22 spooky songs for the perfect Halloween party playlist
All parties suffer without good music, but Halloween parties – complete with dodgy decorations and itchy facepaint – can be particularly dire.
Thankfully, we've compiled a list of the songs that will make even the most lacklustre event spine-tinglingly spooky.
22. Death at the Chapel – The Horrors (2006)
This was the British goth-rockers’s second single, and, along with an appearance on the cover of NME, it helped propel them to success. Telling the story of a gruesome murder on a dark night, it’s certainly morbid enough to fit any Hallowe’en playlist – but there’s a certain sadness underneath the violent guitar thrashing and screeching vocals: vocalist Faris Badwan has claimed the song is about his belief in true love being altered (‘no one will ever love you’).
Maybe more despairing and disillusioned than creepy, but still certain to make any party feel like a horror movie.
21. People Are Strange – Echo & the Bunnymen (1987)
There’s something eerie about the slow droning sound of this Liverpool rock band that gets them a place on all manner of scary soundtracks, such as those of Donnie Darko and E4’s Misfits. This track, a cover of the The Doors's song, played in the background of Eighties film The Lost Boys as things all turned a bit vampiric.
20. Mind's Playing Tricks on Me – Geto Boys (1991)
Widely recognised as one of the best hip-hop songs of the nineties, Mind’s Playing Tricks on Me was the Geto Boys’s only number one single and attained certified Gold status from the RIAA. It's an evocative tale of frenetic paranoia and hallucination - "See, everytime my eyes close/ I start sweatin', and blood starts comin' out my nose". The song has been referenced and sampled by a wide range of other artists, including the Notorious BIG and Destiny's Child.
19. Jack the Ripper – Screaming Lord Sutch (1963)
“When she walks down the streets, he’s never far behind / The Ripper, Jack The Ripper / With his little black bag and his one tracked mind / The Ripper, Jack The Ripper’.” It’s easy to see why the BBC banned Screaming Lord Sutch’s version of Clarence Stacy’s 1961 song.
There’s no denying that it’s a catchy tune, but there’s only so much foot-tapping you can do to lyrics celebrating one of the most rampantly misogynist criminals of all time before you start to feel a little uneasy…
18. Bela Lugosi’s Dead – Bauhaus (1979)
Bauhaus’s first single was the nine minutes of ethereal gloom that heralded the emergence of gothic rock. The low-key tune is steeped in cinematic horror – its title refers to the actor famous for playing Dracula in the original 1931 movie, and Bauhaus performed the song during the opening credits of 1983 horror film The Hunger.
17. I Was a Teenage Werewolf – The Cramps (1957)
There’s nothing subtle or eerie about The Cramps’s brand of horror, which is wonderfully theatrical and replete with double-entendres. Much of their inspiration came from horror or sci-fi movies – ‘I Was a Teenage Werewolf’ descends from the Fifties cult hit of the same name. After a bleak 10 minutes of Bauhaus, the psychobilly kings are bound to bring a bit of energy back into the mix.
16. Marry the Night – Lady Gaga
Marry the Night was inspired by Gaga’s experience of being dropped by her label, and is more of a tongue-in-cheek reflection on the nature of stardom, ambition and triumph than anything devilish. However, the macabre arrives in the form of the 13-minute-long video that accompanies the song, which features Gaga in an institution after going into a deranged fugue state as an artist. Plus, if you can’t marry the dark on Hallowe’en, when can you?
15. I Eat Cannibals – Toto Coelo (1982)
Encouraged by the widespread success of this energetic, bizarre first single, the group tried to continue the gruesome-glam image with their next single Dracula’s Tango. But it was a flop, and the group remains something of one-hit-wonder, known mainly for the aerobics-on-acid video to go with I Eat Cannibals.
14. Spooky – Dusty Springfield (1968)
Spooky started life as a Mike Shapiro sax solo before sixties band Classics IV added some (pretty simple) lyrics, and it eventually wound up in Dusty’s husky tones. A slightly debatable selection, there’s actually nothing spooky about this breezy tune apart from the way it will make your hips start swaying…
13. Release the Bats – The Birthday Party (1980)
Another hair-raising Hallowe’en tune to emerge from the post-punk era, Release the Bats is a self-aware scary song that really rams the point home, with lyrics such as: “sex horror sex bat sex sex horror sex vampire / sex bat horror vampire sex”. The band’s uniquely noisy gothic sound led to the solo career of Nick Cave, celebrated for his melancholy vocals (presumably from too much sex and horror and sex and horror).
12. Red Right Hand – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (1984)
Nick Cave’s best-known single is an unnerving mix of nursery-rhyme simplicity and disturbing images. The phrase “red right hand” descends from Milton’s Paradise Lost, referring to the vengeful hand of God – so the erudite party guests can spot the reference while everyone else shimmys to that cool, clanging beat…
11. Disturbia – Rihanna (2009)
Rihanna’s pounding consideration of anxiety and anguish saw her steer towards darker themes in her music. Disturbia’s malevolent undertones (added to by the fact it was written by Rihanna’s abusive ex-boyfriend, Chris Brown), didn't stop it from dominating the top end of the international charts. All the more reason to get it on the stereo at a party, as people are guaranteed to recognise Rih-Rih’s song.
10. Ghost Town – The Specials (2000)
Everyone loves a bit of socio-political commentary to bring a party to life: The Specials cover urban decay, de-industrialisation, the rise of inner city violence and unemployment in “Ghost Town”, the song that spent three weeks at number one back in the Eighties at the time of the riots. The British youth, disillusioned and dispossessed, saw the song as the anthem of their anger and uprising. But it’s also got a reference to ghosts in the title, earning it a place on the Hallowe’en list.
9. Monster – Kanye West (2010)
Featuring Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z and Rick Ross as well as Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, this is a beast of a Hallowe’en song, lauded by critics and placed at number 53 in NME’s Best Tracks of the past 15 years. It’s an intentionally disturbing affair, with a drum-heavy, demonic sound and explosive range of voices. The video is a horror movie in short, with zombies, corpses, and an excessive amount of near-naked women.
8. Somebody’s Watching Me – Rockwell (1984)
Synth-funk got scary with Rockwell’s debut single. Michael Jackson’s distinctively eerie vocals ring out over a persistent rhythmic beat – an uncanny combination that made this an Eighties classic and a Hallowe’en party dream. Paranoia never sounded so catchy.
7. Ghostbusters – Ray Parker Jr (1989)
Little needs to be said about this tune. It’s Hallowe’en, you’re trying to liven things up, all the songs on your playlist sound quite similar apart from the anomalous hip-hop selections – what ya gonna play? Ghostbusters!
6. Highway to Hell – AC/DC (1979)
Overplayed to the point of being a bit annoying, the Australian hard rock group’s most famous track still deserves a place on the Hallowe’en party playlist – the only way to further embarrass yourself while in fancy dress is with an air guitar.
5. Superstition – Stevie Wonder (1972)
Any excuse to play this funk/ soul wonder can only be a good thing. Unlike many of the other songs on our playlist, this timeless number is all about steering clear of superstitious beliefs and getting into the Motown groove.
4. A Nightmare on my Street – Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (1988)
Everyone’s favourite Eighties hip-hop duo turned sinister with this hellish rap. Think the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme tune with a few demonic voiceovers thrown in – an infallible crowd-pleaser.
3. I Put a Spell on You – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1956)
What happens when you add ribs, chicken and alcohol to a bluesy ballad? A seriously successful, screamy soul tune, apparently. Hawkins recalls that the song was just a normal, easy tune before their producer plied them with meat and booze. “I don’t even remember making the record”, says Hawkins. “I found out I could do more [by] destroying a song and screaming it to death.” For a mellower, less sozzled version of the song, Nina Simone’s ’56 version is a hypnotic treat.
2. Thriller – Michael Jackson (1982)
Jackson moonwalked into the Hallowe’en hall of fame with this, the ultimate anthem for October 31 and a classic at any time of year. The video has it all – werewolves and full moons, damsels in distress and a dashing red catsuit, topped off with a dance routine that we’ve all, at some point, tried and failed to perfect.
1. Monster Mash – Bobby Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers (1962)
How else to close the most American night of the year than with the tune that makes you feel like you’re a kid in a Norman Rockwell painting, eating toffee apples and listening to Grandad’s spooky tales?
This kitsch tune has been in and out of the charts ever since its release in the Sixties. Pickett sings in character as a mad scientist whose twinkle-toed monster comes to life one gloomy night – a concept that the BBC found so shocking they banned it in 1962. It was re-released in ’73 and has remained a firm Halloween favourite ever since.