It’s that time of year again, and for us Halloween enthusiasts, it’s a favorite holiday full of imagination and treats. Once dark comes in our neck of the ‘burbs, the doorbell starts ringing and stays in motion for about two hours. Music enhances the mood, and I personally selected ten creepy songs to rattle your Halloween bones.
This is a purely subjective, non-academic list, and I included some ‘quirkies’ about the songs as well. Did you know one of the most popular Halloween tunes was actually banned by a network?
Next up is a classic—Me and The Devil Blues by Robert Johnson. Johnson’s name often evokes spiritual conspiracies because of his fast rise in blues when so many others were doing it. Johnson was young when he was murdered, and in this song, he said he wanted to be buried by the highway so he could “catch a Greyhound bus and ride.” Although it’s fantasy, the legend of Johnson selling his soul to the devil in exchange for success has remained intact.
Also at the top of my list is another 1960s tune Little Red Riding Hood by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. The song starts with a splendid howl perfectly attuned to the night when the wall between the living and dead is breached. The story the song is based on is part of the children’s canon of teaching tales as I call them, and in some versions, Grandma and Red didn’t get saved.
Turning attention to indie music, I have added Gunboat Diplomats’ song Original Sin to this list. I love this song. The lyrics are spot on when it comes to that guilt streak inherent in all mankind. Here’s a snippet from a song produced by one of the most widely distributed recording groups in Florida:
“When the sun creeps by and your shadow grows
You can run, you can hide, but he’s by your side
And he always knows
Where the skeletons lie and what it’s all about
You can wash your hands but there ain’t no chance
You’ll get the bloodstains out”
No Halloween list would be complete without The Eagles’ Witchy Woman. It’s not really about a witch, but who cares, with lyrics like these:
“She held me spellbound in the night
Dancing shadows and firelight
Crazy laughter in another room
And she drove herself to madness with a silver spoon”
Credence Clearwater Revival delivered a classic in Bad Moon Rising. You cannot keep your body still when that beat begins. Is the song really about an apocalypse? Here’s what the songwriter John Fogerty said about it in a magazine interview:
“I got the imagery from an old movie called The Devil and Daniel Webster. Basically, Daniel Webster makes a deal with Mr. Scratch, the devil. It was supposed to be apocryphal. At one point in the movie, there was a huge hurricane. Everybody’s crops and houses are destroyed. Boom. Right next door is the guy’s field who made the deal with the devil, and his corn is still straight up, six feet. That image was in my mind. I went, “Holy mackerel!”
Another favorite is Love Potion Number 9 by The Searchers. The song is hooked around a potion obtained from a “gypsy with a gold-capped tooth”. The Clovers released the song first, though. I like both versions.
I’ve often talked about superstition and growing up in the South, and that led to my selection of Stevie Wonder’s song Superstition. It’s pretty much a dismissal of superstition, but if it’s in your bones and your oral history, it can be hard to dismiss. I like the way this song begins with the drumbeats.
Another favorite is Long Black Veil by Lefty Frizzell. What’s creepier than a song about a man who goes to the gallows because he refuses to compromise the identity of his illicit lover? The lover then visits his grave—she’s in a long black veil. You could build a novel around the song.
Completing my list is a song that truly gave me the creeps when I was young. I was still just a girl, but I’d hear that song on the radio and perhaps because of my age, I was horrified by it. Once I became an adult, I realized the song’s premise was a bit off—who, for any reason other than to save a life, goes running back to a car stalled on railroad tracks? Teen Angel by Mark Dinning got a lot of play in the early 1960s, though. Teen tragedy has been part of human cultures since antiquity, and I thought it fitting to toss at least one such anthem in this list.
Whatever your take on Halloween, this is my take on music for Halloween. Enjoy, and be safe, and watch out for the little goblins filling the streets in your city on Thursday.
(Kay B. Day/Oct. 28, 2019)
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