It’s raining and gloomy where I am, and leaves already crunch underfoot. October has arrived, the time of year when normal people dress like monsters, kids take candy from strangers, gourds lie in wait on every doorstep, and the Bureau runs its annual Halloween Movie Reviews. Those will begin on the weekend1. Today, we’re ringing in the spooky season with the Top Thirteen Creepiest Halloween Songs. Get started on your Halloween Party CD today.
13. I’ll leave lucky thirteen to you guys.
What should be on this list?
12. “Monster Mash“– Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kicker Five
Overly familiar it may be, and not particularly creepy (even if BBC Radio banned it the first time around) but any good list of Halloween hits requires its mention in some form. In 1962, Bobby Pickett and bandmate Lenny Capizzi composed this very silly tribute to the Hollywood movie monsters who, through tv reruns and drive-in remakes, had become a part of youth culture in the rock ‘n’ roll era. Released just before Halloween, it became “the hit of the land” and part of every spooky season since. It has been covered numerous times, and rereleased at least twice, charting high again in ’73. It spawned a monster-themed album, a film, and a handful of sequels– all voiced with Pickett’s impersonation of Karloff.
11. “Voodoo Curse” by Scientist.
Back in ’81, dub musician Scientist and producer/composer Henry “Junjo” Lawes fused Jamaican music with old school monsters for Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires. Despite the creepy titles, most of the songs are more fun than sinister. Still, “Voodoo Curse” strikes exactly the tone suggested by the album’s crazed camp cover.
10. “Werewolf” –Five Man Electrical Band
“Mama said, ‘pa, there’s something weird about Billy.'”
Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” may be pop’s biggest werewolf hit, and had a generation wondering what drug he might have been on. However, Canada’s Five Man Electrical Band beats it out for sheer weirdness with this bizarrely straightforward ’74 ballad of a teenage werewolf. In a manner reminiscent of the era’s message songs, this one explores the effects of lycanthropy on the family unit. Is it any wonder they hate to see the sun go down?
9. People are Strange — The Doors
The song found its way into Halloween proper when Echo and the Bunnymen covered it for The Lost Boys soundtrack. They do a fine job, but the original is spookier. Jim Morrison and the Doors blend outsider paranoia, psychedelic rock, and Weimar era cabaret into a pop enigma. Strange days have found us.
8. “Marie Laveau”– Oscar “Papa” Celestin
Some say Marie Laveau never died. Certainly, she’s had a heck of an afterlife in popular culture, appearing in films, Marvel Comics, well-reviewed novels, and as a Big Easy franchise. She’s also been the star of a few pop songs. Bobby Bare’s country tune2 is the most well-known, while Redbone’s “Witch Queen of New Orleans” became one of their biggest hits. Neither of those numbers really sing about Laveau, however; they merely attach her name to lyrics about generic magical hags. Papa Celestin’s witch hit actually has something to do with its historic inspiration. Celestin, a genuine relic of the New Orleans jazz age, recorded his best version of “Laveau” in 1954, at the end of his career. By then the New Orleans style had grown safe and middle-class, but he still sounds authentic. That voice and the chorus’s dirge-like chanting make this memorable.
7. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” –Bauhaus
Goth’s first hit, this one transcends the movement’s excesses by being too lyrically insane to be serious and yet musically innovative enough to be taken seriously. Covered a number of times since.
6. “Swamp Witch”– Jim Stafford
Blackwater Hattie lived back in the swamp
Where the strange green reptiles crawl
Snakes hang thick from the cypress trees
Like sausage on a smokehouse wall
Where the swamp is alive with a thousand eyes
An’ all of them watching you
Stay off the track to Hattie’s Shack in the back of the Black Bayou
One-time Smothers Brothers scribe and current Branson, Missouri resident Jim Stafford had a string of hits that got him categorized as a novelty act. He scored highest with “Spiders and Snakes”(1973), sent up country folk and the urban drug culture with “Wildwood Weed”(1974)3, and followed those up with “Your Bulldog Drinks Champagne.” However, his strangest hit (#39 in ’74) was a campfire tale about the witch of the Black Bayou and her relationship with “a sleepy little Okeechobee town.”
5. “The X-Files Theme“
Mark Snow penned the most recognizable spooky tv-theme since The Twilight Zone, and it holds up even as various dance remixes. It was also crossed in Japan with Mike Oldfield’s Exorcist theme as “Tubular X.” Excellent soundtrack for when you’re wandering around Halloween night or driving down that lonely moonlit road.
4. “Years Ago“/ “Steven”/ “The Awakening” –Alice Cooper
Alice Cooper made a career of creeping people out, though usually with a wink. The collected PTAs of North America wagged their fingers and, while one might take issue with songs about necrophilia, Alice played his darkness about as seriously as the mustachioed villain of a Victorian melodrama. Welcome to My Nightmare may be the most perfect single-artist Halloween album ever (with Vincent Price as guest years before Michael Jackson thought of it). As it was tough to pick just one song from it, I’ve selected three. This charming trilogy tells the tale of a deranged killer who ultimately must face the grim fate of his kind– the pleasure of his own company. The musical effects on “Years Ago” can induce mental disturbance.
3. “I’m Your Boogieman“– Rob Zombie
It’s also difficult to pick just one Rob Zombie hit; his “Dragula,” for example, has become a Halloween night regular. However, it took truly insane inspiration to peel the happy face from KC and the Sunshine Band‘s 70s hit and transmogrify it into an ode to the thing that lives under children’s beds and waits behind half-opened doors.
2. “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)”– Concrete Blonde
There’s a crack in the mirror and a bloodstain on the bed
There’s a crack in the mirror and a bloodstain on the bed
You were a vampire and baby I’m the walking dead
They re-released it on both greatest hits CDs with the addition of funhouse effects and heavier guitar, but the original remains best, with its creeping introduction, evocative imagery, and Johnette Napolitano’s haunted vocals.
1. “Psycho”– Jack Kittel
Oh you recall that little girl mama?
I believe her name was Betty Clark
Oh don’t tell me that she’s dead mama
‘Cause I just saw her in the park
We were sitting on a bench mama
Thinking of a game to play
Seems I was holding a wrench mama
Then my mind just walked away
Leon Payne (of “Lost Highway” fame) wrote the song. I occasionally hear references to his having recorded it, too, though I’ve never found that record. Quite a few people have covered it, though, with Eddie Noack’s version the first out and Elvis Costello’s 1981 rendition the most (in)famous. However, nothing quite matches Jack Kittel’s sparse 1974 recording, in which he deadpans his way through the doings of a folksy, small-town serial killer. “You think I’m psycho, don’t you mama?” concludes our protagonist. “You better let them lock me up.” Available on Psycho: Jack Forever, the soundtrack to the Bill Murray flop Larger than Life, and the spectacularly tasteless Dead: The Grim Reaper’s Greatest Hits.
1. This year’s Halloween reviews will be:
- Oct. 4: The Old Dark House
- Oct. 11: The Strangers
- Oct. 18: The Frighteners
- Oct. 25: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
- Oct. 31: Night of the Living Dead
2. Penned by Baxtor Taylor and Shel Silverstein. Bare may be more famous now for having recorded “Drop Kick Me Jesus, Through the Goalposts of Life.” Amen.
3. Actually written a decade earlier by Don Bowman, but too scandalous to be a success then. Stafford’s version adds amusing touches of his own.