Christmas gets all the attention, but Halloween is the holiday with the most potential for great music. This holiday season has seen me compulsively Googling what various internet sources would include on an essential Halloween playlist. Sadly, many of these listmakers are grasping at straws. Most lists consist of a few movie themes (Ghostbusters, The Exorcist, etc.), “Thriller,” and “Monster Mash.” Lack of creativity and inadequacy of knowledge stand in the way of some people having a properly spooky holiday season.
One category of tunes that are inappropriate for an October playlist is classic rock songs that just have a Halloween-related word in the title. Among these are “Highway to Hell,” “Devil in Disguise,” and “Season of the Witch.” These songs are overplayed throughout the year, so hearing them during October doesn’t excite any fall feelings. They are far removed from whatever spooky intent their writers had. I doubt anyone gets chills from hearing “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” these days. One rock song that is exempt from this exclusion is “Werewolves of London.” It’s about real werewolves and has howling and one of the most mellifluous lines ever written about violent murder: “little old lady got mutilated late last night.” Plus, it was Kid Rock’s rip-off that was overplayed, not Warren Zevon’s original.
Another pitfall of Halloween playlists is including songs that are in spooky movies that are not in-and-of-themselves spooky. “Jump in the Line (Shake, Senora)” is not a scary song unless you see the ghosts of a football team dancing to it (highly recommended). A similarly misclassified song is “Time Warp.” “Time Warp” gets the air play because of two major reasons. One, because it holds up as a great song, independent of the musical’s story. To be honest, it doesn’t make any sense in or out of the context of the The Rocky Horror Picture Show narrative. Supposedly, it is a traditional dance of the Transylvanian people, but really it’s a fun song crammed into a bizarre story (like “Hot Patootie” and most of the Floor Show and pretty much the entire musical). Two, it is a sing-a-long with a dance, and is clean enough to play at public functions (though “the pelvic thrust that really drives me insane” leaves little to the imagination).
Let’s not kid ourselves. “Time Warp” is not the best song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The best song from RHPS is “Sweet Transvestite,” thanks in no small part to the English charisma of Mr. Tim Curry. Sadly, it does not get as much attention as “Time Warp,” since it is story-specific and would offend most relatives if played at a wedding reception. Neither “Time Warp” nor “Sweet Transvestite,” however, is the best Halloween track from RHPS. For that distinction, my vote is for the musical’s opening number. “Science Fiction Double Feature” is musically eerie, has far-out sci-fi imagery, and can be sung along to while staring at your lips in the mirror. Who could ask for more?
For a ready-made Halloween soundtrack, look no further than Eban Schletter’s Witching Hour. A perfect hour of monsters, ghosts, legends, and curses, the Witching Hour has seasonally appropriate mood music, verifiably creepy incantations, and scary stories told and sung by funny people (including Paul F. Tompkins, Dave Foley, and Scott Aukerman, among others). Some more songs I like to listen to in October are the Arrogant Worms’ “Scary Ned,” Men At Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?,” the Kingston Trio’s “With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm,” The Decemberists’ “Shankill Butchers,” Rockapella’s “Zombie Jamboree,” and Dead Man’s Bones’ “Lose Your Soul.” In addition to Rocky Horror, musicals with great Halloweeny songs are Little Shop of Horrors (especially “Feed Me (Git It!)”) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (obviously).
There are a lot of great Halloween songs to listen to, and if there was justice in the world, radio stations would devote the month of October to playing them. Until that day comes, seek the good in the darkness and have a party.