Halloween Music 101…Part 1

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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Felax’s Top 20 Halloween Albums:
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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
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Felax’s Top 20 Halloween Songs:
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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

Posted by Chris Felax | Filed in Music


29 Responses to “Halloween Music 101…Part 1”

  1. October 6th, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    Jules said:

    Awesome post Chris! This brings back memories of many slumber/birthday parties (my bday is only a couple days before halloween) where my mom would break out “monster mash sounds of terror” for us to go to bed to. This would be after she’d send us out with toilet paper to hit the neighbors trees if my birthday party fell on devils night :) . I still get creeped out remembering this one track of sounds of someone getting buried alive. Sssccaaarrrryyy!!

    I think you can download it for free here

  2. October 7th, 2008 at 8:23 am

    The Lady said:

    Oh man, great list. Everyone I talk to reminisces about “the orange Halloween record with the Haunted House on front.” I gots a few more songs to add:

    Scary Monsters (Super Creeps) – David Bowie
    Boris the Spider – The Who
    Halloween, The Killing Jar, Spellbound (and a million others) – Siouxie and the Banshees
    The Killing Moon – Mr. Echo and his Bunnymen
    Planet Claire – B52s
    Warm Leatherette – The Normal
    Horror Movies – The Bullock Brothers
    Rocky Horror Picture Show songs
    Dead Man’s Party – Oingo Boingo

  3. October 7th, 2008 at 9:00 am

    Kevin leDoux said:

    One that scared the crap out of me as a kid was Ghost Riders in the Sky. It’s hard to say what version it was as there were already over 30 by the time I was 10, I’m thinking it was the Sons of the Pioneers.. just because it sounds far spookier than Johnny Cash.

    Jules, your Mom’s a deviant.

    oh, and here’s the Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson version of Ghost Riders In The Sky

  4. October 7th, 2008 at 9:01 am

    John Branca said:

    Dear Sirs:
    The King of Pop wishes to remind you that any mention of “Halloween” and “music” necessitates the mention of His finest work and video masterpiece, “Thriller.” Its omission from your otherwise comprehensive list of fantastic musical compositions was obviously in error and we’d like to take this opportunity to underscore its importance in popular culture.
    Thank you,
    JB, esq.

  5. October 7th, 2008 at 9:06 am

    Kevin leDoux said:

    John… ab-so-fuggin-lutely.
    I think that was omitted as a no-brainer…

    BRAAAAIIINNNSSS!!!!

  6. October 7th, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Chris Felax said:

    Thanks for adding some songs to that list. It’s the most wonderful time…of the year.

  7. October 7th, 2008 at 9:30 am

    Chris Felax said:

    Yes yes, folks. Keep an eye out for Halloween Music 101, Part 2! Jacko is on there to be sure…

  8. October 7th, 2008 at 11:39 am

    LB said:

    In Chris’s defense, he did mention “Thriller” in the post, just not in his top 20. It probably shoulda been in his top 20, though.

  9. October 7th, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    dj100proof said:

    Just a few to add. This was fun to come up with:

    Whodini – The Freaks Come out at Night
    Geto Boys – Mind Playin Tricks on Me
    Dj Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince – Nightmare on my Street
    Swollen Members – Lady Venom, Horrified Nights, Black Magic, Killing Spree, Bad Dreams
    AC/DC – Highway to Hell, Hells Bells
    Ray Parker Jr – Ghostbusters Theme
    Rockwell ft. Michael Jackson – Somebody’s Watching Me
    Warren Zevon – Werewolves of London
    Santana – Black Magic Woman
    Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
    Marylin Manson – Sweet Dreams
    Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil

  10. October 11th, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    Morales said:

    Ok, there are a few omissions which need to be addressed. You need to always add

    Aphex Twin – Ambient Comp. 2 (the whole double disc is of nightmarish standards)

    Aphex Twin – Come to Daddy

    Psychic TV’s – Live Recordings of the Early to mid Eighties

    Throbbing Gristle – Greatest hits

    Skinny Puppy – Last Rights

    and when my acid trips goes too far out, I can always bring back the terror with…

    The Carpenters – Greatest Hits 69 – 73

    or

    Autechre – EP7

  11. October 16th, 2008 at 5:45 am

    Martha said:

    Our Halloweens in the 40′s started with a record that had Halloween songs written to familiar classical music. The one I remember best begins with “On October 31st…when the sun…goes to rest….it’s the night of Halloween when fun is at it’s best… words were set to March of the Mountain King (I think) by Ghent. I’m looking for the rest of the words, or the album…

  12. October 16th, 2008 at 9:31 am

    Chris Felax said:

    Ha…the Carpenters! I actually have some of their music on another mix called “Music To Die To.” That’s a whole different idea that I may write a story about. It’s quite controversial, but the idea would be that if you’re in a situation where you know you’ll die soon, and music is playing in the background, it’d be one of the worst things to hear at that moment. “Close to You” would be my choice for something to painfully die to…

  13. October 16th, 2008 at 9:41 am

    Kevin leDoux said:

    If I knew
    “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue…”
    was going to be the last song I ever heard, I think I might just gouge out my eardrums prior to death.

  14. October 16th, 2008 at 11:23 am

    Morales said:

    Yes, my suicide Playlist!
    (Ideal for Wrist Slashing and Pill Consumption… Too Long for Shotguns and Hangings… Please limit the latter suicide choices to only one song. Thank you)

    Proir To the cutting… (Reflection)

    Phil Collins – I Don’t Care anymore
    Tom Waits – It’s a wonderful world

    Just as I slashed the vien…
    Twist of Cain – Danzig

    For the unavoidable panic realization of the situation…
    Paint it Black – The Rolling stones (also ideal for the shotgun solution)

    For the acceptance of the act…
    Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones

    Waiting…
    All Blues – Miles Davis

    And finally…
    My Way – Sid Vicious

    Note: To the rare Dramatic few who are ‘engineer able’. The Guillotine is a rare and beautiful experience Remember though that the head remains active for a few minutes after body separation. DO NOT let you playlist run one song short… and don’t waste that last track with the Doors ‘The End’! This is guillotine death, pick something bold, like Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci or U2′s/ Johnny Cash’s ‘The Wanderer’.

    Thank you

    Have a happy day

    Chris Morales
    the safe passage clause

  15. October 22nd, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Chris Felax said:

    Ah, exactly! you got it…pefect stuff…most of Phil Collins’ stuff is suicide music…

    Some old-time rag piano music or really old hymnal folk would do me in without any help from me…

  16. October 24th, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Seattle Subsonic » Halloween Music 101…Part 2 : A Local Seattle Music Blog said:

    [...] party next week. It’s the best time of year for fun and mayhem. My last post, “Halloween Music 101…Part 1” talked about good sources for Halloween music and what my favorite songs are for this time [...]

  17. October 24th, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Kevin leDoux said:

    Denton electronic dance pop duo Roy G and the Biv have posted their cover of Rockwell’s Somebodys Watching Me for download on their Myspace.
    Have a listen here:
    Oh, and here’s the Rockwell vid we all know and love…

  18. October 24th, 2008 at 11:53 am

    LB said:

    Fuck YES. I love Rockwell, even if I know ZERO other songs of theirs besides “Somebody’s…”. I’m just really glad they left MJs vocals in there (I think).

  19. October 24th, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    LB said:

    So, those of us with information at our fingertips will appreciate this. I just checked out the Wiki on Rockwell, and it turns out he’s the son of FUCKING BARRY GORDY. Who knew? I sure as hell didn’t. His real name is Kennedy William Gordy, but he changed his name to Rockwell because—get this—he believed he “rocked well”. HA! That is awesome.

    I also learned that not only was Jacko singing on his only hit single, but the oft-maligned Jermaine Jackson was, too. He’s also the half brother of Diana Ross’ oldest daughter.

  20. October 24th, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Kevin leDoux said:

    Crap, I hope Motown didn’t get stuck putting out Rockwell’s debut/finale album.

  21. October 28th, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    susan haddock said:

    I am looking for the words to the song “on October 31 when the sun goes to rest thats the night of Halloween when fun is at its best. what was the album name?

  22. October 29th, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Chris Felax said:

    You’ve got a stumper on your hands! I found out that the poem you quote is sung to “In The Hall Of The Mountain King” by Peer Gynt. I’ll keep looking, but it seems you’re not alone – no one can find this album!

  23. October 29th, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Kevin leDoux said:

    I think it’s by Ministry, Susan.
    You should head over to their Myspace Page light a couple candles, and turn up the volume wicked(ly) loud and just let the sound wrap around you. Seriously,

  24. March 25th, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    Jim Maxwell said:

    Sorry Kevin, definitely not Ministry.
    This song came out prior to 1962, as I can remember listening to it over and over as a five/six year old kid. (My absolute favorite halloween song still) but I can’t remember for the life of me the album or all the words. I seem to remember the album also had on the reverse side? “How Much is that Doggie in the Window”

  25. March 26th, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Kevin leDoux said:

    Aw, c’mon Jim. We almost had Susan bringing home a cellophane wrapped package of straight evil. Oh well I think she’s probably given up by now anyway.
    Thx for the lead. Maybe someone can track this thing down.

  26. September 8th, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Karen said:

    martha, susan, chris, i’m also looking for the words of ‘on october thirty-one’. we sang that in grade school, it was in our music book-how i wish i still had a copy! the music IS ‘hall of the mountian king’ from ‘Peer Gynt’ by Edvard Grieg. this has driven me nuts for YEARS trying to find it! i remember that 1st verse, and snatches of the rest of the song, but can’t piece it all together. if anybody finds it, i’d be eternally grateful.

  27. October 7th, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Mattie said:

    Eventhough it is not Spooky, Count Crow’s new album rocks! Very fun and hip. I guess one song is scary – House of Fate.

  28. October 9th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Jeff said:

    “On October 31 (Halloween Song)” adapted from “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from “Peer Gynt Suite” by Grieg
    Sung by Bob Hannon with Jerry Sears and His Orchestra
    Copyright 1946 Albert Gamse
    I have a 78 RPM recording of this on a record collection called:

    Songs for Little Folks by
    Majestic Records

  29. October 10th, 2010 at 5:58 am

    Karen said:

    any chance we could get you to go to the trouble of posting the lyrics here? i’ve been searching for them for YEARS! pretty please with sugar-and a cherry on top to boot! rofl