Songs That Go Bump in the Night: A Halloween Playlist
Turn it up and drive the demons away
It seems that somehow, when I wasn’t looking, Halloween turned into a month-long celebration. It now rivals Christmas as my daughter and son-in-law’s favorite holiday, and they were thrilled when a friend invited them to their upcoming wedding, which will be held Halloween night and at which the bride will wear a black wedding dress. And to think my mom thought my generation was odd.
I’m much too traditional for a wedding like that (not that they invite old geezers anyway), but I can get on board the trend of posting spooky Halloween-themed playlists. Seeing several other Halloween playlists got me thinking about my favorite Halloween/October/Start of Seasonal Depression Time songs, and I’m not talking about “Monster Mash.” Let’s just retire that nonsense forever, okay?
What I found in searching the recesses of my mind for seasonally appropriate songs are thirteen in keeping with the season; some are overtly Halloween-ish, some are just the right amount of haunting for stormy days like we’re having today in the Great State of Confusion (also known as Texas), and all are great tunes any time of the year. So turn down the lights, turn up the volume, and whatever you do, don’t investigate that noise you just heard in the cellar.
1. “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon. The best-known song from one of the most under-appreciated artists of all time. If your only memory of this song involves Tom Cruise doing pseudo-Kung Fu around a pool table in The Color of Money, watch the video below and get that truly terrifying image out of your head.
2. “Black Magic Woman” by Santana. The lyrics are haunting, but it’s Carlos’s guitar that sets the mood here. Charlie Daniels said the devil played a fiddle, but only because he knew he could never match Santana on guitar.
3. “Pet Sematary” by the Ramones. It doesn’t get more Halloween than Stephen King, and the Master of Horror himself asked the band to write a song for the 1989 film adaptation of his novel Pet Sematary. Supposedly, King handed bassist Dee Dee Ramone a copy of the book and an hour later Dee Dee had the lyrics to the song finished. True or not, the song became their highest-charting hit, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. Debbie Harry and Chris Stein from Blondie also show up in the video, which is cool.
4. “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones. A song where Satan is the narrator, based in part on the Bulgakov novel The Master and Margarita where Satan visits Moscow? Now that’s a Halloween song.
5. “People Are Strange” by the Doors. Many would pick the excellent cover version of this song by Echo & The Bunnymen from The Lost Boys soundtrack, but I’m sticking with the original. There’s just no replacing Mr. Mojo Risin’.
6. “Sign of the Gypsy Queen” by April Wine. I grew up watching the Scooby-Doo cartoons, and in the spookiest of those a gypsy was always involved somehow. That the gypsy always turned out to be a greedy real estate developer in disguise took nothing away from the show, and certainly takes nothing from this awesome Canadian band.
7. “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC. This one is so obvious there’s no comment needed.
8. “Cemetery Gates” by Pantera. If you know me, you might have expected the very different song of the same name by the Smiths. This one fits so much better, partly because of the video but mainly because they are the Cowboys from Hell and I have a fleeting, long-ago connection to the band.
9.“Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult. I was very tempted to pick the hilarious Saturday Night Live parody of this song with Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken, which might be better known today. The original is obviously the right choice, and it has just as much cowbell.
10. “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. This one makes everyone’s Halloween list, and with good reason.
11. “Bark at the Moon” by Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy is Halloween personified, and the video for this song is a low budget horror flick condensed to four minutes.
12. “Jack’s Lament” by All-American Rejects. I would not have thought of this one, but my daughter insisted that I include it. It’s from her favorite Halloween and Christmas film, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and it does scream Halloween.
13. “Halloween” by Siouxsie and the Banshees. The perfect song for #13 on this list. It rocks in a way only early ‘80s New Wave can. With lyrics like “I wander through your sadness/Gazing at you with scorpion eyes/Halloween, Halloween” and a chorus of “Trick or Treat,” it may be the most Halloween song ever written.
Bonus: “Scooby-Doo! Where Are You?” You didn’t really think I could leave this one off, did you?
Here’s the full playlist. Happy Halloween.
First published on Medium.com.