#soundcheck: the 10 essential halloween tracks

October 31, 2012

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and the Misfits are great and all, but it turns out people are still writing great Halloween songs. Check out our top 10 below and leave your favorites in the comments!

By Nathan Leigh

The Heavy – Can’t Play Dead
British indie-soul band The Heavy conceived of their latest album The Glorious Dead as the score to a film that hadn’t been written yet, but it more often sounds like the soundtrack to a New Orleans funeral. Opening with a sample from the trailer to The She Beast, “Can’t Play Dead” compares the object of Kelvin Swaby’s affection to the film’s titular “creature of the damned.” The whole album could probably play as an excellent Halloween party mix, but it’s that opening track that hits all the right macabre notes. Also the video (out today!) is done in stop motion. It’s like getting a full sized candy bar while trick-or-treating.

Fishbone – Bonin’ in the Boneyard
Stealing the lick to Prince’s “1999,” Angelo Moore and company create what can only be called “horror ska” on this Truth and Soul deep cut. Complete with shrieks and ghoulish sound effects, this is the perfect song for seducing that special someone in a crypt. You know. Like you do.

The Apes – Which Witch Wuz
On their final album Ghost Games, The Apes went all in on the horror that had been hanging out around the edges of their dance-punk sound. The result is a record full of references to the supernatural and the occult that often sounds like a lost B-movie soundtrack. “Which Witch Wuz” opens with witches around a cauldron complaining “newt noodle soup again?” before launching into an infectious dance-punk anthem.

Black Death – Night of the Living Death
These days, Cleveland metal band Black Death are probably best known as the band Metallica totally ripped off with “Nothing Else Matters.” But for a brief period in the early 80’s, Black Death rained down with the fury of a thousand Motörheads. Their songs hit the standard early 80’s metal topics; being evil, not necessarily wanting to be evil, wanting to sleep with everything with legs, etc… but on “Night of the Living Death,” the band imagines hordes of roving metalheads invading the suburbs. Scary.

Death Grips – Beware
If you really want to scare the crap out of the kids at your haunted house, just play Death Grips’ debut mixtape Exmilitary. This is the sort of thing that pre-adolescent nightmares (and nearly every mix I’ve made for someone in the past year) are made of. Shouting “I am the beast I worship” over droning feedback, MC Ride somehow finds a way to sound both more terrifying and less coherent than the Charles Manson sample that opens the track.

Cold Specks – Lay Me Down
Though Halloween is the time to mock the macabre, in real life death is a lot more likely to make you sit in silent contemplation than dance. (Though I do want the Thriller dance performed at my funeral. Please take note. Blog posts on are legally binding.) Cold Specks brings out the stillness and sadness of death’s cold hand. It’s a stunning, haunting track. You can almost feel the October chill coming off your speakers.

Fela Kuti – Zombie
Written as a middle finger salute to the Nigerian military, the authoritarian thugs apparently weren’t too thrilled at being called zombies. In retaliation, the military raided Fela’s commune; trashing his studio, and throwing his mother from a window. When Fela’s mother died from her injuries, he delivered her coffin to the army barracks, and wrote two songs in response. Because you don’t fuck with Fela.

Bad Brains – Fearless Vampire Killers
The idea of capitalism as a vampire dates back to the political cartoons of the 1890’s. On this fierce track from their legendary debut cassette, Bad Brains spews vitriol at the bourgeois. HR shrieks “better watch out for me. I’m a member of the F.V.K.” I’d like to see those other fearless vampire killers Willow or Xander shred like Dr. Know. (HR is obviously Buffy in this metaphor…)

Wesley Willis – Vampire Bat
There’s always been controversy about whether outsider artist and unlikely punk rock icon Wesley Willis is held up for ridicule, or sincerely beloved as his fans claim. Certainly the outpouring of love after his death from leukemia in 2003 points towards the latter. (veteran scenesters sometimes claim having been head-butted by Willis as a sort of punk credential…) The diagnosed schizophrenic singer recorded dozens of bizarre rambling songs both with his hardcore band The Wesley Willis Fiasco, and solo with his trusty Technics KN series keyboard. “Vampire Bat” is one of his solo keyboard songs; a strange story about being attacked and killed by a bunch of Vampire Bats. Like all great Wesley Willis songs it ends with a corporate endorsement: “Rock over London, rock on Chicago. Folgers: it’s good to the last drop.”

TV on the Radio – Wolf Like Me
In their break-out single, post-punk band TV on the Radio get a little gothic with a tale of werewolves in love. Lycanthropy is generally treated as a curse, but for TV on the Radio it’s almost more of a seduction. Two people becoming something new; animalistic and primal. “My mind has changed / my body’s frame / but God I like it.” It’s enough to make you want to join Team whichever one is the werewolf. I refuse to read those books…

So what’s on your Halloween mix?