Halloween is the time of year when everything frightening is celebrated. At each phase of your life there is something particularly fun to do (although filling gigantic pillow cases full of junk food is pretty high on the list); whether you’re getting the gang together to celebrate the birth of horror, or simply making the night another excuse to get wild, October 31st should be appreciated.
And what better way to indulge then to set the night to a playlist of scary proportions?
Sure, you’ve got the “classics” on repeat, but if you’re finally ready to retire “Monster Mash,” we applaud you. In doing so you may need some new Halloween songs that are freaky, lyrically and visually.
Of course there are a ton of options, all debatable and subjective to the handler, but here are 10 notable songs that we think should help you master the terror that is All Hallows’ Eve.
The Fall – “Hip Priest”
Taking it back to the band’s 1982 album, Hex Enduction Hour, The Fall’s “Hip Priest” builds with steadfast moments of terror over seven minutes. It’s hard to pinpoint what’s more frightening—all that is and isn’t heard or what Mark E. Smith is getting ready to do next. It’s not surprising the brilliant, scathed and blunt frontman had a thing with divinity, tarot cards and reading up on the occult, all of which is mentioned in his book. This composition is anything but contrived from linear thinking, and his otherworldly interest surely seeps into the making and delivery of the song. The Fall are among the most recognized British bands ever and “Hip Priest” highlights Smith and company’s cinematic post-punk fury that creeps up on you, lingers, then sticks with you for hours after. Plus, if the song is good enough to be used in The Silence of the Lambs it makes the cut for Halloween must-hears.
Sonic Youth – “Death Valley ‘69”
The Manson murders happened in 1969, plus Charles Manson lived and was captured at Barker Ranch in Death Valley, so it’s safe to assume that Sonic Youth is making reference to that in this song. The disturbing darkness is undeniable, especially when a murder is so vividly told through the wails of Thurston Moore and Lydia Lunch, not to mention the sprawling guitars. It’s hard to believe the video was shot over 30 years ago and still remains more messed up than much of what we see in the horror world today. What a song to close out an album to.
Marilyn Manson “This Is Halloween”
Undoubtedly a song with Halloween in the title is going to get a lot of attention around All Hallows’ Eve, especially when it’s a cover from Tim Burton’s iconic film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Manson’s version of Danny Elfman’s original was done as part of the 13th anniversary of the animated film’s soundtrack re-release, and it’s not surprising that his voice fits so well with the film’s aesthetic. The song was also featured on the 2008 cover album, Nightmare Revisited, which housed entries from Rise Against, Korn and Datarock.
The Birthday Party – “Release the Bats”
This video (which is homemade and too good not to share) seemingly mirrors Hitchcock’s blizzard of Birds imagery, just with bats as the preying focus. For nearly three minutes, Nick Cave shrieks (a contrast to his melancholic baritone nowadays) about unleashing the winged creatures, presenting lyrics like “her legs chafed by sticky wings.” A cringing Slender Man-like figure is seen lurching about, a doll-eyed girl with visible fangs gently wisps aside her hair – it’s not a dull watch, that’s for sure.
Talking Heads – “Psycho Killer”
The new wave rockers have shot down rumours that “Psycho Killer” was about serial killer David Berkowitz (a.k.a. Son of Sam), it just happened to be released the same year SOS did his damage to NYC. There’s something eerie about the 1975 live CGGB version of the song (as seen above); perhaps Byrne’s shakiness has something to do with it, but it definitely sets a mood. Byrne has said that he finds villains more fascinating than good guys, and that often we root for the bad guys in movies, which could have also prompted him to pen a song about a serial killer. Whatever the case may be, the song is still a Halloween (and year-round for that matter) go-to over 40 years later.
Aphex Twin – “Come to Daddy”
If you thrive on all things demented, there’s no shying away from the work of Richard D. James. Kids violently ripping apart everything in sight, haunting lyrics like “I will eat your soul” with an equally menacing “Come to Daddy” punch line, frantic synth work, and a creature that looks a lot like the Abbies found in M. Night Shyamalan’s Wayward Pines? Yes, please.
John Carpenter – “Halloween Theme Song”
There’s no need to muddle a Halloween playlist with every wicked theme song synonymous with the “holiday,” but is it really fair to neglect John Carpenter? This is the theme song to the movie that grossed over $40 million on a budget of $320,000, which is a pretty big deal considering it came out in 1978. Halloween remains one of the most successful indie films ever and just this week the game Dead By Daylight – Halloween was released. Don’t say your heart doesn’t flutter even the slightest as soon as this song comes on. They should play this at U.S. polling stations come November 8.
The Ramones – “Pet Sematary”
Not that all Halloween songs have to be linked to horror films or anything, but when their name instantly brings you into Stephen King territory, it’s hard to overlook. This is especially true when the man himself is asking for help – like, if Stephen King is a fan of yours and asks you to write a track, you do it. The Ramones did. While the Eighties weren’t the best of years for the New Yorkers, “Pet Sematary” refuelled their presence in rock and was a hit single that got them much-needed momentum. The video was shot in an actual cemetery and with lyrics about skeletons dancing, the clicking of bones and the smell of death all around, how can one not think of Halloween when you watch it? This year marked the 27th anniversary of the book-to-film adaptation release and if you’re a huge fan of the cult classic like me, you’re waiting desperately to see this documentary.
NAHPI – Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en?
In 2005 a bunch of talented performers came together in the spirit of charity (UNICEF in specific) to make this provoking single. NAHPI stands for North American Halloween Prevention Initiative and the song is a somewhat snarky response to the benefit single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” created by Sir Bob Geldof. Basically, it pokes fun at Band Aid’s original song, which NAHPI believed with patronizing. One of the co-writers, Adam Gollner, told the New York Times, that the “lyrics seem so misguided and inappropriate.” NAHPI included artists such as Buck 65, Feist, Win Butler, Thurston Moore, Dan Boeckner and Karen O, among others.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Red Right Hand
This is easily one of the most recognized songs released by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. It’s been insanely popular since its 1994 release and has been featured in shows like X-Files and Peaky Blinders, in commercials, movies, covered by artists like Arctic Monkeys… you get the point. “Red Right Hand” is instantly gripping, and the title comes from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which touches on the disobedience to his Holy self (God, not Milton that is). The video opens with a seemingly serene set up: cookies and milk being taken in before bedtime. Soon, you’re inside creepy territory, complete with weird strangers and a turkey being cut using a hand saw. It’s perfect for parties and should be the ringtone for when mom calls.