This is part two of a three-part series all about Halloween music.
In part one, I detailed the qualities that I personally think make a song into a “Halloween song”. I listed several picks that I thought best exemplified these qualities, and hopefully some of these are on heavy rotation in your house or in your car when October comes around. I also touched on the traps that so many people fall into when they’re selecting tracks for their Halloween party, or looking for Halloween music online. Songs that have Halloween-esque titles but sound all wrong, songs that are definitely dark but have no sense of fun, or even songs that are simply too played out to enjoy anymore.
Every time I’m perusing a seasonal aisle at a brick and mortar store in September or October, and I see a cheaply priced Halloween music compilation, I’m compelled to flip it over and look at the track list, and every single time I’m let down. It’s always the same, and before I get into the worst offenders, please see the following list of songs you will undoubtedly see on EVERY commercially available Halloween mix.
Halloween Theme, by John Carpenter
Thriller, by Michael Jackson
Ghostbusters Theme, by Ray Parker Jr.
Werewolves of London, by Warren Zevon
Monster Mash, by Bobby Boris Pickett
Frankenstein, by Edgar Winter Group
Don’t Fear the Reaper, by Blue Oyster Cult
I Put a Spell on You, by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Purple People Eater, by Sheb Wooley
Somebody’s Watching Me, by Rockwell
There are a number of other frequent flyers, but these are probably the 10 most commonly found. I suspect it has much to do with copyright and fair use circumstances, as public domain songs and covers tend to dominate these cash-in products (I mean, who’s actually buying CD’s anymore anyway?) Of that list of 10, in my own personal opinion, five are not even Halloween-appropriate (Werewolves of London, Frankenstein, Don’t Fear the Reaper, I Put a Spell on You, and Somebody’s Watching Me). Three of them I just consider too lame and played out to work in a Halloween party setting (Ghostbusters, Monster Mash, and Purple People Eater). Only the original Halloween Theme and Thriller sort of hold up today without making too many people roll their eyes, even though they are undoubtedly overplayed. Thriller only really works because of the vintage haunted house/Vincent Price intro and outro. The meat of the song is really just an 80’s dance number with a few spooky lyrics.
The absolute worst offenders, in terms of songs that aren’t Halloween songs but seem to repeatedly end up on Halloween compilations, are classic rock songs with titles referencing things like magic, spells, witches, and moons. Bad Moon Rising, Witchy Woman, Black Magic Woman, Love Potion No. 9, Bark at the Moon, etc. Most bafflingly, I’ve seen on more than one occasion the song Every Little Thing She Does is Magic by The Police wind up on Halloween mixes. I suppose because you could argue a woman performing magic is a witch…? It’s just wrong. It sounds wrong, the lyrics are wrong, it’s as far from Halloween as you could possibly get.
Funny enough, John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London is responsible for a lot of these moon-related songs being associated with Halloween. The soundtrack to that film is exclusively populated by songs that reference the moon in the title, even when the context is far removed from werewolves. Just because Frank Sinatra sang Blue Moon and Fly Me to the Moon, doesn’t mean he belongs on your Halloween album. And no, Witchcraft doesn’t count either.
Switching to a more subjective approach, I also must acknowledge a handful of songs that, even by my own criteria, are Halloween-appropriate, but I simply can’t bring myself to use them. I mentioned in part one that the goth and metal sides of Halloween aren’t for me, and the same goes for most dance and electronic music. Halloween by Siouxsie and the Banshees is a perfect example of this. I’ve never used it on one of my mixes. Same for Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Ministry’s Everyday is Halloween is a song I’ve been dying to like, but just as a few dozen bloody mary’s have failed to win me over, this song never pushes my buttons. A Nightmare on My Street, by Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince, is about A Nightmare on Elm Street, but it’s just too silly for me to use, in spite of the fact that it samples the Nightmare on Elm Street theme that I love.
It’s worth mentioning once again that an individual’s perception of Halloween music is highly subjective, and I do not begrudge anyone for associating ANY song with Halloween, if that’s how they’re wired. Hell, Lost River by Murder by Death always makes me think of Halloween, but it is SO not a Halloween song. The album the song is on happened to come out near the start of Halloween season in 2012, and somehow a neural connection was made that lasts to this day. But the reason I made this post series, and this part in particular is to call attention to a kind of apathy people fall into when assembling a Spotify playlist for a Halloween party, or any similar thing. With Christmas music, it’s easy. Is the song about Christmas? If yes, throw it up there. But to reiterate what I said in part one, if you tried that approach with Halloween, you’d end up with about ten songs (there are many more than that, but they’re obscure).
The result is not only a vast wasteland of same-y bargain bin Halloween mixes in stores, but countless playlists mirroring similar track lists all over Spotify, YouTube, Google Music, Apple Music, and on blogs and websites innumerable. It has a feedback loop effect preventing anyone from being able to find the better Halloween songs that I’ve been continually searching for for over a decade.
Coming in part three: The Best Halloween Songs You’ve Never Heard