A perfect playlist of Halloween horrors
For some of us, Halloween is as exciting as Christmas. It’s more fun. Nothing but candy and costumes … and music. If you’ve been stuck thinking all there is to Halloween music is “Monster Mash” and “Purple People Eater,” here’s a Halloween playlist to open your mind and ears. I haven’t included death-metal songs because, well, it’s Halloween every day for fans of that genre, right?
“Haunted House” Jumpin’ Gene Simmons
I forgive Jumpin’ Gene Simmons for co-writing the Tim McGraw breakthrough hit “Indian Outlaw” because of this little rockabilly wonder from 1958 about spending the night in the titular location in which an alien demands of the inhabitant, “Don’t be here when the mornin’ comes.”
“Monster” Fred Schneider
Fred Schneider broke out of the B-52’s for a solo album in 1984, and this Halloween dance favorite kicked it off. “There’s a monster in my pants and it does a nasty dance.” Screams ensue. The rest is, um, a lot of fun.
“Teenage Head” The Flamin’ Groovies
This song is classic punk made about six years before anyone used that term for music.
“I’m a monster/got a revved-up teenage head/Teenage monster/California born and bred.” What is scarier than a teenager full of testosterone? Not much.
“Teenage Werewolf” The Cramps
Well, maybe it’s worse when a teenager turns into a werewolf. The Cramps have some great Halloween-worthy numbers (in the song “TV Set,” a severed head is placed where a screen should be), but “Teenage Werewolf” has the lovable line, “I’ve got puberty rites and I’ve got puberty WRONGS!” How could you not love that?
“I Put a Spell on You,” “Little Demon,” Screaming Jay Hawkins
Take your pick. One song is now a standard about a would-be lover using witchcraft to keep his beloved. The other is a crazy number about a demon who gets really, really angry. Both are delivered by a guy who used to like to be carried on stage in a coffin.
“The Ballad of Dwight Frye” Alice Cooper
Dwight Frye was the actor who played Renfield and Fritz, respectively, in the 1930s classics “Dracula” and “Frankenstein.”
Alice Cooper (then a band) imagined his stay in a mental hospital and his subsequent escape. Sometimes Cooper (the singer) would perform the song while wearing a straightjacket.
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” Bauhaus
Goth icons Bauhaus broke through to the mainstream (sort of) with this long, ominous tune that described Bela Lugosi as the most classic vampire of all time, Dracula. The creep factor is due more to singer Peter Murphy’s low growl of a delivery than it is to the lyrics or the abrasive yet immensely likable music. It’s truly an essential Halloween favorite. It also provides the opening to one of the most stylish vampire movies of all time, “The Hunger.”
“Psycho” Elvis Costello
Songwriting great Leon Payne (“Lost Highway,” “I Love You Because”) wrote this little ditty, and Eddie Noack recorded the first version of it in 1968. Initially, no one paid much attention to it, but Elvis Costello recorded a version in 1979 (released in 1981) that since has become a weird standard. In the song, the singer speaks with his mother (“You think I’m psycho, don’t you, mama?”) and describes how he’s killed five people. And while he’s telling the story, he’s accidentally strangling his son’s puppy (the son is also a victim) while he’s talking about the murders. Oh, and mama? The final line of the song reveals the fact that she’s lying dead on the floor while he’s talking to her.
“The Curse of Millhaven” Nick Cave
Ah, Nick Cave. Considering his catalog, Cave could be the ONLY artist on a Halloween playlist. The murder and mayhem in his songs seem endless. My favorite, though, is “The Curse of Millhaven,” a song about a 15-year-old girl named Loretta (she prefers “Lottie”) who murders children, a handyman, a neighbor lady and starts a fatal fire. But she DIDN’T kill the dog! That was done by some other teenage punks. Even Lottie has SOME standards. The song comes from Cave’s album “Murder Ballads,” which could’ve been the title to a few of his other albums, as well.
“Knoxville Girl,” The Lemonheads, The Louvin Brothers
This murder ballad goes back centuries under different variations, but Knoxville is the site of the most popular version of this murder ballad. The singer takes his beloved out for an evening walk “about a mile from town,” pulls a branch off of a tree and beats her to death before throwing her into the Tennessee River. He’s awaiting his own execution as the song comes to a close. The Louvin Brothers’ country version is the best known, but The Lemonheads’ rock version has a little more chill to it.
“Bringing Mary Home” The Country Gentlemen
Now for a little ghostly bluegrass. Based on a popular urban legend, this 1966 recording details picking up a little girl on a lonely road and attempting to take her home. However, the little girl turns out to be a ghost, and she disappears before they arrive.
“Waiting for the Coming Storm” Mike Craver
Mike Craver’s classic gothic tale involves an indentured servant who falls in love with his master’s daughter and avenges her death by slitting her abusive husband’s throat and cutting his eyes out before leaving him in a cornfield. Never get in the way of true love, friends.
“Twa Corbies” Maddy Prior
With a burst of organ music that sounds like it should accompany the raising of the dead, Maddy Prior sings this ancient ballad about two crows deciding just which corpse to devour and which parts are the best. If it doesn’t raise chill bumps, you are made of some pretty stern stuff.
“Hamburger Lady” Throbbing Gristle
Proto-industrial punks Throbbing Gristle find just the right tones to dig under your skin, while the spoken lyrics describe a woman who was badly burned. It’s one of the most unnerving recordings of all time.
“Come to Daddy” Aphex Twin
Richard D. James promises to “eat your soul” as you listen to this track. It’s even scarier when you watch the video, in which his smile – one of the most frightening leers you’ll ever see – is transposed to the faces of children and old ladies. It’s a nightmare if ever there was one.
“The Dead Man’s Dream” Procol Harum
Speaking of nightmares, early classic-rock act Procol Harum dished up this scary little dream filled with rotting corpses, maggots and other such ephemera on “Home,” an album with an otherwise happy-looking cover. You might think that this song would be too corny to be frightening, but you’d be wrong.
“Excitable Boy” Warren Zevon
“Werewolves of London” and “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” are probably better known and better loved, but this one, in which the subject kills his junior-prom date and builds a cage with her bones, is a little more terrifying.
“The Raven” Deviled Ham
Released on a label known for bubblegum music, this recording combines a cover of the Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night,” the theme from “Rosemary’s Baby” and Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem. This nearly 20-minute excursion into insanity will either mesmerize or clear a room.
“Living Dead Girl” Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie has a lot to offer for Halloween, but this chugging rocker is radio friendly.
“John Wayne Gacy” Sufjan Stevens
The fun ends here. Several songs have been inspired by serial killers, including The Rolling Stones’ “Midnight Rambler,” The Smiths’ “Suffer Little Children” and Slayer’s “Dead Skin Mask.” However, this song is as quietly beautiful as it is horrifying. I’m a little reluctant to recommend it as a Halloween track because the horror inherent in it is just too real. Sung almost in a whisper, the song is a seemingly tender description of what the serial-killing clown did to his victims before their murders. It’s the sort of song that will make you think about it for weeks after listening to it, but you’ll wish you hadn’t.
“Revolution #9,” “Helter Skelter,” The Beatles
The most popular rock band of all time released this sound collage as part of what became known as “The White Album” in 1968. People have heard all sorts of things in it. It was scoured for clues by early conspiracy theorists who believed Paul McCartney had been killed in a car crash and the remaining band members were providing fans clues to the truth. Is that the sound of a man burning alive? The most troubling track on the album, though, might be “Helter Skelter,” which prompted Charles Manson to have his followers murder Sharon Tate and her friends in order to initiate a race war. Now it’s almost impossible to listen to the song, with all of its backwards tapes and mysterious sounds, without being a little creeped out by it.