For what is arguably the most sinister holiday of all, Halloween certainly has a pretty anemic soundtrack. It’s time of nightmares come true and fears realized and what do we get? Monster Mash? Ghostbusters? Werewolves of London? Please. Even the classic Thriller is more likely to make you break out in a moonwalk instead of a cold sweat. But fear not kiddies, here we present our list of 13 (of course) songs that bring the black back to Halloween. They might be a bit obscure, but songs this unnerving can only be let out of the crypt once a year.
1. Dave Porter: The Cousins. (Breaking Bad [Original Score from the Television Series]).
Pretty much any of the songs written by composer Dave Porter for AMC’s smash hit Breaking Bad are creepy enough to make this list. But we’re going with The Cousins (the title alone is enough to make people who know the show shiver) as our creepiest-of-the-creepy hit. A menacing buzz starts up this track, something half lawnmower, half rattlesnake. Increasingly frenzied shamanic drumming adds to the building sense of anxiety, and then in a swoosh of sound it all stops. The monster wins again.
2. Lisa Gerrard: The Rite (The Mirror Pool).
Not so much a song as an incantation. Droning chants swirl in ever growing circles, get joined by tinkling Native American bells and are sliced apart by Gerrard’s trademark keening, perfected during her years with cult fave, Dead Can Dance. By song’s end, something has definitely been conjured. But what? Better keep watch over your shoulder.
3. Tom McRae: Picture Clear (King of Cards).
This song’s got it all. It starts with what sounds like the score to a black and white detective movie—finger snaps, haunting piano and all. It builds to a crescendo punctuated by a wailing western-style harmonica that brings to mind banshees in the desert. In-between are an assortment of whispers and the strange hoots of things that go bump in the night.
4. Pink Floyd: One of These Days (Meddle).
It might be old, but its atmospheric cred can still stand up to the best of them. From the minute that howling wind begins blowing, the thrumming bass line starts jittering and those heavy drum rolls boom, it’s hard to not feel like you’re being pursued by a giant maniacal beast. Plus, how could we not include a song in a Halloween list where the only growled lyric is: “One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces”?
5. Bear McCready: The Cult of Baltar. (Battlestar Galactica [Original Soundtrack from the TV Series]).
This song will remind you that there are spooky things in outer space too. Like all the tracks from the SyFy Channel’s brilliant reboot of Battlestar Galactica, this piece combines traditional instrumentation (like the ethereal Indonesian gamelan) with electronic layers to create music a deep as—and at times, as dark as—the cosmos itself. Throw in vocals sung in an alien tongue and you’ll be glad you’re earthbound on October 31.
6. Poe: Angry Johnny. (Hello).
We’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves on this one: “Johnny. Angry Johnny. This is Jezebel in Hell. I want to kill you. I want to blow you away. I can do it to you gently, I can do it with an animal’s grace. I can do it with precision, I can do it with gourmet taste. But either way … I want to kill you.” It sounds a lot better when sung by Poe, but that’s the rub isn’t it? Anyone who can make those lyrics sound sexy is dangerous indeed.
7. Goldfrapp: Lovely Head (Felt Mountain).
If Dr. Frankenstein could have listened to an iPod while he was sewing body parts together, he would no doubt have had this song in heavy rotation. A moody marvel, it’s got eerie whistling, Alison Goldfrapp sounding like her sultry succubus best and the bewitching sound of what is ostensibly a theremin—but is actually Goldfrapp’s voice processed through a Korg MS-20 synthesizer. Or then again, is that the sound of the reanimator machine in the good doctor’s laboratory?
8. Beats Antique: Slow. (Tribal Derivations).
The Western world doesn’t have the market cornered on ghosts, ghouls and goblins. This track will remind you that the Middle ast has some spooky legends too. This piece is like a call to the djinn (a spirt capable of taking human or animal form in Muslim legend) or a processional march for The Mummy, complete with background fuzz that sounds like a shortwave radio that won’t quite tune in. Was that the expedition team calling for help?
9. Jill Tracy: The Proof. (Diabolical Streak).
This song is like intermission at an evil circus. It’s got a twisted cabaret vibe and you can just imagine Tracy—vampire white, side-slit black evening gown—strutting through the blood-soaked sawdust in the icy glare of the spotlight. Each stanza in this eight-minute long musical poem is a dirge to individuals who are no longer with us like: “Dear old Mattie Burton/She was always so uncertain/The moment that would end her life/Came with her husband’s hunting knife.”
10. Fever Ray: If I Had A Heart (Fever Ray).
First, the relentless pulsing rhythm hits you. It’s like the sound of a giant mind-erasing machine running on 100,000 watts of electricity. You fall under its spell easily, receptive to lyrics sung by a deep voice as soft as bat wings. It is the voice you’d imagine the Vampire Lestat using to hypnotize his prey. And the words … now what were the words again?
11. Lana Del Rey: Carmen. (Born to Die).
This song is creepy in a “how did life get so bad, so fast” kind of way. Del Rey’s voice struggles to get up off the floor through the whole track which is perfect for telling the tale of Carmen, a woman who’s “lyin to herself ‘cause her liquor’s top shelf.” It’s a darkly cinematic song with cynical, disaffected vocals, but like the proverbial train wreck, you just can’t look away.
12. Radiohead: Like Spinning Plates. (Amnesiac).
This entire song sounds like it was recorded through one of those EMF gadgets used by paranormal investigators. Thom Yorke’s voice is always plaintive and anguished, but here it’s played in reverse through most of the track, making it sound downright ghost-like. Paired with the backwards instrumentation and wisps of ambient electronic noise, it’s an auditory stroll through a haunted house.
13. Goodnight Moon: Shivaree. (I Oughtta Give You a Shot in the Head).
We hereby declare this song as the national anthem of Halloween. It’s a noir musical masterpiece with Hitchcockian xylophones; the sleepy, sultry voice of lead singer Ambrosia Parsley; and these lyrics: “There’s a shark in the pool and a witch in the tree, a crazy old neighbor and he’s been watching me and there’s footsteps loud and strong coming down the hall. Something’s under the bed, now it’s out in the hedge, there’s a big black crow sitting on my window ledge, and I hear something scratching through the wall.” It’s like an entire horror movie in four minutes and 4 seconds—and man can you sway your hips to it.