No offence to the many, many Christmas songs out there, but Halloween music wins every single time. Give me “mua-haha” over “ho ho ho” any day of the week. Give me a minor melody with some synthesizer over a frolicsome little thing with thirty jingle bells shoe-horned into the chorus any minute of the day. Was the Grinch really such a bad guy, or did he just really like ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’?
As the biggest supporter of Halloween music ever, it’s very important to me that we round up the best Halloween songs of all time, past and present, traditional and contemporary. Looking for some sinister additions to your October playlist? You’re in the right place. Looking for a safe space for Christmas music haters? Welcome home.
First and foremost, we must address the core Halloween songs, because when you say the words “Halloween songs”, I’m pretty sure everyone thinks of the same two. And, over-played or not, it’s hard to diss the classics. So, we must pay our respects to the brave soldier who first dared enter the Halloween genre battlefield. In a holly-jolly world of ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ and ‘Blue Christmas’, Bobby Pickett changed lives in 1962 when he came out with the novelty song ‘Monster Mash’. It’s goofy, it’s silly, it’s a monster dance party. At the time, however, ‘Monster Mash’ was so controversial that the BBC banned it from airplay upon its release, complaining that it was “too morbid”. If there ever was a man ahead of his time, it was Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett.
And the second must-have in every SuperValu Halloween playlist is, obviously, Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. Though this one isn’t as clearly catered toward the holiday, it’s still an eerie, scary little banger, especially if you know all the choreography. Named the greatest music video of all time by hundreds and thousands of polls and newspapers, a regular feature on the Billboard Top 100 since its release; there’s no denying that this song is a perfect, five-star Halloween song.
Then, we dive into the TV show/movie soundtrack side of Halloween music, which takes up a surprising amount of room. From the synthesizer-led ‘Ghostbusters’ theme – which really isn’t spooky at all, but a whole lot of fun – to the very unnerving ‘This is Halloween’ from ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ – which is a Halloween movie by the way, to settle the debate – to the ‘Halloween’ theme. Even ‘Time Warp’ from ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ has been considered a Halloween tune. An honorary mention must be given to ‘Goo Goo Muck’ by The Cramps which, thanks to ‘Wednesday’, was quickly instated as a thrillingly blood-curdling Halloween staple. Seriously, the media are carrying the Halloween season on their backs.
But, you ask, what if I don’t want to spend my Halloween feeling like I’m living inside an episode of Scooby Doo? Where are all the chill Halloween songs? What a wonderful question. There’s nothing like walking around (preferably wearing a sheet with eye holes) on a crisp autumn night and listening to slightly relaxing, slightly disturbing music. A personal favourite for this specific Halloween scenario is the reggae-rock song ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials. Inspired by the recession-gripped United Kingdom, ‘Ghost Town’ has a very disconcerting feeling to it that feels like doom and evil and everything bad is imminent. And, of course, we can’t talk about Halloween music without referencing gothic rock at least once, and ‘Lullaby’ by The Cure (dare I say the entire ‘Disintegration’ album?) is the perfect balance of spooky and serene. The whole song feels like stepping into a haunted house and turning around to find the door has disappeared. It’s the kind of song I can imagine an anthropomorphic cobweb writing.
The beautiful thing about Halloween, as I’ve mentioned, is the sheer variety from song to song. While there are certain songs that are absolutely looped to insanity during those last two weeks in October (I’m looking at you, ‘Thriller’ and ‘Monster Mash’), the beauty of it all is that the genre has grown to incorporate outsider songs, songs which were maybe never intended to be Halloween songs at all. For instance, the 80s Pop Adoptees.
In the 80s Pop Adoptee section of Halloween music, we have some of the best, possibly unintentional, Halloween music around. Take ‘Maneater’ by Daryl Hall and John Oates for example; yes, it’s not really about a cannibal, but the melody is just disquieting enough to lead us to believe that it is. Then there’s ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ by Eurythmics, Annie Lennox, and Dave Stewart, a song that is so not Halloween-oriented, and yet somehow feels more Halloween-oriented than any Halloween song ever. ‘Super Freak’ by Rick James has also somehow snuck its way into the Halloween genre, maybe because it has “freak” in the title, maybe because it’s just a fun song. And how could one forget the funky fright of ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ by Rockwell?
Some more modern pop hits have slithered their way into the rota as well. ‘Disturbia’ by Rihanna is one of my favourite contemporary Halloween songs. The anxious and confused lyrics combined with an off-putting music video in which Rihanna is trapped in a cage and has no pupils, and performs creepy, doll-like choreography making the song the perfect amount of scary, while also being a dance-pop bop. Nelly Furtado has also made her way into several playlists with yet another song about a cannibal, which was inspired by the Hall & Oates song and feels like a groovy, electropop sequel. Trick-or-treat with Daryl and John, club with Nelly.
Such is the beauty of Halloween, after all, that all these songs can come together in harmony, and all without lowering themselves to the use of a handbell, a cowbell, or a jingle bell. Life is truly good.