Beyond “Monster Mash”: 60 minutes of killer tunes for your graveyard smash

Illustration: Allison Corr
Power HourPower HourPower Hour creates one tight 60-minute set from a musician’s discography or a genre, picking both big hits and deeper cuts.

Halloween is on a Wednesday this year, which means that all but the most dedicated creeps will be throwing their Halloween parties this weekend. And while it’s tempting to just put “Monster Mash” on repeat and wait for someone to call you out on it, you want your guests to stick around through the witching hour, right?

If so, we’ve got that hour covered with 15 songs about ghosts, vampires, witches, zombies, and psycho killers—and one late-’80s time capsule where Will Smith raps about Freddy Krueger. Many of these songs will be familiar, particularly if you were old enough to pay attention to music in the ’80s and early ’90s. That being said, we tried to dig just a little bit deeper than “Thriller” and the original Ghostbusters theme. If you want to pad out the playlist with some even bigger hits, Billboard’s got a list of the most commercially successful Halloween songs of all time here.

Princess Nokia, “Brujas” (2016)

Taken from Princess Nokia’s 2016 mixtape, 1992 (and its subsequent 2017 studio version, 1992 Deluxe), “Brujas” is a declaration of pride, as Nokia celebrates her Afro-Latinx and Native roots—and the powerful brujas (Spanish for “witches”) in her bloodline. Brujeria has seen a resurgence in recent years, mainly among Latinx and Afro-Caribbean millennials looking to connect with their ancestors through spirituality. Adding an extra layer of diasporic magic is a sample of Angela Bassett as voodoo queen Marie Laveau on American Horror Story, reminding listeners that “everything you got came from us.” Don’t worry, though; as long as you respect her family and don’t fuck with her energy, Princess Nokia is a good witch.

Outkast (Featuring Kelis), “Dracula’s Wedding” (2003)

Count Dracula is the ultimate swinging bachelor. He stays up all night, has three women living in his castle who will do anything he wants, and he still tries to steal his solicitor’s fiancée. Andre 3000 takes on the character of the Count in “Dracula’s Wedding,” from Outkast’s 2003 double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. In the song, 3000/the Count confesses the one thing that scares him: commitment. “Don’t run, I’m not the sun,” Kelis responds, her voice ghostly under layers of echo. “So much at stake—oh, bad choice of words.”

Siouxsie And The Banshees, “Halloween” (1981)

For goths, Halloween is Christmas, Easter, the Fourth Of July, and every other holiday wrapped up into one. Siouxsie And The Banshees may dispute the categorization of their 1981 album, Juju, as “goth-rock,” but no matter what you want to call it—post-punk, new wave, whatever—the spiky guitar on “Halloween” will get the darklings on the dance floor. And although we hate to argue with the queen of the genre, how are lyrics like “I wander through your sadness / Gazing at you with scorpion eyes,” not goth, exactly?

Misfits, “Skulls” (1982)

True, Misfits also have a song called “Halloween.” But two in a row seemed a bit excessive, even for a Halloween playlist. Besides, the horror-punk pioneers’ discography is overflowing with seasonally appropriate songs. So we decided to go with this fan favorite off of Misfits’ debut full-length, Walk Among Us, simply because it’s really fun to scream along with Danzig, “I want your skulls! I NEED YOUR SKULLS!” after a couple of glasses of punch.

Ramones, “Pet Sematary” (1989)

Legend has it that Dee Dee Ramone wrote the lyrics for “Pet Sematary” in Stephen King’s basement, after Ramones superfan King invited the band over to his Bangor, Maine home for a visit. Regardless of the veracity of that particular legend, the Ramones did give permission for two of their songs, “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” and this original, to be used in Mary Lambert’s 1989 film version of Pet Sematary. None of the original Ramones are around to pen a new theme song for the remake, but we know a patch of land in rural Maine that might be able to help.

Rockwell, “Somebody’s Watching Me” (1984)

“Thriller” is a Halloween classic. That’s a given. “Somebody’s Watching Me,” which features a supremely creepy synth line and Rockwell’s childhood friend Michael Jackson himself on the chorus, was also a big hit, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January of 1984. There aren’t any monsters (besides the IRS) in this song, just an overwhelming sense of paranoia; Rockwell’s even scared to take a shower, because they remind him of Psycho too much.

Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew, “Spirit” (1989)

Another B-side of sorts to a classic Halloween hit, “Spirit” is the other song that plays over the end credits of Ghostbusters II—you know, after the clips from the film fade to black, the text starts scrolling, and everyone starts filing out of the theater. It’s also an underrated gem, featuring diamond-sharp beats and proficient beatboxing from Doug E. Fresh, the father of the art form.

Ministry, “(Every Day Is) Halloween” (1984)

Leave it to Ministry to be aggro about the most goth night of the year. Recorded in 1984, several years before the Chicago-based band shifted from New Order-esque synthpop to forceful industrial metal, “(Every Day Is) Halloween” curses the normies who give Al Jourgensen shit for still being into snakes and lizards on November 1: “Well, any time, any place, anywhere that I go / All the people seem to stop and stare / They say ‘Why are you dressed like it’s Halloween? / You look so absurd, you look so obscene.’”

Alice Cooper, “Feed My Frankenstein” (1991)

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the “Frankenstein” in this Alice Cooper hit is in his pants. (Although the annotations on the song’s Genius page are pretty hilarious.) But its association with Wayne’s World, in which Cooper performs the shock-rock number in front of a giant glowing skeleton, makes it a nostalgic Halloween treat for millennials of a certain early-’90s vintage.

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, “John Carpenter’s Halloween” (2017)

Released one year ago, just as the hype for the new Halloween was starting to build, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ rendition of one of the most iconic pieces of film music of all time takes Carpenter’s chilling, minimalistic original composition and adds pummeling synth beats and upscale haunted-house sound effects, as well as an unnerving, expansive sense of space. It’s fitting, given that Michael Myers is something of a soulless void himself.

Dr. Dre (Featuring Hittman And Ms. Roq), “Murder Ink” (1999)

Using horror imagery as a metaphor for the dangers of life on the streets is a thread that runs through ’90s gangster rap (see also: Ice Cube’s “Dr. Frankenstein”). But this 1999 track has an edge, thanks not only to its nerve-shattering sampling of the Halloween theme but also for the verse from Ms. Roq, whose tenure in the hip-hop game was unfortunately very short. Hopefully, you won’t even miss that other savage hip-hop Halloween song with a verse from a female rapper that just isn’t as much fun this year.

Concrete Blonde, “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)” (1990)

Concrete Blonde got some goth in its roots rock on its 1990 Bloodletting album, anchored by this sexy, strutting six-minute fantasy about romantic vampires stalking the streets of New Orleans in search of sticky-sweet blood. Frontwoman Johnette Napolitano and company were ahead of the morbid curve on this one; clearly inspired by Anne Rice, “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)” came out four years before the big-screen adaptation of Rice’s most famous novel, Interview With The Vampire.

The Cramps, “Zombie Dance” (1980)

Like Misfits, The Cramps are another quintessential Halloween band. They’ve got “I Was A Teenage Werewolf,” of course, along with songs like “Creature From The Black Leather Lagoon,” “Human Fly,” “I Ain’t Nuthin’ But A Gorehound,” “Voodoo Idol,” and, perhaps most terrifying of all, “Don’t Eat Stuff Off The Sidewalk.” This blazing little rockabilly number comes from the group’s debut, Songs The Lord Taught Us, about a sock hop where the dancers’ feet might fall off if they shimmy too strenuously.

Roky Erickson And The Aliens, “I Walked With A Zombie” (1980)

Not even Glenn Danzig loves old B-movies as much as Roky Erickson. Famous for his stint in Texas’ Rusk State Hospital For The Criminally Insane after taking entirely too much acid in the late ’60s, the former 13th Floor Elevators frontman returned to the spotlight with his 1980 solo debut, I Think Of Demons. Every song on the album is about aliens, monsters, ghouls, and zombies—like this number, a ’50s-style rock ’n’ roll ballad with a spare Phil Spector beat, fuzzed-out guitars, and one simple, repeating lyric: “I walked with a zombie last night.”

DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, “A Nightmare On My Street” (1988)

Apparently, the only one who can resist Will Smith’s charm is Freddy Krueger. All the other songs on this playlist with lyrics explicitly referencing a horror movie were written for that film’s soundtrack; not so with “A Nightmare On My Street,” essentially a piece of fan fiction where the Fresh Prince battles Krueger. The song was considered for A Nightmare On Elm Street 4, but was ultimately rejected. (The Fat Boys’ “Are You Ready For Freddy” played over the end credits instead.) Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff put the song on their 1988 LP, He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper, anyway, but a lawsuit forced the duo to pull its music video, featuring unauthorized clips from the Nightmare movies, from MTV.