As we settle into Horrors Week and prepare for Halloween, this week we’re asking:
What song are you adding to The A.V. Club’s Halloween party playlist?
I was particularly pleased this year to find that someone had heard my cries for more Halloween-themed pop music, because along came Lovecraft—a group of seven pop songwriters and producers—to deliver This Is Halloween Vol. 1, which combines glossy modern dance-pop with retro haunted-house sounds and a macabre lyrical bent. The best of the bunch? “Skeleton Sam,” a dance-floor-worthy ode to a creepy bleached-bones ghoul who likes to party. It’s “Monster Mash” for the VSCO set.
One song that got cut from last year’s list purely for time was Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party,” which appeared in the 1986 Rodney Dangerfield movie Back To School. If it wasn’t six and a half minutes long, a full 10 percent of an hourlong playlist, it definitely would have been on the AVC’s Halloween party mix for three reasons. First, the music sounds in my mind like skeletons dancing, which is perfect. Second, it’s got lyrics about “Goin’ to a party where no one’s still alive”; again, perfect. Third, the song is a cornerstone of my personal theory that the plot of Back To School is a fever vision in the dying mind of Dangerfield’s character, whose chauffeured car gets into an offscreen crash at the beginning of the film. Spooky!
What’s not to love about “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” the exceedingly goofy novelty Halloween song from 30 Rock’s original soundtrack? The Tami Sagher-penned lyrics (“I was working late on my Haftorah / when I heard a knock on my bedroom-doorah”) are tremendous, and Donald Glover’s cameo as Tracy Jordan’s exasperated hype-man adds wonderfully to the track’s silliness. But the best part? The fact that Glover actually sang on much of the song using his “amazing” Tracy Morgan impression.
I hope nobody minds me slowing things down just a tad, as I feel Mottron and Crenoka’s “Indecent” deserves a spin at any spooky gathering. The blend of tinkling piano notes, haunting, chant-like refrains, and an almost whimsical tone make for an excellent listen all year round. Within the context of this season, though? I’m just not sure there are many songs that scream “Let’s pause this party and solve a quick mystery!” quite as loudly as this one. And considering that I first heard this song in an episode of Elite, that’s probably appropriate.
Speaking of fan theories: Despite other publications’ jokey insistence, you have heard the song described in the lyrics of “Monster Mash.” It’s “Monster Mash,” the graveyard smash to which one dances the Monster Mash, a Frankensteinian variation on the Mashed Potato. Furthermore, you’ve heard the song that launched the dance craze the Monster Mash replaced—or, at least you have if you’ve ever flipped over The Original Monster Mash LP to hear “Transylvania Twist,” an actual recording that I did not just make up. Consider this the sonic equivalent of the punny costume you’ll spend the whole party explaining: Put “Transylvania Twist” on and luxuriate in your own cleverness, even as it sails over the heads of your friends and family.
A friend recently turned me onto Dickey Lee’s “Laurie (Strange Things Happen),” a goosebump-inducing ghost story disguised as a sweet 1965 pop song. It starts out with the narrator talking about falling in love with a girl at a dance, “an angel in this world,” a tale we’ve heard in popular songs a million times before. She says it’s her birthday, and she’s cold, so he lends her his sweater. He walks her home, realizes that he forgot his sweater, and then… I know you think you know where this is going, but I swear, there are still a few good twists in there, so I don’t want to ruin them for you. “Laurie” could also be the theme song for my fave local ghost “Resurrection Mary,” so no wonder I like it—but the ending still gives me chills every time.
The joke of Nick Wiger’s recurring Comedy Bang Bang bit, “The Monster Fuck,” isn’t especially complex: Every year or so, Wiger comes back on the podcast to play Leo Karpatze, the “original” writer of “The Monster Mash.” Karpatze then tricks host Scott Aukerman into thinking he’s written a new track, then proceeds to play the exact same gleefully vulgar parody song he’s been busting out for years. It’s delightful in its repetition, but it’s also delightful because “The Monster Fuck”—in which Wiger employs every possible sexual combination inherent in the Universal litany of monsters (including Swamp Thing)—is so much damn fun, especially as Wiger throws his entire body into every single “Fuck!” during the song’s intentionally stupid chorus. As with so many truly great comedy songs, Wiger/Karpatze’s composition isn’t just funny; it’s also legitimately catchy. Just be careful that you’re in properly impolite company when you start humming along to the line about Igor deciding to fuck his own dad.
The Cramps rightly made the cut last year, but I’d dig a generation deeper and add one of Lux Interior and co.’s biggest influences to the list: Link Wray. Wray is well-known for his early rock ’n’ roll instrumentals, which often carried a dangerous air and whose titles even occasionally referenced the macabre (“Jack The Ripper”). But 1964 single “The Shadow Knows”—a throwback to the classic radio mystery series—stands out for its stumbling, zombie-like groove and especially Wray’s unhinged vocal performance. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of man? The shadow knows,” he says before strumming his guitar, then letting out a maniacal laugh, just like in the show’s old intro. The way he keeps circling back to that line—“The shadow knows”—and that echoing cackle completely sells the unsettled feeling of something lurking in the unknown.
There’s plenty of reasons to be jealous of Ryan Gosling—A-list actor, chiseled abs, memes galore—but did you know he’s also behind one of this century’s most frightening albums? In 2009, he and Zach Shields released a self-titled LP as Dead Man’s Bones, a 13-track collection of atmospheric chamber rock that’s as cheeky as it is spine-tingling. Gosling’s sonorous vocals do a fine job of summoning the spirit of Vincent Price, but the band’s secret weapon is the Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir, here manifesting as an undead army of trick-or-treaters. Just listen to “Lose Your Soul,” a spooky, propulsive singalong caked in cemetery dirt.
I’m a firm believer that adding a Foo Fighters song to any playlist makes it infinitely better, and I think that’ll be the case here. “Skin and Bones” is a particularly gloomy song off Foo Fighters’ 2006 live album with the same title. Aptly named to reference the band stripping their hard rock sound down to the bare bones of raw acoustics, “Skin and Bones” gives me chills every time I hear it. You may not want to do “the mash” to this tune, but you can’t deny the catchy sound of Dave Grohl’s eerie guitar plucking and even creepier lyrics.