6. Alice Cooper – “Welcome to My Nightmare” (Welcome to My Nightmare, 1975)
When Alice Cooper released his concept album, Welcome to My Nightmare, in 1975, it would mark the first time Cooper, whose real name is Vincent Damon Furnier, would record as a solo artist rather than with a band under the name “Alice Cooper”. The solo album boasts Cooper classics like “The Black Widow”, “Devil’s Food”, and “Only Women Bleed”. The opening song, which shares the album’s title, is one of Cooper’s most well-known. It is also a departure from his earlier grittier sound, blending jazz, funk, hard rock, and even disco components. When Cooper sings, “Welcome to my breakdown, I hope I didn’t scare you”, it sounds like he’s just torn himself free from the straightjacket he began wearing in his theatrical 1976 “Welcome to My Nightmare” live show. Cooper would later reveal his tongue-in-cheek sense of humor by performing the song on The Muppet Show in 1978.
5. Warren Zevon – “Werewolves of London” (Excitable Boy, 1978)
One of the most recognizable piano riffs in the world belongs to Warren Zevon’s 1978 hit, “Werewolves of London”. The song, which features John McVie and Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac on bass and drums, is a humorous romp through London on the heels of a well-bred werewolf. The tune stayed in the US Top 40 for six weeks in the spring of 1978 and has since become a classic, not only for its catchy piano line but also for its witty lyrics. As Zevon sings in a flippant tone: “I saw a werewolf drinking a Piña Colada at Trader Vic’s / And his hair was perfect”, it’s hard not to crack a smile.
The song has been covered by a host of artists, ranging from Jackson Browne (who produced the original) to T-Bone Burnett as well as the Grateful Dead. The video that accompanies the song depicts Zevon at his piano, surrounded by his band, intersected with shots of a well-dressed werewolf walking around a dark city, presumably in search of “a big dish of beef chow mein”.
4. Santana – “Black Magic Woman” (Abraxis, 1970)
Originally written and recorded as a Fleetwood Mac song, “Black Magic Woman” became most well known as a Santana hit. The Santana version, which mixes Latin influences, blues, and jazz, includes an instrumental titled “Gypsy Queen” by Hungarian jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo. The song became one of Santana’s biggest hits, reaching #4 on the US charts while the record, Abraxas, reached #1. In addition to the renowned guitar solos, Santana’s rendition employs an earthy organ, Cuban timbales, and conga, giving the song its air of voodoo. When keyboardist Gregg Rolie (who later joined Journey in 1973) sings “got your spell on me, baby”, the song may make you want to break out the black candles.
3. Classics IV – “Spooky” (Spooky, 1967)
This clever song about a “spooky little girl” was originally an instrumental arranged by saxophonist Mike Sharpe. The most recognized version, however, is by Southern soft rock band Classics IV, who added lyrics and propelled the song to the top of the US charts in 1968. The song has since been covered by many artists, including Dusty Springfield, Andy Williams, R.E.M, Imogene Heap, and Lydia Lunch. The song, about a moody, mysterious girl, has a coy melody and an eerie whistle that accompanies Dennis Yost’s voice. When he sings: “Just like a ghost, you’ve been a-hauntin’ my dreams / So I’ll propose on Halloween”, it’s no doubt the tune belongs on every Halloween mix.
2. Nick Cave – “Red Right Hand” (Let Love In, 1994)
The sharp bell and lurking bass that open Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” set the sinister tone of the song right upfront. Written about a shadowy figure lurking around town, the song from Cave’s Let Love In album becomes even more chilling with the addition of Cave’s tense and menacing vocals. When he sings, “Take a little walk on the edge of town and go across the tracks”, you know it can’t end well. In the liner notes of Cave’s ninth studio album Murder Ballads, it states the “red right hand” alludes to John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost and signifies the merciless hand of God.
Howe Gelb, whose band Giant Sand covered the track on their 2002 album Cover Magazine, sums up the song best when he told Uncut magazine, “The lyric content is maniacal. Dubious. A cold sweat begins to break out when you wonder how that hand got so red.” The song has been featured in a number of TV shows and movies, including The X-Files and Scream. It has also been covered by artists such as Arctic Monkeys, Pete Yorn, and the aforementioned Giant Sand.
1. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – “I Put a Spell on You” (At Home With Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, 1956)
When outlandish blues performer Screamin’ Jay Hawkins released “I Put a Spell on You” in 1956, it didn’t make much of a splash. In fact, it didn’t even chart. Since its release, however, the song has become a smash and Hawkins’s biggest hit. The song cemented Hawkins’s reputation as an eccentric performer. According to Contemporary Musicians: Profiles of the People in Music by Julia Rubiner, Hawkins originally recorded the song as a straightforward love ballad, but when the producer “brought in ribs and chicken and got everybody drunk”, Hawkins came out with the “weird” version.
His voice is spellbinding (pun intended), sliding between hacking screams, grunting, and operatic refrains. Hawkins said he discovered he “could do more destroying a song and screaming it to death”. Following his revelation, Hawkins began wearing a long cape and tusks in his nose and putting on shows that incorporated voodoo props, coffins, and a smoking skull named “Henry”. His outlandish performances predate Alice Cooper’s and Ozzy Osbourne’s horror-themed antics and made Hawkins a pioneer as a shock artist.
This list was originally published on 29 October 2014 but is still quite relevant for Halloween fun.