Making Mix Discs for Halloween? Pick from These Creepy Best

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)