With all of it’s creepy decorations, scary scenarios and self-inflicted frights, Halloween is still all about fun. For many, it’s the biggest party of the year. You’re dressed up. You’ve assumed a different identity. If there were ever an opportunity to have a little latitude with a playlist, this is the night.
A good Halloween playlist requires some grit and some grins. You need monster themes and some monstrous chords. There’s clearly something about All Hallows Eve that has connected with the rock and roll set. There are classic tracks from the old guard of rock (this, this, this, and this). There’s an entire playlist worth of songs called “Halloween” from punk icons like The Dead Kennedy’s, Siousxie & The Banshees, The Misfits, Sonic Youth and others. There are Modern Rock gems like XTC’s “Battle of Peter Pumpkinhead,” “The Ghost In You” by The Psychedelic Furs, and the B-52’s “Devil In My Car”. There is no shortage of songs for your big spookfest.
You’ll notice a distinct lack of the following on this playlist: novelty songs, some of the most overplayed Halloween tracks, and “Thriller”. I can’t imagine anything less scary at this point than that particular song. What I’ve included here are some personal favorites, one or two perennial must-haves, and a surprise or two.
This might be the scariest song your guests will hear all night depending on their tolerance for legendary singers and great songwriting. But this is classic stuff, not to mention classy. And it’s a great way to get the night started. Also, someone’s bound to be sporting a Mad Men get up. Or, uh, a couple of them.
Do I really need to explain why? Part of me shrivels up just hearing it. Consider it a palate cleanser between courses.
First there’s the vaguely cultish band name. Add some pseudo mystical lyrics, cowbell, and tasty licks. Throw in a trippy midsection with staccato solos and shifting time signatures and more cowbell. This is the original melancholy and the infinite sadness and there’s a reason it still resonates.
Because you simply can’t ignore the slightly unhinged bravado contained herein. Because Mr. Hawkins really did think he was making like Harry Potter. Because there’s really nothing else like it.
These early MTV era garage rock faves always served up sweaty fun. This track about traipsing through the streets of Los Angeles tripping balls Frankensteins it’s way atop a big bass sax and scratchy surf guitar buoyed by a singalong chorus. All of which serves as a perfect segue into:
This ferociously fun opener from the band’s recent release boasts a romper-stomper intensity, appropriately ghoulish lyrics and horror movie string arrangements tailor made for this particular celebration. BOOM.
Perhaps the last socially acceptable context for the great spindly one. I suppose you could select any number of his album tracks, or his cover of The Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This”. But this is really the best choice: Manson was made to take on Danny Elfman’s “Nightmare Before Christmas” favorite. Perfect.
This one has it all. Vampires. Boozy group singalong chorus. Haunted imagery. Minor chords. Johnette Napolitano delivers the goods on this moody, atmospheric treat.
The original scariest theme ever. Like Carpenter’s theme from Halloween, this is essential (find it on iTunes for $1.29). Also, satisfyingly unsettling.
Complete with b-movie samples, shouts at the devil and the occasional esoteric eastern accompaniment, this techno-charged people-mover makes an entrance, riles up the place and disappears before you know it.
Cab Calloway inspired crowd favorite about, uh, Satan’s playground. With swinging horns. And pizazz. That’s right, I said pizazz. Besides, you need a good drinking song and this does the trick.
Nobody wants to be buried in a pet cemetery. But everybody can always use a reminder of why The Ramones still matter. You really can’t lose with this one. A Stephen King story + the world’s most famous punk band = party fun.
Yeah I know. This is the one song you were probably expecting. But there wouldn’t be goth kids without these guys. Besides, for my money it’s the most genuinely creepy song on the list. Famously used in the cult film The Hunger, this clip over here is from the movie and not safe for work….
Tim Johnstone is a former Virgin Records Label Rep and current award winning Music Director and on-air host at KRVB, which was awarded the FMQB AAA station of the year markets 50+. He also writes a blog that’s a collection of the absolute best the internet has to offer. It’s a must read, and you can check it out here.