ghost story ever set to a beat. It weaves layers of guilt, violence and slipping sanity together to make you remember we don’t need paranormal activity to be haunted. The nerd-rock version by Atom & His Package is as awesomely fun as the original is creepy.
I Walked With a Zombie—Roky Erickson and the Aliens: Roky Erickson led the legendary psychedelic rock band 13th Floor Elevators in the ’60s, but got diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and spent much of the next decade in a mental institution. When he returned to music, the content of his songs changed significantly. Now he was singing about aliens, Satan and monsters, and doing so in an incredibly intense, emotional manner. While most of The Evil One is powerful, screaming acid rock, “I Walked With a zombie” is a somber ballad, and by far the saddest, most emotional song on the album.
The Man Comes Around—Johnny Cash: Now that this song has been used in a bunch of scary movies, TV shows and trailers (most notably the Dawn of the Dead remake), it’s been pretty much accepted as a modern horror classic of country music. Cash meant it as a serious hymn, and it almost makes religion cool. But isn’t it always like that with the Book of Revelations?
Bela Lugosi’s Dead—Bauhaus: The 2009 horror film The Collector was the second film (after the more famous Bowie vampire flick The Hunger) to use this song almost in its entirety. It’s maybe the quintessential Halloween song by now—the weird guitar effects and insane lyric delivery by Peter Murphy make it timeless.
That’s That—Groove Ghoulies: Lead singer Kepi Ghoulie is such a monster movie fanatic, that even on this 35-second love song, he can find no better words to express his feeling than compare it to his favorite Halloween monsters, giving us the immortal line “I need you like zombies need brains.”
What’s on your Halloween playlist? Email your song title with a short description to firstname.lastname@example.org to be considered for our readers’ picks playlist.