It’s spooky season and we don’t mess around in my haunted house. Although there’s plenty of timeless tunes, Halloween-themed options have grown lately thanks to new bands embracing the holiday or horror in general.
This list is a mixture of classics, new earworms, and near forgotten gems waiting to be rediscovered. Each earned its place through haunting melodies, dark lyrics, or terror-inducing imagery. All are ideal for parties or chilling with friends. It is not in any particular order, and ranges from goofy and fun to very adult, for which I’ll provide NSFW warnings.
If you enjoy this, be sure to check out my latest release, Arkham Horror: Secrets in Scarlet from Aconyte Books. A set of globetrotting, thriller-horror adventures with stories by Josh Reynolds, Carrie Harris and MJ Newman.
Muse – “You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween”
There’s plenty of classics out there. Which is why Muse’s 2022 release “You Make Me Feel Like It’s Halloween” is so refreshing. Only the music is new though, as the video goes for the jugular, paying homage to The Shining, Scream, Friday the 13th, Carrie and IT, to name a few.
Clocking in at 3 minutes, the track is a fast pick-me-up. Everything about it shortcuts to the excitement that horror aficionados are seeking. Links below…
David Bowie – “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)”
Depending on who you ask, David Bowie’s piece is somewhere between a classic and a forgotten gem. Why? Well, the track shared the album’s name, which is considered one of Bowie’s greatest. It was also one of several singles from that collection, coming after chart titans “Ashes to Ashes” and “Fashion.”
While “Scary Monsters” did well on the UK and Irish charts, it was outshined by the album’s other songs. Several online rankings put the track between 3rd and 4th position (Return of Rock placed it at 7th). So, believe it or not, some folks haven’t even heard it before.
Yet context is king, and in the spirit of Halloween, “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)” has that fear factor. Look up the word. Listening to that guitar scream. Hell, a rumor persists that the song terrified SNL producer Lorne Michaels, who banned Bowie for three years after his performance. If that isn’t a bloody endorsement, I don’t know what is…
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins / Bette Midler – “I Put a Spell On You”
Interesting bit of trivia on this classic. Originally it was a 1956 song by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, a version that’s easy enough to locate. Things get a little tricky when you look for Bette Midler’s version, which used totally different verses for the 1993 cult movie Hocus Pocus.
Several covers exist but finding one by Midler herself is curiously difficult. Spotify has one, and Freeform’s YouTube account has an as-good-as-official music video, seeing as Disney owns the channel. Links below are for Hawkins’ version.
Rihanna – “Disturbia”
Released in 2008, plenty of radio airtime and a catchy beat have comfortably solidified Rihanna’s piece as one of the newest Halloween classics. Although the composition is full of energy, the music video and lyrics clarify the tune’s twisted psychological direction.
In fact, it was “Disturbia” that provided an excellent basis for deciding if a song works for Halloween or not. Lyrics, melody, and visuals if available… should two out of three of these elements invoke unsettling or horror aspects, it probably counts.
The problem with this litmus test is that imagery isn’t always available, and there’s no arguing that Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash” isn’t a classic (although Pickett’s facial expressions during a live broadcast clarified his vision). So the “Disturbia” test should provide a preliminary decision and not be the final say.
Rob Cantor – “Shia LaBeouf”
Was this a performance piece? A comedy skit? A public service announcement? Who’s to say? But there’s no denying an amusing if depraved element to Rob Cantor’s beautiful produced “Shia LaBeouf Live,” a symphony detailing unspeakable acts committed by everyone’s favorite cannibal/actor. Yeah, you read that correctly.
While the music is great, the video visuals truly complete this masterpiece of art. Oh, and be absolutely stay until the end for a real surprise.
Ghost – “Hunter’s Moon”
A Swedish rock band that formed in 2006, Ghost has firmly embraced the macabre since their inception. It’s quite hard to go wrong with anything by this band, given the luxury of songs about vermin during the apocalypse or bewitching suitors. Choices, choices…
While there’s plenty of songs to choose from, “Hunter’s Moon” has a special quality. The music video steps away from blood or sex appeal. Instead it takes a more psychological edge in which a woman sees disturbing behavior surrounding her daughter or younger sister. Unsettling? Yes. But more palatable for a wider audience.
Blue Öyster Cult – “Career of Evil”
There’s a few reasons I didn’t mention “The Reaper” immediately. The first is the next entry. Second? Because it does a disservice to an entire album reserved for misanthropic ideals, with titles like “Harvester of Eyes” and “Flaming Telepaths” (an excellent track). Some tunes might be too real for Halloween, but there’s plenty for the picking.
“Career of Evil” is a memorable piece whose original lyrics did not need cuss words to be horrific. They weren’t even by BÖC’s members but by poet Patti Smith. Between the words and use of a background organ against the guitar, the song checks the boxes for its sinister originality. Give it a whirl. There’s more to the Blue Öyster Cult than the one single you know and love.
Keep Shelly in Athens – “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”
Covers are seldom better than the original. Yet sometimes new versions hit a note or go a different direction that just… nails it. That’s what Chillwave duo Keep Shelly in Athens did with Blue Öyster Cult’s “The Reaper.” The slower beat and female vocals give it a truly ethereal, haunting element that elevates the song.
Sacrilege? Maybe. However, the beauty of BÖS being outdone is that it lured me into listening to the band’s catalog. Before, I only knew them for one great song. Now I know they’re simply a great band overall. Give Keep Shelly in Athens’ version a shot. You will always have the original.
Will Smith – “A Nightmare on My Street”
As you may wonder, Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff did get sued for this song, and the music video was lost for quite a while. Yet the story behind this legal tiff is intriguing.
Apparently New Line Cinema wanted to use a music video in support of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. Two groups were considered—Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff against the Fat Boys, who produced “Are You Ready for Freddy?” Unwilling to let a good tune go to waste, Zomba Enterprises released the song anyway on the album He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper. New Line filed suit and the parties settled out of court, even offering Smith and Jeff roles. If you’re interested, here’s some court documents on the matter.
Still, Will Smith likely did New Line Cinema a huge favor with this song, which proved to be a real chart topper. Personally, I had never heard of “Are You Ready for Freddy?” until now. Like a certain pro wrestler once said, “the cream will rise to the top…“
Chvrches – “Final Girl”
Against the “Disturbia” test mentioned above, Chvrches’ “Final Girl” can be a controversial choice. While the lyrics lean into the final girl trope, the melody riffs back and forth between pop and an electric twist on Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill soundtracks (“Theme of Laura” comes to mind). There is no official music video, although a surprisingly good live version exists with a background of a dark forest.
Ultimately, it’s fair to say the song dips its toes in the dark waters with taking a full dive. Yet for DJing purposes, it maybe an excellent palette cleanser that doesn’t go off theme.
The Rolling Stones – “Sympathy for the Devil”
The radio provides plenty of advantages to musicians, but there are a few cons as well. Hosts don’t always introduce every song, and some folks aren’t attuned to lyrics. As such, people sometimes miss out on a song’s Halloween potential.
“Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones is one that sometimes falls off the lists. The 1968 song arrived too early for the 80s music video revolution, but Vevo took it upon themselves to produce an attractive official lyric video instead. Take a gander at this poetry and you’ll realize how quickly it clicks for October.
Carpenter Brut Featuring Mat McNerney – “Beware the Beast”
Remember when I promised some NSFW options? Well the music video for “Beware the Beast” absolutely checks that box. Slashings, zombified flesh and plenty of nudity are quite abundant with this flick. Carpenter Brut primarily does Synthwave, but when he pairs with other artists, he truly goes all out. “Beware the Beast” digs up everything about those old school, big hair bands that some aficionados miss.
Yet this song rules, even without the footage. I recommend the links below for anyone who wants a new earworm without gory surprises.
E Nomine – “Mitternacht”
Oh come on! Did you really think I was going to let spooky season get by without mentioning E Nomine? The German musical project started by Christian Weller and Friedrich “Fritz” Graner took almost no time becoming the bell that begins the season. Trance and Gregorian chants, Latin and German lyrics, they knew their intended audience perfectly. No one else does what they do.
“Mitternacht” or “midnight” is merely one of many, many good songs that effortless fit the season. Their videos are even better, truly something to play at parties to enthrall listeners. Tis the time of year for possession, after all…
That’s all for now, but who knows? Like a good slasher series, maybe there’ll be a sequel. And be sure to check out Arkham Horror: Secrets in Scarlet from Aconyte Books if you need your reading shelf punched up with scare. Have a good October, folks!