Lock the doors, close the blinds, and prepare for the scare of your life. We are counting down the top 13 Halloween songs that are sure to make your night of fright a little more fun!
Dead Man’s Party – Oingo Boingo
Oingo Boingo’s front man Danny Elfman knows a thing or two about spooky music. The longtime Tim Burton collaborator penned some of the most iconic Halloween-season movie scores, including Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice. Elfman’s band, Oingo Boingo, released Dead Man’s Party in 1985 which is the same year Elfman was invited to write the score for Burton’s classic Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, the first in a still-growing list of collaborations.
Monster Mash – Bobby “Boris” Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers
Released in 1962, The Crypt-Kickers weren’t the first to corner the spooky pop music market, but few songs remain as revered. Just listening to this song feels like you are weaving your way through a haunted sock hop.
The song, which took a great deal of luck to even get produced, rocketed to the top of the charts and remained at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks just before Halloween in 1962.
I Put a Spell On You – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Nothing screams Halloween like a deranged man shout-singing his ownership over you. Released in 1956, this Halloween staple was originally intended to be a conventional blues ballad.
As Hawkins remembers, “[the producer] brought in ribs and chicken and got everybody drunk, and we came out with this weird version.” And it is exactly the weirdness in Hawkins vocal performance that keeps this song returning year after year near the end of October.
Dance Or Else! – Freddy Kruger and the Elm Street Group
One of the greatest oddities in synergistic marketing is when ad execs think it’s a good idea to take an established non-singing character and give him an album. At times, the bet pays off. Other times the blunder is so extreme that fans can’t help but love the album. Freddy’s Greatest Hits falls in the latter category.
Freddy Kruger, the popular horror villain from a long string of Nightmare on Elm Street movies created this strange pop album. It’s easy to dismiss this as a novelty, but there is something endearing about a monster with knives for fingers shouting alongside a cadre of young female pop singers. Remember, Freddy is always watching, so dance… Or else!
John Carpenter’s Halloween Theme
Within seconds, this instantly recognizable theme will make your neck hairs stand on end. Few songs scream Halloween as loud as John Carpenter’s Halloween theme. The beauty lies in the song’s simplicity. The intentionally unnerving rapid pace of the piano alongside the slow lumber of the synths creates an aural chase between victim and killer.
Rockin’ in the Graveyard – Jackie Morningstar
Recorded in 1959, this rockabilly Halloween anthem shows that a few simple maniacal laughs and breathy gusts of air across the microphone can simulate the unsettling feeling of finding yourself alone in a graveyard at night. The above video pairs the song with a fan-edited version of the Disney Silly Symphonies short The Skeleton Dance.
Much like Bobby Pickett with Monster Mash, this notable Halloween tune was only one of two songs Morningstar ever released. It is lucky for us that he did because Rockin’ in the Graveyard is a true Halloween classic.
Red Right Hand – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Nick Cave has a notoriously devilish singing voice. But from the first disturbing note this song alludes to a real bad man that you’d never wish to meet. All you need to look for is his Red Right Hand.
The titular Hand is in reference to a line from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which therein refers to the hand of God. Cave and crew add a layer of grit to the imagery and the song makes its listener feel as if they are out in the cold rain at night.
This Halloween favorite continues to delight and is used in countless movies and TV shows. The upcoming Guillermo del Toro period-horror film Crimson Peak is said to include an extra-eerie cover of Red Right Hand performed by English musician P.J. Harvey.
Country Death Song – The Violent Femmes
Country death songs are actually an entire subgenre of early American country music. The premise for any good country death song is the motive and admission of a grizzly crime, the culprit’s apprehension and the prophesized death as comeuppance.
This subgenre included more than just local independent musicians who may have actually committed the crimes they sang about. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees The Everly Brothers included the unsettling Down in the Willow Garden on their album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, which tells the story of a man following the instruction of his father and killing a young woman named Rose Connelly, only to be hung for his crimes.
The Violent Femmes applied this methodology to the song above, telling the accounts of a man pushing his little girl down a well. As the story goes, the lead singer of the band, Gordon Gano, wrote this song while he was still in High School. It is based on a true story from 1862 where a man reportedly committed the acts outlined in the song. Downright macabre!
Thriller – Michael Jackson
It’s just not a Halloween party without Thriller played at full volume at least once during the festivities. This titular song is on the album that still tops the list of best-selling albums of all time.
Written by Rod Temperton, and originally called Starlight, Thriller was an unlikely success. Vincent Price’s narration wasn’t even written until Temperton was in the cab on his way to the recording session. This last minute addition paired with Jackson’s denouncement of anything related to the occult led to a potential disaster that ended up being anything but.
Thriller is so revered that it is the only music video in the Library of Congress National Film Registry!
The Monsters Hop – Bert Convy
Bert Convy paints a lyrical picture of a strange house on a hill that’s hosting a dance party with a who’s who of horror villain attendees. In the lighthearted song, Convy sees Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man dancing with zombies to music provided by a ghostly piano player.
If you’re planning a macabre dance party this Halloween, be sure to include The Monsters Hop on your playlist!
Ghostbusters Theme – Ray Parker Jr.
No Halloween song list could be complete without the contentious theme song to the 1984 comedy classic, Ghostbusters. Ray Parker Jr. fought and settled out of court against Huey Lewis and the News for the similarities between this and I Want a New Drug. The similarities of the two songs are obvious. But this didn’t stop Ray Parker Jr. from climbing to the top of the charts and solidifying the Ghostbusters theme as a classic Halloween song.
I Was a Teenage Werewolf – The Cramps
With a twang that would fit perfectly in a Tarantino film, The Cramps knew a thing or two about macabre music. In fact, the album this song appears on, Songs the Lord Taught Us, includes a number of Halloween-inspired tunes. Zombie Dance and What’s Behind the Mask are also sure to delight any guest to your All Hallows Eve party.
(Don’t Fear) the Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult
Perhaps most well-known at this point for the classic Saturday Night Live sketch, where Christopher Walken had a fever and knew of only one prescription.
This song features macabre lyrics and a foreboding score. It is featured in a number of classic horror movies including John Carpenter’s Halloween, Scream, The Frighteners and many more. The song remains the band’s biggest chart success and managed to land a spot on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
While it is easy to surmise that the song is about death, Blue Oyster Cult lead guitarist Buck Dharma insists the song is about eternal love, not escaping the grim reaper.
Top Image Credit: FanShare