Happy Halloween! There are plenty of goofy tunes to listen to for the holiday—"Monster Mash," "Witch Doctor" and the like—but since it's the scariest day of the year, why not listen to some songs that will actually scare you? With that in mind, here's a playlist of some creepy, bizarre and downright terrifying tunes (with a couple of fun ones thrown in for good measure—you'll need them).
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“Frankie Teardrop” (1977) by Suicide
There are some songs that are funny-spooky, and there are some songs that are kind of creepy, and then there are songs that are genuinely shit-your-pants terrifying. This tune, by punk progenitors Suicide, falls squarely into that last category. It tells the story of Frankie Teardrop, a 20-year-old guy with a family who’s “just trying to survive,” the extreme measures he takes because he can’t and the horrifying consequences. We don’t recommend listening to it alone or in the dark.
Key lyric: The bloodcurdling screams throughout are actually more unnerving than the lyrics (though those are plenty creepy too).—Amy Plitt
“Re: Your Brains” (2006) by Jonathan Coulton
The bard of geeky folk-rock imagines what would happen if unctuous, passive-aggressive office workers were turned into zombies. The answer: business-jargon-laden negotiations about chowing down on your gray matter.
Key lyric: “All we want to do is eat your brains / We’re not unreasonable, I mean no one’s gonna eat your eyes”—Jenna Scherer
“Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” (2007) by 30 Rock
Neither all that spooky or scary, this tune—Tracy Jordan’s novelty party song about “boys becoming men, men becoming wolves”—is probably the most absurd, and therefore awesome, Halloween song of all time. Earlier this year, BuzzFeed dug up an extended dance mix of the song, and it will blow your mind. Trust us.
Key lyric: “He said tomorrow, my son / You’ll be a man / But tonight’s the time to join the wolfing clan”—AP
“Night of the Living Dead” (1979) by Misfits
No good list of scary songs is complete without a Misfits tune. (One of their best-known tunes is called “Halloween,” after all.) This one, inspired by George Romero’s 1968 tale of the undead, pairs a creepy description of a zombie attack (complete with allusions to humans as shredded wheat) with the band’s signature horror-punk sound.
Key lyric: "Stumble in somnambulance / So predawn corpses come to life / Armies of the dead surviving / Armies of the hungry ones"—AP
“Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)” (1990) by Concrete Blonde
The L.A. band’s third album revealed a major shift in sonics and pegged it as goth darlings forever. Nowhere is that transition better exemplified than on the foreboding title track, in which Johnette Napolitano wails about a compromised lover, manifested as a vampire (of course).
Key lyric: “Oh you were a vampire and baby / I’m walking dead”—Marley Lynch
“Mind Playing Tricks on Me” (1991) by Geto Boys
Paranoia can be a powerful force, as we learn in the Geto Boys’ lone hit. Anyone who has watched a scary movie and laid alone in the dark trying to sleep knows that the human brain has myriad ways to make you believe your death by bloody ax murder is imminent. The final image of this video, a man furiously punching the ground as he’s pulled away by the paramedics, is a stark reminder of the mind’s terrible power.
Key lyric: "Then I felt just like a fiend / It wasn’t even close to Halloween / It was dark as fuck on the streets / My hands were all bloody from punching on the concrete"—Drew Toal
“Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” (1992) by Nick Cave
Nick Cave’s early stuff always had a dirgelike quality to it. “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” is no exception. It starts out pretty dark (“I went out walking the other day. The wind hung wet around my neck. My head it rung with screams and groans. From the night I spent amongst her bones”) and just keeps going from there. News flash, Henry: Run away from your papa fast as you can.
Key lyric: “Her hair was like a curtain / Falling open with the laughter / And closing with the lies / But the ghost of her still lingers on”—DT
“This Is Halloween” (1993) from <em>The Nightmare Before Christmas</em>
If All Hallows’ Eve had Christmas carols, this would be its “Deck the Halls.” Danny Elfman’s lyrics lovingly detail what makes the holiday awesome, from the lighthearted revelry to the genuine chills. (Seriously—“The clown with the tear-away face”?)
Key lyric: “It’s our town, everybody scream / In this town of Halloween”—JS
“Spooky” (1980) by Lydia Lunch
The No Wave fixture’s cover of “Spooky” isn’t about the paranormal or demonic, exactly. It’s more about some guy she can’t seem to figure out, who seems to like her one minute and wants nothing to do with her the next. No doubt she eventually grew tired of these games and fed him his own entrails.
Key lyric: “Just like a ghost you’ve been haunting my dreams / So I proposed on Halloween / Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little boy like you”—DT
“Her Ghost in the Fog” (2000) by Cradle of Filth
This English metal band has plenty of spooky tracks, including such classics as “Funeral in Carpathia,” “Lord Abortion” and “Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids” (who can forget that song?). But the one that stands out, solely in terms of Halloween spookiness, is this early track. It has something to do with a woman being raped and murdered by priests and then haunting a forest—you know, pretty typical Cradle of Filth fare.
Key lyric: “My lantern chased her phantom and blew / Their chapel ablaze and all locked in to a pain / Best reserved for judgment that their bible construed”—DT
“What’s He Building in There?” (1999) by Tom Waits
Tom Waits could read the phone book and it would sound creepy. So his gravelly voice is extra-triple unnerving in this spoken-word piece about a next-door neighbor’s mysterious doings, backed by an eerie soundscape that sounds like an electric chair short-circuiting.
Key lyric: “Now what’s that sound from under the door? / He’s pounding nails into a hardwood floor / I swear to God I heard someone moaning low…”—JS
“Zombie Dance” (1980) by the Cramps
How does a zombie dance? Well, it doesn’t really—it's dead, you see. But you wouldn’t know it from this rollicking tune by psychobilly rockers the Cramps—crunchy punk guitars and a surf-rock-inspired riff makes a zombie dance sound like a pretty good time. (Until they eat your brains, probably.)
Key lyric: “At the zombie dance / Nobody moves / They tap their toes / Yeah, wiggle their ears to get in the groove”—AP
“Murder Was the Case” (1994) by Snoop Dogg
Hearing Snoop beg for mercy after being shot over DJ Premier’s eerie beats is pretty creepy. Even creepier is the part in which he makes a deal with the devil to return from Hell to earth—especially since he faced murder charges in real life a year after the song’s release.
Key lyric: “I stop breathing, damn, I see demons”—ML
“John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” (2005) by Sufjan Stevens
This song is a gentle lullaby—it just happens to be a lullaby about one of the most notorious serial killer-rapists in American history. The beauty of the melody is what makes this track terrifying; Stevens soothes you into complicity with the guy who buried 26 victims under his house.
Key lyric: “And in my best behavior, I am really just like him / Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid”—JS
“Delia’s Gone” by Johnny Cash
The Man in Black really earns his dark moniker in this ballad—well, maybe that’s not the right word for it—which he recorded four times. It’s creepy on multiple levels: First, he confesses to tying up and shooting his would-be wife, and then realizes that she’s haunting his jail cell. (Which is really a fitting punishment, we think.)
Key lyric: “But jailer, oh, jailer, jailer, I can’t sleep / ‘Cause all around my bedside, I hear the patter of Delia’s feet”—ML
“Broken Witch” (2004) by Liars
If the dark, pulsating snyth line that carries through this song didn’t creep you out, perhaps the ominous, far-off and constant dinging bells will. Or maybe the chants of “we are the army you see through the red haze of blood, blood, blood."
Key lyric: “Tell me a tale of the children / That stood in the way / Of the endless winter, of the white witch / Who’s longing to cripple impale”—AP
“Dead Souls” (1994) by Nine Inch Nails
This Joy Division cover, a staple during live NIN sets that the seminal group later recorded for goth-favorite flick The Crow, was written by Ian Curtis at his most depressed. Over a menacing bassline, the harrowing track documents his living nightmare, with a desperate call for help from the voices he can’t escape (and never did; Curtis committed suicide in 1980).
Key lyric: “They keep calling me”—ML
“The Culling of the Fold” (2006) by the Decemberists
Don’t let the rollicking fiddles fool you; this B-side from The Crane Wife is a deeply unnerving paean to grisly murder. Colin Meloy, is there something you wanna talk about?
Key lyric: “Dash her on the paving stones / It may break your heart to break her bones / But someone’s got to do the culling of the fold”—JS
“The End” (1974) by Nico
Warhol’s favorite German art singer recorded this cover in 1974, only a few years after its originator (and Nico's onetime lover), Jim Morrison, had died. And with its spare, crazy instrumentation and eerie vocals, this John Cale–produced version is even more disturbing than the Doors’ original.
Key lyric: “Father? / Yes, son / I want to kill you / Mother? / I want to [ungodly noises]”—JS
“The Thing That Should Not Be” (1986) by Metallica
In H.P. Lovecraft’s iconic Cthulhu mythos, a transdimensional monster with tentacles for a face sleeps beneath the ocean, through the millennia transmitting its evil monster consciousness into the sleeping brains of oblivious humanity. But one day, Cthulhu will awaken, and when that happens bad dreams will be the least of our worries.
Key lyric: “Not dead which eternal lie / Stranger eons death may die”—DT