With each day it creeps closer, like a phantom conjured by CGI. Hours expire as it claws its way across the calendar page. The signs are all around us: BO/GO specials on bags of candy, plastic skeletons neatly hanging in the aisles of drugstores, jack-o’-lantern carvings cluttering your Instagram feed, etc. Whether celebrated by consuming copious amounts of candy corn, binge-watching horror flicks on Hulu, or indulging in ghoulish bar crawls that leave you feeling like the living dead, the magic of the season is upon us. All Hallows’ Eve, Samhain, or just another night to swap ghost stories over lagers while sporting your best costume yet — October’s end, for some, is the most important date of the calendar year: Think the Addams Family, the Munsters, Lydia Deetz, Megahex’s Megg and Mogg. For these and similar souls, the darker side of life is more than a seasonal celebration. It’s a way of life.
Whether you commemorate October’s end by brushing up on your dance moves for “Thriller” or by making Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash” your ringtone, having the perfect soundtrack for the season is a must. If you find yourself yearning for a suitable list of tracks to get you into the spirit, look no further! Our playlist will be the perfect addition to your Halloween, giving you a much-needed reprieve from the struggle to find the perfect costume and the endless consumption of American Horror Story (whose theme song is enough in itself to send chills down your spine) and pumpkin IPAs.
Cue the thunder and lightning. Dim the lights and flip the switch to your fog machine. It’s time to revel in the dark.
Lydia Lunch, “Spooky” (1980)
Lydia Lunch’s Queen of Siam, released in 1980 via ZE Records, is a cult classic in its own right. Giving listeners a glimpse into the No Wave icon’s inner vixen, tracks like the beloved single “Spooky” bring to mind legendary mistresses of the dark like Vampira and Elvira and conjure images of a flawed yet arresting romance. “Spooky,” although more conventional than the noise legend’s equally dark “Gloomy Sunday,” is catchy, its particular brand of macabre stemming from a polished backbeat and irresistibly coy diction. Joining the ranks of acts like Martha and the Vandellas and Dusty Springfield, who also took the tune on, Lunch turns in a rendition capable of casting a spell over listeners, with an ease often lacking when it comes to covers. Possibly one of Lunch’s most accessible songs, “Spooky,” with its delectably jazzy instrumentation and ghostly backup vocals, is undoubtedly the ideal song for lovelorn ghouls. Best paired with candlelight and a plush velvet coffin, it’s got a charm most ballads lack, striking the perfect balance between heartfelt earnestness and romanticism and featuring a conclusion that offers a recipe for either the most memorable or most nightmarish way to top off October 31: with a proposal.
David Bowie, “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” (1980)
The title track from the Thin White Duke’s fourteenth studio album, “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” is atmospheric and unrelentingly catchy. Released in 1981 as the album’s third single, “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps),” much like most of Bowie’s work, is sheer perfection. Over screeching guitars and a pulse-quickening tempo, “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” examines desire at its throbbing core, with a paranoia-inducing chorus sure to sink its hooks deep into your addled psyche. Bowie, like always, is perfection here, the emotive timbre of his diction heightening the already ominous dissonance of the track. Somewhere between the swagger of Labyrinth’s Goblin King and the ravenous appetite of Bowie’s vampiric character in The Hunger, “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” is the perfect mix of gore, glam, and Eighties glitz.
Morrissey, “Ouija Board, Ouija Board” (1989)
Taking a cue from the Fox Sisters, Morrissey’s “Ouija Board, Ouija Board” is an undeniable tip of the hat to spiritualism’s heyday and phantasmic legacy. Delivered with heavy-handed melodrama, Morrissey’s attempts to commune with the dead begin with a yen to “say hello to an old friend.” “Ouija Board, Ouija Board,” released on Bona Drag, was far from one of the Son and Heir’s best-received singles, but it still possesses the ability to send its listener into a trance-like state of sentimentality. Brimming with jangly chords and latent melancholy, the track also benefits from a riveting, endearing video: It features a pensive Morrissey, a minimally designed Ouija board, and a crystal ball–toting medium to whom Morrissey is led by a troupe of dancing children. As Moz croons, “The table is rumbling/The glass is moving/And no, I was not pushing that time,” the veil between the living and the dearly departed is thinning, leaving listeners to decide for themselves if “Ouija Board, Ouija Board” is mere metaphor or if the brooding Mancunian believes in necromancy. Whatever Moz’s stance, it’s certain his momentary experimentation with the occult is well worth multiple replays.
Echo and the Bunnymen, “Killing Moon” (1984)
Arguably overexposed due to repeated use in indie hits such as Donnie Darko, Echo and the Bunnymen’s memorable single “Killing Moon” is undeniably haunting. Structurally reminiscent of the lunar cycle, Ocean Rain’s most beloved track is melodically dark, evocative of ritual acts and (yes) moonlight. The track, paired with the cultlike imagery of its accompanying music video, leaves listeners transfixed by the fictive vision of one of the postpunk outfit’s most successful singles. Reportedly inspired by Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in reverse, “Killing Moon” is difficult to shake, though it’s also the sort of song you could listen to for hours on end without growing tired of its lush chords or Ian McCulloch’s mesmerizing cadence. Like a love song crafted for the countless cinematic sacrifices depicted in horror films, “Killing Moon” offers a hypothetical glimpse into the strange magnetism that coexists between the sacrificed and the cults that choose them.
Bauhaus, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” (1979)
It’s debatable if Bauhaus’s first single is their best, but it is inarguable that it’s seminal. Released in the summer of 1979, the quintessentially gothic anthem is, for most, identifiable within mere seconds of its start. It proceeds to pay homage to the legendary film star of its title — and indeed, much like its namesake, the track has rendered itself timeless, its resilience hailing, possibly, from its befittingly otherworldly lyrics and instrumentation: It’s a song that bares its teeth in vampiric fashion, as hypnotic as Dracula’s stare, the listener at the mercy of the thing until that staccato outro.
Sisters of Mercy, “Lucretia My Reflection” (1987)
Floodland’s “Lucretia My Reflection” isn’t explicitly spooky — but for those familiar with Sisters of Mercy’s aesthetic, it’s clear why this track resonates with All Hallows’ Eve. Loosely inspired by the scandalous Lucrezia Borgia, “Lucretia My Reflection” explores the darker side of conquest, reminiscent of age-old idioms about power and its ability to corrupt and destroy. A hybrid between darkwave and industrial gloom, “Lucretia My Reflection” evokes decline, destruction, and aggression. Unabashedly dark, Sisters of Mercy’s notable single is a snapshot of malaise circa ’87 by way of pulsating backbeats and visceral vocals. The song consumes its listener in a manner synonymous with seduction — so much so that by the time Andrew Eldritch utters, “Lucretia, my direction, dance the ghost with me,” his words feel like an intimately orchestrated invitation. By the song’s end, the listener is Lucretia — and more than willing to “dance the ghost.”
The Cramps, “Sheena’s in a Goth Gang” (1997)
Ghoulish garage-rockers the Cramps are well-known for exalting the darker side of life — it’s a staple of their seemingly endless discography. Fronted by the prolifically cool Lux Interior, the West Coast outfit’s instrumentation alone is enough to inspire visions of motorcycle-jacket-sporting corpses rising from their crypts (and adolescent werewolves in heat). Taking its place alongside favorites like “Human Fly” and “Goo Goo Muck,” 1997’s “Sheena’s in a Goth Gang” unfolds like the score to a B-horror beach flick. Visceral in the best of ways, Interior’s delivery alone is enough to make anyone want to don black, embrace the macabre, and join a goth gang of their own.
The Gymslips, “Evil Eye” (1983)
The final single released by U.K. all-girl outfit the Gymslips, “Evil Eye” is an intentionally ominous exploration of superstition, bad omens, and how a curse can alter one’s fate. Somewhere between darkwave and pop, the Gymslips’ most brooding track (well, arguably) feels something like a hypnagogic vision or a mild fit of vertigo. A definite departure from the band’s earlier cuts, even with its somewhat predictable chord progression, “Evil Eye” captivates — plus, frontwoman Paula Richards’s badass hairdo in the song’s music video is well worth the three-and-a-half-minute watch.
The Vibrators, “Frankenstein Stomp” (1985)
British punks the Vibrators’ take on Count Lorry and the Biters’ campy “Frankenstein Stomp” is a fun tip of the hat to Mary Shelley’s famed creation. Much like with earlier renditions of the song, this one leaves the listener ready to destroy anything, from a teeming dance floor to a small village or graveyard. Much of the appeal of “Frankenstein Stomp” lies in the way the track extends an open hand to its audience, almost urging listeners to let loose, to summon their own inner Frankenstein’s monster without apprehension; the way the Vibrators infuse aspects of rockabilly raunch and deploy deliberately labored vocals certainly doesn’t hurt. A less familiar stand-in for well-worn tracks like “The Monster Mash” or the slightly obnoxious “The Purple People Eater,” “Frankenstein Stomp” is guaranteed to get even the most pretentious partygoer to his feet (especially if shots of whiskey are involved).
The Cure, “Lullaby” (1989)
Despite its swoon-inducing melody, Disintegration‘s most haunting single, “Lullaby,” is at its center a terrifying narrative. Conveyed through half-whispers, one of the Cure’s darkest tracks paints an image of an ominous “spiderman” with a sinister appetite to devour. Regardless of whether you take this as a metaphor for depression or addiction, the imagery will stop you dead in your tracks. Robert Smith, known for his ability to infect his audience with his projected emotive innerspace, here quickly grounds listeners in the world of this dark ballad until the feeling of being eaten alive is a shared experience as inescapable as a spiderweb. Like a fever dream, the grim reality of “Lullaby” lingers well after its end, making it the perfect track to replay again and again while wasting away the hours in your rent-controlled mausoleum on a dark and stormy night.
Your Funeral, “I Wanna Be You” (1982)
“I Wanna Be You” is an underrated earworm by the all-female Denver three-piece Your Funeral. Released in 1982, this veraciously morbid offering explores self-actualized unease alongside adjacent yearnings, desires, and post-adolescent crises. The nearly deadpan vocals and quasi-lo-fi execution of Cure-like riffs and chords give the track a rough-around-the-edges texture reminiscent of nothing so much as the grit that accompanies a freshly dug grave. Lead vocalist Jeri Rossi’s refusal to sugarcoat her feelings is striking: There is no metaphor; the interior landscape of her psyche is willingly on display, an unflinching vulnerability permeating throughout. It’s refreshingly candid while managing to remain dark as fuck. “I Wanna Be You” is blunt without apology, drawing in its listener in a detached, raw manner akin to a cold, hard stare. It’s also a rare find for vinyl collectors: The original seven-inch’s initial pressing was severely limited due to the band’s allegedly “satanic” and “evil” vibe (as determined by the pressing plant). Despite their gloomy aesthetic, Your Funeral are irresistible.
Ministry, “(Every Day Is) Halloween” (1984)
The perfect song for everyone who observes Halloween year-round, Ministry’s 1984 single “(Every Day Is) Halloween” is the perfect response to anyone who questions spooky or ghoulish fascination occurring outside of October. A celebration of the “obscene” and the strange, this track is without a doubt a battle cry for nonconformists, for those with an appetite for the unconventional, for those who might feel more at home beneath the roof of the Addamses’ mansion or shrouded in the fog of a cemetery. “(Every Day Is) Halloween” is at its center sincere and for some undoubtedly cathartic. Like “Born This Way” for those with a penchant for all things spooky, this song is one of affirmation, offering solace 365 days a year (and especially on October 31).
The Ramones, “Pet Sematary” (1989)
Named after one of Stephen King’s most terrifying (and ridiculous) novels, “Pet Sematary” — originally written in tandem with the 1989 film adaptation of the book — is a surprisingly heartfelt song. Lyrically urgent (not to mention nearly, dare we say it, existential in its concerns), the track makes clear that the Ramones, much like the protagonists of King’s story, ultimately do not want to live their lives again. The track’s lyrics establish a vividly gruesome landscape that jibes nicely with the book/movie’s cursed burial grounds. Joey’s vocals serve as a warning to be heeded, just in case listeners ever find themselves in a predicament where bringing the dead back to life seems like a good idea. The song could also encourage individuals to take the time to have a serious conversation with their loved ones about their dying wishes, to ensure that they are not interred in a place where reanimation replaces peaceful eternal rest. Take a note from Joey: Pet cemeteries are no good.
Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Spellbound” (1981)
Siouxsie Sioux’s bewitching “Spellbound” is not merely thematically appropriate for the occasion, it seems to work a magic of its own as the song progresses. Crashing percussion and unrelenting chords frame the Banshees’ prolific frontwoman’s enchanting vocals. The track’s duration feels like a ritual, from the early shake of the tambourine to the abrupt end. As a listener, you’re transported to a world where “you hear laughter cracking through the walls,” where you are left “with no choice” but to succumb to the dark magic of the song’s duration. Beautiful and ominous in the best of ways, “Spellbound” is one of the Banshees’ finest cuts and a perfect addition to your Halloween mirth. Let yourself be entranced by its postpunk perfection.
Vincent Price, “The Monster Mash” (1977)
It is nearly impossible to think of horror without thinking of Vincent Price. His distinctive voice has been rendered (even more) immortal by Michael Jackson’s spooktacular hit “Thriller,” while his persona remains preserved by celluloid adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s bone-chilling stories of yore. He’s portrayed a humanoid fly, a witch hunter, and the doomed heir to the sinking House of Usher. Fair to say that Price’s fame stems from his familiarity with all that goes bump in the night. So it’s only fitting that his 1977 cover of “The Monster Mash” is as endearingly strange as his numerous dramatic roles. It’s also a great primer for retro costume ideas (and equally outdated dance moves). Watching Price and his monsters mash the night away proves why this Halloween institution has stood the test of time.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 29, 2015