Making Mix Discs for Halloween? Pick from These Creepy Best

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”.

Heavy Halloween

Fifteen favorites to help you bang your head while frightening trick-or-treaters:

“Bad Moon Rising”, Creedence Clearwater Revival — Stephen King used it for foreshadowing in The Shining, then ended “Silver Bullet” with it. Bands from Social Distortion and Rancid to Type O Negative and Rasputina have covered it. It’s not terribly scary, of course. But despite its seemingly chipper exterior, it’s sense of foreboding runs deep. (From Green River, 1969)

“Bark at the Moon”, Ozzy Osbourne — There’s at least a disc’s worth of Black Sabbath songs you could include, and more than a few other Ozzy solo cuts. Yet everything about this charging rocker screams Halloween, from its silence-shattering opening to its grave-digging lyrics to its howling finish. (From Bark at the Moon, 1983)

“Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen”, Santana — True, as with “Evil Ways”, this one seems to be on the radio every half-hour. But how can it be denied? (From Abraxas, 1970)

“Helter Skelter”, The Beatles — “I’ve got blisters on me fingers!” The opening guitar salvo still sends chills, McCartney has never seemed so possessed, and the droning stomp toward the fadeout is still so hypnotizing, it’s not hard to see why Charles Manson thought he heard secret messages. For further hair-raising chills, add in Siouxsie and the Banshees’ version. (From The Beatles, 1968)

“Hells Bells”, AC/DC — “Highway to Hell” fits, too, but the tolling title sound of this heavy-metal staple will, as the song says, “give you black sensations up and down your spine.” Were it not for the Stones selection below, this would be Satan’s anthem. (From Back in Black, 1980)

“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”, U2 — OK, so it’s not really very scary sounding, more hyper-dramatic. Still, it’s mood that matters, and Bono has rarely sounded so over-the-top — and the near-operatic music matches. (From The Best of 1990-2000, 2002)

“Lucifer Sam”, Pink Floyd — “That cat’s something I can’t explain.” A bit of Syd Barrett’s surrealism always goes down unsettlingly this time of year, and this ode to the familiar that follows witch Jennifer Gentle around is one of the late drug-damaged madman’s finest. The ghoulish, descending-into-darkness riff, like Batman on acid, will prick up ears that haven’t heard it for sure. (From The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, 1967)

“Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)”, David Bowie — The title kinda says it all. There are plenty of other Bowie selections to fill up your soundtrack, from spooky (“Warszawa”) to rockin’ (“The Jean Genie”) to downright loopy (“TVC15”). But with party tunes, sometimes it’s better to be obvious. (From Scary Monsters, 1980)

“Frankenstein”, The Edgar Winter Group — Duh-duh dunn-dunn da-dunn-dunn-dahhh. Need we say more? (From They Only Come Out at Night, 1972)

“Strange Brew”, Cream — “Kill what’s inside of you.” Another haunted rocker centered on another witchy woman. Play it before or after the Eagles track below. (From Disraeli Gears, 1967)

“Sympathy for the Devil”, The Rolling Stones — Please allow him to introduce himself. Frankly, you could put together an entire box set of songs devoted to Beelzebub. Suggestions: Van Halen’s “Runnin’ with the Devil”, INXS’ “Devil Inside”, the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, the B-52’s “Devil in My Car” and Mitch Ryder’s “Devil in a Blue Dress”. We’d also toss in Robert Johnson’s “Hellhounds on My Trail” as a corollary, but you can’t really dance to it. For thematic thrust plus dark delight, however, nothing beats the Stones’ woo-hoo-ing classic. (From Beggars Banquet, 1968)

“Burn the Witch”, Queens of the Stone Age — Josh Homme & Co.’s “Hangin’ Tree” and “Into the Hollow” are also worth considering, but we’ll take this fiery stomper about mob rule. “The first to speak is the first to lie/The children cross their hearts and hope to die.” Dread-filled … yet sexy! (From Lullabies to Paralyze, 2005)

“Witch Hunt”, Rush — Part of the Canadian trio’s “Fear Trilogy”, this menacing third piece actually came first, followed by second part “The Weapon” (on 1982’s Signals) and first installment “The Enemy Within” (on 1984’s Grace Under Pressure). In 2002, Rush added a fourth part, “Freeze”, but stick to the darker original. Eerie fact: the mob noise in the opening moments was recorded the night John Lennon was killed. (From Moving Pictures, 1979)

“Witchy Woman”, Eagles — “See how high she flies,” and then take note of her other freakish characteristics: “Sparks fly from her fingertips,” “she got the moon in her eye,” “she can rock you in the nighttime till your skin turns red.” Well, OK, that last one doesn’t sound so bad. Still … watch out. (From Eagles, 1972)

“Zombie”, The Cranberries — It’s actually about the killing of two boys in an IRA bombing in Northwest England. But when Dolores O’Riordan cries out “zombie! zombie! zombie-yuh-ah-yuh-ah!” for the umpteenth time, your party guests probably won’t be thinking about that. (From “No Need to Argue,” 1994)

The Darker Side of Halloween

Not all spooky songs need be so obvious. Here are 20 offbeat, lesser-known and darker-edged drops of musical blood to savor.

“Candlelight Song”, Violent Femmes — Creeeeeepy. Amid freaky, burbling sound effects Gordon Gano tones down the nasality, coos like a little boy and sounds as if he’s going slightly mad … until he tells you that his doll is dead … then you KNOW he’s bound for a padded cell. For a different sort of murderous madness, also include the Femmes’ harrowing “Country Death Song”, in which a possessed father pushes his daughter down a well. Good choice to play after “Candlelight”? XTC’s “Scarecrow People”, who inhabit a far-off land with sociopolitical troubles eerily similar to our own. (From The Blind Leading the Naked, 1986)

“Die, Die My Darling”, Misfits — Would it be Halloween without at least one Misfits song? Just look at these dudes — they were destined to play Halloween parties and drink blood on stage. And what hopeless romantics they are, considering lyrics like, “Don’t cry to me, oh baby / Your future’s in an oblong box.” This serial killer classic just begs to be moshed to by over-testosteroned bros. Also consider: “Astro Zombies”, “Devil’s Whorehouse”, “Dig up Her Bones” or, for the nostalgic, their version of “Monster Mash”. (From Misfits, 1991)

“Cemetery Polka”, Tom Waits — There are so many choices from the frog-voiced cult hero. His rendition of “Heigh-Ho (The Dwarfs’ Marching Song)” from the Disney tribute Stay Awake is as dark as a mine ride to hell with the lights out. “Underground” packs both stalker menace and sinister invitation, and “Earth Died Screaming” is self-explanatory. But this off-kilter track, a litany of dead relatives in just under two minutes, will surprise and unsettle your guests. (From Rain Dogs, 1985)

“Climbing up the Walls”, Radiohead — The wall-bending, witching-hour delirium of “The Gloaming” is a close second, and probably works better as background noise. But this one arrived before it, and its sense of obsession is still harrowing. “If you get too far inside you’ll only see my reflection,” Thom Yorke tells us. “So lock the kids up safe tonight / Shut the eyes in the cupboard / I’ve got the smell of a local man / Who’s got the loneliest fear.” Watch out! Other fine Radiohead picks, depending on your mood: “Pyramid Song”, “The National Anthem”, “Exit Music (For a Film)”, “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box”, “Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors”, “I Might Be Wrong”, “Sit Down. Stand Up” (especially how Yorke sings “the raindrops! the raindrops!”) and “We Suck Young Blood”. (From OK Computer, 1997)

“Ghouls”, HorrorPops — A prime example of the psychobilly trio’s devil-may-care attitude, this cut is straightforward rock ‘n’ roll with a swingin’ beat and fun lyrics: “It’s like I’m the wife of Halloween / Hey! It’s a horror movie theme.” For more instrumental good times, the group’s “HorrorBeach”, parts one and two, is pretty spectacular. (From Hell Yeah, 2004)

“Dirty Creature”, Split Enz — Our choice for filthy beasts from the ocean deep goes to the quirky, long-defunct Finn-brothers band out of New Zealand, if only because it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it. Other suitable selections: “Swamp Thing” by the Chameleons and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” by Dave Edmunds. (From Time and Tide, 1982)

“Down by the Water”, PJ Harvey — “Working for the Man,” from the same album, is another wicked pick; in it, an apocalypse-possessed serial killer prowls streets aiming to rid them of sin. But this tale of a woman drowning her daughter — why is anyone’s guess — chills as much with its skeletal riff as its horrifying lyrical details or Leadbelly-revival coda (“Little fish big fish swimming in the water / Come back here, man, gimme my daughter”). Never fails to prick up ears. (From To Bring You My Love, 1995)

“Spellbound”, Siouxsie and the Banshees — There are so many selections from the spooky Queen of Goth, it’s almost insulting to limit her and the Banshees to just one. For something harsher, seek out either “Night Shift” or “Voodoo Dolly” in their scorched live incarnations on “Nocturne” (1983). For something more playful, dig out the loopy loonies of “Happy House” or the party groove “Peek-a-Boo”. For more atmosphere, try “Slowdive” or “Face to Face” (from Showgirls, of all things) or, natch, Halloween. But for something that combines all of those moods then adds galloping forcefulness, stay entranced by the “rag doll dance” of this rush of blood to the head. A true thriller. (From Juju, 1981)

“I Am Stretched on Your Grave”, Sinead O’Connor — “… and I’ll lie there forever.” Over a jittery hip-hop loop laced toward the end with jig-worthy fiddle, the Irishwoman with the angelic voice declares her undying love by waiting … and waiting … and waiting … until “I smell of the earth and am worn by the weather … with you in your cold grave, I cannot sleep warm.” Poe would approve. (From I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, 1990)

“Rose of the Devil’s Garden”, Tiger Army — For those tortured zombies holding their hearts in their hands this Halloween, this sweet-yet-deadly track is just for you. Vocalist Nick 13 toys with his heart dangerously and refers to his love as the “black rose” (aw, how romantic). “Death is pure — life is not. So ask yourself, what do you want? As for me, well, I want you. So pick the black rose and let its thorns cut you.” If you weren’t already dead inside, your heart would pitter-patter. See also: “Annabel Lee” (from Tiger Army II: Power of Moonlite), a song ripped straight from the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, and another haunting moment from this dark, emotionally charged trio. (From Tiger Army III: Ghost Tigers Rise, 2004)

“Goo Goo Muck”, The Cramps — Others may prefer “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”, for obvious reasons, and there’s certainly no reason to fear (just duck) the goo goo muck. But Halloween isn’t complete without a bout of the Cramps. Most anything off “Gravest Hits” will suffice. In a similar, albeit less campy, vein: the Damned’s fanciful “Grimly Fiendish”. (From Psychedelic Jungle, 1981)

“We Only Come Out at Night”, The Smashing Pumpkins — Not explicitly about vampires, at least not as much as, say, Sting’s “Moon Over Bourbon Street”, inspired by Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, or something vaguer (and creepier) like Radiohead’s “We Suck Young Blood”. But this bouncy ballad works better as a change of pace for a mix. Plus, the chorus is an easy sing-along. (From Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)

“Halloween”, AFI — A rockin’ fun punk song from an EP cut way before the Bay Area band became a radio fixture with “Girl’s Gone Grey”. So what if it’s a Misfits cover? Davey and Jade do it better. (From All Hallows Eve, 1999)

“Haunted When the Minutes Drag”, Love and Rockets — Everything seems to remind them of the love they lost, or whatever foul spirit three-fourths of Bauhaus can’t seem to boot from their abode. “Haunted by your soul, by your hair, by your clothes, by your eyes, by your voice, by your smile, by your mouth.” Yeah, that about covers it. (From Seventh Dream of a Teenage Heaven, 1985)

“Life Is a Grave & I Dig It”, Nekromantix — Pretty much any song by this rockabilly trio could be used in a stellar Halloween mix, but this catchy track will surely inspire some dancing. With lyrics about monsters, vampires, graveyards and death in general, the band aims for darkness. To spice up a party, also throw on the Nekro’s “Horny in a Hearse” — not for kids, obviously. (From Life Is a Grave & I Dig It, 2007)

“Pet Sematary”, Ramones — Essential to any Halloween punk mix. Recorded for the 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s creepy novel of the same title, it became one of the band’s better-known radio hits — a little cheesy, sure, but still a staple to sing along to. (From Brain Drain, 1989)

“Red Right Hand”, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — You probably know this atmospheric nightmare of sinister strangers and creeping doom even if you think you don’t. It’s been used in The X-Files, all three Scream films — and is said to have inspired Hellboy. Of course, it’s only one of dozens of Cave songs that could spook up your holiday. For starters, try most anything off Murder Ballads. (From Let Love In, 1994)

“This Could Be Love”, Alkaline Trio — These three princes of darkness are known for their insatiable appetite for death and destruction, and there’s no better example of that than this sweet tune with sing-song lyrics that read like a serial killer’s guide to a night of fun: “Step one, slit my throat. Step two, play in my blood. Step three, cover me in dirty sheets and run laughing.”

“This Is Halloween”, Marilyn Manson — Everything Manson touches is creepy — look what he did to Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”. When he got his hands on this song, from Tim Burton’s cult classic The Nightmare before Christmas, he managed to make it pretty creeptastic as well. The theatrical track, with lots of vocal inflection and character impressions (Manson does ’em all), is spooky yet magically appropriate. Now imagine Manson’s black teeth and white-out eyes and try to get a good night’s sleep. (From Nightmare Revisited, 2008)

“Walking with a Ghost”, Tegan and Sara — Indie rockers rejoice, you’re represented on this list! Although originally by the White Stripes (R.I.P.?), T&S’ version is far more enjoyable; super manic, it plays out very much like being trapped in a maze — which way to go? The repetitious “out of my mind” begins to make you think just that. Despite the obvious “ghost” reference, it’s a haunting little tune and far from boring — you don’t want party guests passing out before midnight, do you? (From So Jealous, 2004)