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Halloween is the time of jack-o-lanterns, fake tombstones and glow-in-the-dark spider webs; a time for horror fans to seek out their favorite movies for each night of October and find a nearby haunted attraction; a time for creatures of the night to don costumes, pull pranks and load up on sweets. As one of the two holidays most marketed towards children, Halloween can often play second-banana to Christmas. Part of the problem is that Christmas music is so ubiquitous. It’s easy to identify and there’s so much of it. Also, let’s face it, it’s pretty damn fun. But Halloween music shouldn’t be sloughed off as small potatoes for the simple reason that it isn’t lyrically confined to All Hallows’ Eve. It can be any type of music that weighs you down with the darkness inside us all or just something fun to put on while we howl at the moon. From gothic punk to campy send-ups, the following are albums that can feed any of your spooky-yearning moods.
Bobby Pickett was an aspiring actor by day and doo-wop singer by night in 1962 when, after a fluke Boris Karloff impression at a gig, his bandmate convinced him they should use that bit and write a novelty song to make some money. Given the monster craze which began in the late '50s (Universal’s classic pre-1948 horror films began airing on television in 1957) as well as the different dance crazes of the time, 1962 was ripe for “Monster Mash.” The song had Pickett doing his Karloff voice singing as a mad scientist whose creation gets off the slab to start dancing and then a monster dance party begins. After the single topped the charts, they rushed to put an album together. The Original Monster Mash (1962) includes “Monster Mash” and 14 additional songs that feature the same gag. Part of the fun is figuring out the monsters and which song or pop artist they’re parodying. For example, the second track “Rabian – The Fiendage Idol” is a send-up of teen idol Fabian, and “Wolfbane” sounds very similar to 1960s novelty hit, “Alley-Oop.” The Original Monster Mash is a “graveyard smash” and no self-respecting Halloween fan should be without it.
As far as break-up albums go, Burning from the Inside (1983) ranks up there with the best of them (let’s forget about their reunion and true swan song Go Away White (2008) for a bit). Forming in 1978 as part of the post-punk wave, Bauhaus were known for their dark experimental glam rock, earning a reputation as one of the early goth bands. What sets Burning from the Inside apart from their previous three albums was that frontman Peter Murphy fell ill during its recording and the other three members (Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins and David J) decided to write and record without him. Yeah, that probably didn’t go over very well with Murphy. But the resulting album is disjointed and brilliant. There are the more traditional Bauhaus songs like the title track and “She’s In Parties” but there are also hints of Love and Rockets, the band the other three would eventually form (see “King Volcano,” “Slice of Life” and “Kingdom’s Coming”). Burning from the Inside will envelop you with depressing stories of depravity and when you’ve had enough and it’s time to wipe off the make-up, the album closer “Hope” is like a salve telling you it’s going to be OK.
Kavinsky’s OutRun (2013), his debut full-length, is one of the greatest driving albums to come out in the last five years. You may know Kavinsky, aka French electronic artist, Vincent Belorgey, from his song “Nightcall” (also on this album) that was on the popular Drive soundtrack in 2011. Inspired by 1980s films, Italian horror films, and video games, the album’s concept is wonderfully cheesy: a guy is killed in a car crash with a Ferrari Testarossa in 1986, comes back years later as a zombie in a letterman jacket and drives around in the Testarossa, mooning over the girl he left behind, and making cool electronic music. Mostly an instrumental album, it’s full of sweeping synths and careening guitar riffs, the kind anybody that’s into nighttime cruising will love (listen to “ProtoVision,” “Rampage,” and “Grand Canyon”). Not to be outdone by the instrumentals, the vocal tracks also kick ass. “Nightcall” imagines a phone booth call between Kavinsky and his girl and “First Blood” features singer Tyson who belts it as if Tina Turner had an electro-pop makeover. When thinking of zombie costumes this Halloween, listen to OutRun for inspiration.
Need a fun New Wave rock album with a killer horn section for your Halloween party? Oingo Boingo were once synonymous with Halloween thanks to their epic annual Halloween shows in the late '80s to early ’90s, which started after the release of their fifth album, Dead Man’s Party (1985). But if you think the ‘dead’ theme ends with the title track then you don’t know Boingo (or frontman Danny Elfman aka the guy that scores lots of Tim Burton movies). Look at the album cover, an homage to the Mexican festival, Día de los Muertos. Elfman sings about nightmares about the world on fire and razors in his bed (“Just Another Day”) and continues the fun on the title track about going to a party “where no one’s still alive.” Side A closes with the ska-infused “No One Lives Forever,” a macabre crowd-pleaser about temporarily escaping the grim reaper and living it up while you still can. The band’s softer side comes out on the creepily romantic “Stay” before upping the energy levels again with “Fool’s Paradise.” By the time the funky album closer and hit single “Weird Science” ends you’ll want to keep the party going and flip that sucker over.
The wonderful thing about Halloween (besides shitloads of candy) is putting on costumes and, for that brief time of role-playing, getting out of your comfort zone and doing something unexpected. What better album to capture that feeling of entering outsider-dom and finding it a frightening and wondrous place than The Rocky Horror Picture Show movie soundtrack. In the 1975 film, an homage and send-up of '50s sci-fi and B-horror movies, a young strait-laced couple find themselves stranded at a castle where an unusual convention is taking place and they meet characters like Dr. Frank N. Furter and Riff Raff, witness the birth of a creature as well as a murder and are seduced into lust and desire. In the great tradition of cosplay, Rocky Horror fans take it the extra mile by re-enacting the movie at midnight showings across the country. It is the perfect soundtrack for audience participation and sing-alongs (and Halloween parties) with songs like “Dammit Janet” and “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me,” as well as the ultimate dance song, “Time Warp.” As you figure out your costume and Halloween plans this year, keep repeating this mantra: “Don’t dream it, be it.”
You can buy this soundtrack on limited pink vinyl now in the Vinyl Me, Please store here.
Post-punk icons Siouxsie & The Banshees helped to define the early goth scene as well as pave the way for brooding psychedelic art-pop. But before jumping into the world of light and psychedelics on their follow-ups, the Banshees dug deep into one last post-punk hurrah on their fourth album, Juju (1981). With Siouxsie’s distinct melodic wails, Steven Severin’s throbbing basslines, John McGeoch’s inventive guitar riffs and Budgie’s tom-oriented drumming, Juju is a ceremonial initiation into claustrophobic nightmares that make it perfect for a night of debauchery and horror. The album opens and closes with psychological breakdowns involving visions of berserk toys (“Spellbound” and “Voodoo Dolly”). If you haven’t heard of John McGeoch, you need to hear “Spellbound.” It’s a jangly hard-driving masterpiece, unrelenting in its fast tempo and stark imagery. Security cameras and government control turn to reality TV in “Monitor” and there are other stories about obsession and repression (“Head Cut” and “Arabian Knights”), murder (“Halloween”) and a serial killer (“Night Shift”). Juju is an unflinching tour de force and you owe it to yourself and Halloween to blast this album at top volume.
Don’t you just love the subtitle on Rob Zombie’s 1998 solo debut, Hellbilly Deluxe: 13 Cadaverous Cavorting Inside the Spookshow International? Zombie combined his love of classic horror films with irresistible dance grooves making Hellbilly Deluxe one of the best Halloween dance albums ever. No, not just headbanging, I’m talking honest-to-goodness rump shaking. And deep down all you Rob Zombie fans think so, too. On first listen, there’s not a huge difference between this album and his band White Zombie’s last studio effort, Astro-Creep: 2000 (1995). They were incorporating more industrial and electronic elements and Zombie did more of the same on Hellbilly Deluxe only this time he seems to be having more fun and going all out with the electronics, samples, and B-horror inspired lyrics. The opening track is a brief psycho-nursery-rhyme snippet which sets the tone for the album then the next track “Superbeast” really jumps. By the time “Dragula” and “Living Dead Girl” are over you’ve already shaken your groove thing around the house a dozen times and there’s still nine more tracks to go. If you need a horror-themed industrial-metal album that’ll get the bodies slamming this Halloween, hit this one up.
The Cramps’ debut full-length album, Songs the Lord Taught Us (1980) was recorded in Memphis and produced by Alex Chilton (of Big Star fame). They were one of the early psychobilly bands which combined punk and rockabilly, their own campy brand of it dripping with sex and B-movie inspired lyrics. Like a deranged garage punk band from hell armed with Link Wray-inspired guitar riffs, frontman Lux Interior screams and wails, channeling '50s rockabilly stars like Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins into one howling horror show. The lack of a bass guitar doesn’t matter when there’s the dual-guitar smash from Poison Ivy and Bryan Gregory and Nick Knox holds the beat like the dead on drums. It starts off with the murderous “TV Set” with Lux singing about using someone’s eyeballs for dials on his TV. “I Was A Teenage Werewolf” references the '50s horror movie of the same name and things really explode with “Zombie Dance” where the zombies only tap their toes. The mix of originals and obscure rockabilly covers (not to mention the dive-bar version of “Fever”) shows a band hell-bent on bringing fire and danger back to rock 'n' roll.
The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack is awesome because it’s both a Halloween and Christmas album; it can be played between now and all the way through Christmas. In this Tim Burton-produced stop-motion animated musical released in 1993, a fantastically ghoulish Halloween Town full of monsters galore has successfully celebrated another Halloween thanks to master planner, Jack Skellington. But he is bored with doing the same thing every year. Then he discovers a door to Christmas Town and enlists his cohorts to take over this novel holiday with comically spooky results. Of course the soundtrack is just delightfully twisted with all songs and score pieces composed by Danny Elfman, who also does the singing voice of Jack. The bonuses of the soundtrack are the “Opening” and “Closing” monologues narrated by Patrick Stewart which were not used in the film. Other highlights include “This Is Halloween” which is a great dirge-like intro to the town’s characters and mood, “What’s This?” which is sung as Jack joyfully discovers Christmas Town and has no clue what it’s all about, and the heartbreaking “Sally’s Song” delicately sung by Catherine O’Hara. This album is everything you loved about Halloween growing up.
If an artist records a murder ballad it is usually the only one on an album. I like to imagine Nick Cave said “fuck that shit” and decided to devote a whole album to them. Murder Ballads (1996) has nine songs about people being killed by strangers or loved ones, with the killers being men, women and even a teenage girl (“The Curse of Millhaven”). Cave weaves these morbid tales through gothic-country, folk, rock, and sordid lounge numbers. The more shocking and graphic stories are in “Stagger Lee,” a re-tooled traditional about a “bad motherfucker named Stagger Lee,” and an original song, “O’Malley’s Bar,” which is a 14-plus-minute long darkly humorous tale of mayhem. There are also heartrending songs like “Song of Joy,” about the slaying of a mother and her three children by an unnamed killer who is likely the father and narrator of the song, and the duets with PJ Harvey (“Henry Lee,” another re-tooled traditional) and Kylie Minogue (“Where The Wild Roses Grow”). You’re then supposed to be soothed by a twisted cover of Bob Dylan’s “Death Is Not The End” which is like the equivalent of hearing “Mr. Sandman” play at the end of the movie Halloween where you’re kind of relieved but still freaked the fuck out. Seriously, who needs a horror movie when you’ve got this album?
Marcella Hemmeter is a freelance writer and adjunct professor living in Maryland by way of California. When she's not busy meeting deadlines she frequently laments the lack of tamalerias near her house.