Trick or treat…or rock n’ roll? Why choose? If you need some of the best Halloween rock songs, we’re your ghouls.
The Sonics “The Witch”
This may be blasphemy, but if not for this one song, The Sonics would probably be considered a fairly tame, forgettable early-’60s garage band. So thank god for this primitive, staccato wonderment which predated all those witch songs that would come along a decade later with it’s cautionary tale of the new girl in town, the one with the long black hair and long black car who may or may not be a witch.
The Misfits “Night of the Living Dead”
This list could literally be just a list of Misfits’ songs, so this was a hard choice. In the early days, these boys from New Jersey wrote almost exclusively about the horror business but this catchy gem sticks out as one of the best of their catalog.
Joy Division “Dead Souls”
The poster boys for Post-Punk existentialism, Joy Division practically invented the goth subculture thanks to their gloomy lyrics and disconnected, often otherworldly melodies. That you could dance to their music too is something of a minor miracle. The 1980 hanging suicide of Ian Curtis is still a subject so raw that the group’s enduring legions of fans continue to mourn him, yet the music he left behind — richly textured and filled with the genuine pain that hopefully few of us will have to endure in our lives — has actually brought considerable light to the world.
Tim Curry “Sweet Transvestite”
Regardless of your thoughts on The Rocky Horror Picture Show and its attendant subculture, we are certain of one thing: if you don’t like “Sweet Transvestite” you don’t like rock n’ roll.
That guitar kicks in at 52 seconds into this clip, and what follows is one of the most perfectly arranged, muscular tunes of its kind, capped off by Tim Curry’s raised eyebrow “zero fucks given” vocal.
Luna “Season of the Witch”
For their remake of 1960s Donovan freakout favorite “Season of the Witch,” Luna decided to heighten the already pretty damn greatness factor of the original. How? By having the vocalization’s of lead singer Dean Wareham (the cooler among you may remember his previous band, Galaxie 500) walk a tightrope between cool detachment and soaring enthusiasm. And with that, your Halloween bash just turned into a rad makeout party.
Franz Ferdinand “Evil Eye”
Franz Ferdinand roared back to life last year with new album Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, with all their stomp, sass, and grooves still punching with full-force. “Evil Eye,” a campy, organ laced, dance-punk standout from the record is the band’s “Take Me Out,” by the way of Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” with singer Alex Kapranos delivering paranoid freak-outs, desperately trying to be the coolest cat on your Halloween playlist, and mostly succeeding.
Bauhaus “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”
Bauhaus were just so damnably if unintentionally silly in their deadly serious Goth kings pose, and their big Goth disco hit so over the top in its hamfisted obviousness, how could it not make everyone’s Halloween song top 10 (or worm it’s way onto The Hunger soundtrack for that matter)? It was a song ready-made and pre-packaged for the teen vampire renaissance that would come along 25 years after it was released.
Siouxsie and the Banshees “Halloween”
The Magnetic Fields’ “No One Will Ever Love You” is the band’s attempt to sum up the listening experience of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album in one three minute and thirteen second pop song. If someone tried a similiar experiment to condense the entire goth scene into a song, the resulting melody would almost certainly sound like Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Halloween.”
Ministry “Everyday is Halloween”
Ministry is one of the most respected industrial acts ever. But before they achieved acclaim from the 120 Minutes set, the group released some music that could conceivably be mistaken for acts like Celebrate the Nun (at best) or Anything Box (at worst). It is silly and stupid and is absolutely wonderful.
Case in point, “Everyday Is Halloween.” Opening with the words “well I live with lizards” and just getting more absurd from there, this dance floor favorite lets listeners get in touch with their inner Jack Skellington by envisioning a world where each moment is full of witches and darkness and other Hot Topic-approved nonsense that melts away once you realize that life is actually about paying rent, maintaining your crappy relationship and making a slow trek towards oblivion.
Fact: Every day is not Halloween.
The Cramps “What’s Behind the Mask?”
If you’re born into this world looking like zombie Elvis, what choice do you have but to perform psychobilly inspired by B horror films? Still, of all those great, great Cramps songs to choose from, “What’s Behind the Mask?,” a question a lot of people will be asking at drunken Halloween parties the world over, seemed the most appropriate.
And Lux Interior’s closing line (“Sorry I ever asked”) is probably the same response all those people will be feeling when they find out.
The Woggles “Dracula’s Daughter”
A fairly self-explanatory title masks a surefire party starter and some thoroughly primal rock n’ roll. Sure, it shares a name with a kinda lifeless 1936 Universal flick, but if this tune doesn’t get the blood flowing, someone needs to check your pulse.
Also, if The Woggles ever come to your town, do not miss them.
The Ramones “Pet Sematary”
Aside from the obvious tie in to the Stephen King novel and film of the same name, “Pet Sematary” is just one of the countless examples of why The Ramones should have been the biggest band in the world. A perfectly crafted pop song with more layered guitar and production than some of their more familiar tunes, and those lyrics…nothing is more perfect for Halloween night.
The moon is full, the air is still, All of a sudden I feel a chill, 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.
The Nomads “Where the Wolf Bane Blooms”
This one has all the hallmarks of the genre, from the loud-ass drums to the swirling organ in the background. The guitar solo that starts howling at 1:02 is an appropriately lupine touch.
But it’s the lyrics here that really stand out, all about “the pale light of the moon” and “ancient voices” capped off with a reworking of The Wolf Man’s famous poem about lycanthropy to suit the tune, “you may be pure of heart, and pure of soul, but you’ll become a wolf when the moon is full.”
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “Little Demon”
Screamin’ Jay has a way of making it onto Halloween-themed compilation albums, usually with tired old standards like “I Put a Spell on You” or “Feast of the Mau-Mau,” but this wild-eyed early rock’n’roll screamer puts them both to shame. What nakes this story of a demon trapped on earth trying to find his way home so perfect is that in the song’s chorus (if you could call it that) Screamin’ Jay, swear to god, is literally channeling a demon’s voice.
It’s hilarious and scary as hell all at the same time.
David Bowie “We Are the Dead”
What could be more horrifying than anti-sex goons coming up the stairs while you’re in your best fuck me pumps? This is the probably the only song ever written about federal performus interruptus. The menacing guitar lines go down before they ascend.
Bowie’s imagery is frightening, sexy and touching. His delivery is controlled mania, fearful and rebellious and so vulnerable.
Lou Reed “Halloween Parade”
Taken from his 1989 album New York, “Halloween Parade” is a thoughtful reflection on how the world loses a bit of its magic each time a loved one dies. While viewing NYC’s annual Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village, Reed points out that “you’ll never see those faces again” of such colorful Chelsea staples as Andy Warhol’s Factory staple Rotten Rita. “The past keeps knock, knock, knocking on my door, and I don’t want to hear it anymore” he sings, illustrating how a once joyous celebration has lost some of its shine and transformed itself into a funeral procession of memories of colorful figures from his life who aren’t there anymore.
Although originally written about the AIDS crisis, the song has taken on an added layer of sadness following Reed’s own death (just try not to get emotional when he says “See you next year at the Halloween parade” at the end of the song). This is a downer to be sure, but perfect to put at the end of your Halloween playlist as a subtle reminder that the party ends for all of us sooner or later.
The line, “Who is this irresistible creature who has an insatiable love for the dead?” in the beginning of the song is from the trailer of the film Lady Frankenstein. The music in the beginning of the song is taken from the trailer of the Wes Cravenfilm, The Last House on the Left. The spoken words “What are you thinking about?/The same thing you are” at the beginning of the verses are taken from the 1971 film Daughters of Darkness (a dialogue between the characters played by Delphine Seyrig and Andrea Rau). In this song, Zombie sings, “Goldfoot’s machine creates another fiend so beautiful they make you kill”.