Beyond ‘Monster Mash': TIME Picks the Best Halloween Songs

Don't be scared—it's just our playlist of perfect music for the spooky holiday

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Whether you’re cleaning up after Sandy, handing out treats or partying down at a monster-mash bash of your own, here we offer — with a few liberties on the theme — something for everyone in this wide-ranging hour of Halloween music.

Savor it with someone who frightens you.

1. Ministry, “Every Day Is Halloween”

What better way to start our set than a tribute to the costumed outcasts of society, those who are relentlessly bullied and told things like “you look so absurd, you look so obscene”? Time for them, and us, to let those freak flags fly!

2. Oingo Boingo, “Dead Man’s Party”

The Halloween fest continues with the delightfully delirious mind of Danny Elfman. His “Dead Man’s Party” with Oingo Boingo is just as vivid and cinematic as any of his later film scores.

3. Harry Belafonte, “Jump in the Line”

Many a man of a certain age recalls crushing on Winona Ryder in her Beetlejuice turn as Lydia, particularly during her shake, shake, shake down the line in one of director Tim Burton’s many inspired moments in the film.

4. Rocky Horror Cast, “Time Warp”

Our triptych of cinematic Halloween songs concludes with a jump to the left and then a step to the right. Richard O’Brien’s timeless “Time Warp” is the most fun one can have in Frankenfurter’s abode.

(LISTEN: TIME’s Hurricane Sandy Spotify Playlist)

5. Donovan, “Season of the Witch”

Scottish troubadour Donovan isn’t usually associated with Halloween, or even any other holiday, but a spooky sense of poisonous foreboding imbues his “Season of the Witch.”

6. The Fifth Estate, “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead”

More witch business, this one a bubblegum-pop revival of a Wizard of Oz slice of Munchkin mirth. Lest you think this is too lighthearted for a ghoulish playlist, note this old Rick Polito Oz film review: “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.”

7. Nina Simone, “I Put a Spell on You”

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the primordial shock rocker, spawned this timeless tune — which somehow has never placed in the Top 40 in any of its versions — but to these ears, Nina Simone gives the most haunting, venomous reading. John Lennon once said that her inflections here inspired his and Paul McCartney’s vocal approach to “Michelle.”

8. Kim Carnes, “Crazy in the Night (Barking at Airplanes)”

A forgotten nugget of ’80s pop, “Crazy in the Night” reminded listeners that Kim Carnes had an eccentric side to her. (Anyone else remember 1981’s “Draw of the Cards” and its creepy-as-all-hell video?) And with this week’s storm activity, “hiding under the covers” seems a good idea for more than one reason.

9. DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, “A Nightmare on My Street”

How can we not include this? Rap’s greatest ode to Freddy Krueger is a welcome reminder of the Will Smith who busied himself with whimsical storytelling rather than by-the-numbers film blockbusters.

10. Ronnie Aldrich and the London Festival Orchestra, “Quentin’s Theme”

Charles Randolph Grean’s 1969 instrumental hit from the cult favorite Dark Shadows was a harpsichord-heavy ethereal breeze of a melody, but this symphonized version is richer and even more amenable to dancing with a ghostly apparition.

11. Bauhaus, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”

The origins of goth rock, presented in a searing, jagged one-take session. Enjoy this while watching The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for the umpteeenth time.

12. Johnny Cash, “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”

This campfire spook story was a hit twice — in 1961 for the Ramrods and in 1981 for the Outlaws — but we’re partial to the Man in Black’s take on demon-cows who foretell an apocalyptic horsemen’s ride.

(MORE: And the Most Popular 2012 Movie-Inspired Halloween Costumes Are…)

13. Dusty Springfield, “Spooky”

While this song was a huge hit for Classics IV and later a smaller one for the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Dusty’s version of “Spooky” has a certain sultriness the others lack. Just on the off chance you’re considering proposing to someone this Halloween, this is the sound-track selection to do it to.

14. Warren Zevon, “Werewolves of London”

Thematically on point, and with one of the most lusciously alliterative lines in rock history (“little old lady got mutilated late last night”), Warren Zevon’s biggest hit is a must for inclusion in this set list.

15. The Edgar Winter Group, “Frankenstein”

The title suits a certain unignorable storm presently upon us, and the famed character’s cobbled-together origins proved a perfect name for this kitchen sink of a tune. It’s the sound of electroshock therapy — but rocking electroshock therapy.

16. Rob Zombie, “Dragula”

Perhaps no artist is better suited for Oct. 31 than Rob Zombie, and on “Dragula” he takes his movie-ready horrorcore to its (widow’s) peak.

17. David Bowie, “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps”

Another artist whose theatricality is nearly unmatched, Bowie in his creative peak always had a costume of a persona at the ready. Here he’s fashionable and detached yet danceable as he describes a woman losing her mind in the street.

18. Skrillex, “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”

A logical follow-up to the similarly titled Bowie tune, this song’s minimal direct Halloween relevance is tempered by the fact that its sound — and success — are scary as hell to many adult ears.

(MORE: Grownups in Costumes: Have Adults Ruined Halloween?)

19. Dead Kennedys, “Halloween”

Hardcore punk pioneers the Dead Kennedys used the Halloween holiday as symbolism in its final single, ragging on people who are only willing to repersonalize themselves one day out of the year, urging them to put social regulations in a very private place. Far more courageous to live every day as if it were Halloween, as Ministry suggested earlier.

20. Dead Man’s Bones, “My Body’s a Zombie for You”

Rather than trot out Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash,” our novelty entry in this list comes from Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields, who recorded an album of ghost songs with a requisite children’s choir. Of the songs on their 2009 self-titled, we opt for this love song to the walking dead among us.

21. Bow Wow Wow, “I Want Candy”

The night can’t end without a trick-or-treater’s plea for one more sugar rush. One minor quibble though: unlike Annabella Lwin, we don’t recommend candy “wrapped in a sweater” — all those fuzz balls! Ick!

22. Michael Jackson, “Thriller”

We close with the finest Halloween song ever concocted. What more needs to be said about one of MJ’s most enduring moments both visually and musically? Grab some popcorn, put on the video, and let the thrills commence.

Listen to TIME’s Halloween playlist on Spotify:

3 comments
hotandbothered
hotandbothered

NO 'Monster Mash"? There's no Halloween w/o me hearing that song on the radio at least 1x on Halloween!!

vryanb18
vryanb18

You forgot Jimmy Smith's (jazz organist) theme from "Bewitched", "Munsters," and St. James Infirmary. Believe all on same CD. Essential to any adult party. I used to play this outdooes at night, very spoooky.

dbouch
dbouch

there is only one halloween song that endures beyond all others.   "it's halloween" by the shaggs.  three girls from new hampshire that made an album in the late 60s i can only describe as feral.  there's nothing quite like it.