From Nick Cave to Blondie: The 20 best Halloween songs of all time
Take a trip beyond the normal and down the dark staircase to the downright insane, as we have searched all the graveyards and abandoned roller-discos for the spookiest Halloween songs of all time. We’ve looked a little beyond the obvious, a little toward the odd and added in a few gut-punches along the way. This is the collection of songs to scare your friends out of their skins or, alternatively, to play during a very lockdown-friendly dance party.
From the classic songs of Bobby Pickett to the creeping scaring reality of some of the more charming pop songs — we’re looking at you Sting — there’s no better way to get spooky than by sticking on some gruesome tunes when you’re carving your pumpkin or practising your dead man’s shuffle. As the spookiest time of the year arrives, here’s 20 of the best songs to soundtrack your scares.
There’s a rush of some classic rock ‘n’ roll in this list as we couldn’t of anything better than a song on your Halloween playlist that is both menacing and a damn fine track. That means you’ll see likes of David Bowie and Blondie feature on our list with some of their more twisted numbers. But, of course, we’re still bringing some classic spookers too such as Michael Jackson, Nick Cave and Blue Oyster Cult.
Though Halloween is all but cancelled and the time spent indoors is now looking like it will be a permanent feature of 2020, there’ still no reason we can’t whack on a costume, get the drinks and eat orange coloured stuff until we puke—and if that’s your plan for Halloween 2020, then you’ll need some songs to go with it.
20 best songs for Halloween:
‘Monster Mash’ – Bobby Pickett
Perhaps the ultimate Halloween anthem, there isn’t a party that hasn’t been punctuated by the snarling swirl of this sixties classic. Though there have been plenty of attempts to cover the song, nothing quite matches the original.
Simply put, if your Halloween party doesn’t include this iconic number then you may as well pack away your pumpkins right now.
‘Red Right Hand’ – Nick Cave
Nick Cave may be the spookiest man in rock but that has never turned him into a pastiche. Cave exudes the kind of menace that horror movie stars could only hope for with a mere flicker of his eyebrow, let alone his right hand.
On this song, now made world-famous by its use as the Peaky Blinders theme tune, the song has been covered by almost everybody but nobody comes close to Cave and his Bad Seeds thunderous version.
‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ – Blue Oyster Cult
Here’s a deep cut that will undoubtedly impress the oldheads at the party. Released in 1976, the song is a classic rock chugger that deserves a spot on our list of 20 scary songs. As well as the imposing rock sound there’s also the searing vocals that make this one an essential pick.
The kind of track that will have all those wallflowers tapping their toes.
‘Superstition’ – Stevie Wonder
OK, so this one isn’t exactly a scary song but it would be hard to ignore the title of Stevie Wonder’s song ‘Superstition’ and not jump at the chance to include the classic track in any party playlist.
One of Wonder’s finest tracks, it’s inclusion on any list of greatest songs is almost a guarantee and the sultry funk and soul sound makes a dance floor fundamentally lose their shit. Every time.
‘Thriller’ – Michael Jackson
Of course, there is no song more akin with Halloween than the zombie blockbuster itself, Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. The song is spooktastic enough but the video, released as a major event through MTV, cast Jackson as a zombie luring a young girl to her death and he fitted the role with aplomb.
Quite possibly still one of the scariest music videos you will ever see, the track, the dance and the performance is undeniably brilliant, no matter how disgusting the creator was both in and out of make-up.
‘I Put A Spell on You’ – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Another song to put on the top shelf of any Halloween DJ set, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ undeniably wonderful track ‘I Put A Spell On You’ is quite possibly the coolest Halloween song there is.
Endlessly covered by some of the top players in the game, nothing matches the intensity the song’s creator provided with this searing rendition of the song.
‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ – Rockwell
We’re hitting our stride with this Rockwell gem. Released on the Motown label in 1984, the track has become a mainstay in record collectors’ sets for years, ready to be dusted off, every year, for this very occasion.
The song is also the second addition on the list for Michael Jackson as he and Jermaine Jackson provided guest backing vocals on the track. It’s been a disco pleaser since its release and there’s no reason to avoid it around the 31st October.
‘Heads Will Roll’ – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Apart from the obvious realisation that Karen O, the lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, would be an insane costume maker/wearer, this track is a perfect crowd pleaser for Halloween. A simple but effective title and an indie beat that keeps hips shaking.
Not necessarily the peak of the indie band’s powers but certainly up there with some of their most pleasing songs.
‘Spooky’ – Dusty Springfield
If there’s somebody cooler than Dusty Springfield, we’re not sure we’ve found them. On this iconic song, ‘Spooky’, Springfield is the kind of sultry, smoky villain that could lure you into any trap she wanted.
Released in 1968, the song is the cooler side of the classic Halloween party playlist and for that alone should be a feature of yours forevermore.
‘Highway To Hell’ – AC/DC
Quite simply the only song that should start your Halloween evening. If you’ve got an evening of films, snacks and drinks or if you’re planning a party in your bubble, this is the song to get the party started.
The AC/DC classic has become a mainstay for any classic rock fan and it’s admittedly hard to avoid hitting the steering wheel if this song comes on with a clear motorway in front of you. But its role in the Halloween playlist is an essential one to get things moving.
‘Psycho Killer’ – Talking Heads
When the first notes of Talking Heads’ song ‘Psycho Killer’ thunder through your speakers you know it’s time to shuffle those feet and practice your French accent. A song about the evil of the world, it’s a must for any Halloween evening.
Byrne said of the song: “When I started writing this (I got help later), I imagined Alice Cooper doing a Randy Newman-type ballad. Both the Joker and Hannibal Lecter were much more fascinating than the good guys. Everybody sort of roots for the bad guys in movies.”
‘Scary Monsters’ – David Bowie
The title track for the album is easily one of Bowie’s best. The third single from the album was released a few months after the album arrived. It’s on this song that the crux of the album really lays. As well as featuring the snorting dragon of Robert Fripp’s guitar it also came complete with synthesised drums as Bowie kept his feet in the past and future.
The song itself focuses on a woman’s descent into madness and with Bowie’s vocal feeling particularly imposing, the track has a dystopian quality that is hard to achieve without sounding cheap. The song thunders ahead and brings a certain closeness that can feel both encompassing and then claustrophobic.
‘The End’ – The Doors
Now, we can’t exactly sit here and say that ‘The End’ by Jim Morrison and his band The Doors is guaranteed to get the party moving. The song’s sad tone, the ubiquitous message of unavoidable loss and the slow march of death, isn’t exactly a sonic aphrodisiac but it still deserves its spot.
We just think that spot, as the name suggests, should come at the end of the evening and provided your family the perfect exit song.
‘Wolk Like Me’ – TV on the Radio
Though the track may have become an indie dancefloor mainstay after it was released, TV on the Radio’s wonderful song ‘Wolk Like Me’ prowls the scummy sides of nightlife to turn into a modern-day werewolf, just with a kicking backbeat.
Thundering into life at the midpoint, this song has a big break that for those in the know, will be the crowning moment of any party.
‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ – Bauhaus
If you’re unaware of Bauhaus then this track, written about the original actor who played Dracula, Bela Lugosi, then we need only point you to this song to get an accurate flavour of their industrial post-punk sound.
If dressing with thick black make-up wasn’t a giveaway already, Bauhaus’ song about the definitive Dracula is all you need as proof of their spooky ways.
‘Halloween’ – Siouxsie Sioux and The Banshees
No list of perfect Halloween songs would be complete without post-punk heroes and goth pioneers Siouxsie Sioux and The Banshees. And, though you could pick any of their songs for a blackhearted sound, you may as well hit the nail on the head and pick ‘Halloween’.
If a band has a song titled ‘Halloween’ you can be safe in the knowledge that most of their catalogue has a spooky side.
‘Waking the Witch’ – Kate Bush
There’s most certainly something ethereal about Kate Bush’s album Hounds of Love, with the album providing a double-sided concept record, half of the LP focuses on an inescapable dream, ‘Waking the Witch’ is an integral moment of that story.
It’s a naturally icy sound that feels both hazy yet deceptively sharp. Played as part of an evening of Halloween fun, the song acts as a respite from the clowning fun of the holiday’s classic tracks.
‘Creep’ – Radiohead
Although the track may well have been picked for its title, there is certainly the ringing of an ‘origin story’ in Radiohead’s early ’90s anthem about being a loner, ‘Creep’.
Though the band may hate the track, having become the defining anthem of their early rise to fame, it is rightly revered as one of their best and the fact we can squeeze it into a Halloween list of classic scary songs, is a win in our book.
‘One Way or Another’ – Blondie
This Blondie track is a song form the mind of a stalker, an experience Debbie Harry dealt with in real life. “I was actually stalked by a nutjob so it came out of a not-so-friendly personal event. But I tried to inject a little bit of levity into it to make it more lighthearted.
“I think in a way that’s a normal kind of survival mechanism. You know, just shake it off, say one way or another, and get on with your life. Everyone can relate to that and I think that’s the beauty of it.”
‘Every Breath You Take’ – The Police
The sneakiest scary song you’ll ever hear. It may take one, two or five listens of The Police’s classic pop song ‘Every Breath You Take’ before the true impression of the track’s content lands on you properly. The song is a menacing promise from a voyeur.
As Sting and Co. take the track to some dusky pop playing fields, the lyrics underpin a storyline of serious malicious intent.