Happy Halloween, CITY readers! We thought it would be fun to put our heads together and come up with a staff-curated playlist of scary songs to get you in the spooky spirit. If you're feeling fiendish, check out the songs below and why they're frightfully good.
“It’s Halloween” by The Shaggs
Once you’ve heard the late-’60s rock trio The Shaggs — consisting of the teenage Wiggin sisters — you can’t unhear it. To call the sound polarizing is an understatement. Out-of-tune electric guitars jangle with a rhythmic sensibility that can best be described as “loose.” The drummer seems to be playing at a different tempo than the rest of the band, but upon listening closely it's simply that the drumming is slightly behind the beat and totally lacking in musicality.The serpentine vocal melodies lack any conventional sense of lyricism.
And yet I can’t help but listen to the song “It’s Halloween” — from the band’s 1969 album “Philosophy of the World” — and smile. There’s something inexplicably fun and charming about The Shaggs' raw, earnest style. Sure the music may be scary to your ears, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more festive (and sugary sweet) Halloween song: “The ghosts will spook, the spooks will scare/ Why even Dracula will be there!/It’s time for games, it’s time for fun/ Not for just one, but for everyone.”
The Shaggs have an undeniable cult following , in part due to Frank Zappa’s now-famous assertion that the group was “better than The Beatles.” But the music speaks for itself, in an odd, out-of-left-field sort of way. You may file this under the “so bad it’s actually good” category, but if you’re looking for subversively weird Halloween music, The Shaggs are a treat. — Daniel J. Kushner, music editor
“Baby You're a Haunted House” by Gerard Way
Emo has always been the more sensitive, younger cousin of goth, and the guys in My Chemical Romance — with their lyrics full of murder, vengeance and promises of “not being ok” — are some of the spookiest boys in emo. The 2018 single 'Baby You're a haunted House,' from MCR frontman Gerard Way, will give your graveyard bash an updated pop-song soundtrack — complete with plenty of fuzzy guitars, a cracking back beat and macabre lyrics that will take an exorcist to get out of your head. — Ryan Williamson, creative director and operations manager
“Halloween” by Misfits
I could never get into Misfits. Yeah, yeah, the band is hyper-influential but it was always too gimmicky and shock-oriented for my tastes. This song, however, is a classic that belongs on any proper Halloween playlist, as long as kids aren’t going to listen to it. — Jeremy Moule, news editor
“Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett” and The Crypt-Kickers
This 1962 cult classic has a storied past, as well as some star talent behind it, including Darlene Love and The Ventures’ drummer Mel Taylor. It’s been recorded and re-recorded several times when there was contention over royalty green. It’s absolutely essential Halloween listening. — Frank De Blase, music writer
“Mummy Dust” by Ghost
The costumed clergy members of Swedish heavy rock band Ghost conjure images of holy ghosts. You could honestly get in the (pul)pit and slam to any Ghost song, but since it's Halloween, why not make it “Mummy Dust,” off the 2016 album “Meliora.” No joke: I took my wife to see them on our honeymoon. — Ryan Williamson
“Ancestral Recall” by Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou
The title “Ancestral Recall” seems pretty apt for a holiday that started with the Celts. They believed that around November 1, spirits were able to cross into the world of the living, and to defend themselves they tried to scare off the ghosts with bonfires and costumes.
The song has nothing to do with Samhain, All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, or All Saints Day. But Emma Ruth Rundle’s ethereal voice combined with Thou’s crushing doom and growls-coming-from-the-crypt vocals, certainly feel like something caught between the dimensions of the dead and the living. The lyrics also speak of secrets and belonging to another world. — Jeremy Moule
“Ultra Twist” by The Cramps
The Cramps’ high-heeled, gender-bending, B-grade, lo-fi sleaze is part of what makes them the ultimate Halloween band. In a world that’s all trick and no treat, “Flamejob” is the band’s best album, and “Ultra Twist” is its best song. — Frank De Blase
“My Body’s a Zombie for You” by Dead Man’s Bones
In all honesty, we wouldn’t know about Dead Man’s Bones if not for the A-list celebrity profile of its singer and pianist, actor Ryan Gosling. The retro-rock duo Dead Man’s Bones released one self-titled album in 2009, and immediately garnered attention in indie music circles, before fading into obscurity.
“Dead Man’s Bones” manages to be a bona fide Halloween-themed album — complete with titles such as “Dead Hearts,” “Flowers Grow Out of My Grave,” and “Werewolf Heart” — without sounding like a frivolous novelty. Sure, Gosling’s throwback crooning is schmaltzy, and the contribution of the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir, though certainly fun and effective, has the feeling of a twee gimmick.
Still, the darkly nostalgic and tongue-in-cheek take on early rock ‘n’ roll balladry works somehow, especially on the wonderfully titled “My Body’s a Zombie for You.” And it’s really creepy to hear children sing the “oh's” behind lyrics like these: “The smell of my breath from the blood in your neck/ I hold my soul from the lands unknown so I can play the strings of your death.” Stick around through the end, for the youthful ghouls chanting, “I’m a Z-O-M-B-I-E, zombie.” — Daniel J. Kushner
“I Saw the Wolfman” by Hi Fi and the Roadburners
From 1984 to 2011, Hi Fi and the Roadburners ruled Chicago. Sure there was Chicago blues music was preaching trouble, but these guys were out in the streets they sang about. The music was a blend of Black rock ’n’ roll influences, boogie woogie and punk. Their rave-up “I saw The Wolfman” is seasonally correct and oh-so-choice. Cut a rug, anyone? — Frank De Blase
“Kreacher” by The Bridge City Sinners
A ballad of truly ghoulish proportions, this track from the Portland-based neo-folk group follows the tale of an undead monster, the “King of the Rats.” First killed and buried, he digs himself from the grave to seek his revenge, and in turn, transforms the singer into the new King of the Rats.
Libby Lux sings in a vibrant, cabaret-esque style, against a backdrop of swinging violins, thumping double bass, and clattering banjos, “Kreacher” is wonderful fun, sure to rattle the coldest of bones. — Gino Fanelli, staff writer
“Coffee (Main)” by Aesop Rock
While not explicitly a Halloween track, “Coffee” wins a spot for it’s gloriously gory music video. It plays out as a chaotic short horror film, accompanied by Aesop Rock’s signature rapidfire rapping, including blazing quips like “Boom town kid who was taught by the binge/That a man who expire with the most shit win/That's warpy American nonsense penned by the rich”.
The video culminates in a somewhat inexplicable cameo by The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle. Resembling Bruce Abbott as Dr. Herbert West in 1985’s “Reanimator,” Darnielle crashes a car and is resurrected by lightning before reciting an angst-riddled verse full of references to songs from his own band. It’s as cool as it sounds. — Gino Fanelli
"Warning" by Oneohtrix Point Never
Daniel Lopatin, a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never, has a gift for writing songs and soundscapes that waltz into your brain and treat it like a nostalgic, electronic Airbnb.
“Warning” is a Halloween song because, honestly, it's horrifying. Listen to it on headphones. It staggers along for the first half of the run time, as sputtering synthesizers suggest a technicolor landscape. Around 44 seconds in, something starts to go wrong. Someone whispers, "In the glass house." Huh? Then things start to escalate: "Warning, warning, warning..." He says it again: "In the glass house." More warnings.
The song explodes and maybe you have the same type of lump in your throat and goosebumps on your arm as I do. The song lets you walk it off, but the static towards the end won't let you forget the sonic assault. — Jacob Walsh, designer and photographer
“Intercontinental Stalker (And So Does the Wolf Whistle)” by A Minor Forest
This song is going to date me a little, but it’s A Minor Forest’s contribution to its split release with fellow math rockers Sweep the Leg Johnny, a record that was part of the legendary Postmarked Stamps seven-inch series.
The track has a spooky enough origin — the band wrote and recorded it for a horror movie’s soundtrack. I never did find out which movie. It starts with some hums and atmospheric chimes, but it builds and erupts into a plodding, jerky rhythm accompanied by a call-and-response of biting, staccato guitar and rumbling feedback. This tense, churning song always makes me feel like some foreboding presence is stalking me (as the title suggests), ready to strike from any side, at any moment. — Jeremy Moule
"City Song" > "Long Road, No Turns" by Daughters
To understand why Daughters’ "Long Road, No Turns" is a spooky, scary Halloween song, you have to listen to “City Song,” the song that precedes it on the excellent 2018 album “You Can’t Get What You Want.” "City Song" is a nearly six-minute crescendo, with slappy drums and scuzzy synthesizers. It’s kind of disorienting, but in a good way. Louder, louder, louder, louder; then nothing.
Silence. "In the air: shrieks / The breath is long / The fires are out / The waters sit still." More silence. When the drums of "Long Road, No Turns" finally crash in, my heart leaps into my throat. I can never remember when it's coming, but it's a thrill ride every time. — Jacob Walsh
"Entombment of a Machine" by Job for a Cowboy
As a fluttery, anxious people-pleaser, I've always taken deep pleasure in the catharsis of heavy music. (You can't really overthink it or get nervous about it. What a joy.)
But Job For A Cowboy was the first band to write songs that actually scared me. “Entombment of a Machine,: the first full song on their 2005 debut "Doom," kicks down the door and screams in your face for 15 seconds. It relents a little bit, then fires up a crescendo that leads to a real-deal horror movie scream that dominates the entire mix and blows all of the instruments off the stage. — Jacob Walsh
“No One Survives” by Nekrogoblikon
What more is there to say about an apocalyptic, goblin-themed and goblin-fronted death metal band? Do yourself a favor and go watch the video for "No One Survives." THE GOBLINS KILL AGAIN! — Ryan Williamson