Halloween playlist: 20 of the spookiest songs ever

Happy Halloween! Get into the spirit—or just scare yourself silly—with this playlist of 20 of our favorite creepy tunes.

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The Cramps

The Cramps Photograph: Godlis

“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

 Download “What’s He Building in There?” on iTunes
 Download “What’s He Building in There?” on Amazon

“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

 Download “Zombie Dance” on iTunes
 Download “Zombie Dance” on Amazon

“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

 Download “Murder Was the Case” on iTunes
 Download “Murder Was the Case” on Amazon

“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

 Download “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” on iTunes
 Download “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” on Amazon

“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

 Download “Delia’s Gone” on iTunes
 Download “Delia’s Gone” on Amazon

“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

 Download “Broken Witch” on Amazon

“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

 Download “Dead Souls” on iTunes
 Download “Dead Souls” on Amazon

“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

 Download “The Culling of the Fold” on iTunes
 Download “The Culling of the Fold” on Amazon

“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

 Download “The End” on iTunes
 Download “The End” on Amazon

“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

 Download “The Thing That Should Not Be” on iTunes
 Download “The Thing That Should Not Be” on Amazon


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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)

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