The Perfect Halloween Playlist

Music Lists Halloween
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You won’t find “Thriller” or “Ghosbusters” on here, though heaven knows both of those have gotten plenty of airplay in the Paste office this month. What we’ve tried to affect is a certain ambiance: cool, dark, danceable, edgy, evocative and appropriately ominous-sounding fare. We just want to help you nail that groovy Halloween vibe for your next ghoulish get-together or haunted house party.

So, not every song screams “THIS IS HALLOWEEN!” Instead they simply set the right kind of mood. Happy Halloween!

Tom Waits
A post-millennial Danse Macabre, complete with plenty of creepy imagery of brittle bones disassembling and poetic descriptions of decay, coupled with the irresistibly hip-shakeable rag and riff of that jazz combo (sax/organ/sweaty-hand-claps) under Waits’ wailing, somewhere between Howlin’ Wolf and Screamin Jay Hawkins—both of whom will make appearances on this list.

Nick Cave & Neko Case
She’s Not There
Yeah, we feel unsure about including a song that was produced for the sake of an unholy evil such as True Blood (I mean, we’re all about “unholy evil” on a list like this, but not when it comes to trainwreck-vamp soap operas). Marvel of melding the ethereal wisp of Neko Case with the smoldering murk of Nick Cave on this cover of a Zombies song—a band whose name, alone, nicely fits our theme.

TV On The Radio
Wolf Like Me
Dance. Prowl. Howl. An ominously droning synth just growls on and on under a nervy guitar subtly hiding in the background with some sinister brass and that galloping beat just won’t let go.

Tenebre (Main Title)
Italian synth-prog masters, Goblin, soundtracked numerous surreal horror films for the equally masterful director, Dario Argento. We vacillated between “Suspiria” and even the commendably eerie “Deep Red.” But if we’re going to help you with jams at your party, then you’re going to need this wickedly danceable beat, with its plinking percussion and ostentatious phantom-of-the-opera-styled organ solo.

Ghost Town
Reggae riffs and ominous minor key yelpnig, amid splendidly soulful bass grooves and cool sauntering organs. It’s not about ghosts, per se, but ever since Simon Pegg and Nick Frost employed it for Shaun Of The Dead, it always seems to evoke images of nervous zombie marches.

Dusty Springfield
Dusty kills it on this cover of an original jazz instrumental made famous by Classics IV. There’s a sensational sax solo to compliment the silky spread of her soft singing voice, hauntingly distorted into an echoed haze at the end.

Hasil Adkins
No More Hot Dogs
“Mwahahahaha….” I’m gonna put your head…on my wall! It’s only two minutes. Try not to get too creeped out.

MF Doom
MF Doom, otherwise known as Madvillain, one of the greatest (and, still, most underrated) rappers of this century, rapping over a sweet, stutter-strut beat set to astonishingly hip-hop-friendly samples of classic Scooby Doo cartoons (circa 1969). Zoinks.

The Horror
Again, zoinks! This mix will flow nicely into DJ/producer RJD2’s “The Horror,” from his breakthrough 2002 album Deadringer, which, along with plenty of funky guitars, slamming drums and siren-esque synth yowls, bursts things off with another little bit of the Scooby Doo soundtrack.

The Cure
The Lovecats
Time to lighten things up a bit. This song is adorable. The bass is a charming throwback to burlesque jazz trios and the clanking milk-bottle percussion along with Robert Smith’s exuberant ba-ba-ba-bada’s just spur the spirit out into the streets for a bit of lighthearted mischief.

Hand To Phone
Okay, let’s get dark again. Detroit’s multifaceted art-techno duo put on a clinic for electro-dance with this cooly-dreadful, wraithlike whirl, spooked-up with vocals of voyeurism that could recall any kind of horror-flick tropes, from Scream to the original Halloween. You’d feel dread with all this isolation, if you weren’t so welcomingly distracted into dancing by the enticing beats.

Night Of The Living Dead
1.) It’s the Misfits. 2.) This is a Halloween mix. 3.) The song pays homage to one of, if not THE, greatest horror film ever made. 4.) It’s pretty ferocious. That’s all we need.

Planet Claire
Call it Song 9 From Outer Space, with its loving satire of b-movie sci-fi aesthetics, the blipping satellite shot out into a mysterious cosmos that could be rife with aliens from strange planets and its guitar nearly mimicking the cool cruising riffs of the Peter Gunn theme.

Thee Oh Sees
Ghost In The Trees
We’re going to slide into this quick, riffy jam next because the quick, gritty guitars and the crusty reverb seem to sufficiently segue into each other. Thee Oh Sees might have a thousand songs recorded by now, and lots of them involve ghastly elements like corrupted coffins and “Castlemania,” but this song, taut and twirling, is perfect for our presentation.

The Cramps
Surfin Dead
The Surfin’ Dead is so much fun! It comes from the soundtrack of one of the most odd films in the horror genre, the highly self-deprecating/quasi-parody – Return Of The Living Dead. We couldn’t find the track on Spotify, so if you download the mix at the bottom, you’ll have to rock out with another one of their classics, which is equally qualified: “I Was A Teenage Werewolf.” Can’t go wrong.

Classic Pixies. You know, that whole quiet-loud-quiet formula that you’ve heard a million times, it all goes back to songs like “Dead”; whispered vocals at first, rising to a soft sing-speak, eventually erupting into a one word SHOUT: “DEAD!” And those fingernail-on-chalkboard guitars over marauding rhythms and that ominous sense that the song is in a hurry to finish itself, like it’s a delinquent teenager dared by his friends to go running through a dark, haunted house on the edge of town.

Wicked Annabella
The cliche, this time of year, is to rock witchy songs by Santana or Electric Light Orchestra, but what about THIS one? “She’s in perpetual midnight?” “In a dark and misty house?” And that tribal drum beat under eerily-growling guitars? Excellent, pass the punch. “Wicked Annabella mixes a brew that no one has ever seen.”

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Again, defying cliche, we skipped past the justifiably revered classic recording of Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You.” It’s time to hear a new song, folks. Here, you not only get the dynamic motorboat caterwauling quirks of that inimitable baritone balladeer, but also some gnarly guitar solos over boogieable beats.

Joy Division
She’s Lost Control
What should follow a “Frenzy?” A post-punk classic about “losing control…” Perfect. This song, more than any other Joy Division song, sends chills up your spine, even as you’re dancing to the caustic-echo of the hypnotic drums and the spastic, phantom-toned hum of the guitars. If we merely wanted to affect a vibe of black-lights inside a cinderblock-walled basement with strobe lights and black-clad shoegazers tilt-o-whirling around each other in a dizzy (a scene that’s perfect for any Halloween party, really) then we could have picked A LOT of other Joy Division tracks… But we’re quite satisfied with this one.

Echo & The Bunnymen
When You’re Strange
Echo & The Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” memorably opened up the early 00’s indie-goth dreamy/drama Donnie Darko. That song could have worked well, here. But, we remembered that they also did this decently “wicked” cover of The Doors for the immortal 80’s teen vampire romp The Lost Boys. Is it redundant to call a certain vampire movie “immortal?” Or is it merely hyperbolic? If you’re watching The Lost Boys at your party, you’d better have it on mute, while this mix is playing over it, at full volume. Isn’t it time to refill the Chex and chocolate raisins by now, anyhow? Let’s move on.

Howlin’ Wolf
“EEeeVUL is going on….” The pianos sound like the tickling of ribcages and the harmonica sounds like its up to no good, the drums sound like they’re kicking the door in and all the while, Howlin’ Wolf, that rich raspy croon, going from a soulful blues belt to a low, reptilian growl.

The Ventures
Out Of Limits
There is a million songs from surf-rock groups of the ’60s (and of today) that we could have included, along with who knows how many covers of The Munsters Theme Song. The Ventures, meanwhile, do a pretty chilling cover of The Twilight Show theme, but we decided to go with this song, which some may recognize from The Pulp Fiction soundtrack. That rounding organ hook recalls The Twilight Zone’s melody, anyhow, but this one is spiced with a stellar guitar solo.

Jonathan Snipes & William Hutson
Death Waltz, Room 237 Soundtrack
This is the track we’re excited for; the baddest bat in our belfry! We could have gotten nostalgic and actually put something from The Shining’s original soundtrack on this list, but instead, we’re using this awesomely creepy synth-metal masher from composers Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson, for a thought-provoking documentary ABOUT The Shining, called Room 237.

Bela Lugosi’s Dead
We figured that if you made it this far, that it’d be safe to play a 10-minute art-rock odyssey from the ’80s English outfit. Chanting, “Undead-undead-undead…” over a furl of guitars and choppy drums, blending kraut-rock and theatrical post-punk and a whole lot of other genres that blur together. You can’t have a Halloween mix without it. You can’t. We’re sorry. Just can’t. What’s next?

Siouxsie And The Banshees
Loosen up. It’s a party. The mix is almost over so it’s your last chance to dance! Grab some Now N Laters, chew ’em up and get grooving; let’s see that zombie make-up sweat off of your brow!

Little Neil
Time Warp
We pretty much stayed cliché-free for this whole mix! Until now. We don’t care. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is an ideal way to wind up your party’s closing moments up to a crashing crescendo; chorus-encouraging, choreographed thrusting, classic party-rock fare! “Put your hands on your hips…”

Download the Spotify playlist for plenty of bonus tracks:

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