It’s that time of year again, boils and ghouls—the weather has cooled, leaves have begun to turn, and the witching hour is upon us. Halloween quickly approaches and you need some music to wake the dead. You know the standards already: “Thriller,” “Monster Mash,” “Ghostbusters,” and “This is Halloween.” They’re spooky good and nicely embalmed to withstand the ages, but this year, Rawckus reaches out to another musical plane to conjure up some lesser known tricks, treats, and tracks.
Siouxsie & the Banshees – “Halloween” from Juju
Siouxsie Sue is one of the great frontwomen in post-punk. Her spectral wail on “Halloween” (and really all of her tracks) makes the band stand out from the ‘80s post-punk pack. The shrill, distorted riff that repeats throughout lends a dangerous edge to the track and the holiday.
Killer lyric: “The night is still / And the frost it bites my face / I wear my silence like a mask / and murmur like a ghost / Trick or Treat / Trick or Treat.”
Kanye West – “Monster” (featuring Rick Ross, Jay Z, Nicki Minaj, and Justin Vernon) from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
This is a classic braggadocio track from some of the biggest names in rap. The song starts out with some warbling vocal creepiness and then moves into a series of verses with monsters (and associated language) operating as a metaphor for larger-than-life, even supernatural, greatness.
Killer lyric: “Sasquatch, Godzilla, King Kong / Lochness, goblin, ghoul, a zombie with no conscience / Question what do all these things have in common / Everybody knows I'm a motherfucking monster”
Bauhaus – “Bela Lugosi's Dead” from The Hunger Soundtrack
Bauhaus had a cameo playing this song in the David Bowie-led vampire film The Hunger. You can feel a sense of impending doom throughout the sprawling, nine-minute-plus track thanks to Peter Murphy’s disaffected vocals and the sparse, white-noise-addled music. Gothic rock wouldn’t be the same without this one.
Killer lyric: “Bela Lugosi's dead / The bats have left the bell tower / The victims have been bled / Red velvet lines the black box / Bela Lugosi's dead”
Dead Man's Bones – “Dead Man's Bones” from Dead Man’s Bones
Dead Man’s Bones is actor Ryan Gosling’s horror-themed doo-wop band. The percussion throughout this track jangles along like a dancing skeleton while disembodied voices moan their harmonies in the background.
Killer lyric: “You should know, what's really going down, below. / Dressed in their best clothes, / there are rows & rows & rows / of dead man's bones!!”
Ghoultown – “Drink with the Living Dead” from Life after Sundown
Halloween is all about macabre storytelling, which is why Charlie Daniels Band’s “Devil Went Down to Georgia” has become a staple of Halloween playlists. That’s too easy for this list, however. Ghoultown’s “Drink with the Living Dead” scratches that same narrative itch with a gothic Americana tale of a vengeful ghost who challenges pub-goers to a drinking contest with dire consequences. The trumpeted fanfare at the turn of this song will give you goosebumps.
Killer lyric: “My name is Stanton Cree and I died three years before / I shot a man to steal his drink, at least that’s what they hung me for / now I’m cursed to walk the earth and challenge every night / a man to match me drink for drink or by the bullet die”
Justin Timberlake – “True Blood” from 20/20 Experience Part II
“True Blood” is Justin Timberlake’s attempt at a song akin to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Although no song can live up to the success of that standard, JT largely succeeds with a club-ready beat, spooky lyrics, and werewolf howls. Producer Timbaland even samples Vincent Price’s laughter from MJ’s classic song.
Killer lyric: “The demon next to me that's got me screaming / Make me wanna build a coffin for two / She's got that true blood / But baby I just do it for the thrill out of you”
HorrorPops – “Walk like a Zombie” from Bring it On!
It feels a little like cheating including psychobilly/rockabilly bands on this list, considering Halloween essentially is that genre’s wheelhouse, but this ghoulish love song is just too perfect to not include. Frontwoman Patricia Day sings about her zombie lover’s affinity for all things creepy and how she’s okay with it (including naming their children Morticia and Fester).
Killer lyric: “And you wanna hold hands in the cemetery / And you wanna be lost for all eternity / And everything is dark and kind of scary / And you crave the full moon / But I don't care”
The Cramps – “Zombie Dance” from Songs the Lord Taught Us
You can imagine the zombies on “Zombie Dance” shuffling about to the surf rock vibes The Cramps laid down on the track. It sounds like a beach blanket bloodbath (if the zombies had any left to exsanguinate).
Killer lyric: “At the Zombie Dance / Here's Ben and Betty / They tap their toes / But they don't get sweaty / They don't give a damn / They're done dead already”
Dead Kennedys – “Halloween” from Plastic Surgery Disasters
“Halloween” is the Dead Kennedys’ “be yourself” rallying cry. The song fundamentally asks the question “why do you only let loose on Halloween?” So many people love the “be anything you want to be” aspect of the holiday, so why can’t that carry over to the rest of the year? Lead singer Jello Biafra’s answer is social regulations, to which he responds “shove ‘em up your ass.” We should treat every day like Halloween.
Killer lyric: “You sit around and dream / for next Halloween. / Why not every day, are you so afraid, what will people say? / Why not every day, are you so afraid, what will people say? / After Halloween”
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – “Up Jumped the Devil” from Tender Prey
“Up Jumped the Devil” is another narrative-driven selection. In this song Nick Cave plays with blues storytelling conventions a la the classic “Bucket of Blood.” It’s a southern gothic yarn with honky-tonk/saloon piano and rattling xylophones that give it an unhinged, nervous energy that matches the sinister lyrics.
Killer lyric: “Who's that hanging from the gallow tree / His eyes are hollow but he looks like me / Who's that swinging from the gallow tree / Up jumped the Devil and took my soul from me”
Nekromantix – “Trick or Treat” from Return of the Loving Dead
Another psychobilly song, “Trick or Treat” has a near perfect mix of fun and flat out scary lyrics. It starts off with singer Kim Nekroman crooning about the kitschy things we love about the holiday—paper bats, fake fangs, inflatable coffins—before switching gears and becoming more malevolent.
Killer lyric: “I’ve been a serial killer, had a Lucifer costume / last year I was the Wolfman / howling at the moon / Tonight is my night, oh yes, indeed / I don't want no candy, blood is my treat”
Ramones – “Pet Sematary” from Brain Drain
“Pet Sematary” is far more nuanced then the rest of the Ramones’ discography, sounding closer musically to something The Clash would write as opposed to the Ramones’ typical (and messy) three-chord punk rock progressions. The keyboards on the track give the song a distinct gothic aesthetic typically found in post-punk and new wave songs from that time period.
Killer lyric: “Victor is grinning, flesh rotting away / Skeletons dance, I curse this day / And the night when the wolves cry out / Listen close and you can hear me shout.”
AFI – “Halloween” (Misfits cover) from All Hallows EP
Plenty has been written about the Misfits in the wake of Danzig’s recent reunion with Jerry Only for some Misfits concert dates. No alternative Halloween playlist would be complete without a Misfits track, which is why AFI’s take on their holiday classic made the list. Hunter Burgan’s bass lines really shine on this cover with a propulsive and punchy rumble, while Davey Havok’s higher pitched yowl stands as a nice contrast to Danzig’s deeper bellow on the original.
Killer lyric: “Candy apples and razor blades / little dead are soon in graves / I remember Halloween”
Spotify Playlist: https://play.spotify.com/user/129216154/playlist/0jVtk4ro3K2cvYw9EWSeKy