WEATHER ALERT

Spooky tunes for boys and ghouls

Halloween dominates October like Christmas dominates November and December, but while the yuletide soundtrack is vast and never-ending, with songs in every genre imaginable, All Hallow’s Eve is sorely lacking in musical accompaniment.

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Halloween dominates October like Christmas dominates November and December, but while the yuletide soundtrack is vast and never-ending, with songs in every genre imaginable, All Hallow’s Eve is sorely lacking in musical accompaniment.

We can only listen to Bobby Pickett’s Monster Mash — which debuted 60 years ago — so many times before wanting to chop our ears off.

So the Free Press staff worked in the lab late one night and (de)composed this playlist of songs that should be played on and around Oct. 31, even if they aren’t traditional Halloween tunes.

Heads Will Roll

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃 🎃

This spiky synth-pop number from New York City’s foremost dance-punk provocateurs oozes midnight, black-cat energy, with “glitter on the wet streets/silver over everything” and allusions to Alice in Wonderland. And frontwoman Karen O’s frenzied command — “0ff, off with your head! Dance, dance til you’re dead!” — practically demands to be heeded. Queen of Hearts, indeed. — Jen Zoratti

Werewolves of London

Warren Zevon

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃

Zevon had his one of his biggest hits with this 1978 song that’s become a Halloween standard. He howls like a werewolf throughout the tune when he isn’t name-dropping horror-film greats such as Lon Chaney, “The Man of a Thousand Faces,” and his son, Lon Chaney, Jr., who played the Wolf Man.

Both go walking with the queen in Zevon’s scary world. — Alan Small

Death Note

Ghost Twin

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃 🎃

It’s not hard to imagine this dark, synth-driven tune from Winnipeg duo Ghost Twin making an appearance in a dark, grainy cult horror flick.

“But in my blood there lives a wolf that howls a dark familiar song,” comes one line, before the chilling “So just point the silver bullet to my skull and end it all.”

The pair just released their version of the theme song from John Carpenter’s Halloween. — Ben Sigurdson

 

Temporary Secretary

Paul McCartney

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃

This track from Sir Paul oozes creepiness. The lyrics — which tell a story of an executive contacting an agency for a temporary secretary “fitting on my knee” — has divided critics and listeners since its release in 1980.

In 2011, Pitchfork called it “frankly irritating but still interesting” while Secretary made the cut for NME’s Top 200 songs of all time list.

I wouldn’t go that far, but the frenetic, synthy beat definitely can’t quickly be purged from memory. — Ben Waldman

Psycho Killer

Talking Heads

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃

David Byrne is at his eccentric best in this song about a serial killer. A discomforting first verse drips with malevolence as Byrne’s voice increases in pitch, rising from a lazy drawl to a manic screech in the chorus before it slips back down into the monotonous, venomous second verse.

But delivery aside, it’s the throbbing bass — wielded by Tina Weymouth, who wrote the French section of the bridge — on which the song hangs: dark, moody and nefarious.

The B-side version is softer, Arthur Russell’s cello making it sound far lovelier than it should be. But the first will always own my soul.

Note: Months before the song was released in the summer of ’77, the Son of Sam David Berkowitz went on a killing spree. — AV Kitching

Lily

Richard Dawson and Circle

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃 🎃 ½

Lily could be a seamless addition to The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack. It’s campy, cinematic and dark.

A collaboration between English folk musician Richard Dawson and Finnish experimental rock band Circle, the lyrics tell the tale of a nurse encountering apparitions of recently deceased patients, confined to a hospital bed one minute, walking the ward with a smile the next. — Eva Wasney

 

Are You Happy Now?

Richard Shindell

Creepy factor: 🎃

This witty 1992 track from American folk singer Shindell documents the end of a relationship that terminated on Halloween, leaving the narrator hiding from trick-or-treaters in a house that’s doomed to be draped with toilet paper after his partner leaves him for another guy: “But what was I supposed to do but to sit there in the dark? / I was amazed to think that you would take the candy with you too.”

(That cheating witch probably left him just the Coffee Crisps as the ultimate kiss-off.) — Jill Wilson

Everybody’s Gay

Lizzo

Creepy factor: 🎃 💋

“We on demon time until tomorrow morning,” Lizzo purrs on this disco-inflected banger from her new album, this year’s Special, which could be about getting freaky in the club, or club that’s getting freaky, depending on your seasonal read, owing to the many double entendres about monsters, doffing masks, playing dress-up and “sisters drinking bitches brew.”

Forget Thriller. Dance to this instead. — JZ

Burn Down the Cornfield

Charlie Musselwhite

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃 🎃

Many people have put their own spin on this blues tune by songwriter extraordinaire Randy Newman over the years, and most versions include the spooky bassline.

That includes this 2004 cover by Musselwhite, who played harmonica for Muddy Waters late in the blues great’s career; he provides a harp solo that makes for an eerie finish. — AS

Dancing and Blood

Low

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃 🎃 ½

From Low’s dissonant 2018 release Double Negative (the year’s best album, don’t @ me) comes this distorted piece of slowcore, building on bass-heavy percussion before vocalist/drummer Mimi Parker’s haunting vocals pierce the noise while abstract loops rise. Bandmate/husband Alan Sparhawk’s vocal harmonies and sparse, brooding guitar lines add to the chills before a long atmospheric drone of a finish. — BS

 

What’s He Building?

Tom Waits

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃

This spoken-word performance art from Waits’ offbeat mind describes a mysterious neighbour, who “took down the tire swing from the pepper tree,” and has “poison underneath the sink, of course, and enough formaldehyde to choke a horse.”

Trick-or-treaters should think twice about venturing on this street, whether it’s to avoid the unsavoury neighbour or Waits, the suspicious narrator. — AS

Poor Unfortunate Souls

Ursula the Sea Witch

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃

This tune from The Little Mermaid is so scary that I haven’t listened to it since the year 1999, when I was four. Ursula freaked me out then as much as now, but bravely, I listened to the sea witch’s song just now in the Free Press office.

Safe to say, I won’t be going under the sea any time soon. — BW

She’s Gone Away

Nine Inch Nails

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃

On its own, this slow, plodding but oh-so intense industrial-rock burner from Nine Inch Nails is plenty creepy.

But its placement in Twin Peaks: The Return’s mind-blowing eighth episode — one of many bands/musicians featured in David Lynch’s epic 2017 series — takes the spooky factor dark, shadowy places like never before. — BS

 

Baby’s Got a Temper

Prodigy

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃

England’s electronic dance crew may be better known for its provocative ’97 single Firestarter but it’s this song about date-rape drug Rohypnol with its distorted electro beats and juddery synths that strikes the most fear in the heart.

The melody is toxic, the lyrics repetitive, the video is deranged; in short, everything about it is nasty.

A controversial choice, perhaps, but when I first heard it as a young woman, the thought of encountering this drug was far more terrifying than stumbling upon graveyard ghosts and haunted houses. Definitely one to bring out the resting witch face. — AK

Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)

Backstreet Boys

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃

If you’ve never seen the music video, I’ll forgive the raised eyebrows but Everybody is undeniably a Halloween song. The six-minute drama sees the ‘90s heartthrobs forced to spend a night in a mansion haunted by hotties, during which they’re transformed into a cast of (sexy) monsters: Brian into a werewolf, AJ into a Phantom of the Opera, Howie into a vampire, Kevin into a creature from the Black Lagoon and Nick into an unfortunately dusty mummy.

If the video isn’t creepy enough, Nick yell-singing the line “Am I sexual?” is true nightmare fodder. — EW

The Man Who Died of Nothing at All

Crooked Fingers

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃

Songwriter Eric Bachmann seemed to have some demons to exorcise after leaving indie rock band Archers of Loaf: his first album as Crooked Fingers is filled with dark imagery and song titles such as Black Black Ocean and A Little Bleeding.

On this gloriously grim track — weeping strings over a melody that could be an Appalachian murder ballad — his voice sounds like he’s been gargling razor blades as he talks to a broken man who’s “Breathing in the glass to your last lung / All blackened and cracking and blue.” — JW

Marrow

St. Vincent

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃 🎃 🎃

It’s hard to pick just one Halloween-worthy St. Vincent song. With her haunting delivery and otherworldly esthetic, Annie Clark has created a whole world of spine-chilling music.

Marrow is an ideal entry point. The opening melody comes from what sounds like a chorus of ghosts and the lyrics read like a Victorian children’s rhyme: “Mouth connects to the teeth / And teeth to the loves and curses.” — EW

 

Werewolf Bar Mitzvah

Jeff Richmond and Tracy Morgan, ft. Donald Glover

Creepy factor: Zero pumpkins

“Look up at the sky,” Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) says at the start of this track, an extension of a throwaway joke from TV sitcom 30 Rock. “It’s a full moon, on the Sabbath.”

Sign this Jewish comedy nerd up. It only gets better. “I was working late on my haftorah, when I heard a knock on my bedroom door-ah,” Tracy Morgan talk-sings.

“Tomorrow you will stand at the bima and pray, but tonight, let’s gaze at the moon and bey.” The chorus is so dumb it’s smart: “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah, spooky, scary. Boys becoming men, men becoming wolves.” — BW

 

Dearly Departed

Shakey Graves

Creepy factor: 🎃 🎃

“You and I both know that this house is haunted/ You and both know that the ghost is me,” Austin singer-songwriter Graves (!) sings on his rollicking, rootsy 2014 single (featuring Esmé Patterson), which even opens with eerie “Ooooo”s.

The actual haunting may be by the ghosts of a dead relationship, but the lyrics and the video give it a literal twist, with crystal balls, rattling chains and friendly spirits, who help a couple get over their breakup. — JW

 

Heavyweight Champion of the World

Reverend and the Makers

Creepy factor: ½

Hardly creepy, this song nonetheless deserves a spot on any Halloween playlist for its ennui-laden lyrics.

The jaunty melody masks the depressing reality of a man who could have been a someone but is now slave to the “same old routine, repeating week after week” and ends up being just like everybody else. Now there’s a scary thought. — AK

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Alan Small

Alan Small
Reporter

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

AV Kitching

AV Kitching
Reporter

AV Kitching is an arts and life writer at the Free Press.

Ben Sigurdson

Ben Sigurdson
Literary editor, drinks writer

Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman
Reporter

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.

Jill Wilson

Jill Wilson
Senior copy editor

Jill Wilson writes about culture and the culinary arts for the Arts & Life section.

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