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Best Halloween songs – Nick Cave
Photograph: Steve Parke

The 30 best Halloween songs of all time

All ‘Thriller’, no filler with our list of the best Halloween songs of all time

Edited by
Andy Kryza

Along with a great costume and a queue loaded with solid horror movies, a playlist of the best Halloween songs is essential to the success of any Halloween celebration. As such, we've scoured the catacombs of our favorite streamers and blown the cobwebs off our Jewel cases to compile the ultimate Halloween music soundtrack.

These songs are guaranteed to get you moving, whether you're braving the horrors of an indoor gathering or perfectly content to gorge on fun-sized candy in the comfort of your own home. We promise, the list is all ‘Thriller’, no filler (not really… we didn't just put ‘Thriller’ on the list 30 times, though you'd be forgiven for doing just that). And for younger crowds, check out our list of Halloween songs for kids.

Written by Brent DiCrescenzo, Christopher Tarantino, Andy Kryza, Adam Feldman, Kate Wertheimer, Andrew Frisicano, Sophie Harris, Carla Sosenko and Nick Leftley.

Listen to these songs on Amazon Music

🎶 The best ’80s songs
🎉 The best party songs ever made
🎸 The best classic rock songs
🎤 The best karaoke songs
🕺 The best pop songs of all time

Best Halloween songs, ranked

‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson
Image: Epic

1. ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson

‘I’m not like other guys,’ Michael tells his girl at the beginning of the greatest video ever made, from arguably the greatest album ever made. Did we realize how prescient that statement would be in 1982? So much of ‘Thriller’ shouldn’t work – MJ is a doll, 71-year-old Vincent Price raps, and it’s six minutes long. But together, it’s ballsy genius, riding on an insistent, funky Minimoog bass line. ‘I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult,’ Jackson wrote concerning the video. No, but the Elephant Man bones and chimp did.

‘This is Halloween’ by Danny Elfman
Image: Walt Disney Records

2. ‘This is Halloween’ by Danny Elfman

Elfman honed his signature horror-tinged musicality with Oingo Boingo, but unleashed it full force on this banger that leads off The Nightmare Before Christmas with jingle-jangle lunacy as a chorus of ghouls pulls a roll-call for the playful horrors to come. It’s a kids' song full of bloodthirsty clowns and whispery vampires, all of whom come together for a chant of the song’s title, all but cementing it in the Halloween canon. 

‘Season of the Witch’ by Donovan
Image: Epic

3. ‘Season of the Witch’ by Donovan

Donovan never explains quite what he means by a ‘season of the witch’ in this five-minute foray into ominous psychedelia, from the British singer-songwriter’s 1966 album, Sunshine Superman. But a shiver of paranoia runs through the song’s depiction of identity flux (‘So many different people to be’) in a world gone topsy-turvy (‘Beatniks are out to make it rich’), and the guitar part – played by a pre-Zeppelin Jimmy Page – adds welcome notes of acid.
Adam Feldman
Theater and Dance Editor, Time Out USA
‘I Put a Spell On You’ (Remix) by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Image: Okeh

4. ‘I Put a Spell On You’ (Remix) by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

Arguably one of the original Halloween songs. Inarguably one of the greatest. Hawkins’s tune – which he claims to not remember recording – permanently added the Screamin’ to his God-given name. ‘Before, I was just a normal blues singer. I was just Jay Hawkins, (but) I found out I could do more destroying to a song by screaming it to death.’ He found out he could also do more if he appeared out of a coffin on stage in a black cape, tusks coming out of his nose, accompanied by a cigarette smoking skull sidekick named Henry. A rare remix by KCRW’s Jeremy Sole.

‘Surfin’ Dead’ by The Cramps
Image: Enigma

5. ‘Surfin’ Dead’ by The Cramps

These rockabilly goths were always a B-movie for your ears, so it was inevitable that Lux Interior and Poison Ivy would end up on the soundtrack to a campy slasher flick. In 1985, Return of the Living Dead popularized the notion of zombies chomping brains. In the movie, a bunch of punks battle the undead—but the Cramps have a hard time choosing a side. When Interior sings ‘Run run run run!’ it sounds just like a chain saw itching to rip through necrobiotic flesh. But in the end, he makes it seem more fun to be one of the rotting.

‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials
Image: 2 Tone

6. ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials

Okay, so technically this song is about unemployment, inner-city violence and urban decay, not decaying flesh. But the 1981 hit, released at the height of the UK’s recession riots, still creeps us out in the very best way, with eerie flute solos, ominous lyrics and maniacal, childlike la-la-las – plus some pretty spooky synth fades.

‘Pet Sematary’ by The Ramones
Image: Sire

7. ‘Pet Sematary’ by The Ramones

Hard to believe the original Ramones are all dead. By 1989, the punks’ career was nearly six feet under. But this toe-tapping title track from a hit horror film, a bite-size Snickers with a metal shard inside, put the New Yawkers back on MTV, introducing a new generation to the leather-wrapped Phil Spector fanatics who looked like motorcycle zombies. If only Stephen King’s resurrecting graveyard were real – we miss these buffoons.

‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ by Rockwell
Image: Motown

8. ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ by Rockwell

If Rockwell (real name Kenneth Gordy, son of Motown founder Berry) shivered at Big Brother's glare in 1984, one can only imagine what he'd make of the Internet age, where the government, news media and rogue hackers are all equally likely to be keeping tabs on you. The ‘Thriller’-esque hook comes courtesy of Rockwell’s buddy Michael Jackson, a good dude to have on speed-dial, though I’m not sure how much help he’d be if you're looking for someone to check for monsters in the closet.

‘Boris the Spider’ by The Who
Image: Polydor

9. ‘Boris the Spider’ by The Who

On this deep cut from 1966’s A Quick One, John Entwhistle leads the bass-heavy charge in a song precision-calibrated to get under arachnophobes' skins. Roger Daltrey performs some signature vocal acrobatics, too, growling the song’s title at the chorus before pulling off a manic falsetto to repeat the words ‘creepy crawly” over and over again in a whirling dervish of playful menace… just in case the lyrics had somehow been construed as subtle. 

‘Supernature’ by Cerrone
Image: Malligator

10. ‘Supernature’ by Cerrone

French 1970s musical icon Marc Cerrone created this frightening (for then at least) vision of a not-too-distant sci-fi future where escaped mutant creatures created in a lab to end human starvation have rebelled against their makers to disastrous effect for all. Basically sci-fi disco for the Studio 54 set, this track is the greatest statement on that brief genre. Period. The video (and album artwork) are also stone-cold classics. Ask your parents.

‘Welcome to My Nightmare’ by Alice Cooper
Image: Atlantic

11. ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’ by Alice Cooper

Shock-rock pioneer Alice Cooper could single-handedly populate this list with tracks like ‘Feed My Frankenstein’ and ‘Billion Dollar Babies,’ but ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’ is in a class all its own thanks to its stabbing horn accompaniment and Cooper's skin-crawling delivery. The original’s a horror-rock masterpiece, but seek out the version Cooper performed with a chorus of Muppets, a combination of pop-culture misfits that’s too delicious to skip. 

‘Halloween’ by The Misfits
Image: Plan 9

12. ‘Halloween’ by The Misfits

Funny how time tames horror. In 1981, the Misfits seemed genuinely scary. In hindsight, they’re as dangerous as a Scooby Doo mystery. But, great Beelzebub, what fun! ‘Candy apples and razor blades! / Little dead are soon in graves!’ croons Glen Danzig, somewhere between an Elvis impersonator and an amateur MMA fighter. ‘Skulls’ might better spook the kids today, but this noir pop is on-point – like Jerry Only’s hair.

‘Red Right Hand’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Image: Mute

13. ‘Red Right Hand’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Of course, we could’ve put together an entire list of Nick Cave songs to score your Halloween shindig, but instead we're choosing Cave’s singularly most creepy cut. A smoldering slow-burner, ‘Red Right Hand’ appears on 1994’s Murder Ballads album and lifts its title from John Milton’s Paradise Lost epic poem – which refers to the supposedly vengeful hand of God. It’s been used in all three Scream movies, such is its spook-factor. Show off your vampiest moves on the dance floor as you shimmy along to its rumbling drums, clanging bells and Cave’s sinister lyrics.

‘Monster’ by Kanye West
Image: Def Jam

14. ‘Monster’ by Kanye West

’Ye may be a bit of monster himself these days, but this 2010 track still thrills thanks to its roster of immense guests: Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross and Bon Iver (because why not?). The gang name-checks nightmarish images at every turn – blood suckers, goblins, the Bride of Chucky – and dishes out a healthy helping of Haterade to critics and skeptics, but it’s the funky groove and sick rhymes that’ll raise the goosebumps (in a good way). Some of us (not naming names) may even like to pretend we’re Nicki Minaj sometimes and spit the Harajuku Barbie’s verse (the best one of the bunch) in the privacy of our apartment.

‘Vampires’ by DJ Touche
Image: Southern Fried Records

15. ‘Vampires’ by DJ Touche

Theo Keating a.k.a. DJ Touché a.k.a. Fake Blood a.k.a. formerly the Wiseguys a.k.a. half of the Black Ghosts a.k.a. a guy who knows his horror. This cut is just one in a long list for someone who's had more than 20 years to rack up quite a few proverbial ‘kills.’ It’s the title track of his EP (alongside other funky frighteners ‘Zombies’ and ‘Spectres’) on Fatboy Slim’s Southern Fried Records.

‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ by Bauhaus
Image: Small Wonder

16. ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ by Bauhaus

Bela Lugosi died in 1956. Informing people of his demise in 1979 was strictly the concern of the most archetypal of goth bands, Bauhaus. Goth is a cocktail best served as equal parts glamor and nihilism. Singing about Dracula is metal. Singing about the Hungarian star of the silver screen who played him is goth. The ticking dirge was used fabulously in The Hunger, in the coolest opening sequence of ’80s cinema, a montage of sex, jump cuts, drugs and Bowie. At last, frontman Peter Murphy was a vampire in the movies.

‘People are Strange’ by Echo and the Bunnymen
Image: Atlantic Records

17. ‘People are Strange’ by Echo and the Bunnymen

If you can’t commit a bit of sacrilege at Halloween, then when can you? We're choosing Echo and the Bunnymen’s 1987 version of this song over the Doors’ original, partly because this cover soundtracked cult ’80s vampire movie The Lost Boys (a Halloween must-see), but also because it kicks ass with its dramatic pauses, spooky piano flourishes and – oh! – that ending.

‘Country Death Song’ by Violent Femmes
Image: Slash

18. ‘Country Death Song’ by Violent Femmes

The Femmes took a break from their stripped-down folk-punk bubblegum mania and teenage angst for this truly spooky country number in which a deranged farmer confesses to drowning his daughter in a well. Chipper stuff from the ‘Blister in the Sun’ tri! But the combination of Gordon Gano’s nasal wailing, the Southern gothic vibes, and the doomy baseline make for an unlikely bone-chiller. 

‘Hell’s Bells’ by AC/DC
Image: Atlantic

19. ‘Hell’s Bells’ by AC/DC

Long before Metallica’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ brought the menacing sound of church bells to metal, AC/DC used them to announce the arrival of this sinister little number. Does it sound exactly like every other AC/DC song? Of course it does. But with church bells, so you know it’s spooky. 

‘Vampire Nightclub’ by Art Department
Image: Crosstown Rebels

20. ‘Vampire Nightclub’ by Art Department

Art Department, which is now just No. 19 boss Jonny White going solo – but at the time also included Canadian house legend Kenny Glasgow – linked up with the ghost of Seth Troxler–past on ‘vocals.’ It's not until halfway through this face melter that it dawns on you that the title may be a double entendre that you’re not sure you completely get.

‘Tubular Bells Part 1’ Mike Oldfield
Image: Warner Records

21. ‘Tubular Bells Part 1’ Mike Oldfield

If you’re looking for something to set the mood, throw on this 1973 track and watch everyone’s hair stand on end. At least, everyone who’s seen The Exorcist. What could have been a beautiful orchestral piece is instead insidiously and inextricably tied to images of projectile vomit and bloody crucifix masturbation. Oh well, happy Halloween!

‘Suspiria’ by Goblin
Image: Cinevox

22. ‘Suspiria’ by Goblin

A lovely (re: horrifying) companion to ‘Tubular Bells,’ Italian avant-garde/prog-rock/jazz outfit Goblin’s score for Dario Argento’s fever-dream horror Suspiria is the stuff of musical nightmares and a hell of a mood setter… especially if you want to mood to veer closer to ’Seventh Circle of Hell’ than ‘Monster Mash.’ With creepy whispers of ‘witch’ and its never-ending loop of bells undulating between hypnotic and chaotic, it’s a dreamlike plunge into darkness. So, um, who wants to bob for apples?

‘Werewolves of London’ by Warren Zevon
Image: Asylum

23. ‘Werewolves of London’ by Warren Zevon

Somewhere between Brecht and Weill’s ‘Mack the Knife’ and Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho lies Warren Zevon’s silly-witty 1978 novelty hit about everyday monsters. Over an irresistible three-chord piano riff, Zevon’s gift for dark comedy expresses itself in lyrics that swipe their claws slyly at the banality of horror – ‘I saw a werewolf drinking a piña colada at Trader Vic’s / And his hair was perfect ’ – but the droll wolf-call refrain (‘a-hooooooooo!’) makes you want to give up and join the pack.
Adam Feldman
Theater and Dance Editor, Time Out USA
‘Monster Mash’ by Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers
Image: Garpax

24. ‘Monster Mash’ by Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers

The perennial holiday favorite (or Halloween party-atmosphere–killer) was released in 1962, and has been clawing its way out of the grave every year since. It’s been covered by maybe the most eclectic group of bands of any song ever (the Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen, Vincent Price, Alvin and the Chipmunks, the Smashing Pumpkins and The Misfits, to name but a few), but the moldy old original is still the preferred classic.

‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’ by Blue Öyster Cult,
Image: Columbia

25. ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’ by Blue Öyster Cult,

Blue Öyster Cult's death song, a creepily seductive exhortation to go gently into that dark night, became an instant rock classic when it came out in 1976, and has been a staple of horror culture ever since, notably in Halloween and Scream. (Its unconventional percussion also inspired a beloved Saturday Night Live sketch, with a shaggy Will Ferrell cavorting in an undersize tee and Christopher Walken barking ‘I gotta have more cowbell, baby!’) BOC’s lead singer and guitarist, the colorfully named Buck Dharma, insisted that the song was not about a romantic suicide pact, but it’s hard to know how else to read lines like ‘Romeo and Juliet are together in eternity... We can be like they are.’ The velvet sheath of Dharma’s mellow vocals doesn’t cover the scythe.
Adam Feldman
Theater and Dance Editor, Time Out USA
‘Ghostbusters’ by Ray Parker Jr.
Image: Arista

26. ‘Ghostbusters’ by Ray Parker Jr.

There are at least two Time Out New York editors who believe that the part of this 1984 classic where Parker ecstatically croons, ‘Bustin’ makes me feel good!’ is the single-greatest piece of music ever recorded (and they will fight you over this opinion). Huey Lewis actually sued Parker over the song’s similarity to his ‘I Want a New Drug,’ probably because he was jealous of how much better “Ghostbusters” is.

‘Psycho Killer’ by Talking Heads
Image: Sire

27. ‘Psycho Killer’ by Talking Heads

David Byrne’s feral yowl alone makes this hypnotic, eerie early Talking Heads classic a Halloween essential, but it's just the blood-red bow that ties ‘Psycho Killer’ together. The song – mathematically precise until it goes jaggedly out of rhythm – feels like it was wrested from the mind of a particularly melodious murderer, one with with a tendancy to slip unexpectedly into French or a huge suit depending on the mood. 

‘Dracula’ by Gorillaz
Image: Virgin

28. ‘Dracula’ by Gorillaz

This cartoon troupe remains the greatest evidence of Damon Albarn's spliff habit. A bonus cut from the band's 2001 debut, ‘Dracula’ conjures voodoo vibes with a deep dub groove. ‘Everybody, party time. Some of us will never sleep again,’ Albarn sings, staring down the dawn with bloodshot eyes. An all-night bender is the closest thing we have to feeling undead.

‘Living Dead Girl’ by Rob Zombie
Image: Geffen

29. ‘Living Dead Girl’ by Rob Zombie

Rob Zombie’s full-throated embrace of souped-up hot rods, dead bodies and classic monsters came to a head with this shredding classic of the ’90s horror-core revival, a cheesy, rollicking slice of post-industrial rock that somehow found its way onto mainstream radio stations and into the hearts of mall goths everywhere. Yeeeeah.

“A Nightmare on My Street” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince
Image: RCA

30. “A Nightmare on My Street” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince

According to Will Smith, Freddy Krueger is a David Letterman fan who's ‘burnt up like a weenie’ and weirdly wears the same hat and sweater every day, even when it's hot out. The 1988 track stacks Smith's story of his encounter with ‘Fred’ over a hip-hopified mix of A Nightmare on Elm Street's theme song, making for a party-friendly (if rather long-winded) ghost story.


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