Scary songs offer ghoulish soundtrack for HalloweenWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
Christmas is not the only holiday with a deep catalog of music. As the Halloween season embraces all things macabre, there are hundreds of records that can provide a bloody background to your costume party.
Here are my top 10 tracks about monsters, mayhem and murder.
1. ”Please, Mr. Gravedigger” by David Bowie: No mainstream artist has ever recorded a more disturbing record. This mainly spoken, sing-song narrative comes from a child murderer who confronts the title character for stealing a locket from the dead body of one of the killer’s victims. By the end of the record, Bowie is digging a grave for the gravedigger with the man’s own shovel. Guaranteed to haunt you for days.
2. ”I Want My Baby Back” by Jimmy Cross: This one is sick. A man sings about losing his girlfriend in a car accident. At the scene, he describes the carnage, then wails about her death. Driven to dementia, the last verse finds Jimmy digging up her coffin, opening the lid, climbing inside, then hysterically singing, ”I got my baby back!” from inside the coffin. Yikes.
3. ”Psycho” by Elvis Costello: In a coolly controlled performance, Elvis sings to his mama about a series of murders he has just committed, including his ex-wife and their baby. He spills the details of the killings as he makes his mom fry fish for dinner. By the end of the song, mama is no longer moving, and our boy Elvis is singing to her corpse. Could serve as the prequel to the Norman Bates story.
4. ”Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” by The Beatles: This light piano ditty is sung by Paul McCartney with such good cheer, it is easy to overlook the song’s story. Maxwell Edison, majoring in medicine, hammers several people to death, including a date, a teacher and a judge. Macca sings as if he can barely keep himself from laughing, but maybe that’s not controlled humor; maybe that’s unleashed insanity. For more hand-tool mayhem, check out Roky Erickson’s ”Bloody Hammer.”
5. ”Imagine the Thriller” by Vincent Price and John Lennon: This mash-up takes the soft, hopeful piano notes from Lennon’s ”Imagine” and mixes it with an extended Vincent Price rap from the Michael Jackson record. The juxtaposition of the peace anthem with Price’s descriptions of ”corpses terrorizing ya’ll’s neighborhood” is jarring and eerie.
6. ”No One Lives Forever” by Oingo Boingo: This Denny Elfman song served as the opening for ”Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” a scene in which Leatherface shears off assorted limbs and heads. This driving, relentless track is all the more spooky because it fiercely celebrates the non-negotiable fact of death. By the end, as the band chants ”no one, no one, no one” over and over, you’ll want to call everyone you know and tell them you love them. Served as the template for ”Remains of the Day,” Elfman’s song for Tim Burton’s ”Corpse Bride” flick.
7. ”Friends” by The Police: This B-side about cannibalism, written and sung by guitarist Andy Summers, is creepy, creepy, creepy. ”I likes to eat my friends, make no bones about it,” he sings, and then spends four minutes rationalizing slaying and cooking people. The Police often dabbled in such nastiness. Listen to ”Murder by Numbers,” in which Sting describes an escalating penchant for killing, and ”Once Upon a Daydream,” in which Sting’s pregnant girlfriend is pushed down the stairs by her father, with tragic results. The song ends after Sting murders the father and contemplates his choice between prison and suicide. Not for the faint of heart.
8. ”The Legend of Woolly Swamp” by Charlie Daniels Band: Daniels sings of Lucius Clay, an old miser who buries his fortune in Mason jars around his swampy shack. Three young men beat Lucius, toss him in the swamp and steal the money. As they try to get away, they sink in quicksand, with Lucius’ beyond-the-grave laughter the last sound they ever hear. This is the only song on this list that managed to chart in the Top 40.
9. ”The Raven” as read by Christopher Walken: Poe is the undisputed Godfather of Halloween, and Walken, even at his nicest, is spooky, so this is a dream track. For seven minutes, Walken flawlessly reads the classic poem of the lost Lenore, with sound effects including wind, cawing, scratching guitars and unearthly moans. Tops even the James Earl Jones version from ”The Simpsons.”
10. ”Little Red Riding Hood” by Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs: It’s doubtful this song could be recorded and released today. Sam (of ”Wooly Bully” fame) sings as a stalking Big Bad Wolf, toying with Red as he licks his bloodthirsty chops. It was probably all in good fun back in 1966, but modern awareness of pedophelia and child molestation gives this song a dimension of creepiness that’s impossible to ignore.
Dishonorable Mention: ”Halloween on Military Street” by Insane Clown Posse: Nasty, foul, disgusting, terrible and hilarious. The boys chronicle a wild trick-or-treat adventure that includes a brush with every offensive topic imaginable. Parental advisory.
For a list of nearly 200 Halloween songs, e-mail Michael S. Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.