The first thing you’ll realize is that we’re liars: There are way more than 50 songs contained on our three lists—one of perennial classics, one filled with rock staples and a final 20 comprised of offbeat and lesser-known gems. Plenty of other selections have been drizzled like blood from an unhealed wound into these blurbs. You could easily patch together a wide enough web of fiendish delights to last your Halloween bash all night.
Some overplayed hits, like “Thriller” and “Dead Man’s Party”, we simply couldn’t refuse. Others, like “Monster Mash” and “Ghostbusters”, we’ve relegated to the kids’ party to make room for the likes of Rob Zombie and Rihanna. Download ‘em all (we’ve indicated what albums you can find them on, but iTunes has the overwhelming majority for individual sale), load up your MP3 player of choice, hit shuffle ... and let the spooking begin.
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, Bauhaus—If there’s a quintessential spooky song for All Hallow’s Eve, it has to be this nearly 10-minute, grimly fiendish epic about the most famous portrayer of Transylvania’s blood-lusting count. The first half, all dubbed-out click-clack confusion complemented by Daniel Ash’s squalls of noise, can still creep newcomers out. The second half, filled with Peter Murphy’s cries of “undead, undead, undead!,” is like giving yourself over to a vampire’s kiss. A must, to be played VERY loudly. (From the compilation Crackle, 1998)
“Disturbia”, Rihanna—A newbie to the list, this dark ‘n’ bumpin’ track has fast become a party essential. The music video, featuring zombie-like dancers jerking and jiving, is reminiscent of Jacko’s “Thriller”. Who knows if the song will spawn its own specially choreographed dance, but it’s definitely a track scantily costumed ladies will groove to on Halloween night. (From Good Girl Gone Bad, 2007)
“Dead Man’s Party”, Oingo Boingo—Come on, you know the lyrics: “It’s a dead man’s party, who could ask for more? Everybody’s comin’, leave your body at the door.” Danny Elfman’s middle name should be “Halloween”. Up until the band retired in 1995 its annual Halloween shows were insanely popular, but the spirit of Boingo lives on year after year as radio stations and record stores across the country play the heck out of this. (From Dead Man’s Party, 1985)
”(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”, Blue Oyster Cult—All right, so it might have lost a little of its spookiness when Christopher Walken demanded “more cowbell” as Will Ferrell jiggled his belly fat in a Saturday Night Live sketch about this. But the song is still perfectly chilling. Beware, though: Horror flicks often use it to set the mood while two unsuspecting teenagers are getting it on. Then they get killed. (From Agents of Fortune, 1976)
“I Put a Spell on You”, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins—Creedence Clearwater Revival’s cover is perfectly acceptable as well, but Hawkins’ signature song is best heard from the crazed, skull-cane-toting voodoo huckster himself. CCR’s is for grooving; Hawkins’ version is for giving you the willies while cracking you up. (From the compilation Cow Fingers & Mosquito Pie, 1991)
“Dragula”, Rob Zombie—All hail the new king of horror cinema. Zombie’s “Dragula” is a high-energy, bloodthirsty track with a hard-driving chorus: “DIG through the ditches and BURN through the witches/I SLAM in the back of my ... DRAGULA!” Of course, you could do an entire disc of Zombie’s solo stuff as well as White Zombie songs, from “Living Dead Girl” to “I’m Your Boogieman”—all Halloween-appropriate. As a bonus, throw on one of his films as background (“The Devil’s Rejects” is the best by far) or the soundtracks to both that flick or House of 1,000 Corpses. Easy choices for extra eerie sounds. (From Hellbilly Deluxe, 1998)
“The Killing Moon”, Echo and the Bunnymen—A less obvious (and arguably more sensual) choice would be “Nocturnal Me”, from the same album as this track. But “Moon”, which a whole new generation seemed to discover (alongside Tears for Fears’ “Mad World”) thanks to its use in Donnie Darko, is a gorgeous gothic-romantic masterpiece that only sounds richer as the years go by. (From Ocean Rain, 1984)
“People Are Strange”, The Doors—Even more appropriate for Halloween ‘08 is the title track of the album it comes from, but how can you refuse it? You also could substitute Echo and the Bunnymen’s version from The Lost Boys, but why? Jim Morrison’s vocal on the original is much richer, and Ray Manzarek’s much-mimicked tacked-piano feel (Danny Elfman, say thank you) is as playfully ghostly as ever. To add sheer terror, place Morrison’s howl of poetry reading “Horse Latitudes” just before it. (From Strange Days, 1968)
“Thriller”, Michael Jackson—Well, short of “Monster Mash” it is just about the most recognizable Halloween song the world over. Expertly crafted hokum it may be, but slip it on in the thick of your bash and watch—half the room if not more will spontaneously break into the video’s dance sequence. If you’ve got serious cash, hire a local choreographer to teach it to your guests. (From Thriller, 1982)
“Psycho Killer”, Talking Heads—Qu’est-ce que c’est? David Byrne’s vivid portrayal of the sort of title character that became a national phenomenon at the time the song first appeared (when the Son of Sam was terrorizing NYC) still retains stark power and an ability to unnerve. Because of that, the original version is probably preferable—but for parties, try the slightly more beat-driven rendition on 1984’s Stop Making Sense. Also fun: “Stay Up Late”. Even weirder: “Drugs (Electricity)”. (From Talking Heads 77, 1977)
“Superstition”, Stevie Wonder—As funky as hell is hot. But the best part of it is how Stevie weaves in so many superstitions into such a short space of words: “Thirteen-month-old baby broke the looking glass / Seven years of bad luck / Good things in your past.” Stevie Ray Vaughan’s smokin’ remake is also acceptable. (From Talking Book, 1972)
“Halloween Theme”, John Carpenter—Bernard Herrmann’s strings-slashing theme from Psycho is probably more recognizable, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (aka the theme from The Exorcist) possibly more creepy. You should have ‘em all on your mix discs, and maybe leave room for Jaws, too. But if you can only fit one, go with Michael Myers’ ominous instrumental motif. (From Halloween: Original Soundtrack, 1978)
“The Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show—You remember. It’s just a jump to the left, and then a step to the ri-i-i-eee-i-i-ight. With your hands on your hip, you bring your knees in tight. But, you know, it’s the pelvic thrust that really drives you insaa-eee-aaaa-eee-aaane. Add lyric-parodying gags as you see fit. (Best found on The Rocky Horror Picture Show: 25 Years of Absolute Pleasure, 2000)
“Werewolves of London”, Warren Zevon—In which the title characters go hunting for beef chow mein, drink pina coladas at Trader Vic’s and run amok in Kent—ahhh-wooooo indeed. Picturesque nuttiness from the late, great singer-songwriter that never gets old at Halloween. (From Excitable Boy, 1978)
“Welcome to My Nightmare”, Alice Cooper—On second thought, “Dead Babies” or “Billion Dollar Babies” or “Is It My Body” or “Cold Ethyl” or “Sick Things” or even the positively silly “Feed My Frankenstein” would be cooler than Coop’s most obvious fright-night staple, which is now a fairly moldy piece of cheese. Still, you can’t avoid it. (From Welcome to My Nightmare, 1975)
And for the kids ... No, we didn’t forget some all-time faves. We just figure they can do the trick-or-treat-in-daylight thing now—the equivalent of sitting at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving. For the youngsters, try the Steve Miller Band’s grab-ya hit “Abracadabra”, the Who’s creepy-crawly “Boris the Spider”, Ray Parker Jr.‘s “Ghostbusters”, Bow Wow Wow’s version of “I Want Candy”, Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s classic “Monster Mash”, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “Nightmare on My Street”, Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater”, Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me”, the Classics IV’s “Spooky” or David Seville’s ooh-eee-ooh-ahh-ahh-ing “Witch Doctor”.