I was going to do a playlist of Halloween songs, anyway, and I was thrilled when I found out this particular column would actually be published on Halloween!
So come on, boys and ghouls, don your masks, set the jack o’lanterns flickering, and dance with me ’til the light of dawn sends you skulking back to your coffins.
1. Concrete Blonde – Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)
This song ain’t about those sexless, bloodless Twilight-style vampires you hear so much about these days, oh no. This is a song full of dark glamour, for the dangerous criminal vampires, the sexy, deadly sort. It starts out with a soft yet eerie shrieking sound, and then the sensual slither of the bass line comes throbbing in. All of it, from Johnette Napolitano’s powerful voice, to the musical interlude offset with slurping and cackling and howling sounds, will make you wish you were a vampire, too. It can be your soundtrack to stalking the heady nighttime streets of the French Quarter, searching for your next victim. I got the ways and means to New Orleans. I’m going down by the river, where it’s warm and green. I’m going to have a drink, and walk around – I got a lot to think about. Oh, yeah.
2. The Birthday Party – Release the Bats
Rowr, bite! There are so many Nick Cave songs, from his days with The Birthday Party, The Bad Seeds years, and Grinderman, that would fit on a Halloween mix, but I chose this one because it’s another perfect vampire song. It’s got those pounding drums, that sexy bass line, that screaming guitar noise, and Nick’s voice shrieking and moaning. Pull out your best post-punk/goth club dance moves for this one – twitch like a re-animated corpse while your (black) hair hangs in front of your eyes. My baby is alright. She doesn’t mind a bit of dirt. She says “horror vampire bat bite.” She says “horror vampire, how I wish those bats would bite.”
3. The Gun Club – Death Party
Poor old Jeffrey Lee was so haunted and full of demons, but his pain sure made for some great music. This tune takes country, punk, goth, and blues and mashes them together, while Jeffrey Lee yowls his demons out of his throat and into your speakers. The bass is slinky (what’s with all these songs and their killer bass lines, eh?); the guitar solo that starts around 3:32 is like country-blues on drugs, and by the end, the whole thing has degenerated into raw, chaotic noise. I’d love to be at this party.
4. The Flametrick Subs – Creepy Dead Folk
And now we have some fine fine psychobilly from Austin, TX, backed up by the devilish chants of Satan’s Cheerleaders. (Be satanic! Be! be! satanic!) This is a fun, danceable number about being chased by zombies. There’s even a line about dead Buddy Holly getting on stage and singing ‘Peggy Sue.’ I dare you not to smile (devilishly, of course) at that imagery.
5. The Cramps – Wilder Wilder Faster Faster
I like to imagine that Lux Interior’s afterlife is full of the types of things he describes in this song. Sexy monsters and dirty deeds! The underbelly and the Devil’s seed! It would only be appropriate. I chose this track for this mix because it is the ultimate expression of what The Cramps were about. It features Poison Ivy’s signature guitar sound – a sort of psychobilly/surf style – and Lux acts as the deranged carnival barker, shouting out all the thrills and chills you’ll find in his collection of X-rated B-movies – Dairyland contraband! Look, ma – no head, no hands!
6. Th’ Legendary Shack*Shakers – Old Spur Line
As someone said on the YouTube page for this tune – the Shack*Shakers don’t play murder ballads, they play murder boogies. They hijack rockabilly and bluegrass and use them to tell eerie tales about the dark side of the Dirty South. This tune cautions you to stay away from that old, disused part of the railroad tracks; from the hopped-up rockabilly at the beginning to the spooky banjo fade-out, the hair on the back of your neck will be standing on end. Two railroads diverged in a yellow wildwood. It’s raining meat, poppin’ dents in your hood. It’s a mortal coil of blackjack vines, blurred around the egdes hangs a red-soaked sky. Dryrotted, wooden teeth-like ties, suckin’ up the muck in the trenches down the side. Don’t ye go pokin’ down that crooked Old Spur Line. Tread ye not down the dirty rotten Old Spur Line.
7. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club – Pine Box
I’m not even entirely sure I know what this song is about, but that doesn’t much matter. It is (and most Slim Cessna songs are) the wild and weird psalms of a dark religion. The noise will move your sinning hands and feet, and then drop you into the deeps of Munly’s dirge-singing (Munly, who is pretty much a ghoul), and then it will lift you again into a sunny gospel sound.
8. Tom Waits – Murder In the Red Barn
For this mix, I tried to stick with songs that are fun, and to not verge too far into gloomy murder ballad territory. This one is a bit slower and quieter than most of the others, but still, in my opinion, fun. I think this version – which is the first complete take of this song – may be a little spookier than the cut that ended up on Bone Machine. It’s got off-kilter percussion, steel guitar and banjo, and Tom sounds like he’s singing through a megaphone. It perfectly encapsulates the creepy, rural feel of the lyrics. ‘Cause there’s nothin’ strange about an axe with bloodstains in the barn. There’s always some killin’ you got to do around the farm.
9. Puerto Muerto – Hangman’s Song
This one comes with a bit of a warning, not so much for the song itself as for the content of the video – there are many disturbing images in it, including old photographs of people being executed by hanging, which can be upsetting, so proceed with caution. The song, which was used in the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, is a bit sadder than any of the other songs on this mix, but it had to be included. As a bonus, since it has an apocalyptic theme, you can listen to it not only on Halloween, but also in mid-December this year! Armageddon time is coming soon. The fires will turn us all into dust. And we will be judged one last time. You, your son, and me.
10. The Pogues – Worms
It was necessary to include a version of this song, otherwise known as “The Hearse Song,” because it is my favorite spooky song from childhood. This version, which is probably the shortest version of this song I’ve ever heard, is simply a deep, bellowing voice, and a droning accordion. It is almost like a sea shanty, which suits the lyrics. Be merry, my friends. Be merry.
1. Big D and the Kids Table – Salem Girls
If you never thought ska could sound spine-chilling, this song will prove you wrong. Of course, it’s not simply straight-ahead ska-punk. It includes spoken lines from The Crucible, eerie chanted incantations, howling wind sounds, diabolical laughter, and even a cello. Whether or not you have made contact with the Devil, this song will make you feel pretty damn witchy.
2. Groovie Ghoulies – Graveyard Girlfriend
This is just a fun punk tune (with elements of early rock’n’roll) about hanging out with your sweetie in the cemetery. I’ve always wondered, though – is it about dating a gal who’s already dead, or having a girlfriend who likes to spend time amongst tombstones? One day I’ll lay next to you in a beautiful coffin built for two. You’re my graveyard girlfriend.
3. Apocalypse Hoboken – Sweet Transvestite
I’m convinced that all outcast kids of any stripe go through a period of time when they’re really into Rocky Horror – I was certainly no exception. It gives us weirdos something to belong to, and teaches us that it’s okay to be boys who want to wear fishnets or girls who want to slick our hair back; it tells us that it’s alright to give ourselves over to absolute pleasure. And of course, no Halloween playlist would be complete without a Rocky Horror song. This cover is from The Rocky Horror Punk Rock Show (which is a kick-ass compilation of different punk bands doing their takes on songs from Rocky Horror). No one can touch Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, but Todd Pot is a close second. His voice has the right mix of sneering swagger and raw sexuality. So come up to the lab. And see what’s on the slab. I see you shiver with antici……….
4. Misfits – Return of the Fly
Man, Glenn Danzig was so awesome when he was a tiny goth-punk, and the Misfits were so great with Danzig, when they were sloppy and fun horror-movie fans. Now, Danzig is a muscled meathead, and the Misfits sans Danzig are too poppy and polished. Ah well, at least these guys left us an extensive catalog of B-movie-inspired songs for our Halloween parties, right? Return of the fly, you guinea pig. Human hands and feet, yeah, you guinea pig.
5. The Damned – Nasty
Only pop music can save us now! But, seriously – back in the early days of punk and goth, there was a lot of crossover between the two. The Damned were a prime example of that crossover – they had the energy and sound of punk, but they often had goth imagery in their lyrics, and Dave Vanian sported a pale, makeup-wearing vampiric look. In fact, as time went out, The Damned grew further away from punk and veered more into goth territory. This track, which was originally released in 1984, has that punk sound (although it also features a blistering guitar solo; that was another thing about the early days of punk – you could have musical prowess without being accused of being a sell-out!), and is another ode to the wonders of B-movie horror. The axe is sharp and the blade is keen. Creature feature spirits crawl the screen. Shadows fall in all this gloom – you’re not so safe in the safety of your room.
6. T.S.O.L. – Code Blue
FYI: the lyrics to this song are decidedly not safe for work. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here is a classic SoCal punk band with their classic song about necrophilia. I mean, he doesn’t even care how she died. How romantic!
7. Alice Cooper – Cold Ethyl
Here, Alice Cooper, the classic rocker that punks and metalheads alike adore, brings us another uptempo number about necrophilia. You know, the feminist in me makes me think I should hate this song, and the previous one – like, what, women who are alive complain so much that you’d rather fool around with dead ones? good riddance! – but really, both songs are so goofy that they just make me laugh. A number of years ago, a boy put this song on a mix for me. When he handed me the tape, he said, “these songs describe how I feel about you.” When I saw that this song was on it, I thought, “so…he wants to have sex with my corpse?” He was a weird dude. Whatever, this song is still great. One thing I miss is cold Ethyl and her skeleton kiss. We met last night, making love by the refrigerator light.
8. Oingo Boingo – No One Lives Forever
Oingo Boingo were a great Halloween band. In fact, they always played shows on Halloween – the video I included for this song is from one of them, in 1987. Watch Danny Elfman, with his devilish grin and his shock of red hair, dance around the stage. I Imagine that Oingo Boingo is one of the bands that plays the parties in Hades. And when it’s all been said and done, better that you had some fun instead of hiding in a shell. Why make your life a living hell? So have a toast, and down the cup, and drink to bones that turn to dust.
9. World/Inferno Friendship Society – Pumpkin Time
No one ever really talks about Oingo Boingo’s influence on World/Inferno, but I think it’s quite obvious, especially on older recordings. From the style of Jack Terricloth’s vocals (which are often reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s), to the sound of the horn section and keyboards, to the fact that, they, too, always do their biggest show of the year on Halloween… And this is the song for their Halloween (or, Hallowmas) show – a gospel/swing number about summoning the Great Pumpkin. Down by the pumpkin patch, it gets so cold, it gets so queer, while I’m sitting here waiting for you and you and you to be sincere. I need you to come out to the fields at night, I need you to to plant your candied corn. You got to dance around naked by the light of the full moon, for me to get good and born.
10. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – I Put A Spell On You
I’m closing out this installment of my column with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins doing “I Put A Spell On You.” Many people have done great versions of this song, but Screamin’ Jay is a wild man… In his version, Screamin’ Jay is the voudou priest, hollering about how he put a spell on you, because you’re his. And by the end of it, you will be.