We all equate Halloween with tricks, treats, ghosts and goblins, so with 31 October again looming large, we couldn’t resist compiling a list of the 25 best Halloween songs. Whether you fancy a bit of escapism or are planning a spooky soiree, these are the essential songs to put you in the spirit.
25: OutKast: Dracula’s Wedding (2003)
OutKast’s iconic double-album, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, had many hit tracks, including the likes of The Way You Move, Roses and Hey Ya!, but an often-forgotten cut is the Halloween-themed Dracula’s Wedding. The song is led by André 3000, who takes on the role of Dracula while guest singer Kelis sings as his queen. The track is a light-hearted Halloween tale as André sings on the chorus, “I wait my whole life to bite the right one/Then you come along and that freaks me out.” There aren’t many Halloween hip-hop songs, and maybe this forgotten OutKast cut is the reason why, but it’s still worth a play to help get you in the mood.
34: The Specials: Ghost Town (1981)
Originally intended to sum up the wave of unemployment, violence and financial woes that plagued Britain in 1981, this reggae-infused track from British band The Specials is a great song to get you in the mood for Halloween. In a post-lockdown landscape, the opening verse has taken on a slightly new meaning: “This town, is coming like a ghost town/All the clubs have been closed down/… Bands won’t play no more.” As depressing as the lyrical connotations may be, the ska rhythm is still irresistibly spooky.
23: DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince: A Nightmare On My Street (1988)
As well as creating one of the most iconic TV theme songs of all time, DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince (aka Will Smith) recorded a number of full-length hip-hop projects, with their second studio album, He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper, opening with their Halloween-inspired track A Nightmare On My Street. The song tells a story inspired by the horror franchise A Nightmare On Elm Street, as Will Smith raps of his interactions with the movie antagonist Freddie Kruger. The character crossover is not the only connection to the iconic films, as the beat of the track also samples from the original movie theme. New Line Cinema weren’t too happy that their franchise was being used for profit by the duo, ultimately leading to a legal dispute, an out-of-court settlement and the shelving of the song’s music video, which has since been uploaded online.
22: Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Heads Will Roll (2009)
American indie-rock group Yeah Yeah Yeahs wrote their hit single Heads Will Roll from the perspective of Lewis Carroll’s character The Queen Of Hearts, from the classic children’s book Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. The track fuses elements of rock and dance music as singer Karen O echoes out the chorus of “Off with your head/Dance ’til you’re dead”. The track may not be the scariest or most haunting entry on this list of the best Halloween songs, but thanks to a fantastic remix from DJ A-Trak, it is an essential play all year round, especially on Halloween.
21: Billie Eilish: bury a friend (2019)
When Billie Eilish released bury a friend, it wasn’t intended as a Halloween-themed song, but the hit single is filled with disturbing sound effects and eerie lyrics (Eilish has said it was written from the perspective of the “monster under your bed”). The synth-pop and experimental production makes the song really stand out, while the chorus and bridge are also quite creepy, but musically captivating as they sound like nursery rhymes. If you need any more convincing that this is one of the best Halloween songs of recent years, just watch the music video and tell us it didn’t freak you out.
20: Lou Reed: Halloween Parade (1989)
Many of the best Halloween songs are fun, kitschy and disposable (in the best possible way). However, Lou Reed, the legendary former leader of The Velvet Underground, brought some rare dignity and gravitas to the occasion with Halloween Parade, one of the standout tracks from his late-80s masterpiece, New York.
Many of the songs from that widely acclaimed album were directly political, with Reed taking aim at the social and economic injustices blighting his beloved home city on impassioned songs such as Dirty BLVD and Strawman. Yet Halloween Parade was all the more powerful because it was entirely personal. Broadly a celebration of the New York City parade of the same name – an annual event which began in the mid-70s – this deceptively languid song was steeped in loss and sadness, with Reed close to choking up as he recalled friends who had succumbed to AIDS at a time when New York was losing around 5,000 people to the disease each year (“This Halloween is something to be sure, especially to be here without you”).
19: Pink Floyd: Careful With That Axe, Eugene (1968)
A slow-moving instrumental workout which eventually delivers terror akin to Stephen King’s The Shining via some blood-curdling screams, Careful With That Axe, Eugene initially turned up on the flipside of Pink Floyd’s 1968 single Point Me At The Sky. However, it was too good to languish as a mere B-side and was later re-recorded for director Michelangelo Antonioni’s cult 1970 film, Zabriskie Point, for which it was renamed Come In Number 51, Your Time Is Up. Subsequently given a home on Floyd’s Relics complication, and a mandatory inclusion on any list of the best Halloween songs, Careful With That Axe, Eugene also remained a live favourite during the 70s, with the extended in-concert versions captured for the Ummagumma album and the Pink Floyd At Pompeii film revealing how the band revelled in recreating the song’s sinister, hypnotic vibe.
18: Gorillaz: Dracula (2001)
Dracula originally appeared as a B-side to Gorillaz’s debut single, Clint Eastwood, and was later given a wider release both as part of the G-Sides collection and as a bonus track to some editions of Gorillaz’s self-titled debut album. Effectively a Lee “Scratch” Perry-esque ode to the Prince Of Darkness (complete with obligatory Christopher Lee sample), Dracula’s wonky, dub-enhanced stroll seems like an unlikely entry among the best Halloween songs, but it’s irresistible after a few listens. If you fancy a herbally-enhanced All Saints’ Eve, then this is the song to soundtrack it for you.
17: David Bowie: Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980)
Though not penned specifically with Halloween in mind, the title track from David Bowie’s Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) album throbs with more than enough paranoia and fear to feature in this list of the best Halloween songs. Dating back to 1975, the song was originally titled Running Scared, but was radically reworked for Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), with the lyrics – which chart a woman’s withdrawal from the world and her descent into madness – drawing comparisons with Joy Division’s startling Unknown Pleasures highlight She’s Lost Control.
Despite featuring one of its parent album’s most abrasive sonic backdrops (further enhanced by Robert Fripp’s suitably otherworldly guitar squall), Bowie boldly plumped for the song’s release as a single. It couldn’t replicate the success of the landmark Ashes To Ashes, but it still scraped into the UK Top 20 and remains a fan favourite among the best David Bowie songs.
16: The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Time Warp (1975)
1975’s film adaptation of the comedy horror musical The Rocky Horror Show would become a true cult classic, as fans fell in love with the outlandish costumes, over-the-top storyline and, above all, the cheesy songs. Beyond the musical, the song Time Warp grew massively popular and is certain to be heard at most throwback nights, weddings and Halloween parties. The lyrics teaches the listener the full dance routine, and though it was initially intended as a parody of dance-craze songs, Time Warp is essential for your Halloween party and certain to get everyone on their feet.
15: Van Halen: Runnin’ With The Devil (1978)
The second single from Van Halen’s self-titled debut album, Runnin’ With The Devil often gets placed among the best Halloween songs because its lyric has (erroneously) been held up as Satanic. In reality, the song was inspired by the song Runnin’ From The Devil, by 70s funk outfit The Ohio Players. The lyrics “I live my life like there’s no tomorrow/And all I’ve got, I had to steal/Least I don’t need to beg or borrow” refer to the living-in-the-moment lifestyle most bands fall into when they’re almost permanently on the road. That little insight certainly corrects received wisdom about the song, but Runnin’ With The Devil is still a first-class, rubber-burnin’ rocker and it deserves its Halloween-playlist status even without its supposedly Satanic verses.
14: Talking Heads: Psycho Killer (1977)
When American post-punk group Talking Heads released their debut album, Talking Heads: 77, they included the track Psycho Killer. It would go on to become one of their most well-known songs, though the subject matter is pretty unconventional. Written from the perspective of a serial killer, the catchy funk/New Wave cut shows the split personalities of the killer, who switches between French and English in the track. A bizarrely brilliant song with an infectious bassline and unforgettable chorus.
13: Ray Parker, Jr: Ghostbusters (1984)
Not content with writing one of the best Halloween songs of all time, Ray Parker, Jr, also delivered arguably the most iconic movie theme song in history. His theme for the 1984 blockbuster Ghostbusters is a catchy dance-pop track which will have you screaming “Who you gonna call?” at the top of your voice as soon as you hear its opening refrain. The song’s lyrics are cheesy and simple, but musically it’s got all the essential 80s elements you want to hear, even if some of them were borrowed from Huey Lewis…
12: Eagles: Witchy Woman (1972)
Eagles and Halloween may appear to be unlikely bedfellows, yet the Californian roots-rock legends weighed in with some atypically spooky fare with their second single, Witchy Woman, taken from their 1972 debut album. Co-written by Bernie Leadon and Don Henley, and sung by the latter, the song recalled a woman with “Raven hair and ruby lips/Sparks fly from her fingertips” and was inspired by Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of The Great Gatsby’s author, F Scott Fitzgerald, whose penchant for the potentially hallucinogenic drink absinthe was referenced in the line “And she drove herself to madness with a silver spoon”.
Henley and co worked up a suitably moody, rock-based backdrop for the track, and the band’s fast-growing fanbase lapped it up, buying enough copies for Witchy Woman to do better than the preceding Take It Easy on the Billboard Hot 100. Giving Eagles their first bona fide Top 10 US hit, it still ranks among the best Eagles songs today.
11: AC/DC: Hell’s Bells (1980)
Some may have believed the funereal bell heard tolling during the intro for Hell’s Bells also sounded the death knell for AC/DC following the death of their charismatic original vocalist, Bon Scott. However, the band were made of much sterner stuff and they returned refreshed with new vocalist Brian Johnson on Back In Black – a record which didn’t just establish the group as one of rock’s biggest bands, but, with sales of around 50 million and counting, it pretty much demolished the competition.
With help from the aforementioned 900kg bronze bell, the dramatic Hell’s Bells kicked the album off in fine style, with the band rapidly slipping into a sure-fire groove, and a fervent Johnson spitting out the apocalyptic lyric (“I’m rolling thunder, pouring rain/Coming on like a hurricane!”) with bug-eyed relish. All in all, it made for a perfect, Halloween-friendly entrée for a world-beating rock album which was fittingly released on 31 October 1980.
10: Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: I Put A Spell On You (1956)
Originally intended as a love song, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put A Spell On You is a classic rock and blues track, first released in 1956, which is sure to creep out any listener. Hawkins’ vocals really carry the song as the guitar, drums and brass act as a mere backing to his dominating voice. The story goes that a drink-fuelled recording session was all it took to turn the intended blues ballad into the creepy Halloween classic we know today. The 50s hit is the oldest track in our list of the best Halloween songs; despite it’s voodoo connotations, it had a massive impact on music, with everyone from Nina Simone to Annie Lennox, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Bryan Ferry covering it.
9: Rockwell: Somebody’s Watching Me (1984)
Rockwell’s synth-pop track Somebody’s Watching Me is a paranoia-filled anthem, as the Motown performer sings of his anxieties over being followed by someone. The premise of the track is a bit random, but creepy lyrics (“When I’m in the shower I’m afraid to wash my hair/’Cause I might open my eyes and find someone standing there”) and homages to classic Hitchcock horror movies (“People say I’m crazy, just a little touched/But maybe showers remind me of Psycho too much”) make this one of the best Halloween songs. Also, the chorus features backing vocals from both Michael Jackson and his brother Jermaine, which helped the single peak at No.2 in the charts on its initial release.
8: Echo And The Bunnymen: The Killing Moon (1984)
Though not written with Halloween in mind, The Killing Moon finds a place among the best Halloween songs on atmosphere alone. Lush, poetic and enhanced by swooning strings, it’s a slice of Scouse noir par excellence, with everything from its moody sleeve to its portentous lyric hinting at something otherworldly heading this way (“The Killing Moon will come too soon”). Frontman Ian McCulloch has never needed convincing that it’s one of the best Echo And The Bunnymen songs (“I know there isn’t a band in the world who’s got a song anywhere near that,” he famously told The Observer), but whenever you surrender to The Killing Moon’s crepuscular beauty, you end up believing he has a point.
7: Warren Zevon: Werewolves Of London (1978)
The Everly Brothers’ Phil Everly initially gave Warren Zevon the impetus to write his signature hit when he half-jokingly suggested the singer-songwriter adapt the basic plot behind the 1935 movie Werewolf Of London into a song.
With help from co-writers LeRoy Marinell and Waddy Wachtel, Zevon acquiesced, but he considered the finished song little more than a novelty. However, after Jackson Browne and T-Bone Burnett both began performing it live (the latter when he opened for Bob Dylan during 1975’s Rolling Thunder Revue), Zevon recorded his own version of Werewolves Of London for his third album, Excitable Boy, with a band including Fleetwood Mac stalwarts Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.
Even then, Zevon wasn’t convinced the song’s Lou Reed-esque swagger and wry, cartoon-like lyrics (“A hairy-handed gent, who ran amok in Kent”) amounted to anything much, but Asylum Records disagreed, issuing Werewolves Of London as Excitable Boy’s first single. Received as one of the best Warren Zevon songs[https://www.thisisdig.com/feature/best-warren-zevon-songs/], the track repaid its creator in spades, becoming his lone US Top 30 hit and proving that – if it’s done right – a great horror-themed song doesn’t just inspire at Halloween, but at any time of the year.
6: Ramones: Pet Sematary (1989)
Written in 1989 for the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel of the same name, Pet Sematary became one of Ramones’ biggest hits. King’s novel and film tell the story of a haunted graveyard, which has the power to resurrect those buried within. The American punk band chant through the chorus, “I don’t wanna be buried in a pet sematary/I don’t wanna live my life again” – a sentiment most listeners likely share. The song has a simple structure, but a great chorus with classic punk drums and guitar: a staple throughout Ramones’ career.
5: Danny Elfman/Cast Of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’: This Is Halloween (1993)
The opening number to Disney’s Halloween-themed animated classic truly sets the scene of the fictional Halloween Town in which the movie is based. Despite being a Disney production, This Is Halloween is definitely one of the creepier entries in our list of the best Halloween songs. The orchestral backing and chanting of ghostly-sounding choral singers transports listeners straight into the world of lead character Jack Skellington. Successfully getting the listener excited for the movie that follows, the song has developed a life of its own and become a staple track of the spooky season.
4: Bobby Pickett: Monster Mash (1962)
Was there any doubt this would top our list of the best Halloween songs of all time? Since its release, in 1962, it has become synonymous with the Halloween season. Pickett takes on the persona of a mad scientist telling the story of how he invented the newest dance craze for monsters and ghouls across the land. With cameo appearances from zombies, werewolves and even Dracula himself, Monster Mash has it all – including an infectious chorus that we know is already stuck in your head while reading this!
3: Alice Cooper: Welcome To My Nightmare (1975)
Few artists can hold a candle to Alice Cooper when it comes to soundtracking Halloween. Sustaining interest in all things macabre for well over 50 years, Cooper initially went by his real name, Vincent Furnier, and fronted the glam-tinged Alice Cooper Band, with whom he scored mainstream hits such as School’s Out, I’m Eighteen and Elected during the early 70s, before adopting the mantle of Alice Cooper (the man) in time for the release of his high-profile solo debut album, Welcome To My Nightmare, in 1975.
Thematically, the album was based around the Halloween-friendly theme of the nightmares of a boy named Steven, but its big budget allowed Cooper to experiment sonically and call upon one of KISS/Lou Reed collaborator Bob Ezrin’s most accomplished production jobs. A suite-like tour de force which unfolds across five minutes, the record’s title track remains an especially memorable addition to the best Alice Cooper songs, and while its lyric was suitably eerie (“Welcome to my breakdown/I hope I didn’t scare you/That’s just the way we are when we come down!”), its mood-shifting musical backdrop revealed that horror-rock could be both spooky and sophisticated.
2: Michael Jackson: Thriller (1982)
Just missing out on the top spot is Michael Jackson’s disco- and funk-infused track. Thriller is perhaps best known for its iconic music video/short film directed by horror-movie director John Landis, with incredible zombie-themed choreography still known today by listeners young and old. Easily one of the top-selling Halloween tracks of all time, Thriller provided an iconic moment for 80s pop culture.
1: Iron Maiden: The Number Of The Beast (1982)
Metal legends Iron Maiden caused a stir in 1982 with the release of their anthem The Number Of The Beast. Its chorus, “Six six six, the number of the beast/Hell and fire was spawned to be released,” received a rocky reception from religious groups and concerned parents, but this seemingly ageless track nevertheless gave the group’s seismic The Number Of The Beast album its name, and was a big success with fans of the titanic British band, whose horror-inspired single remains not only one of the best Iron Maiden songs, but also a worthy winner in our countdown of the best Halloween songs of all time.
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