In celebration of Halloween, I put together a list of spooky, scary and just plain silly loosely Halloween-themed tunes. 1. Tracy Morgan, “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” Okay, okay, so this song is more about Jewish boys becoming men – and men becoming wolves – than Halloween, but it’s a pretty scary song all things considered. I mean, listen to that third verse, in which the 30 Rock star talks about making circumcision jokes at the country club and eating brisket, and then remembers that the song is supposed to be about werewolves. Classic.
2. Bobby Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers, “Monster Mash” This tune pretty much had to go on this list, right? But it does follow “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” pretty nicely, I have to admit.
3. North American Halloween Prevention Initiative, “Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en?” Man, only in Canada can a tune like this reach number four on the pop charts. Recorded in 2005, this spoof on the “pop star charity song” genre features the members of pretty much every prominent and/or relevant indie-leaning band from the early 2000s. You’ve got Win and Régine from Arcade Fire, Devendra Banhart, Jenny Lewis, Beck, Feist, J’aime Tambeur and Nick Diamonds from the Unicorns and currently Islands, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Karen O from Yeah Yeah Yeahs and more all singing about the dangers of Halloween. While I might not agree with their tongue-in cheek anti-Halloween agenda, it’s a great song nonetheless.
4. M83, “Graveyard Girl” Admittedly, this song by these French synth-lovers sounds like it belongs in “Sixteen Candles” or some other John Hughes flick. But how can you resist those soaring guitar lines, thick-as-molasses synths and breathy vocals, even on all-hallows eve? The pouty teenager in all of us can empathize with Antony Gonzalez’s pseudo-morbid lyrics, which really work rather well for Halloween.
5. Headlights, “Skeleton Man (Evangelicals)” You may have noticed that these couple songs don’t really sound spooky at all, but such is the nature of my music collection. At least this has “skeleton” in the title! Headlights are a great indie-pop band from central Illinois, and this cover of Evangelicals’ tune shows off their skill at changing any song to suit their sound. I don’t know much about Evangelicals, but the original isn’t half as good as Headlights’ jangly, breathy take on the song.
6. Edvard Grieg, “In the Hall of the Mountain King” Here’s where things get creepy. I have these great memories from elementary school music class of singing these goofy lyrics that my music teacher made up to this piece every Halloween season. “It’s so dark, it’s so stark, think I better quicken up my pace I know not where I am!” and so on. But then I saw Fritz Lang’s seminal 1931 crime film “M” in a film studies class, in which the child murderer whistles this tune every time he starts to go crazy, and this piece suddenly got a lot creepier.
7. Say Anything, “Spidersong” Max Bemis is nuts. I’m not really sure what he’s getting at with lyrics like “I’m growing legs / I am the spider / Crawl inside her”.maybe something about lust and unrequited love? Who knows. If you ever liked any sort of punk music, check out Say Anything’s 2006 album “.Is A Real Boy”; it’s both hilarious and heartfelt, and the band can play.
8. Michael Jackson, “Thriller” An obligatory addition, but certainly a great one. I was really disappointed to learn that the Appleton YMCA was taking part in the world’s largest simultaneous dance to “Thriller” over reading period, when I was already going home! I can’t even come close to moonwalking – really, it’s more like “moon shuffling/tripping” – but that sounded like a great time.
9. Bishop Allen, “Psycho Killer (Talking Heads)” Even though I know I’m supposed to like the original version of this better, I can’t help liking this playful take on the Talking Heads’ jagged dance-floor jam. Darbie Rice’s introduction of this live recording makes it even better: “I wrote this song. when I was in high school. and that was the beginning.” This one’s perfect to groove to after “Thriller.”
10. Cursive, “Bloody Murderer” I always forget how dark Cursive’s lyrics are. This whole album, “The Ugly Organ,” is basically about the lead singer’s marriage falling apart, and he is not happy about it. I definitely chose one of the darkest tunes on the album because of the title, but it’s a pretty cool song regardless. The interesting rhythms, the eerily awesome cello part, the loud-soft dynamic range and that excellent resolve into 4/4 time at the end as Tim Kasher yells “bloody murderer!” make this song perfect for Halloween.