It’s that time of year again. Here are 31 great songs for a perfect Halloween mixtape. And by “ultimate” and “perfect,” I mean you probably have your own list.
If anything, “Thriller” is a little UNDER-rated. Indelible six-note bassline played by mini-Moogs (there’s no bassist on the record), a beat that alamgamates funk, rock and disco, producer Quincy Jones in full movie director mode, Jackson’s amazing harmonies and lyrics that remind you that being scared of monsters can be incredibly fun.
Add to it a video that’s become an essential hunk of American horror cinema, spectacular choreography that draws on Bob Fosse, Alvin Aley and Michael Bennett all at once, awesome zombie make-up and Vincent Price. Also, the album “Thriller” sold more than 30 million copies in the U.S. It is, by an enormous margin, the most popular song here.
The Cramps were true artists. They stole from everywhere and made a band both completely new and instantly familiar, like a dream you have falling asleep in front of TCM at 2 in the morning and on their very first single, they gave us a nightmare we’d never forget. Indeed, “Human Fly” might be their greatest original. Two guitars, drums, no bass and singer Lux Interior mumbling about garbage brains and reborn maggots usin’ germ warfare. Objective correlative lyrics: “I’ve got 96 tears and 96 eyes.” Their entire catalog is a perfect Halloween soundtrack.
Bauhaus always chafed at the idea that they were Goth music, but not because of the black-clad, frowning fans. They thought the descriptor was wrong -- Goth implied something ornate and Bauhaus was strictly minimalist. They weren’t wrong -- “Bela” has a ton of space in it, which makes it all the spookier. Like the Cramps, their debut single was a miracle -- reggae inflected rhythms, spare guitar, Peter Murphy’s just-got-out-of-the-coffin voice. Still a stunner (and using the song for the opening credits of “The Hunger” was inspired).
The Ramones always told you what they wanted (be your boyfriend, sniff some glue, be a good boy) and what they didn’t want (walk around with you, be sedated, care). Here, they decline to be buried with Fido, Boots and Rover. Can you blame them, seeing as how those animals may come back to life?
5. “Rumble” by Link Wray.
Legend has it that the one-lunged, Native American, Korean War veteran came up with this monster while playing a dance at the Fredericksburg Arena in Virginia. Someone asked for a stroll, and Wray knocked out one of the most powerful instrumentals of all time. The single was released in '58 and the rest, as they say, is history. 'Rumble' is a wonderful song to listen to in the autumn — this sound is all wind in the Central Virginia hills, leather jackets over heavy flannel shirts and violent juke joints. Rock music is impossible to imagine without this menace.
Austin’s favorite son walked with a zombie last night. Just ask him. As legendary Byron Coley noted, Roky is one of the very rare artists whose ‘70s work is as vital as his ‘60s work.
This song has been covered A LOT -- by Lou Rawls, Richard Thompson and Hole to name a few. But none of them quite capture the eerie disconnect Donovan’s voice has here.
Before this million-selling single, our man was simply Jay Hawkins, blues singer. After, he was Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, coffin, cape and smokin’ skull. Hawkins sounds completely, gloriously unglued, as if even he can’t believe how well the song is turning out.
BOC guitarist Buck Dharma’s masterpiece of spacey guitar, spacier vocals and a solo that pulls up to a full stop when the riff restarts. Dharma’s vocals are a bit creepier than intended, I think -- what was supposed to indicate a lack of fear of death instead sounds like what a very chill serial killer is mumbling in your ear before the hammer comes down.
In this brilliant (and unconscious?) rewrite of Television’s “Marquee Moon,” a mysterious figure drives you around and tells you the meaning of life. Tone nerds should note that guitarist Karl Precoda is playing without any pedals -- that’s all volume, a hollowbody guitar and amp distortion right there, kids.
And here are the rest!