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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Ten Best Songs for Halloween

It should be obvious by now that I’m obsessed with Halloween. I’ve written three books centered around the holiday, glory in all the traditions associated with it (ghost stories, costumes, candy) and even go so far as taking the day off work to ensure I never miss a moment of it. One way that I get into the spirit is by playing my substantial Halloween-themed playlist, filled with songs about ghosts, vampires, and anything else that goes bump in the night.
Following are ten of my favorite songs from that playlist, and while there are undoubtedly many that you know, my hope is that you find a few that are unfamiliar. In the comment section, be sure to tell me what your favorite Halloween songs are.

No. 10 — Dead Man’s Party by Oingo Boingo

These days, Danny Elfman is better known as a film score composer (Batman, Spider-Man, The Nightmare Before Christmas) than as the lead singer for the new wave band Oingo Boingo. But Elfman’s knack for dark themes was already apparent in 1986 when this song premiered. As befitting a party, the song’s tune is upbeat, featuring a blistering and catchy horn part, but the lyrics are what make this song especially perfect for Halloween. “It’s a dead man’s party, who could ask for more? It’s a dead man’s party, leave your body (and soul) at the door.” Later in the song, Elfman repeatedly sings, “Don’t run away; it’s only me.” But I have the distinct impression this is one party you don’t want to attend.

Hear it on Spotify here. Buy it on Amazon MP3 here: Dead Man's Party

No. 9 — Cry Little Sister by Gerard McMann 

It's not even fair to call this a one-hit wonder, as it never actually charted on Billboard or elsewhere. Still, "Cry Little Sister," the single off The Lost Boys soundtrack, has been covered by multiple artists and even sampled by Eminem since its debut in 1987. Part of that is undoubtedly because of the movie it's attached to, which remains a cult favorite. But the song itself has a menacing back beat that's spooky and hard to forget. Its brilliance, however, is in the chorus. As the male lead singer sings to be released, a choir of children's voices intone faux-Biblical commandments like "Thou shalt not fall" and "Thou shalt not fly." Their final statement, in which they emphasize the last word, is an actual commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." The song never talks about vampires directly, yet the reference to flying and killing makes it clear that is what they are talking about. 

Hear it on Spotify here. Buy it on Amazon MP3 here: Cry Little Sister [Theme From Lost Boys]

No. 8 — Nature Trail to Hell by "Weird Al" Yankovic

If you've only heard Weird Al's parody songs, you are missing out on the man's unmistakable genius. When he isn't constrained by someone else's tune, Yankovic can knock out a helluva good song. Case in point is "Nature Trail to Hell in 3D," an ode to slasher films. As you would expect, it's damn funny with a title like that and lyrics like this: "See severed heads that almost fall right in your lap, see that bloody hatchet coming right at you. Know you'll never see hideous effects like these again, until we bring you Nature Trail to Hell, Part II. So bring the kids along, it's good, clean family fun. What have you got to lose? If you like the Six O'Clock News, then you'll love...Nature Trail to Hell." But the best part is that the song is actually really good. The synthesizer part is the best I've heard in a rock song, second only to A-Ha's "Take on Me." Seriously, I wish I could play it on Rock Band 3. The accompanying sound effects, including an ominous bell tolling, storm effects, and a backward subliminal message ("Satan Eats Cheese Whiz,") help make the song the perfect mix of terrifying, catchy and hilarious.

Don't believe me? Listen to it on Spotify here. Buy it on Amazon MP3 here: Nature Trail To Hell

No. 7 — Headless Horseman by Bing Crosby

Given my obsession with "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," it's only natural I would love this 1949 Bing Crosby chestnut first shown in the Disney cartoon adaptation of Washington Irving's classic tale.  It's not modern by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a lot of fun. The lyrics include some bad puns —  "He'll show them that he can get ahead" —  but the lyrical interpretation of Brom Bones meeting the Headless Horseman one Halloween night is impossible to resist.

It's not on Spotify, but you can buy it on Amazon MP3 here: The Headless Horseman  

No. 6 — Bloodletting by Concrete Blonde

This is arguably the best song about vampires ever written, and I don't say that lightly. Like Sting's "Moon Over Bourbon Street," the lyrics appear directly inspired by Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles, including references to New Orleans in the chorus. But whereas Sting's song is quiet and introspective, "Bloodletting" rocks. The guitar riff is jagged and hypnotic, and the lyrics are hardcore horror: "There's a crack in the mirror and a bloodstain on the bed... You were a vampire and baby I'm the walking dead." Add in some bat sound effects and some eerie laughing at the end, and this song makes me want to pull the covers over my head. (For what it's worth, buy the extended edition, which adds a little extra horror to the song.)

Hear it on Spotify here: Buy it on Amazon MP3 here: Bloodletting (The Vampire Song) (Extended Version)

No. 5 — This is Halloween by Danny Elfman

The first track from "The Nightmare Before Christmas" soundtrack is also its best, a thrilling tribute to all the monsters that lurk on Halloween night. There's a shout-out here to almost every thriller out there, from vampires to witches to the "clown with the tear-away face." The childish sing-song is also creepy and catchy at the same time: "In this town, we call home, everyone hail to the Pumpkin song." The best part about the song: it uniquely captures the spirit of All Hallow's Eve. Yes, it's all about the scares, but as the creatures sing, "That's our job, but we're not mean, in our town of Halloween." These are innocent scares, the kind that are designed to spook but not terrify. Just like the holiday.

Hear it on Spotify here. Buy it on Amazon MP3 here: This Is Halloween

No. 4 — Boadicea by Enya

I know what you're thinking. Enya? Don't you use her music to relax in a bubble bath? Why, no, of course I don't. That would be unmanly. I take only cold showers in the open air. But hang on with me a second. Go listen to the song on Spotify here. Take your time, I'll wait. You see what I'm talking about? There are no lyrics, but the melody is downright haunting. There's an air of menace to this song. In my mind's eye, it's the music that plays at the beginning of my first novel, "A Soul to Steal."

Buy it on Amazon MP3 here: Boadicea (Remastered 2009)

No. 3 — Haunted by Poe

Fittingly, this song (and the album it comes from) was released on Oct. 31, 2000. It's easy to see why. As the title would suggest, the song is about a woman haunted by a ghost — one that she seems reluctant to see depart: "One more look at the ghost before I'm gonna make it leave." And yet the song suggests the singer may also be a spirit, beginning by saying "Can you tell me where I am?" and later "You and me and these shadows keep on changing." Overall, it's a song about love, loss and grief. "I'm haunted by the hallways in this tiny room, the echoes there of me and you." The final coda, in which a young child says, "My heart won't break before I cry... I will go mad," ends it on a deliciously creepy note. During October, I have this song on repeat.

Listen to it on Spotify here. Buy it on Amazon MP3 here: Haunted

No. 2 — The Devil Went Down to Georgia by The Charlie Daniels Band

This song is so fantastic that I took all three titles from The Sanheim Chronicles from its lyrics: A Soul To Steal, Band of Demons, and Give the Devil His Due.
 Everything about the song works, from its lyrics, which tell the story of how a boy named Johnny has a fiddle competition with the Devil, to its tune, which transitions between country, rock n' roll and bluegrass. The actual fiddling here is drop-your-jaw amazing and if you want to see how difficult it is, ask the next fiddle player you meet to play it live. Ultimately, the song is all the sweeter because Johnny prevails, taunting the Devil: "I done told you once, you son of a bitch, I'm the best that's ever been." It's both a song and a short story. I would put it as my favorite song for Halloween, but for the existence of this next hit...

Listen to it on Spotify here. Buy it on Amazon MP3 here: The Devil Went Down To Georgia

No. 1 — Thriller by Michael Jackson

Catchy pop song? Check. Dancing zombies in music video? Check. Creepy lyrics about ghouls and demons? Check. Vincent Price rapping and saying "Y'alls'"? Hell yeah. "Thriller" by Michael Jackson is the essential song of Halloween. Why? Because it has everything you could possibly want. And though the late King of Pop is at his finest here, Price really does steal the show. His final "rap" is so well delivered it still gives me chills no matter how many times I listen to it: "Grizzly ghouls from every tomb and closing in to seal your doom. And though you fight to stay alive, your body starts to shiver. No mere mortal can resist, the evil of... The Thriller." Cue horrific laughter. There will never be a Halloween song to top this. Ever.

Screw listening to it on Spotify, if you don't own it, you need to buy it RIGHT NOW: Thriller

That's my list. What about you? What's your favorite Halloween song? 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. All good, but I’d have to put in the original Monster Mash.

    1. I've been hearing that a lot. I like the song, I just feel like it's overplayed around Halloween. Maybe that's true of "Thriller" too, but eventually Monster Mash wears me down.