Are you tired of hearing the same songs for Halloween over and over? Have you had it up to the max with “Monster Mash?” Can you not get a thrill out of “Thriller” anymore? Did you wear out “Werewolves of London?” Perhaps you’ve busted out “Ghostbusters” one too many times. Well if that’s the case, I’ve got you covered. Here are ten songs that you can add to your list of Halloween based numbers that will mix things up considerably. Some qualify based off their lyrical content, others based on their atmosphere. Either way, these musical delights will prevent your holiday listening from being as stale as a crypt.
Glenn Frey had an interesting solo career. While his Eagles bandmate Don Henley was pretty consistent in terms of quality, Glenn banged out a few classics like, “You Belong to the City” and “The Heat is On” but he also had some saccharin schmaltz like “True Love” and “Part of Me, Part of You.” He also bizarrely showed up on the soundtrack to “Ghostbusters II” with “Flip City.” Played during the sequence where all hell is starting to break loose in the city, the tune has an eerie kind of atmosphere to it, with an opening keyboard sequence that emulates the famous “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.” The lyric ponders, “I, want to know why/Everyone I, know/Has gone flip city.” The titular phrase is slang for acting incredibly strange and has probably not been uttered by humans in decades. But seriously, it really does start with that familiar Johann Sebastian Bach inspired melody, except on some ’80s synths and keys. Then you find out it sounds like Glenn Frey is doing an Oingo Bingo number; which to be fair, is scary enough a thought as is. But at least the atmosphere and the idea of everyone around the song’s narrator going insane makes this track a strong left field addition to any Halloween playlist.
A Hopi word meaning “life in turmoil” or “life out of balance,” koyaanisqatsi was used as the title for an artsy 1982 film that contains no dialogue, just images and footage of various locations and objects. It’s also notable for having a soundtrack composed by Philip Glass. Glass is primarily known for his minimalist composition style which is used to great effect here and for the soundtrack to the first two “Candyman” movies from 1992 and 1995. If you remember how unsettling that score was, then just ramp it up even more and you get “Koyaanisqatsi.” Glass uses a series of synthesizers that he gradually layers on top of each other to create a quiet sense of dread; even if that wasn’t necessarily the intended emotion. Then you get a small choir of men repeating the titular phrase, “koyaanisqatsi” in a slow, emotionless delivery. The effect of it all leads to one of the creepier music compositions to ever not be made for a horror film.
Stephen King loves rock and roll. If you haven’t read his books then you may not know how jam packed they tend to be with music references to classic rock artists. In his book “Pet Sematary,” frequent references are maid to The Ramones. The protagonist oft repeats to himself, “Hey, ho, let’s go” when he’s about to embark on something risky; a line taken from The Ramones, “Blitzkrieg Bop.” King would end up inviting the band to visit him at his home in Maine and gave Dee Dee Ramone a copy of the previously mentioned novel. The end result? Dee Dee churned out a song inspired by the novel that would end up being used in the film based on the book in 1989. The song has received mixed reception since it was released, with some stating it’s just a continuation of the decline of The Ramones, with others stating it’s a fun novelty that’s enjoyable to break out, especially during the Halloween season. I agree with that latter statement. This really is a fun track with a strong lyric and sense of foreboding. And let’s face it, the line, “I don’t wanna be buried/In a Pet Sematary” is too wonderfully cheesy not to love.
Michael Sembello was a successful sideman in the music industry in the late 1970’s, but fame as a solo artist had eluded him. He and a man named Dennis Matkosky had been working on a song that was inspired by a combination of a horror movie they’d seen and news reports of a serial killer. Sembello ended up cutting a demo of the song and recorded it to tape. That tape would then be used to record some more demos Sembello was cutting in hopes of working on a soundtrack to an upcoming film. As the story goes, he didn’t know that the demo for the serial killer song was still on the other side of the tape; so it came as a shock to him when it turns out that the executive he sent the tape to was only impressed by that particular track. He told Sembello to rewrite the lyrics to better match the subject of a dancer instead of a killer, which he did. Thus, the song “Maniac” from the film “Flashdance” was born. You can totally hear the serial killer origins of the song too during the track’s instrumental bridge. And you can easily change the lyric from “She’s a maniac, maniac on the floor” to, “There’s a maniac, maniac at your door” with very little effort, enough to make me wonder if that was the original lyric.
“Too Much Blood“
You know, ’80s Rolling Stones gets overlooked quite a bit. Most rock fans worship their ’60s and ’70s output and stop acknowledging the band after “Tattoo You” and the single from it, “Start Me Up.” But the band had quite a few good tracks from this decade, many of which are hidden gems of sorts. “Too Much Blood” is a bit too odd to be considered a gem, but it’s great for this kind of list. The funky bassline and jangling guitars give the song a danceable beat, but the lyrics are make or break for people. Mick Jagger mostly just talks over the music during the verses, rambling about terrible murders in the news and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Yeah, Jagger even talks about how people should go out and see “An Officer and a Gentleman” instead. At least he sings during the chorus though, and it’s actually a pretty damn good hook. It’s hard to recommend this track for casual listening but it’s perfect for mixing up your Halloween playlist.
Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
How many Beatles’ songs have a multiple murderer as their subject? “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” was a Paul McCartney composition for “Abbey Road” where the titular Maxwell kills at least three people with a hammer. First he kills a potential date, then his teacher, then the judge who’s going to sentence him for his crimes. And though McCartney stated the song was meant to be allegorical for when things in our lives go wrong, it doesn’t change how this song is about a serial killer. Is it too jaunty and peppy to be scary? Yeah, maybe. However, it has a pretty high body count for a pop song and I feel like that’s worth an inclusion on this list. It’s kind of like the horror film “Midsommar” in that sense; sometimes horrible things can happen in the bright light of day. Also the rest of the band reportedly hated it, so it’s even more dreadfully horrific when you think about it that way.
“Home by the Sea“
The Phil Collins era of Genesis is often overlooked by fans and critics for its songwriting strength. The commercial success on the singles charts that the band obtained made it harder for some progressive rock fans to take them seriously anymore. Casual music listeners were taken in by the hooks and charm of songs like “Invisible Touch” and “Misunderstanding.” Many of their album cuts were a lot deeper than those in both musical composition and lyrics. Take for example, “Home by the Sea” from their 1983 eponymous record. Primarily a Tony Banks number, the Genesis keyboardist paints a picture straight out of a horror story. The lyric tells the tale of some robbers who break into a home only to find out that the place is haunted. The spirits there trap the thieves and force them to spend the rest of their days listening to the ghosts tell them of the times when they were still alive. Phil delivers a powerful vocal from start to finish but Banks’ eerie keyboards are what really sell the song on its haunting premise.
“The Court of the Crimson King“
A band named King Crimson is already going to earn some points for being a bit darker and edgier given, you know, the name is derived from Satan. Their 1969 record, “In the Court of the Crimson King” is considered by many to be the definitive progressive rock album and a major inspiration to not only that genre, but to hard rock, metal, and eventual subgenres like progressive metal. Its two most well known tracks are arguably “21st Century Schizoid Man” which was sampled by Kanye West in his song, “Power” and the almost title track, “The Court of the Crimson King.” The latter of these is a sweeping journey through lyrics written by Peter Sinfield as he details different characters that dwell in this court and their varied manipulations of powers, forces, and people. It culminated in the lines, “The yellow jester does not play/But gently pulls the strings/And smiles as the puppets dance/In the court of the crimson king.” The backing track is haunting in both its swelling intensity and spaciousness while Greg Lake‘s vocal is strong and captivating in how it brings Sinfield’s depiction to life. It’s the mellotron though, played by Ian MacDonald which really empowers the song from beginning to end; even when the song goes into a lighter, uplifting passage it still holds onto sound that seems to indicate not everything here is alright. You are in the court of the Crimson King, and you are subject to all which transpires here.
So how can a song by Hall & Oates be creepy? Well, you wouldn’t know it at first by listening to it, but if you really break down their song, “Diddy Doo-Wop” from their 1980 record, “Voices” you find out how truly twisted it is. The lyric starts off with a man running, unsure of what he’s just done. He knows he has to go into hiding and seeks refuge in a subway station. While there though, he continues to hear doo-wop singing voices. Come to find out later on, the only thing that stops them is when he “chops,” as in, human flesh. Something that is told to us in part through the remaining verses, but also through the fleshly sound effect that plays when Daryl Hall sings the word, “chop.” The most telling lyric though is in part what inspired the song. Daryl had read somewhere that David Berkowitz, otherwise known as the Son of Sam killer, was a big fan of the Hall & Oates hit, “Rich Girl.” Hall had also known of Charles Manson‘s disturbing interpretation of The Beatles. This resulted in the lyric, “Charlie like the Beatles/Sam he like Rich Girl/But I’m still hung up/On the Duke of Earl.” So, here’s a man in this song, killing because he’s being driven mad by doo-wop vocals. During the song’s outro, Daryl sings with a doo-wop backing, lines like “I can’t stop the voices.” “My right hand tries to stop my left hand.” “My left hand tries to stop my right hand.” “My head keep trying to stop both hands.” And so the song fades out on the singer not able to stop his actions; the voices unending, and the killing presumably set to continue. This is the same album that has “Kiss on My List” by the way.
Blue Oyster Cult will never get the credit they deserve for being a rock band that knew how to rock out incredibly well with phenomenal talent and a penchant for writing lyrics that could be incredibly pensive, but also uniquely funny. Part of this issues comes from radio playing mostly one of only three songs by them, “Burnin’ For You,” “Godzilla,” and of course, the radio and soundtrack staple, “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” If you’re tired of hearing those however, there is another song from them, that you can pull up, “Joan Crawford.” Yes, it’s about THAT, Joan Crawford, the actress, the real-life villain from “Mommie Dearest.” The song is about Joan Crawford coming back to life and the horror this inflicts on the world. One of the best parts of the track is during the instrumental bridge where the words, “Christina, mother’s home… come to mother…” can be heard. And in case there’s any misinterpretation of what the track’s about, the chorus is literally, “Joan Crawford has risen, from the grave/Joan Crawford has risen, from the grave.” It’s not exactly subtle, which is what makes this one so much fun in how playful it is in knowingly taking shots at Crawford’s reputation.