Hello and Happy Halloween!… in five days that is. I’m glad I’m not posting this on Halloween because that would mean that Halloween is on a Monday, and nobody wants that. This year we luck out and get Halloween on a Saturday, which is exciting for people my age who like any excuse to act stupid and drink heavily with one another. Maybe this year my friends and I will even call forth Satan!
Last year I did include the devil and many of his frightening friends in a recommendation of 13 movies that capture the chills and thrills of the Halloween season. Feel free to check it out if you need some scares or laughs from the silver screen, for all 13 are crammed with great stories and characters and memorable moments. This still ranks as the scariest one for me.
This year I’m keeping that same theme with a recommendation of 13 pieces of music that are tied to Halloween in some way, or that simply sound good around this time of year. Like last year’s movie list, this is not a ranking, although I have saved my favorite for the end. Whether you plan to host a party and need some tunes to add to your playlist or are just not quite feeling like working on that TPS report at this minute, then grab some headphones and give a listen to these beats that’ll make your heart beat faster.
“Thriller” by Michael Jackson
I talked about this video in one of my earliest posts that discussed music videos, and damn it, I’m talking about it again! Michael Jackson is such a showstopper and he pulls out all the stops for this featured song of the eponymous album that is one of the greatest of all time. Seriously, Thriller is stacked with some of MJ’s signature songs, all of which could contend for the distinction of best on the album (although “PYT” has been sort of spoiled for me in the wake of Jackson’s trials for alleged sexual abuse of minors). The title song is one you’ll hear everywhere this time of year, but who cares? It’s great! The only problem is that not every playing of it will be accompanied by the choreography of undead Michael and his zombie backup dancers. Here’s the link to the legendary video.
“Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” by Tracy Morgan, Donald Glover, and Jeff Richmond
The wild jam that inspired me to make this list is one of the most fun holiday specific songs ever. What started as humorous aside in an episode of 30 Rock where Tracy Jordan discusses how he was awarded the key to the city of Gary, Indiana became a real production featuring Tracy Morgan and Donald Glover. Filled with werewolves, Jewish culture, and fourth wall breaks (maybe it should be called “fourth note” in song?), we’re all lucky that “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” got made into more.
“Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon
The best known work of wacky Warren Zevon, “Werewolves of London” had about as much to do with werewolves as it does with critiquing modern culture… I think. I don’t pretend to understand what Zevon was getting at all the time, but I do quite enjoy it. The video that accompanies it has an atypical werewolf roaming the streets, which is just perfect for this vivacious piece of music. Speaking of wonderfully weird…
“Time Warp” by Richard O’Brien from his musical The Rocky Horror Show and film The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Thank whatever deity you wish for Richard O’Brien and his unique rock and roll kookiness. I praised his Rocky Horror Picture Show in last Halloween’s movie post and now I’m exalting his most memorable song from it. One of the few dances I can perform, along with the Cha Cha Slide and others that work in the instructions with the lyrics, “Time Warp” is as jubilant, ravenous, and delicious as the movie it’s in. Bonus points for Richard O’Brien actually singing it too. He sings the opening song (Science Fiction/Double Feature”) as well, and plays Riff Raff, the manservant who does the Igor dance halfway through “Time Warp”.
If I ever make a horror film about the supernatural this song is going to be featured in it. Psychedelic rocker Donovan crafted some great music over the years and you’ve probably heard a few of his songs here and there without realizing who he is. This one stands out a bit more than most of his other hits, in part because it gets prominent playtime during this season, and for good reason.
“I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
You’ll understand why he’s called Screamin’ Jay Hawkins after hearing this song, and especially so after watching that incredible live performance. What showmanship! It’s perfect for Halloween. Frequently covered, yet never equaled, the original rendition of this spooky song by the legendary rhythm and blues man is one of the standards of this season.
“Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr.
I blasted this with all the windows rolled down as I drove past my high school as the latest generation of its students were walking to the football stadium to see our biggest home game last Friday. I hope it made them realize how cool they could become if they go away to college, get a degree, and come crawling back home with no job prospects or ideas of what they want to do with their lives now that they know secret agent-marine biologist- movie star-astronaut is not a real career. However, it’ll never cease to be my dream, just as the theme to everyone’s favorite ghost busting movie will never stop being cool. Sure, Ray Parker Jr. kind of stole Huey Lewis’ mojo for it – actually I can’t justify that; nobody steals the mojo from Huey Lewis and gets away with it. And I mean nobody. I will never forgive you for it. Ray Parker Jr.: consider this my way of delivering The News to you. “Ghostbusters” is still an awesome song though.
“Witchy Woman” by The Eagles
Don Henley and the gang offer us a cautionary tale about a woman who is a major W-I-T-C-H. The smoky rock song has a haunting vibe to it, and that great title and signature high pitched harmonic background vocals The Eagles are known for make this as appropriate an accompaniment for a witch as a black cat and a broom.
“Grim Grinning Ghosts” by Buddy Baker and Xavier Atencio
Not all that grim after all, the theme song to Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride is the spookiest barbershop quartet jam I’ve ever heard. It’s plenty of fun without too much fright, which is why it’s perfect for a family theme park ride. Of course, it also functions well for inclusion in your own Halloween celebration, especially the ending that invites you to hurry back to join the harmonic haunts by becoming a lively dead soul yourself.
“The Killing Moon” by Echo and the Bunnymen
Yep, that’s their name. This creepy, low-key 80s song was popularized by its inclusion in Donnie Darko (alongside many other excellent angsty songs from the 1980s). From the opening, we tense up with shivers sent down our spine. Creepy is a fitting word to describe this song. And the title sets a certain tone right away too. The singer seems to have something sinister in store for us, much like the man in the next song…
“Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads
If you thought Echo and the Bunnymen were weird, baby, you ain’t met the Talking Heads. One of the greatest rock bands from the 70s and 80s, they specialized in progressive standards and that hip, new wave sound. They were originally called The Artistic when they first recorded this song in 1974. It would become their first big hit and helped put them on the map.
The song is told from the perspective of the titular psycho killer, who seems to be close to losing his cool. David Byrne, the wild and wacky lead singer of many talents, showed how dynamic he could be by singing this with only a guitar and boombox accompanying him on stage. He looks like the result of a merging of PeeWee Herman and the Addams Family and I absolutely love it. If you like that, look at this dancing and think about how he has a Grammy, Oscar, and Golden Globe (granted it’s all for the same thing, but still!). Every time I’m having a rough day, David Byrne is there to cheer me up. Maybe he and the Heads can liven up your day of the dead.
“Boris the Spider” by The Who
Written by bassist John Entwistle – the only one who didn’t smash his shit at the end of every show – this song is one of The Who’s great early works that became a favorite of theirs to play live. Entwistle owns it in this song, both on the bass and with his rattling chorus of “BORIS THE SPIDERRRR!” which probably helped to give birth to the death growling found in later death rock songs. The chants of “creepy crawly” and the fearsome connotations commonly associated with spiders help make this a great addition to any Halloween playlist.
Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns
This classical orchestration is my favorite piece of Halloween music. The oldest composition on the list, dating back to the 1870s, Danse Macabre (French for “Dance of Death”) tells the tale of Death coming about every Halloween at midnight to raise the dead in a dance until the sunrise as he plays his fiddle. I love the use of xylophone to represent skeletons. The complete piece is sweeping in the scariest way.
Thanks for reading! I hope your Halloween is enjoyable and safe for you and yours. It would probably be in your best interests to not attempt to summon Satan, but seeing as he isn’t real I guess it won’t hurt anyone – excluding the necessary sacrifice of course. You know, just eat some candy and call it a day. However you celebrate Halloween, be sure to come back here next week for the latest State of the Season.