Rock of Monsters! Twenty Must-Have Halloween Songs
Before I write another word, I have to break the bad news: Your favorite Halloween party song is probably not on the list I’m about to share with you. I don’t mean to offend; it’s just straight-up mathematics. There are thousands of Halloween songs out there in the world of the living, and I only have room for 20 warm bodies on this particular guest list. I hope that you’ll tell me all about your favorite Halloween tracks in the comments below, because a list like this one can never be too monster-sized.
I’m also going to assume that you’ve already got the Halloween basics covered – that you’ve already got Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party,” Boris Pickett’s “Monster Mash,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” The Squirrel Nut Zippers’ “Hell,” DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “Nightmare on My Street,” “Alice Cooper’s “Welcome to My Nightmare,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Richard O’Brien’s “The Time Warp” and a bunch of Rob Zombie tracks already quietly nestled in your dedicated All Hallows Eve iTunes folder like a chorus line of vampire bats. I have those songs, too – but I’ve surrounded them with these twenty ghoulish gassers:
Kid Koala, “Tricks ‘n’ Treats” (download here). Charlie Brown’s seasonal lament of “I got a rock” gets the b-boy treatment from this gifted DJ. Over an insanely funky beat — no doubt laid down by Snoopy on the ones and twos — good ol’ Charlie B. throws down his paper bag full of useless stratum, elbows his way through his posse and steps up: “I gotta rock.” After this, no one will ever diss him again — not even Lucy Van Pelt, who features prominently in his nightmares wielding that stupid football.
The Ghastly Ones, “Ghastly Stomp” (download here). The Van Nuys, CA. surf/garage band takes a few notes from the theme to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion – the deathless “Grim Grinning Ghosts” – and turns it into a surf rock instrumental that’s hot enough to defrost the cryogenically-frozen.
The Damned, “Grimly Fiendish” (download here). The pioneering English punk band turned to Beatle-esque pop to deliver this tale of a “bad boy” who is sent “where the children can’t be found.” It sounds like it was performed by drunken, toothless goblins — ah, but happy drunken, toothless goblins.
Tom Waits, “The Black Rider” (download here). A collaboration with Robert Wilson and William S. Burroughs resulted in – surprise! – the most bizarre music of Tom Waits’ career. Here, Waits invites you into his lair, where he will “drink your blood like wine” and eat veal from a bowl made from your skull. It’s a testament to Waits’ creepy charm that you actually consider the proposition. Hey, he did invite you to dinner.
Fantomas, “Experiment in Terror” (purchase here). This Mike Patton cover of a Henry Mancini song is the sonic equivalent of walking down a dark alley, breaking into a run when it gets really scary, and emerging victorious at the other end only to find an even darker alley.
The Cramps, “Zombie Dance” (download here). Or, you know, pretty much anything by the Cramps. That’s the band’s Poison Ivy and Lux Interior (rest in peace) pictured above. I defy you to look at those faces and say, “Ah, they totally weren’t born to write and perform psychotic rockabilly songs about the supernatural.” The Cramps were to the graveyard as the Beach Boys were to the ocean.
Hot Blood, “Soul Dracula” (download here). I don’t know what I’d do without WFMU. If the DJs of the great New York radio station weren’t forever scouring vintage record stores, thrifts and estate sales for new finds, I wouldn’t have this hot slice of vampire disco from who-knows-where. Hell, I might never have even dreamed something like this was possible. Get down, Vlad! Damn.
Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Halloween” (download here). See what I wrote about the Cramps. Siouxsie and the Banshees have a wealth of Halloween-appropriate songs in their arsenal, but this one has some kick to it. You don’t have to be part of the Clairol Black set to pogo mightily to this number.
Barry Adamson, “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (download here). There’s about a million songs with this title – even Siouxsie and the Banshees wrote one – but this Barry Adamson instrumental tops them all. It’s the sexiest song on this list – a percolating soul number built on a sample from Classic IV’s “Spooky.”
Allen Sherman, “My Son the Vampire” (download here). Listen up, kids: You didn’t invent the teenage vampire thing. The “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh” guy already covered that ground in 1964, and it was old news when he did it. I apologize for this; I wasn’t going to hit you with an overt novelty track, but I saw a trailer for the new “Twilight” movie an hour ago and was moved to strike at America’s young hipster vampires where they live. In Forks.
Naked City, “Demon Sanctuary” (download here). Short and sweet, John Zorn’s punk-jazz ode to an undesirable place positively careens through your noggin. The lyrics, courtesy of Boredoms vocalist Yamantaka Eye, are the purest form of gibberish. And if you play them backwards … they sound exactly the same.
Mono, “Madhouse” (purchase here). This forgotten British trip-hop duo (not to be confused with the Japanese shoegazer band of the same name) punched above its weight with this sleek track, a sexed-up vamp on Bernard Herrmann’s “Psycho” score. It was recorded for the dreadful Gus Van Sant remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, but let’s not hold that against it. Actually, the whole “music from and inspired by…” disc for the “Psycho” remake is worth having, and Amazon has it for next to nothing.
New York Dolls, “Frankenstein” (download here). In my humble opinion, the New York Dolls’ “Frankenstein” is superior to Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” in every way. Maybe the two songs could wrestle for the title.
Iggy Pop, “Funtime” (download here). “Last night I was down in the lab/talkin’ to Dracula and his crew…” As is the case with the Damned and the Cramps, Halloween songs are that much more scary when performed by actual ghouls.
Los Straitjackets, “The Munsters Theme” (download here). I don’t have to explain this one, do I? It’s one of the best television show themes of all time, faithfully and even lovingly performed by a bunch of guys in Luchador masks.
Marilyn Manson and the Sneaker Pimps, “Long Hard Road Out of Hell” (download here). I’m not a huge fan of the former Brian Warner’s music or Alice Cooper-lite persona, but he’s done at least two things that, by my reckoning, are resolutely brilliant: He dated the lovely burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese, and he paired off with spy-jazz masterminds Sneaker Pimps to coax this dark, sexy Halloween perennial into bloom.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, “She Said” (download here). If this fat-bottomed blues-rock stomp doesn’t make you want to become a werewolf immediately, then you have no soul. Spencer declares “I craaaave the taste of blood” with the passion Jerry Lee Lewis once expressed for the girl who shook his nerves and rattled his brain.
Ennio Morricone, “Magic and Ecstasy” (download here). Anyone can listen to the theme to the original “Exorcist,” Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” – I mean, when you get right down to it, the song’s pretty. But to get through “Magic and Ecstasy,” Ennio Morricone’s theme to “Exorcist II: The Heretic,” you need to be made of stronger stuff. With its fuzzy guitar riff and childlike “la la la” verses, this demented art-rock rave-up scares me more than the movie ever did.
David Bowie, “I’m Deranged” (download here). I presume you’ve already got “Scary Monsters” and “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” so here’s the last piece you need to make a sandwich. Two bonuses: It’s produced by Brian Eno, and sung in the style of Iggy Pop.
Wesley Willis, “Vampire Bat” (download here). The late Wesley Willis had a fascinating inner life. He was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, and his songs often found him doing battle with real demons. (Also Batman, but Wesley whupped his ass but good.) In “Vampire Bat,” he is attacked by a “vampire bird” and is killed. As he dies, he utters his catchphrase “Rock over London, rock on Chicago,” and delivers a commercial pitch for Folgers Coffee. This really happened.