The best Halloween rock songs pay homage to the fun darkness of the holiday while creating an atmosphere that conjures elements of both traditional and modern interpretations of monsters, slashers, graveyards, and hitting your neighbors up for candy–whatever that may mean to you. What you don’t want is Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s lame Monster Mash looping in endless auditory torture. Instead, let the rollicking music and lyrics of the following songs provide an otherworldly backdrop for your Halloween festivities.
Pet Sematary: The Ramones
A song written for the movie version of Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary.” No, you can’t live your life again, even if you’re just a dead dog or cat. Bad things will happen. You can trust horror master King and the Ramones on that one.
Bela Lugosi’s Dead: Bauhaus
This two-chord gem is heavy on atmosphere and plays like the electrified chant of a hopped-up vampire cult. An homage to the silver screen’s finest Dracula, it is creepy and fast and rocks with a chorus of: Undead, Undead, Undead.
Goo Goo Muck; Green Fuz; Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?: The Cramps
The Cramps, the unofficial official band of Halloween, rate three tunes. While multiple songs by one artist on a playlist generally indicates a lack of imagination, The Hangover must make an exception for The Cramps and their surf-punk-rockabilly sound. With humor and horror, these tunes would get the zombies of the Walking Dead to do the pogo.
Werewolves Of London: Warren Zevon
A Halloween-perfect romp with werewolves, pina coladas at Trader Vic’s, perfect hair, and a little old lady getting mutilated late last night. Gory fun. Ah-wooooo!
Pretend We’re Dead: L7
By tying a bit of straight-forward feminist populism to traditional Halloween elements, L7 has fun and makes a statement at the same time. The dose of reality offered by the lyrics is bitter chocolate to the bouncing chorus.
Season Of The Witch: Donovan
A natural choice for the holiday, this early piece of psychedelia is spare and moody with haunting vocals and a chilling guitar that winds its way through the melody. A feeling of unease permeates the song.
Midnight Rambler: The Rolling Stones
The Stones provide a blues backdrop to the traditional dark side of the holiday with a gritty piece that includes allusions to the Boston Strangler and images of Jack the Ripper. (This epic 1969 live version provides maximum effect.)
The Killing Moon: Echo and the Bunnymen
This is a masterpiece of atmosphere with themes of fate and loss. The song is performed with grace and gravity. The lyrics and vocals drip with hurt as the music churns on.
After Dark: Tito & the Tarantulas
From the stylized crime and vampire film “From Dusk Till Dawn,” Tito Larriva and his band provide a haunting Latin-influenced backdrop to the dangers of the night. Halloween doesn’t get any hotter than the dance that Salma Hayek performs to this song in the film.
Spellbound: Siouxsie and the Banshees
The psychedelic punk rocker is a roller coaster ride in both sound and meaning. The lyrics have laughter cracking through the walls and the singer spinning out of control. Fear abounds as the music swirls. This song’s otherworldly credibility was substantiated when the song was chosen to play over the closing credits of HBO’s Trueblood (season four, episode four) “Spellbound” episode.
Spirit In The Night: Bruce Springsteen
An early Springsteen classic on letting go of our pedestrian existences, if only for a few hours of the night.. This all happens at Greasy Lake, on the “dark side of Route 88” with Crazy Janie, Hazy Davy, and Killer Joe, not to mention lonely and gypsy angels. Sure sounds like Halloween.
Frankenstein: The Edgar Winter Group
One of rock’s most well-known instrumentals, it is big, powerful, and fun–somewhat like the monster itself. But that’s not where its title comes from. The song earned its name during production and editing, in which recording tape was pieced together with legendary difficulty in the studio.
Party Time: 45 Grave
This was the featured song on 1985’s “Return of the Living Dead” by one the first bands to combine punk rock and horror movie themes. Lead singer Dinah Cancer’s screeching vocals and the band’s deep-throated guitars get this song up and going.
God Gave Rock ‘N’ Roll To You II: Kiss
Perhaps no other band has spawned as many Halloween costumes as Kiss. For that reason alone, Kiss deserves a song on the list. From children of the ’70’s to those walking the streets today, the signature back and white theatrical makeup has shaken down countless households for Milky Ways and Three Musketeers. Bonus factor: This arena rocker is bound to confuse any Christian zealots who have a problem with either Halloween itself or any of the “evil” traditions that it is based on.