Halloween is the time of year when grown-ass men and women can spend entirely too much money and effort playing dress-up and have it be socially acceptable. It’s quite awesome really. Listening to spooky songs has become as much a part of the holiday as costumes, decorations and the remorse that comes from eating multiple bags of fun-size candy bars. There’s much more to Halloween music than the Psycho theme, the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack and Rockwell’s immortal “Somebody’s Watching Me.” Topless Robot wants to help you enhance your holiday listening experience by giving you a head’s up about what Halloween tunes are worth seeking out — and which ones are worth avoiding like a creepy neighbor who will make you do a trick in order to get a treat. From country foot-stompers to an unnerving amount of German disco, this look at the ten best (and ten worst) Halloween songs is packed with hits, obscurities and head-scratchers. Why? ‘Cause Halloween is thriller, thriller night!
10) 16 Horsepower, “Black Soul Choir”
The demented country rock of 16 Horsepower is probably better suited for a hoedown than a Halloween party, but this track — featuring the declaration that “every man is evil yes, and every man’s a liar” — will freak you out and get your toes a-tapping at the same time. The above video was directed by the Brothers Quay, two Philadelphia-born but London-based identical twins whose off-kilter films seem especially relevant at this time of year. Do a YouTube search for some of their stuff and enjoy the ensuing nightmares.
9) Johnny Cash, “Ghost Riders in the Sky”
The most otherworldly Cash song is his rendition of Stan Jones’ frontier ghost story about an old cowboy who encounters some devilish horsemen. When the Man in Black sang the “yippee yi oh, yippee yi yay” chorus, he did so with a guttural howl that came from his own tortured soul. Let’s see one of today’s country icons attempt such vocal gymnastics. Pussies.
8) The Ramones, “Pet Sematary”
Was there ever a Garbage Pail Kid named Pete Sematary? There really should have been. Anyhow, the title track from the soundtrack to 1989’s Pet Sematary gave The Ramones one of their only mainstream hits (Injustice alert). It also allowed them to skulk around a graveyard for the song’s music video. You have to admit that they seem oddly at home amongst the tombstones and Gothic statues. Also recommended for your Halloween playlist is their “Howling at the Moon (Sha-La-La).” Speaking of howling…
7) Eels, “Fresh Blood”
Seeing how a good chunk of Eels songs are about death, their discography is packed with tunes that could be adapted for the season of the witch. (“My Beloved Monster” and “Friendly Ghost,” which was recently used to great effect in an episode of Being Human, spring to mind). This track from the group’s Hombre Lobo disc is a twisted little ditty that can be interpreted as being about lonely desperation…or a werewolf stalking his prey. And not nearly enough songs have howling solos. If this song seems especially familiar to you, that’s because it was recently featured on True Blood and used in the fan-created The Walking Dead opening credits sequence that made the rounds awhile back.
6) Annie Lennox, “Love Song for a Vampire”
In those magnificent pre-Bella and Edward days of 1993, Annie Lennox made us feel a little bad for bloodsuckers everywhere with this song from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Then in 2003 she made us cry as we thought about Frodo traveling “Into the West” with that song from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Frankly, I’m sick of being emotionally manipulated by her.
5) Bollock Brothers, “Horror Movies”
Consisting only of movie titles and some clumsy sexual allusions, this song from British punk/New Wave act Bollock Brothers pays tribute to classic horror films and the role they played in our adolescence. The tune is synth-driven goofiness that conjures up warm feelings of long ago weekends spent huddled on the couch watching creature double features. Damn the past. It just keeps getting farther away.
4) Ray Parker, Jr., “Ghostbusters”
To be honest, I never really heard the similarities between this and “I Want a New Drug” that got Huey Lewis all hot and bothered. Besides, this is a way better soundtrack song than “The Power of Love.” But why the hell is George Wendt in the video? Wasn’t Cheers still struggling in the ratings in 1984? And is that Jeffrey Tambor? I’m so confused. That aside, no song has ever or will ever rhyme the words “door” and “more” better than this one.
3) Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Halloween”
I wonder if Siouxsie and the Banshees vocalist Siouxsie Sioux gets tired of people misspelling her name. You just know that she is constantly receiving mascara and kettle catalogs in the mail addressed to Susie Sue, as if she was a Daily Bugle secretary or a maker of delicious snack cakes. This is the most explicitly Halloween-themed entry on this list and it earned its place because it’s obviously dark and scary and all. But really I was just afraid that if I didn’t mention it, Siouxsie would show up at my door and insert her Doc Martens into my bad places.
2) R.E.M., “I Walked with a Zombie”
“I walked with a zombie last night.” Those are the complete lyrics to this song written by psychedelic rocker Roky Erickson. For three minutes and thirteen seconds, Michael Stipe repeats these words like an undead mantra. Amazing. Even more astonishing is that this tune hasn’t popped up over the end credits of any recent zombie flicks. I would have been a bit more forgiving of Diary of the Dead if this showed up on the soundtrack at some point. Want to try a fun experiment? Listen to this song on repeat until your head melts a la those kids in the Silver Shamrock masks in Halloween III. That movie was bananas.
1) Michael Jackson, “Thriller”
Even before Michael Jackson’s untimely death, “Thriller” was the greatest song to play at Halloween. This year, it will be inescapable on the radio or at parties. That’s fine with me. But I wonder about those out there who don’t love M.J.’s pop masterpiece. Will they scowl every time they hear it and start humming “This Is Halloween” frantically to themselves? Cue the Vincent Price laugh.
Hit the jump for the worst Halloween songs ever. Seriously, they’re really terrible. Like the razors in the musical apples of life. Or something.
10) MC Hammer, “Addams Groove”
As everyone knows, Hammer is too legit to quit. His reluctance to pack it in meant that we all had to endure this cash grab from The Addams Family soundtrack. As impossible as it may seem, this isn’t the worst rap song from a horror film. More on that soon.
9) Eddie & The Monsters, “Whatever Happened to Eddie?”
The answer: Who gives a fuck?
8) J. Geils Band, “Fright Night”
Given the honors of recording a song for the underrated vampire flick Fright Night, the group behind such hits as “Love Stinks,” “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold” came up with this bit of pop garbage that makes the Thompson Twins discography seem edgy by comparison. As the clip for the song ends, the band members are all in bed together checking each other for Dracula hickeys. Truly the most embarrassing music video moment since Billy Squier pranced around in “Rock Me Tonite.”
7) Prince, “Batdance”
In the 21 years since Prince unleashed “Batdance” upon the world, the song has somehow become affiliated with Halloween. If you have the misfortune of attending a lame Halloween party this year, it’s a safe bet that “Batdance” will be wedged somewhere between “The Time Warp” and “I Want Candy” thanks to an unimaginative DJ. The only good thing that ever resulted from the track is the above clip in which the music video is recreated without a hint of irony for some foreign TV show.
6) David and Roxana, “The Rocky Horror Disco Show”
Back in the early1980s, the group Stars on 45 experienced some brief success by releasing several medleys of the era’s pop hits. Deciding to apply to concept to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, two mysterious disco West German session musicians known as David and Roxana released this nine minute single that features butchered snippets of songs from the cult classic. Judging by the cover, 20th Century Fox gave this medley their blessing (they were likely still desperate to recoup their losses from the film’s disastrous initial run any way they could). This is the most obscure entry on this list, so unless you are a Rocky Horror obsessive or go to exceptionally kitschy/awful Halloween parties you probably will never hear it. For that you should be truly grateful.
5) Hot Blood, “Soul Dracula”
Another disco epic from Germany, this was apparently a huge chart hit in Japan. And with that, my desire to visit both countries suddenly vanishes.
4) Fred Schneider, “Monster”
I wish Fred Schneider wasn’t so subtle.
3) David Seville, “Witch Doctor”
“Witch Doctor” is a perennial Halloween favorite and the definitive example of a perfect novelty song. Its success directly resulted in the creation of Alvin and the Chipmunks…and thousands of headaches for people who couldn’t flush the song’s chorus from their brains. As Cholera reminds us, just because something is catchy doesn’t mean that it’s good for you.
2) The Fat Boys, “Are You Ready for Freddy?”
As if the menace of Freddy Krueger wasn’t already completely gone by the time A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master wheezed into theaters, filmmakers decides to emasculate the character further by having him rap with The Fat Boys on the soundtrack. Jump to 4:16 in the above clip to see how dire it is when Robert Englund busts a rhyme alongside of three corpulent dudes. Jackie Earle Haley, don’t let this happen to you (and yes, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “Nightmare on My Street” is a superior song).
1) Bobby “Boris” Pickett, “Monster Rap”
For the record, the following Halloween-appropriate rap songs are terrific: “Haunted House of Rock” and “Freaks Come Out at Night” by Whodini, “Air” by Dabrye (featuring MF Doom), and “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” by Geto Boys. I mention these because the genre has been misrepresented on this list thus far. The MC Hammer and Fat Boys songs are clearly terrible, but they sound like symphonies compared to Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s misguided “Monster Rap.” A rap sequel to his “Monster Mash,” the song is more the musical approximation of shit, hate, unhappiness and aggravation than graveyard smash. The song isn’t available on YouTube. You are welcome.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.