“Double double, toil and trouble, these be bands to reduce you to rubble. An aural potion to fill you with fright, drown in these sounds on Halloween night. If you dare to take a listen, they’re sure to make your cake-hole glisten. Drool as you duel with undead waves, and pray you don’t stumble into an early grave.” – The spell I cast in my cut scene from Vin Diesel’s “The Last Witchhunter” (sure to be restored in the unrated director’s cut)
Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is a great song, no doubt. But if that’s still your go-to for firing up your Halloween party, then either you’re underestimating your guests, or overestimating the scant quantity of pleasure still to be wrung from resurrecting the Thriller Dance yet again.
And while I’m sure that spooky Halloween sound-effects CD you got for a dollar at Fred Meyer in 1998 is super scary, the neighborhood kids called and said they need a new soundtrack by which to egg your house.
It’s time to dine on the flesh of new Halloween music, which isn’t just music to listen to on Halloween proper. There’s a reason that this time of year inspires us to put up decorations and break out costumes to drive the spirits away. Whether you’re pagan or Christian, October is a month when we’re all keenly aware of the fading light, the encroaching cold, and the general sense that we all best hunker down and protect our necks until the thaw comes. In addition to your ghastly garb and garishly giant glowing gourds, what better way to keep the ghosts at bay than with terrorizing tunes?
As one who welcomes the coming of the darkness, I offer the following Halloween playlist. It might not make any but the geekiest of crate-robbers dance, but it’s guaranteed to set the proper scene, as in “of the crime.” This would also be great background music for murdering your friends in “Betrayal at House on the Hill” or any other horror-themed board game.
- Goblin, “Tenebre (Main Title)” – The closest song the Italian horror soundtrack maestros ever made to a Giorgio-Moroder-style disco jam, or what it might sound like if Daft Punk made a Halloween-themed single.
- Gravediggaz, “Bang Your Head” – Like House of Pain’s “Jump Around” on PCP, if this shit doesn’t get you out of your seat, nothing will.
- Budos Band, “Black Venom” – Ethiopian-style Farfisa and horns combine with a skull-cracking shekere hit to create pure foot-stomping, roof-raising, black funk. If that trumpet solo doesn’t kick your shindig into high gear, there’s just no hope for you.
- John Carpenter, “Vortex” – A great, gloomy dusk of synthesized splendor, this could have been a lost theme from Carpenter’s soundtracks to “Big Trouble in Little China” or “Prince of Darkness.” Which is appropriate considering it’s off his relatively recent album, “Lost Themes.” With his characteristic knack for metronomic pulses and minimalistic atmosphere, Carpenter crafts an entire disc of ideal sounds for fright night.
- Body Count, “Voodoo” – Ice-T meets a witchy woman in New Orleans, and she tortures the hell out of him using a voodoo doll. That’s all you need to know.
- The Dramatics, “The Devil is Dope” – A classic anti-drug song for those who think anti-drug songs are the funniest thing in the world to get lifted to. Replete with creepy laughter and soundtrack-worthy strings, this fuzz-drenched soul opus will change your whole perspective.
- Budgie – “Crash Course in Brain Surgery” – If it’s good enough for Metallica before they started to suck, then it’s good enough for you. A driving mini-epic of proto-metal for the ages.
- Dr. John, “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” – Swamptastic juju music of the highest order, this song’s got it all: zombies, cats of ill omen, flames and death. The atmosphere it creates makes you feel like you walked down the wrong side street in New Orleans at full moon and stumbled into some “Serpent and the Rainbow”-type shit.
- Giorgio Moroder/David Bowie, “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” – From the soundtrack of Paul Schrader’s psychosexual thriller, this will satisfy those with a taste for ’80s cheese without dragging the whole party down into the kind of stupid nostalgia that decade most often inspires. Both moody and anthemic with a lovely slow-burn intro, just might be the perfect song to start off the night.
- Jacky Chalard, “L’Agonie” – Vintage French prog-funk with a gloriously plodding bassline, fuzz guitar and sci-fi, wordless vocal exhalations, this is music by which to read Stephen King’s short story “The Jaunt.”
- Golden Earring, “The Wall of Dolls” – Far from the one-hit-wonders they’re often considered, Holland’s most famous band made this creepy little tale of puppet clowns and frozen smiles before “Radar Love” put them on the map. Nightmarish and trippy, it sums up the kind of atmosphere I look for in a Halloween party.
- Black Widow, “Come to the Sabbat” – Starting like an actual pagan ceremony, this ode to summoning Satan may actually scare your guests, as it did my co-pilot during a recent road trip.
- Grails, “All The Colors of the Dark” – Possibly the greatest band to ever come out of Portland, Grails channels their love of ’70s soundtracks and library music into a perfect four-minute nugget of Morricone-meets-Goblin aural dream sequence.
- Bauhaus, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” – Sure, it’s a bit stereotypical, but just try to deny that this exemplary goth rocker is perfect fodder for your graveyard revelings.
- Iron Maiden, “Flash of the Blade” – I first heard this in Dario Argento’s “Phenomena” during an archetypal first-person slasher chase sequence, and it makes you want to run for your life. But the beat is so infectious that it just might make you dance.
- Kavinsky, “Nightcall” – Part of a concept album about a teen-turned-zombie-speedster, this down-tempo electronic phone call from beyond the grave was used to great effect in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” a few years back and still packs new-wave punch today.
- Aphrodite’s Child, “The Four Horseman” – Before he created the legendary new-age soundtracks to films such as “Blade Runner” and “Chariots of Fire,” Vangelis’ rock project Aphrodite’s Child released a double album called “666,” which included this sugary psych ditty about the apocalypse. It rocks with the thunder of at least 16 hooves pounding out your doom.
- King Tuff, “Black Moon Spell” – Sure, he rips off T-Rex like a motherfucker, but that diminishes this glam-rocking tale of twisted love not one iota.
- Magma, “Liriik Necronomicus Kanht” – Because Magma should be on every playlist ever, and this is one of their few songs funky enough to keep people moving while still retaining all that Kobaian vocal jibber-jabber that makes them so entrancing to the faithful.
- Pink Floyd, “Lucifer Sam” – My favorite early Floyd pop song, this one just screams swinging London party time to me, and the mysterious lyrics make it perfect for this time of year.
- Master Musicians of Bukkake, “Failed Future” – If my life had to end in a high-speed police chase, or some “Devil’s Rejects”-type shootout action, this is what I’d want to be playing in the car.
- Ganksta N-I-P, “Horror Movie Rap” – Houston was the true birthplace of horrorcore rap, and Ganksta N-I-P – along with Point Blank, K-Rino and even the Geto Boys – its defining acts. The case could be made for numerous tracks off his first album, “The South Park Psycho,” but this one is as good/bad as any of them.
- Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, “Red Right Hand” – With its apocalyptic lyrical tone, church bells, underwater organ, and Cave’s sneered delivery – not to mention my now permanent association of the song with “Hellboy” – this is ideal devil’s night fare.
- Goblin, “Profondo Rosso (Main Title) – For those who like their bass as slab-like as a body in the morgue, put this on when you’re trying to drive out the douchebag who heard about your party from a friend. Really, a proper Halloween party can never have enough Goblin.
- Ween, “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)” – Such a sick song. The title pretty much explains it. Perhaps best to save for the end of the night.
- Zombi, “Mission Creep” – If you choose not to save the Ween song for the end of the party, this is the perfect antidote – it’s like 5-Hour-Energy in song form. There are many Zombi songs more thematically appropriate than this one, but damn it, sometimes you just need to rage a little.
Alright, naysayers, what did I miss? How about anything by Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, or Slayer for starters? While I tried to mix a few tried-and-true favorites into the mix, for the most part I stuck to what I hope will be unexpected choices, sending your brain off in devilish new directions. But by all means, please take me to task in the comments below, and list off the evil essentials of your own grotesque gathering.