For kids, Halloween means Trick or Treating; for adults, it’s a party night that gives adults an excuse to act like kids. On what other night can an otherwise average adult citizen go out in public dressed as a princess, caveman, or pirate, and blend in with the crowd? Or walk down the street dressed as a bank robber, escaped convict, or hooker, and not draw the attention of law enforcement? And let’s not even discuss the possibility of walking into a club or bar and meeting the girl or guy of your dreams – who happens to be dressed as a fairy godmother, Chippendale, or exotic alien.
Part one of this feature looked at seven recommended songs for your Halloween party or playlist. Here are six more, making a total of 13 essential tracks that are sure to get you in the proper Halloween spirit.
6. “I Put A Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Born Jalacy Hawkins in Cleveland, Ohio in1929, Hawkins was a “shock-rock” performer ahead of his time. In his 1950s stage act, he would emerge from a coffin dressed like a voodoo chief, carrying a cigarette-smoking skull on a stick named Henry. When he opened his mouth to sing, Hawkins acted like a witchdoctor with Tourette syndrome. Amidst his deep baritone delivery, he would grumble, scream, stick out his tongue, and break out in maniacal laughter in mid-verse.
This was at a time when some audiences found Elvis Presley’s hip gyrations unsettling. You can imagine what they thought of Hawkins.
“I Put A Spell on You” is filled with Hawkins’ laughs, yells, and unsettling baritone vocal. Ironically, the singer intended to record the song as a straight ballad. According to Hawkins, label executive Arnold Matson wanted to loosen up the band for the recording session, so he brought a case of whiskey into the studio and told everyone to enjoy themselves.
After a few hours, both Hawkins and the band were drunk. Someone decided it was time to record, and “I Put A Spell on You” was captured on tape in all its inebriated glory. Hawkins was so drunk that he passed out soon afterward. When he awoke, he had no memory of the recording session and had to learn the new version of “I Put A Spell on You” from the master tapes.
“I Put A Spell on You” has since been covered over 30 times, by artists like Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, Nina Simone, Alice Cooper, Manfred Mann, and Marilyn Manson. But for Halloween listening, none of the other versions can hold a candle to Hawkins’ wildly off-the-wall original.
5. “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon
The late Warren Zevon had a talent for covering somber or morbid subjects in his songs and making them seem routine or even lighthearted. Warren Zevon’s Top-40 hit from 1978, “Werewolves of London” is a case in point. Although it features gristly lines like “You better stay away from him / He’ll rip your lungs out, Jim” and “Little old lady got mutilated late last night,” the jaunty piano line and references real-life dining establishments and werewolf style make it one of the more amusing Halloween songs on this list.
In a 1983 “Off The Record” interview with Mary Turner, Zevon recalled that Phil Everly asked him to write a dance song for an upcoming solo album. Everly even suggested the title “Werewolves of London.” Zevon said that he was at Roy Marinell’s house working on chord progressions when Robert “Waddy” Wachtel walked in and asked them what they were doing.
“We’re doing the ‘Werewolves of London.’” Zevon said.
“You mean, ah oooh – those ‘Werewolves of London’?” Wachtel asked.
Fifteen minutes later, a rough draft of the song was complete.
4. “Welcome to My Nightmare” by Alice Cooper
There has never been a rock star that embodies the macabre spirit of Halloween better than Alice Cooper. Known for outlandish theatrics like simulating his execution on stage, or wrapping himself in his pet boa constrictor, he’s been called the “King of Shock-Rock,” and the “Godfather of Heavy Metal.” Whatever title is placed on him, all acknowledge Alice Cooper as a true rock ‘n’ roll original.
Perhaps no other song encapsulates Cooper’s spooky stage persona better than “Welcome to My Nightmare,” the title track to his 1975 album. The song begins: “Welcome to my nightmare / I think you’re gonna like it / I think you’re gonna feel that you belong / We sweat, laugh, and scream here / ‘Cause life is just a dream here”
It’s not so much the words themselves, but Cooper’s sinister delivery that gets under your skin.
Released as a single, the song didn’t quite break into the Top-40. The promotional video for the song, however, was one of the first extended conceptual music videos ever filmed. It no doubt inspired the first generation of music videos that would help establish the MTV phenomenon a few years later.
3. “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker, Jr.
This tune, from the blockbuster movie of the same name, was a worldwide #1 hit in 1984. In a September 2006 interview with Blair Jackson for Mix Magazine Online, Parker said he was asked by friend Gary LeMel, who was in charge of assembling the soundtrack, to write the theme song for the film.
Parker recalled he was told that a variety of musicians had written songs, but none contained the word “Ghostbusters.” Parker agreed to take a look at the film and try his hand at coming up with a suitable theme. Unfortunately, he would only have two days to write it.
“I wrote the music pretty fast, but I was struggling with the words,” Parker said in the Mix Magazine interview. “Then, about three hours before I had to turn in the song, I was dead, half-asleep — it’s about 4:30 in the morning — and a commercial comes on — I think it was a drain company — and they flash this phone number, and it reminded me of a spot in the movie where the Ghostbusters have their packs on and they show a phone number, like they’re advertising. And that was it! I came up with the idea of ‘Who you gonna call?’ And then I thought, there’s no way you’re going to sing ‘Ghostbusters’ in a song and make it sound good, so instead of singing it, I’d have a crowd answer me.”
With a bounce-along beat and a catchy, shout-back hook, “Ghostbusters” remains one of the most popular movie themes of all time – and a Halloween favorite for kids of all ages.
2. “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers
“Monster Mash” is the best-selling novelty song in the history of rock music. Not only did it become a #1 hit when it was released in 1962, it charted again in 1970 and in 1973 (reaching the Top-10 in the United States). Bobby Pickett, made a career out of the song, several similar “sequels” (“Monster’s Holiday” “Monster Rap”), and related projects.
Pickett was an aspiring actor who sang part-time with a band called The Cordials. One night, while performing The Diamonds’ “Little Darlin'” with his band, Pickett did the spoken monologue portion of the song in a voice imitating horror movie actor Boris Karloff. The audience loved it, and fellow band member Lenny Capizzi encouraged Pickett to do more with the Karloff imitation.
It was 1962, and dance crazes like the Twist, the Watusi, and the Mashed Potato were all the rage. At a later jam session, Capizzi suggested that Pickett could use Karloff’s voice to narrate a story in which the Frankenstein monster starts a new dance craze. Pickett and Capizzi wrote the song, and then recorded it with a group of musicians that included pianist Leon Russell. The song has been covered by artists ranging from The Beach Boys to Mannheim Steamroller to The Misfits.
1. “Thriller” by Michael Jackson
Even without the groundbreaking 14-minute music video that accompanied it, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” would top most Halloween party playlists. The song was the seventh and final single released from the studio album of the same name. The album “Thriller” was released in 1982 and the song “Thriller” went Top-10 and remained on the charts well into 1984, giving Jackson a two-year span of Top-10 hits and solidifying his place as the “King of Pop.”
The song was written by Rod Temperton and originally titled, “Starlight.” The song begins, “It’s close to midnight and something evil’s lurking in the dark / Under the moonlight you see a sight that almost stops your heart / You try to scream, but terror takes the sound before you make it / You start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes. You’re paralyzed”
Produced by Quincy Jones, the creepy lyrics were set to a funky disco beat.
The video for the song, which cost an unprecedented $500,000 to make, was directed by John Landis, who was known for directing films like “National Lampoon’s Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers.” Veteran make-up artist Rick Baker designed the make-up effects. At the height of its popularity, MTV was playing the 14-minute version of the “Thriller” video twice every hour.
Veteran horror movie actor Vincent Price lends his distinctive voice to the “rap” in the last portion of the song. It was not the first time Price’s spoken voice made a guest appearance on a famous music album. He can be heard at the end of “Devil’s Food” on Alice Cooper’s “Welcome To My Nightmare” album.