It’s that time of year again. Here are 31 great songs for a perfect Halloween mixtape. And by “ultimate” and “perfect,” I mean you probably have your own list.
1. “Human Fly” by The Cramps
The Cramps were true artists. They stole from everywhere and made a band both completely new and instantly familiar, like a dream you have falling asleep in front of TCM at 2 in the morning and on their very first single, they gave us a nightmare we’d never forget. Indeed, “Human Fly” might be their greatest original. Two guitars, drums, no bass and singer Lux Interior mumbling about garbage brains and reborn maggots usin’ germ warfare. Objective correlative lyrics: “I’ve got 96 tears and 96 eyes.” Their entire catalog is a perfect Halloween soundtrack.2. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus
Bauhaus always chafed at the idea that they were Goth music, but not because of the black-clad, frowning fans. They thought the descriptor was wrong — Goth implied something ornate and Bauhaus was strictly minimalist. They weren’t wrong — “Bela” has a ton of space in it, which makes it all the spookier. Like the Cramps, their debut single was a miracle — reggae-inflected rhythms, spare guitar, Peter Murphy’s just-got-out-of-the-coffin voice. Still a stunner (and using the song for the opening credits of “The Hunger” was inspired).
3. “Pet Sematary” by the Ramones.
The Ramones always told you what they wanted (be your boyfriend, sniff some glue, be a good boy) and what they didn’t want (walk around with you, be sedated, care). Here, they decline to be buried with Fido, Boots and Rover. Can you blame them, seeing as how those animals may come back to life?
4. “Rumble” by Link Wray.
Legend has it that the one-lunged, Native American, Korean War veteran came up with this monster while playing a dance at the Fredericksburg Arena in Virginia. Someone asked for a stroll, and Wray knocked out one of the most powerful instrumentals of all time. The single was released in ’58 and the rest, as they say, is history. ‘Rumble’ is a wonderful song to listen to in the autumn — this sound is all wind in the Central Virginia hills, leather jackets over heavy flannel shirts and violent juke joints. Rock music is impossible to imagine without this menace.
5. “I Walked with a Zombie” by Roky Erickson.
Austin’s favorite son walked with a zombie last night. Just ask him. As legendary Byron Coley noted, Roky is one of the very rare artists whose ’70s work is as vital as his ’60s work.
6. “Season of the Witch” by Donovan.
This song has been covered A LOT — by Lou Rawls, Richard Thompson and Hole to name a few. But none of them quite capture the eerie disconnect Donovan’s voice has here.
7. “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin' Jay Hawkins.
Before this million-selling single, our man was simply Jay Hawkins, blues singer. After, he was Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, coffin, cape and smokin’ skull. Hawkins sounds completely, gloriously unglued, as if even he can’t believe how well the song is turning out.
8. ”(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult.
BOC guitarist Buck Dharma’s masterpiece of spacey guitar, spacier vocals and a solo that pulls up to a full stop when the riff restarts. Dharma’s vocals are a bit creepier than intended, I think — what was supposed to indicate a lack of fear of death instead sounds like what a very chill serial killer is mumbling in your ear before the hammer comes down.
9. “Halloween” by Dream Syndicate.
In this brilliant (and unconscious?) rewrite of Television’s “Marquee Moon,” a mysterious figure drives you around and tells you the meaning of life. Tone nerds should note that guitarist Karl Precoda is playing without any pedals — that’s all volume, a hollowbody guitar and amp distortion right there, kids.
And here are the rest!
10. “Freaks Come out at Night” by Whodini
11. “Runnin' With the Devil” by Van Halen
12. “Gates of Hell” by Bloody Hammers
13. "Thriller" by Michael Jackson
14. “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones
15. “Monster” by Kanye West feat. JAY-Z, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross
16. “Welcome to My Nightmare” by Alice Cooper
17. “Halloween Theme - Main Title” by John Carpenter
18. “Dracula Pt. II” by the Jimmy Castor Bunch
19. “The Hanging Garden” by the Cure
20. “Halloween” by King Diamond
21. “Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield
22. “Halloween” by the Misfits
23. “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads
24. “Somebody’s Watching Me” by Rockwell
25. “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker, Jr.
26. “Valley of the Snake” by Ruby the Hatchet
27. “Little Ghost” by the White Stripes
28. “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show
29. "Black Magic" by Ruston Kelly
30. “Bark at the Moon” by Ozzy Osbourne
31. “Monster Mash” by Bobby Pickett
Listen to the ultimate 31-song Halloween on Spotify. If the embedded playlist below doesn’t appear, you can find the playlist here.