Halloween may be the most rock ‘n’ roll of all holidays (sorry Bastille Day). Despite its innocuous, even religious, origins, Halloween has come to represent all manner of evil, both supernatural and terrestrial, illicit behavior and things that decent folk avoid. There are still certain Christians who avoid Halloween because it’s Satan’s birthday or something. Unfortunately, it’s also a holiday rife with clichés, stupidity and dumb parties (sorry, but slut is still not a costume). Maybe I’m just getting old. Well, one thing this old guy can do is make an effin’ mix tape and, yes, I use that term deliberately. There’s a lot of material to choose from and it’s important to avoid the obvious and pick both bands that are Halloween-ish and songs that are vaguely evil or spooky. You could just play heavy metal or Goth records all night, but show a little creativity. This list avoids most metal on the assumption that there will be a wide range of guests, including women. Here’s one to get you started. It should be a graveyard smash.
“Monster Mash”/ Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers
Hands down the greatest Halloween song ever. Also, one of the goofiest, replete with cheesy sound effects, silly, high-voiced backing vocals, a singer doing a bad (or an awesome) Boris Karloff impression and lyrics like “I was working in the lab late one night/ When my eyes beheld an eerie sight.” If Bauhaus were funny, they might sound like this. Sadly, Bobby passed away in 2007.
“I Was a Teenage Werewolf”/ The Cramps
Lux Interior’s recent death was a reminder of what a great, overlooked band the Cramps are. They may the most perfect Halloween band ever (screw you Misfits). There are handfuls of their funny, crazed psychobilly songs to choose from, many informed by bad sci-fi and b-horror pictures. This has a great title, demented beat and lines like “I was a teenage werewolf/ Braces on my fangs.” We miss you Lux.
“Release the Bats”/ The Birthday Party
Nick Cave’s primal, untamed, short-lived pre-Bad Seeds band’s greatest psycho-goth moment. Cave’s not really Goth, but he dresses in black and sings about death and murder, so lots of his songs would work well. Here the band kicks up an unholy racket and Cave shrieks like a man possessed about “sex horror sex bat sex” and “horror sex vampire.”
“I Put a Spell on You”/ Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Years before the cartoonish theatrics of Alice Cooper and KISS, Hawkins was crawling out of coffins, bringing fake snakes and smoking skulls on stage and acting like some kind of mad voodoo priest. There are innumerable versions of this song, but nobody beats his. After all, his name is Screamin’.
“Ghostbusters”/ Ray Parker, Jr.
One for the aging, ironic hipsters. From a decade rife with great movie theme songs (something sadly missing from the 00s), this is one of the best. The only ghosts Parker is afraid of these days are the ones that remind him that he peaked 25 years ago. Snap!
“Black Sabbath”/ Black Sabbath
Named for a Bela Lugosi movie, these Brits belong on the Mt. Rushmore of heavy metal (not Deep Purple, who put themselves on it for an album cover). Both heavier and less ridiculous than most of the bands they inspired, they’re not exactly scary, but still cool. Many of their songs would be appropriate, but this one is called “Black Sabbath” and it opens with rain in the graveyard sounds before walloping you in the head with industrial strength doom.
“Bela Lugosi is Dead”/ Bauhaus
Obvious, but unavoidable. The “Stairway to Heaven” of Goth. Bonus points for its association with the movie The Hunger.
“Ouch”/ Be Your Own Pet
The snotty Nashville young punks’ homage to Dawn of the Dead. An infectious song about the dead walking the earth that should get the party stirred up. Somebody needs to use this in a movie. Also, check out “Zombie Graveyard Party!”
“Neat, Neat, Neat”/ The Damned
Punk was seen by its detractors as an ongoing Halloween party, with its costumes, nicknames and bad, anti-social behavior. First wave UK punks The Damned were led by a former gravedigger who dressed like Dracula, other members had names like Rat Scabies, and they were in part named after Village of the Damned. There’s nothing very scary about this song, but it is catchy and blindingly fast.
“Frankenstein”/ New York Dolls
Yeah, I picked this mostly for the title. It’s not really about Frankenstein, although it does contain the great line “Do you think you could make it with Frankenstein?” And these sloppy, doomed, proto-punks did love to play dress up. You could do worse than to play their first album in its entirety.
“Nightmare on My Street”/ DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince
Arguably, the sweetest, least threatening rap duo ever. Your mom would like them and serve them cookies and milk. But it’s a nostalgic slice on an era where rap could be innocent and not all songs were about cash, money, boats and hoes.
“The Freaks Come Out at Night”/ Whodini
An early and largely forgotten NYC rap group (or “crew”), Whodini were contemporaries (and one-time tour mates) of Run-DMC, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys. The obvious choice would be “Haunted House of Rock,” but this has a better beat, cool vocoder vocals and will allow you to ask the trivia question: What 80s film was this used in? Two hints: sequel, Danny DeVito.
“Acid for Blood”/ Scissorfight
When I lived in Massachusetts, this was my favorite band. Largely unknown outside of New England, they are a cadre of New Hampshire badasses led by a guy named Ironlung playing Survivalist Mountain Man Acid Rock. As awesome as it sounds. From one of the best named albums of the decade, Mantrapping for Sport and Profit. May be too much for your squeamish guests. Live free or die.
“Halloween”/ Sonic Youth, The Dream Syndicate
Two cool indie guitar bands that both did a song called “Halloween.” Simple as that.
“I Walked with a Zombie”/ Roky Erickson
With a title taken from a classic Jacques Tourneur b-horror movie and Erickson’s acid-damaged pedigree, this is a Texas psych-garage classic awaiting rediscovery. Plus, Erikson spent time in an institution, how Halloween is that? You might also consider fellow eccentric Texan Daniel Johnston.
“Thriller”/ Michael Jackson