Happy Halloween! Today’s holiday, unlike Christmas, doesn’t offer libraries full of music across all genres. While the Christmas season motivates artists to record entire holiday-themed albums, Halloween-specific songs are few and far between. To make a good Halloween playlist, you have to pick and choose rare gems, here and there, that have been recorded over the decades.
And we think we’ve done a pretty good job. Here are the 10 best Halloween songs to make a spooky playlist.
1. “I Put A Spell On You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
The famed Blues musician Screamin’ Jay Hawkins wrote this song in 1956, intended to be a straightforward bluesy ballad. It took on a life of its own, to say the least. So theatrical was Hawkins’ performance of the song, complete with coffins and voodoo masks, that it informed performances by later “shock rock” artists like Alice Cooper.
2. “The Witch Doctor” by David Seville
Before he hit it big with Alvin & The Chipmunks, famed producer Ross Bagdasarian (who used the stage name “David Seville”) played around with the editing machine and created the famed, high-pitched voices that would later become the Chipmunks. But in this early effort, he channeled the voice into that of his friend, the Witch Doctor.
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3. “Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield
Back in the early 1970’s, Mike Oldfield was an up-and-coming musician in the emerging (at the time) New Age genre. He recorded the album Tubular Bells, which was essentially two distinct compositions each over 20 minutes long. Excerpts from one of those songs wound up on the soundtrack to the groundbreaking horror movie The Exorcist, and the rest, as they say, is history.
4. “This Is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack.
Unlike a lot of songs from horror movie soundtracks, Danny Elfman’s 1993 composition actually sets up the backstory for the film it introduces.
5. “Halloween Theme Song” from Halloween.
Despite being one of the most iconic movie songs of all time, the Halloween theme song was composed by a man who freely admits that he understands only the most basic of basics when it comes to composing music. Lacking a budget to pay for a score, director John Carpenter, who had little musical training, composed and performed the entire score, including the iconic theme song, himself.
6. “Thriller” by Michael Jackson
This song has everything: limitless pop culture references, a video accompanied by a movie-within-a-movie, Michael Jackson and his Michael Jackson-est, the iconic voice of Vincent Price… what’s not to love?
7. “Black No 1” by Type O Negative
No list of Halloween songs is complete without some early 90’s Nu Metal, and here Brooklyn band Type O Negative comes in to fill the void, with their 1993 hit that is basically one horror reference after another.
8 and 9. “The Banana Boat Song” and “Jump In The Line” by Harry Belafonte
OK, this is a bit of a stretch, but stay with us here. These two classic Harry Belafonte tracks both wound up on the soundtrack to 1998’s Beetlejuice, and each one was used as a plot device for different scenes in the movie. This writer, for one, will never hear “…daylight come and we wan’ go home” again without imagining that dinner-table scene.
10. “Children Of The Grave” by Black Sabbath
We round out our Halloween playlist with a song about possibly the most frightening prospect of all: war. Black Sabbath’s 1971 opus appeared on their album Master of Reality, which was itself a collection of anti-war tracks.