October 6th, 2008
Autumn has arrived! The leaves are falling. The pumpkins are being picked. The local apothecary has stocked up on bags of candy, masks, and spooky merchandise. A cold brisk wind whips up fallen leaves in the sky like hundreds of spidery gossamers blowing out of an old house attic. A fast-paced walk past an ancient graveyard at dusk makes the heart pound. A tense trek through the local haunted house with friends on the weekend. It’s time to discuss what music is best listened to in October and those spooky moments in between – Halloween music.
A daunting task, yes, but I’ll try to start with what makes good Halloween music. This is highly subjective of course, but I’ll take a stab at it. The topic of All-Hallows Eve is peppered throughout most genres of music, so the collection of tunes is vast and varying. In my opinion, good Halloween music must always set the right mood. Songs that simply mention the word “Halloween,” “Dracula,” “Zombie,” or other spooky words in their title and lyrics don’t really qualify as Halloween songs. The song must have an aura of creepiness, dread, spookiness, or a macabre vibe rather than just sharing a name with something horrific.
Halloween, being an imported holiday from the UK, didn’t really creep into American culture until the early 20th century. Before the 1900’s, spooky soundtracks could be found in the canons of classical music. Some ghostly music can be found in songs like Edvard Grieg’s “In The Hall Of The Mountain King,” J.S. Bach’s “Toccata in D Minor,” Camille Saint-Saën’s “Danse Macabre,” and Modest Moussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain” to name a few.
As Halloween became popular in the United States in the 1940’s and 1950’s music started showing up on vinyl shortly thereafter. These records usually came with wonderfully detailed spooky artwork which is a far cry from the crappy $1.99 Halloween CDs you can find in department stores these days. These LPs had orchestras, a cast of voice actors, and sound effects crews all working on a single album until it felt right or demonstrated a quality effort. It wasn’t just some lame guy on a synthesizer cranking out dime-store knock-offs and cheesy atmospherics with his midi keyboard.
Shortly after Halloween broke into the mainstream, instant Halloween classics were released on LP in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s by Walt Disney, Pickwick Records, BBC Records, Boris Karloff, Alfred Hitchcock, Power Records, Scholastic Records, Madacy Entertainment, Frankie Stein & His Ghouls, The Munsters, Zacherley, Spike Jones, Vincent Price, and Bobby “Boris” Pickett.
One LP in particular has been my favorite since childhood – “Walt Disney’s Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House.” The female narrator, Laura Olsher, on Side A, has a great storytelling voice and the Disney foley artists created amazing ghosts, cats, thunder and lightning to accompany the spooky stories. Two other great Disney Halloween albums were “The Haunted Mansion” and “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” which contains the song “The Headless Horseman” sung by none other than Tony the Tiger himself, Thurl Ravenscroft.
Once the big hitters slowed down LP production in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the next phase of Halloween music came in waves of soundtracks and scores on cassette and CD. Soundtracks to all the horror movies from the 80’s to present day, like “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “The Exorcist,” “Scream,” “Resident Evil,” “Saw,” and others paved the way for a terrifying new look at things that go bump in the night. The true pioneers in scary movie soundtracks in my opinion were: Mike Oldfield, Harry Manfredini, Dario Argento, Bernard Hermann, Lalo Schifrin, Fred Molin, John Carpenter, Danny Elfman, Christopher Young, Charlie Clouser, Tyler Bates, and Marco Beltrami.
Currently, there aren’t a whole lot of Halloween related albums coming out these days save for new TV and movie soundtracks with marketing-friendly bands and music labels with sales goals and pre-packaged audiences to buy them. However, you can pilfer your local record store and the Internet for enough tunes to fill a grave. If you’re looking for old LPs that have been out of print or gone the way of the ghost, check out ebay.com. Keep an eye out for classic LPs like the kitschy “Halloween Starring Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids,” the morbid “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow,” and Disney’s “The Haunted Mansion” featuring a young Ron Howard just before his “Happy Days.”
If you’re into mainstream classics, I’m sure you’re familiar with albums like “Drew’s Famous Ultimate Halloween Party” music. These types of mixes are bland, but do contain the basic Halloween standards like Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “I Put A Spell On You,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves Of London.” Less commercial but quality compilations include: “Halloween Hootenanny,” “These Ghoulish Things,” “Horror Pop,” “Chiller,” “Fright Night,” “Just Can’t Get Enough: New Wave Halloween,” “Dr. Demento Presents: Spooky Tunes & Scary Melodies,” “Halloween Horrors,” “Halloween Spooktacular,” and “Monster Bop.”
If you want surf rock horror pop, try: “The Bomboras,” “The Legendary Invisible Men,” “The Ghastly Ones,”" Surf Trio,” “Vampire Beach Babes,” “The Moon-Rays,” and “The Mummies.” Other great horror and psycho-obsessed bands are: “Frankenstein Drag Queens of Planet 13,” “Wednesday 13,” “The Cramps,” “Famous Monsters,” “White Zombie,” “Marilyn Manson,” “Christian Death,” “Bile,” “Fantomas,” and many many more. If you want some hip-hop evil for your next bash, try: “Spectre, “Mr. Hyde,” “Mr. Dead,” “Necro,” “Circle Of Tyrants,” and “Insane Clown Posse.”
I’ve listed my 20 favorite Halloween albums and songs below. I highly recommend finding these tunes if you’re looking for a well-rounded Halloween mix. Happy Halloween and many ghastly returns! Keep an eye out for Part 2 of my Halloween Music 101 series.
Felax’s Top 20 Halloween Albums:
1. John Carpenter – Halloween: 20th Anniversary Edition
2. Tino’s Breaks 6 – Hallowe’en Dub
3. Marilyn Manson – Antichrist Superstar
4. Walt Disney – Thrilling, Chilling Sounds of The Haunted House
5. Rob Zombie – Hellbilly Deluxe
6. The Misfits – Collection II
7. Ministry – Everyday Is Halloween
8. The Ghastly Ones – A Haunting We Will Go Go
9. Zacherley – Spook Along With Zacherley
10. Cincinnati Pops Orchestra – Chiller
11. Various Artists – Halloween Hootenanny
12. Midnight Syndicate – The 13th Hour
13. The Cramps – Bad Music For Bad People
14. Alien Sex Fiend – The Very Best Of Alien Sex Fiend
15. Bauhaus – Singles: 1979-1983, Volume 1
16. Various Artists – Gothic Club Classics, Vol. 2
17. Insane Clown Posse – Riddle Box
18. Darwin Chamber – 3D Halloween Sound FX 2006
19. Pickwick Records – Sounds To Make You Shiver!
20. Bobby “Boris” Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers – The Original Monster Mash
Felax’s Top 20 Halloween Songs:
1. “Everyday Is Halloween” by Ministry
2. “It’s Halloween Dub” by Tino
3. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus
4. “I Was A Teenage Werewolf” by The Cramps
5. “Halloween” by The Misfits
6. “Spooks Night Out” by The Legendary Invisible Men
7. “The Headless Horseman” by Walt Disney & Thurl Ravenscroft
8. “Pet Sematary” by The Ramones
9. “Night Of The Electric Insects” by Mike Oldfield
10. “Don’t Laugh” by Josh Wink (aka Winx)
11. “Halloween Theme” by John Carpenter
12. “Living Dead Girl” by Rob Zombie
13. “Haunted House” by Walt Disney
14. “Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
15. “Friday The 13th Theme” by Henry Manfredini
16. “Hall Of The Mountain King” by Apocalyptica
17. “Helter Skelter” by Rosetta Stone
18. “A Fistful Of Terror” by The Bomboras
19. “Now I’m Feeling Zombified” by Alien Sex Fiend
20. “Monster Mash” by Bobby Pickett & The Crypt Kickers