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halloweenHalloween kicks off the holiday season, which is full of singing and merriment.

Music history and appreciation are often under-looked aspects of having a career in the audio industry. To understand how to be a great audio engineer, you have to understand what makes music great. Knowing what songs have been popular gives you insight into how new songs could sound. By listening back over the history of music, you can add a lot of tricks to your engineering repertoire. Perhaps you hear a different song arrangement that makes you think. Maybe the way the drums are mixed on a tune gives you inspiration to work on your own mixes.

Previously, I made a list of unique Thanksgiving and Christmas songs to add to your winter enjoyment, but it dawned on me that Halloween, one of my favorite times of the year, doesn’t seem to have as many popular songs and jingles as the other holidays.

For my enjoyment, I’ve made a comprehensive list of the thirteen top Halloween Songs of All Time.

Monster Mash

The most iconic of all Halloween tunes is undoubtedly the “Monster Mash”, by Bobby Pickett. Released in 1962,  the song went on to hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts, reaching position #1. Following up this success, Bobby and his band the Crypt-Kickers wrote “Monster’s Holiday”, a monster-themed Christmas jingle. The Misfits did a great cover of this well-known Mash.

I Put a Spell on You


Written in 1956 by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, this track went on to be listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. The second recording of this song was to become the most popular version of it, and helped add the “Screamin’ ” prefix to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins name. The producer had “got everybody drunk, and we came out with this weird version … I don’t even remember making the record. Before, I was just a normal blues singer. I was just Jay Hawkins. It all sort of just fell in place. I found out I could do more destroying a song and screaming it to death.” This song has been covered numerous times, including by Marilyn Manson, however Nina Simone perhaps made the best rendition, as we can hear here:

Ghostbusters

Written by Ray Parker, Jr., this was the title track from the 1984 movie. This recording hit the top of Billboard’s Hot 100, staying there for three weeks. Parker ended up writing this song in a very short timespan – only a few days. There are some similarities between this song and Huey Lewis’ “I Want a New Drug”. This dispute was later resolved outside of the court system.

This Is Halloween

Written by Danny Elfman for the movie Nightmare Before Christmas, this is an easy to remember Halloween classic. The 1993 Disney movie featured inhabitants of various holiday towns, Halloween Town being one of them. Danny Elfman has a penchant for making very spooky sounding songs, which works especially well with soundtracks like “Sleepy Hollow”, “Tales from the Crypt” and “Army of Darkness” . Marilyn Manson does a great job of taking spooky sounds to the next level and making them into epic horror themes, as we can hear below:

Halloween

I absolutely love this song. It was originally released on Halloween, 1981. This was also the last Misfits recording featuring guitarist Bobby Steele. The lyrics perfectly capture the thoughts that travel through my head every time the weather gets chilly and the leaves start to turn.

Bonfires burning bright
Pumpkin faces in the night
I remember Halloween

Dead cats hanging from poles
Little dead are out in droves
I remember Halloween

Brown leafed vertigo
Where skeletal life is known
I remember Halloween

This day anything goes
Burning bodies hanging from poles
I remember Halloween

Halloween, Halloween, Halloween, Halloween
Candy apples and razor blades
Little dead are soon in graves
I remember Halloween

This day anything goes
Burning bodies hanging from poles
I remember

Halloween, Halloween, Halloween, Halloween

Bonus, the second part of this song sounds much like an incantation, complete with a latin version of the lyrics.

Ghouls

Psychobilly is a lesser known genre, based on rockabilly and punk. Often times it’s associated with horror-punk as well, which is a genre fashioned by bands like The Misfits, listed above. The Horrorpops are the best band in the psychobilly genre, hands down. I could arguably state that every one of their songs off all three albums could technically be a Halloween song, however I chose this one in particular due to the lyrics:

They always wants to see monster movies
So they can hold me when they think I get scared
They are surprised when I’m not turned on
By their fantasies about how it’s done

Ghouls, they keep me company
It’s like I’m the wife of Halloween
Hey! It’s a horror movie theme
Hell I know…

The Creepshow (the band, not to be confused with the 80s horror flick) are another great example of great psychobilly:

I just wanted to love you
have you forever
being together
just you and me

But you couldn’t take it
didn’t want me no more
now my body’s hidden
cold under your floor

Oh, sleep tight my boy
you should’ve though it out
oh you can’t kill a girl
without her soul sticking around

Oh sleep tight my boy
I’ve been watching
with undead eyes

Time Warp

Halloween is all about dressing up, and nobody loves to dress up more than Rocky Horror Picture Show fans. The “Time Warp” was recorded in 1975 for the movie adaptation of the stage performance, and featured Meatloaf’s vocals throughout. This is a catchy dance number that would compliment the “Monster Mash” any day!

Nightmare On My Street

Pivoting a bit to the more tongue-in-cheek, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince had released a lesser known “version” of their “Fresh Prince” jam, known as the “Nightmare On My Street”. Found on their second album, this song gained a small bit of popularity reaching #15 on the US Hot 100 charts. The song is clearly based on the horror movie “Nightmare on Elm Street”. New Line Cinema, owners of the Elm Street franchise, took legal action against what they believed was copyright infringement, resulting in the music video created for this song to be scrapped and the song all but lost.

(Ghost) Riders in the Sky

Originally created in 1948 by Stan Jones, this American ghost tale became popularized by Johnny Cash in 1979. Visions of undead zombie riders on horseback is a chilling thought. It went on to hit the number 2 position on the Billboard Hot Country Singles charts. Many bands have done versions of this song, including The Scorpions, Scatman Crothers, and Spike Jones.

The Devil Went Down to Georgia

Written in 1979 by the Charlie Daniels Band, this became their biggest hit, running up to the third position on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts. The song is about the Devil’s attempt to steal a boy’s soul in a fiddle contest. In this duel, the Devil plays his golden fiddle, backed by a rock band of demonic musicians. This iconic song has also been covered by The Muppets, Blues Traveler, and Primus.

Fright Night

The Spook is a little known band from Germany that fits into the horror punk genre. This title track off their 5 song EP “Fright Night” could really be the theme song to any 80s horror movie. What’s even better is the rest of the songs on the album match this theme as well – “The Giant Spider Strikes”, “Mantula”, “The Undead Call” and “Deep Lagoon” all harken back to classic horror movies like The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Earth Versus The Spider.

Somebody’s Watching Me

With the help of vocals from Michael Jackson and Jermaine Jackson, this album hit the #2 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 charts. The music video for this song depicts Rockwell coming home to what appears to be a haunted house. Eventually, it turns out that it is zombies that are watching him. How spooky! Whenever I get that feeling, where the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, this tune goes through my head.

Thriller

The first performance of this song happened after Halloween, on November 14th 1983. The music video was directed be “American Werewolf in London” director John Landis, and featured horrifying zombies with strikingly good choreography. It won three of the six awards it was nominated for at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1984, and was the first music video ever added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress. This song is perhaps the most famous Michael Jackson tune of all time, and was the 7th top ten single from this album.