Halloween is not known for being a beacon of seasonal music, but with the aid of modern music streaming sites and apps, it’s easy to find music to fit any day, mood, or, in this case, holiday! This article intends to do just that, by matching music not explicitly about the holiday of Halloween, to that time of year, and to that fall night when the devoted don costumes, imbibe, eat Butterfingers, and get up to something spooky!
What makes a song, Halloween-like, though? Does it have to sound like the theme song to ‘Tales From The Crypt’, or the creepy piano melody line that is used as the theme song to Michael Myers in the movie Halloween? Not according to this writer! With a little imagination, the moods and themes that one associates with Halloween can be expressed through limitless songs, songwriters, and genres. What exactly are the moods and themes of Halloween, though? Much like a patron of the Halloween holiday adopts the costume of a character that is meaningful to them, patrons of Halloween are also free to interpret the significance and emotional resonance of the holiday itself!
And thus, in Halloween’s spirit of exploration and interpretation, I have selected ten songs for this 2016 edition of “Halloween Songs.”
1. TV On The Radio – Wolf Like Me
This sonically stylish banger is not just about Brooklyn hipsters turning on 21 guitar effects and whamming on the strings (not that I would be complaining), singer Tunde Adebimpe weaves a story of transformation and primal passion that is continued throughout several compellingly literary verses, all of which flesh out the idea that, “When the moon is round and full” he’s “gonna teach you tricks that’ll blow your mongrel mind.” If you thought maybe you didn’t want your mother or grandmother to know about Adebimpe’s onslaught, he later insists, “Tell your gra’ma and your mama too / It’s true / We’re howling forever”.
2. The Cure – Lullaby
One would be a damned fool not to include The Cure on this list. While there are oodles of goth and new-wave bands of yore that explored dark and gloomy territory well-suited to the 31st, this song makes the list because of its unique musical snappiness, and it’s surreal storytelling. The ping-ponging guitar line to Lullaby has become an iconic part in The Cure’s watershed record “Disintegration,” and Robert Smith’s lyrics on this song, depicting an arachnid personage seducing him (against his will?) and (literally?) eating him, especially stand out from the more conventional, romance-oriented lyrics on the rest of the record.
3. Him – Rip Out the Wings of a Butterfly
Him’s glammed-up goth may not be for everybody, but it’s also hard to deny for those that like hooky, polished rock. Him is known for their songs that explore self-destructive love, and Wings of a Butterfly dilutes it all down to “For your soul, my love / Rip out the wings of a butterfly”. Simple, slick, and dark, why not blast Him at your Halloween party?
4. Whodini – Freaks Come Out At Night
With synth bleeps that evoke the more ubiquitous Michael Jackson’s Thriller, but with a playful old-school hip-hop vibe that comports with the innocence of Halloween, the narrative of Whodini’s Freaks Come Out At Night even parallels the customs of Halloween, with its depiction of people emerging transformed at night, to do transgressive things that they couldn’t do at day. Whodini’s lyrical imagery of stylish garb also conjures the costumes of Halloween:
“Now when freaks get dressed to go out at night
They like to wear leather jackets, chains and spikes
They wear rips and zippers all in their shirts
Real tight pants and fresh mini skirts
All kinds of colors runnin’ through their hair”
5. M83 – Midnight City
M83’s songs evoke danceable nightlife, darkness, and colored lights in your drink. Midnight City in particular has a bit of hauntedness to its banshee-like synth riffs, and the music video was even inspired by horror-tinged films ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, and ‘Akira’.
6. Bloc Party – Skeleton
This Bloc Party B-side seems like a companion piece to their Like Eating Glass, only rather than a domestic relationship killing the lyricist, it’s the system that makes him “just a skeleton.” With Kele Okereke’s plaintive and paranoid refrain of “It makes a man out of me / you take the fun out of me” it’s like Kele’s insides are being emptied out by someone or something… spooky indeed!
7. Pink Floyd – The Wall
In addition to being a funky song you can dance to, the official music video for Pink Floyd’s The Wall, which comes from a segment in the full-length 1982 film, ‘The Wall’, is replete with some of the creepier images this side of Kubrick: choruses of kids singing in dystopian-looking pens, children wearing Leatherface-esque rubber masks, and ribbons of meat anomalously squeezing out of a meat grinder. On a holiday that celebrates the shedding of conventions for dress (and cuisine?), why not appreciate this send up of institutions and conformity (while eating a Twix)?
8. Yeasayer – Henrietta
Yeasayer’s Henrietta is a trippy, intriguing song that comes on dubby and ends with a subtly building/morphing electronic outro, during which the singer repeats, “Oh Henrietta, we can live on forever.” With other lyrical references to science and the afterlife, “Radiation makes you weak” and “And now it turns out, death’s not the end,” Henrietta conjures Frankensteinian technology, wires, machines, and possibly even tanks filled with clones. Along with this decidedly sci-fi imagery is an impressive arrangement of robot voices and unusual synthesizers that would sound fitting alongside comic booky and futuristic Halloween costumes.
9. Crystal Castles – Not In Love
There’s something slanted and enchanted about having the singer of The Cure on a Crystal Castles song, not to mention the contrarian refrain of, “I’m not in love…” which makes this seem like an anti-pop song. With lines like “Fascination ends / Here we go again / Cause it’s cold outside, when you coming home,” Robert Smith’s lyrics allude to the passage of seasons and time. Add Ethan Kath’s horror synths to Smith’s chilly voice, and you’ve got one eerie dance track that makes the listener uncomfortable even while enjoying its hooks.
10. The Rolling Stone – Paint It Black
Think Halloween rock, you think The Doors, Black Sabbath… why not the Rolling Stones? On Paint It Black Mick Jagger envisions his inner despair as the color black. “I look inside myself and see my heart is black / I see my red door, I must have it painted black.” It’s dark, reckless, perhaps slightly tongue-in-cheek. The sheer energy of the performances, though, makes this song as thrilling as a handful of candy corn. Check out the sitars, creepy humming, and military march drumming at 2:16.