As soon as Summer starts to draw to a close and the Halloween season becomes visible on the horizon, my entire life changes. Everything in my day to day existence becomes flavored by Halloween in some way, including the music I listen to.
When I’m not tweaking the Halloween Party master playlist, or creating the annual soundtrack album, I’m cycling through a small but important group of albums that capture the spirit I’m going for. Here are my Top 5 albums to play around Halloween (unranked).
Legendary Shack Shakers – Pandelirium
While you could take virtually any band calling itself “psychobilly” and guarantee plenty of horror movie imagery, punk rock energy, and all the pompadours and sleeve tattoos you could ask for, the Halloween “tone” is a little more than that. I’ve never considered creepy song titles or lyrics that reference horror movies alone to be enough to make music sound like Halloween.
But The Legendary Shack Shakers, a band that plays a heavily southern swamp-influenced blend of rockabilly and delta blues, is a whole other breed. Their image is less “dice, flames and skulls” and more “animal bones, old bibles and twisted hillbillies”, and on 2006’s Pandelirium, they threw “carnival freakshow” into the recipe, making for a perfect Halloween album.
It opens with a long time staple of my Halloween playlists – Ichabod!, which is exactly what it sounds like – a song about the Headless Horseman. From there it’s track after track of swampy, bluesey, down-South bayou rockabilly and twisted carnival melodies, sung by a frontman channeling an unhinged pentacostal preacher. There’s literally not another album (even by the same band) that sounds like this.
Years ago, I was knocking about in a Spirit Halloween store and this song I had never heard came over the PA. It had that oddly perfect marriage of 60’s surf rock and campy horror vibe, with lyrics that were obviously referencing Halloween directly. I distinctly recognized Rob Zombie’s voice as the singer, but could not find the song when I scoured iTunes, and this was before I could have simply Soundhounded it with my phone. It drove me mad for months.
Eventually I discovered the song (Halloween (She Gets So Mean)) came from a compilation album put out by Rob Zombie’s defunct record label, and was only available on CD. I ordered it, and in the process gleaned countless staples for my Halloween mixes.
It’s odd that I’ve never found Rob Zombie’s actual music to be to my liking as a Halloween soundtrack, despite his obvious love of horror. But the tracks on this compilation strike the perfect tone. It’s very heavy on the aforementioned minor key surf-rock, and suitably campy. Song titles include The Halloween Dance, A Fistful of Terror, Banshee Beach, Spooks Night Out, and No Costume, No Candy. There’s also a pitch-perfect cover of the Munsters Theme by Los Straitjackets.
Captain Clegg & The Nightcreatures
Continuing the Rob Zombie (but not Rob Zombie the band) theme, Captain Clegg & The Nightcreatures is a fictional rockabilly band featured in Zombie’s film Halloween 2. They play snippets of songs during a Halloween party scene near the end of the movie, and one song called Day of the Dead piqued my interest enough to look for the soundtrack.
Lo and behold, this fictional band has its own near-full length album available on iTunes, and it’s phenomenal. While some of the tracks lean a little too hard on the hillbilly theme (Honky Tonk Halloween, Redneck Vixen from Outer Space), when other genres are explored this sadly fake band excels at creating the perfect mood for horror.
The best track has to be Day of the Dead, a Spanish-flavored somber instrumental playing under a perfectly creepy spoken word tale involving the Devil, the titular holiday, and murders most foul.
Nightmare Before Christmas Soundtrack
I didn’t want to include movie soundtracks on this list, because you could easily make a separate Top 5 for that, but this one has to be mentioned. The tone of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas is 100% perfect for the kind of Halloween I like, and the soundtrack is a huge part of that.
There’s not much more to say about the songs – we all know them. This is Halloween might be the world’s greatest Halloween anthem ever written, and each and every song that follows (with the possible exception of What’s This?) evokes a playfully creepy, macabre vibe.
Misfits – American Psycho
I could have included pretty much any Misfits album in this spot; they are the world’s foremost Halloween band. And while I lose plenty of punk cred by selecting an album from the Graves/Only era instead of the original Danzig one, American Psycho tops this particular list.
Granted, it’s not the “best” Misfits album – and truth be told the Danzig Misfits were a far more exciting, revolutionary and envelope-pushing band, but where American Psycho and the “new” Misfits excelled was in creating highly energetic, catchy, campy Halloween tunes. Where Danzig’s music and lyrics evoked demonic seances, grisly murders, and pagan rituals, Only’s Misfits were more about 50’s monster movies, haunted castles, and Halloween costumes. You pick your poison.
I always listen to the entire Misfits catalog around Halloween time (not including the weird, current “all stars” lineup and their album The Devil’s Rain, which was abysmal), but American Psycho always gets the most spins for its perfect imagery and tone. The follow-up, Famous Monsters, is also pretty good, but in my opinion the energy level dropped too much in favor of mid-tempo alt-metal.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Speak of the Devil, Crimson Ghost, Blacklight, Resurrection, The Hunger, Don’t Open Till Doomsday…. there’s not a single skippable track on this entire album. It rips through 18 catchy punk songs in 40 minutes and the energy level never dips, nor does the campy Halloween tone. While the sound of the album is cleaner and more produced-sounding than anything Danzig ever did, I appreciate that a barely-audible whine of guitar feedback can be heard throughout the entire run time, which adds an almost imperceptible layer of rawness. They may not have used any profanity in the lyrics, but in my opinion the Misfits never sounded more confident and hard hitting than on American Psycho.