If you’re looking for the “Monster Mash” you may look elsewhere. Halloween is handily the most rock n’ roll friendly holiday, as the music that initially frightened parents and authority figures can always take particular inspiration from the vibes that are generally put forth on this most unholy of nights.
We’ve compiled 31 appropriate (or inappropriate) tunes for the holiday, focusing either specifically on horror movies, the supernatural, or that just have a spooky hook somewhere in there.
We’ve tried to arrange this like a double LP (four sides) of music for your listening pleasure. Crank ’em up, and make your own suggestions in the comments! You can also enjoy this as a Spotify playlist!
Burt Bacharach “Theme from The Blob”
For the record, this tune is credited to imaginary vocal group “The Five Blobs” which kinda speaks for itself. I’ve included the actual film’s opening credits for this, so you can get sucked into that acoustic guitar bit over the Paramount logo before the hypnotic spiral comes in to make you sufficiently stoned to get the most out of the rest of this list.
I defy you not to sing this to yourself for the rest of the day as the tune “creeps and leaps and glides and slides” its way into your brain. In fact, here’s a TEN HOUR LOOP of it for the more adventurous among you. Happy Halloween.
The Sonics “The Witch”
This may be blasphemy, but if not for this one song, The Sonics would probably be considered a fairly tame, forgettable early-’60s garage band. So thank god for this primitive, staccato wonderment which predated all those witch songs that would come along a decade later with it’s cautionary tale of the new girl in town, the one with the long black hair and long black car who may or may not be a witch.
Kristin Hersh “Your Ghost”Few songs about hauntings have the emotional impact of “Your Ghost,” taken from Kristin Hersh’s 1994 solo debut Hips and Makers. Ostensibly a metaphor that compares the lingering impact of a failed relationship to a spirit hanging around one’s home, the tune deeply evokes feelings of dread (the chorus of “I think last night, you were driving circles around me”) and the general malaise that comes from being left to wander the world feeling soulless after someone you love has left you.Adding to the ennui this track inspires are some genuinely chilling background vocals from Michael Stipe, that just add to the delicious sadness “Your Ghost” excels at.
The Misfits “Night of the Living Dead”
This list could literally be just a list of Misfits’ songs, so this was a hard choice. In the early days, these boys from New Jersey wrote almost exclusively about the horror business but this catchy gem sticks out as one of the best of their catalog.
Sprites “George Romero”
You probably have never heard of this indie rock tribute to the King of the Zombies, and that’s okay. Just knowing that it exists out there in the world is reason enough to celebrate. Name-checking horror greats like Romero cohort Tom Savini and Dario Argento, this track is a delightful sing-songy celebration of the horror movies that makes the season so unforgettably spooky.
And the “attention all shoppers…” Dawn of the Dead sample that kicks off the tune is absolutely inspired.
The Arctic Monkeys “Pretty Visitors”
The Arctic Monkey’s finally reached US superstardom with last year’s slinky, sexy album AM, but the bands back catalog features much more snarly, hard-rocking fare. No song gets much more viciously plodding then the ferocious “Pretty Visitors,” from the band’s dark, psychedelic third record, Humbug.
“Pretty Visitors,” has a sinister Hammond organ and lead singer Alex Turner almost rapping scathing lyrics and talking about the titular visitors waving their arms, projecting “the shadow of a snake pit on the wall.”
Joy Division “Dead Souls”
The poster boys for Post-Punk existentialism, Joy Division practically invented the goth subculture thanks to their gloomy lyrics and disconnected, often otherworldly melodies. That you could dance to their music too is something of a minor miracle. The 1980 hanging suicide of Ian Curtis is still a subject so raw that the group’s enduring legions of fans continue to mourn him, yet the music he left behind — richly textured and filled with the genuine pain that hopefully few of us will have to endure in our lives — has actually brought considerable light to the world.
We wish that Curtis stayed with us longer, but are also thankful that he shared his considerable gifts while he was here. “Dead Souls” is a typically extraordinary tune from the group that examines the sublime discontent that Joy Division made their calling card.
“A duel of personalities that stretch all true realities” indeed.
Goblin “Zombi”To musically spruce up his version of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (the famed so-called “European cut” released as Zombi), Dario Argento brought in talented Italian gloom rockers Goblin. The arguable highlight of their score is “Zombi,” an unnerving synth-heavy jam that isn’t afraid to get funky. In other words, you could totally dance to this while the world goes to shit.
Tim Curry “Sweet Transvestite”
Regardless of your thoughts on The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its attendant subculture, we are certain of one thing: if you don’t like “Sweet Transvestite” you don’t like rock n’ roll.
That guitar kicks in at 52 seconds into this clip, and what follows is one of the most perfectly arranged, muscular tunes of its kind, capped off by Tim Curry’s raised eyebrow “zero fucks given” vocal.
Honorable mention goes to the similary perfect “Science Fiction Double Feature” which we wrote about in detail right here.
Lon Chaney Jr. “Spider Baby Theme”
It’s one of the top five Greatest Movie Theme Songs of All Time. The credits sequence of Jack Hill’s low-budget 1967 cannibal comedy are accompanied by star Lon Chaney Jr. himself growling and cackling his way through a musical Halloween poem that calls up all the usual suspects, vampires, mummies, spiders, ghouls, werewolves, and Frankensteins, and invites them all to a “cannibal orgy.”
While the song is intentionally goofy and sets the perfect tone for the film to come, it’s also (unintentionally) a stand-alone Halloween novelty song that could give Bobby “Boris” Pickett a run for his money.
Luna “Season of the Witch”
For their remake of 1960s Donovan freakout favorite “Season of the Witch,” Luna decided to heighten the already pretty damn greatness factor of the original. How? By having the vocalization’s of lead singer Dean Wareham (the cooler among you may remember his previous band, Galaxie 500) walk a tightrope between cool detachment and soaring enthusiasm. And with that, your Halloween bash just turned into a rad makeout party.
Franz Ferdinand “Evil Eye”
Franz Ferdinand roared back to life last year with new album Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, with all their stomp, sass, and grooves still punching with full-force. “Evil Eye,” a campy, organ laced, dance-punk standout from the record is the band’s “Take Me Out,” by the way of Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” with singer Alex Kapranos delivering paranoid freak-outs, desperately trying to be the coolest cat on your Halloween playlist, and mostly succeeding.
Bauhaus “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”
Bauhaus were just so damnably if unintentionally silly in their deadly serious Goth kings pose, and their big Goth disco hit so over the top in its hamfisted obviousness, how could it not make everyone’s Halloween song top 10 (or worm it’s way onto The Hunger soundtrack for that matter)? It was a song ready-made and pre-packaged for the teen vampire renaissance that would come along 25 years after it was released.
Gotta admit, for all it’s cartoon imagery, it’s still pretty catchy.
Morrissey “Satan Rejected My Soul”
The joke here being that Morrissey is so evil that even Satan wants nothing to do with his shenanigans. Given his recent behavior, we can believe it.
For more Morrissey/Smiths potential Halloween playlist jams, check out “Handsome Devil,” “Suffer Little Children,” “Cemetery Gates,” “Jack the Ripper,” and “Oujia Board, Ouija Board,” whose music video is an occult-packed laugh fest.
Siouxsie and the Banshees “Halloween”
The Magnetic Fields’ “No One Will Ever Love You” is the band’s attempt to sum up the listening experience of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album in one three minute and thirteen second pop song. If someone tried a similiar experiment to condense the entire goth scene into a song, the resulting melody would almost certainly sound like Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Halloween.”
This one has everything. Evocative imagery? Uh huh. “The carefree days are distant now, I wear my emotions like a shroud” croons Siouxsie Sioux like a precious snowflake left to melt away to nothingness in the sunlight. Provocative/pretentious imagery? Check! (I want to get the lyric “I wander through your sadness” tattooed across my forehead). Put this one on at your Halloween party this year and dance. Dance like it’s already too late. Dance like there’s no tomorrow. Dance like you are already dead.
Larry and the Blue Notes “Night of the Sadist”
Re-recorded as “Night of the Phantom” and released wide, Texas’ Larry and the Blue Notes created a chilling and controversial tale of a serial killer coming for his teenage victims. The original “Sadist” became somewhat of a legend amongst garage rock aficionados and was eventually released.
Ministry “Everyday is Halloween”
Ministry is one of the most respected industrial acts ever. But before they achieved acclaim from the 120 Minutes set, the group released some music that could conceivably be mistaken for acts like Celebrate the Nun (at best) or Anything Box (at worst). It is silly and stupid and is absolutely wonderful.
Case in point, “Everyday Is Halloween.” Opening with the words “well I live with lizards” and just getting more absurd from there, this dance floor favorite lets listeners get in touch with their inner Jack Skellington by envisioning a world where each moment is full of witches and darkness and other Hot Topic-approved nonsense that melts away once you realize that life is actually about paying rent, maintaining your crappy relationship and making a slow trek towards oblivion.
Fact: Every day is not Halloween.
The Cramps “What’s Behind the Mask?”
If you’re born into this world looking like zombie Elvis, what choice do you have but to perform psychobilly inspired by B horror films? Still, of all those great, great Cramps songs to choose from, “What’s Behind the Mask?,” a question a lot of people will be asking at drunken Halloween parties the world over, seemed the most appropriate.
And Lux Interior’s closing line (“Sorry I ever asked”) is probably the same response all those people will be feeling when they find out.
Phantom Planet “The Living Dead”
Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse was an Xbox game, using the Halo Engine, which allowed players to play as a zombie hell-bent on devouring some of those delicious brains. The game featured a killer soundtrack of modern alternative bands covering ‘50s and ‘60s pop songs, but Phantom Planet supplied an original track, “The Living Dead,” that starts slow and menacing, with singer Alex Greenwald setting the post-apocalyptic scene before the band bursts out into jangly-guitar driven verses and a big shout-sing chorus.
The Woggles “Dracula’s Daughter”
A fairly self-explanatory title masks a surefire party starter and some thoroughly primal rock n’ roll. Sure, it shares a name with a kinda lifeless 1936 Universal flick, but if this tune doesn’t get the blood flowing, someone needs to check your pulse.
Also, if The Woggles ever come to your town, do not miss them.
Roky Erickson “If You Have Ghosts”
Though a touch more psychedelic than horrific, the legendary Erickson has often dabbled in songs about the unseen. Here, his haunted mind is let loose, perhaps literally.
The Ramones “Pet Sematary”
Aside from the obvious tie in to the Stephen King novel and film of the same name, “Pet Sematary” is just one of the countless examples of why The Ramones should have been the biggest band in the world. A perfectly crafted pop song with more layered guitar and production than some of their more familiar tunes, and those lyrics…nothing is more perfect for Halloween night.
The moon is full, the air is still, All of a sudden I feel a chill, Victor is grinning, flesh rotting away, Skeletons dance, I curse this day, And the night when the wolves cry out, Listen close and you can hear me shout.
.45 Grave “Partytime” (Zombie Version)
The anthem of Return of the Living Dead and its many followers plays in minds on loop for most of October. In case you were wondering, there is a non-zombie verison, and its quite terrifying in its own right.
Pink Floyd “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”
Before there was a Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Pink Floyd plumbed the dark side of British psychedelics with this atmospheric almost instrumental. A voice soars along with the guitars as the song reaches its climax. The simple rhythmic bass and echoed drum fills bring as much tension as Joan Crawford did when she played an axe-murderer. But it’s that one line of lyric. Breathtaking in its simplicity. Maybe the best lyrics written by Pink Floyd and they are great lyricists. The whispered “careful with that axe, Eugene” is followed by screams and an explosion of chords.
I was driving with my daughters listening to this and one said, “I don’t know who’s screaming, Eugene or the guy who told him to be careful,” but either way. Nothing and everything is left to the imagination. A very cinematic song.
The New York Dolls “Frankenstein”
“Frankenstein” isn’t the best New York Dolls song. It’s a little monotonous and, at six minutes, it’s longer than most of their output. But one of the biggest names in horror is underrepresented on this list, and this still has plenty of actual vampire Johnny Thunders blazing lead guitar licks on it.
But the lyrics are really what mark this for inclusion, which touch on the loneliness of the monter (recently played to perfection on Penny Dreadful), and some perfectly David Johansen observations like “Oh, who’s shoes are too big? And oh, who’s jacket’s too small?” It’s right on the money.
The Nomads “Where the Wolf Bane Blooms”
This one has all the hallmarks of the genre, from the loud-ass drums to the swirling organ in the background. The guitar solo that starts howling at 1:02 is an appropriately lupine touch.
But it’s the lyrics here that really stand out, all about “the pale light of the moon” and “ancient voices” capped off with a reworking of The Wolf Man’s famous poem about lycanthropy to suit the tune, “you may be pure of heart, and pure of soul, but you’ll become a wolf when the moon is full.”
Never let anyone tell you its just a dream. 213 existed only to bring us this song, thank you 213.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “Little Demon”
Screamin’ Jay has a way of making it onto Halloween-themed compilation albums, usually with tired old standards like “I Put a Spell on You” or “Feast of the Mau-Mau,” but this wild-eyed early rock’n’roll screamer puts them both to shame. What nakes this story of a demon trapped on earth trying to find his way home so perfect is that in the song’s chorus (if you could call it that) Screamin’ Jay, swear to god, is literally channeling a demon’s voice.
It’s hilarious and scary as hell all at the same time.
Mick Smiley “Magic”
Don’t get confused by the first two minutes of this song, which sounds like any other overproduced ’80s ballad. The fun starts at 2:19 when you realize this actually transitions into that haunting Peter Murphy-sounding tune from Ghostbusters…the one from the scene where all the supernatural shit has just hit the fan.
There’s something sinister about how this song simply transitions into something else entirely, and while it’s a little off-putting out of context, just remind yourself it comes from this scene, and everything will be alright.
David Bowie “We Are the Dead”
What could be more horrifying than anti-sex goons coming up the stairs while you’re in your best fuck me pumps? This is the probably the only song ever written about federal performus interruptus. The menacing guitar lines go down before they ascend.
Bowie’s imagery is frightening, sexy and touching. His delivery is controlled mania, fearful and rebellious and so vulnerable.
Lou Reed “Halloween Parade”
Taken from his 1989 album New York, “Halloween Parade” is a thoughtful reflection on how the world loses a bit of its magic each time a loved one dies. While viewing NYC’s annual Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village, Reed points out that “you’ll never see those faces again” of such colorful Chelsea staples as Andy Warhol’s Factory staple Rotten Rita. “The past keeps knock, knock, knocking on my door, and I don’t want to hear it anymore” he sings, illustrating how a once joyous celebration has lost some of its shine and transformed itself into a funeral procession of memories of colorful figures from his life who aren’t there anymore.
Although originally written about the AIDS crisis, the song has taken on an added layer of sadness following Reed’s own death (just try not to get emotional when he says “See you next year at the Halloween parade” at the end of the song). This is a downer to be sure, but perfect to put at the end of your Halloween playlist as a subtle reminder that the party ends for all of us sooner or later.