OOOOOOO … It’s the Deleeeeeete Bin Hallow’eeeeeeeeen 10 Songs special! This is a spoooooky selection of …
OK, wait. Just stop. Never mind.
The whole ‘scary voice ‘ thing doesn’t work so well in print. But, Hallowe’en is almost here, with ghosts and goblins about to hit the streets. Or is that Transformers and Disney Faeries maybe? Either way, I thought it was high time for some spooky tunes from across the decades of pop-tastic-ness to serve as soundtrack for the season. I have, as you can see, breezed right by “Monster Mash” and “Thriller”.
They’re great tunes for this time of year, but … well, they’re too obvious, aren’t they? And I did “Monster Mash” last year. Moving on. Here are 10 others that aren’t those songs. Some of them are actually about real scary creatures of the night. But, could there be themes lurking beneath the surfaces of these songs, just waiting to pounce? Take a look!
1. Ghost Town – The Specials
A smash 1981 single from the first tier of second wave ska bands, The Specials’ spooky tale was an anthem to some of the scarier things in the world at the time; unemployment, urban decay, poverty, hopelessness, violence, and the death of one’s hometown due to all of them.
The scariest part of this song was that in early ’80s Britain, these ghosts were real. Unfortunately, all over the world including here in North America, they’re still haunting us.
2. Honeymoon Suite – Suzanne Vega
This one is a deep-cut from Vega’s 1999 record Nine Objects of Desire. This song reminds us that ghosts can of course exist in relationships too.
Here in this tale of visitations, secrets, and old, possibly haunted hotel rooms, we have a prime example that sometimes even when we’re close to someone, they carry ghosts around with them that we can’t always see.
3. Frankie Teardrop – Suicide
You want really scary? How about an electronic, 10-minute, minimalist, almost-spoken tune about inner-city desperation that leads to a double-murder and suicide, delivered by a band who is indeed called Suicide.
Besides the out and out terrifying yowls from vocalist Alan Vega on this track from their 1977 self-titled debut, one of the scariest things about this is how this drama is playing itself out at various stages all over the world right now, with poverty, anger, and mental imbalance creating some truly tragic situations.
4. Happy Phantom – Tori Amos
Would being a ghost be so bad? Tori Amos doesn’t think so on this song, taken from 1992’s Little Earthquakes, chasing nuns out in the yard, not needing an umbrella, and waking up in Strawberry Fields every day?
But, is this just about being a mischievous spirit, or about feeling like a ghost when you’re still alive, feeling isolated and perhaps feeling disconnected from one’s identity, or perhaps tied down by another’s perception of what that identity should be? You be the judge.
5. Teenage Werewolf – The Cramps
Every teenager feels awkward, with a transforming body that is doing so beyond their control. Puberty, youthful angst, and lycanthropy are pretty closely connected that way. And just to make it more interesting, let’s set that theme it to some twangy punkabilly while we’re at it. The Cramps recorded this one for 1980’s Songs The Lord Taught Us, while referencing the 1957 film I Was A Teenage Werewolf (starring Michael Landon!) that made that very same connection.
The band would make a career of writing punkabilly tunes that matched horror images with the whole experience of feeling weird and out of place as a teenager.
6. Ghost Riders In The Sky – Johnny Cash
Halowe’en is a time when we think about mortality, and the afterlife if we believe in one. Johnny Cash is the voice of doom on this 1979 cover of the well-worn and popular Country & Western hit originally written in 1948, and covered many times since.
Cash makes this song about cowboys cursed to chase the Devil’s Herd for eternity into a song that is less about damnation, and more about redemption. Come to think of it, he made a lot of songs sound that way.
7. Spooky – Dusty Springfield
What’s more terrifying than love? In this song, it’s about the hold that it often has over us, making us do things that perhaps surprise us, haunting our dreams and not being (often) what it seems. Dusty knows!
Dusty Springfield recorded this for her 1968 Dusty … Definitely album, with her light-as-air, and almost spectrally beautiful voice.
8. Moon Over Bourbon Street – Sting
Is being a vampire about being handsome, sparkly, and making out with cute women? No, says Sting. Based on his reading of Anne Rice’s novel Interview With A Vampire, Sting describes the vampire as one who is cursed to love what he destroys, and being doomed to destroy the thing he loves.
Recorded for his 1985 debut solo record, Dream of the Blue Turtles, this one isn’t so much scary as it is sad. But, it features a vampire, so …
9. Ghost Song – Patrick Wolf
The most frightening idea of a ghost isn’t about being confronted by something external that will hurt us, but rather about being disconnected, spiritless and abandoned. This is what this song, taken from Patrick Wolf’s 2005 record Wind in the Wires is concerned with; our spirits wandering free and independent of us, not connected to our lives.
Like in Tori Amos’ song, the real fear of ghosts is about acknowledgement of what’s really important to us and about us being out of reach.
10. The Raven – Lou Reed/Willem Defoe
The poet laureate of Hallowe’en is Edgar Allen Poe, with a number of stories and poems that capture the spirit of the macabre which we love so well at this time of year, and all year round. Lou Reed acts as something of a musical curator here, while actor Willem Defoe reads Edgar Allen Poe’s most famous poem (with some new material from Reed) from the 2003 album The Raven.
Like Poe, Lou Reed has had a history of chasing the darkness, and danger, while also trying to capture what it’s like to experience the pleasures and pains of that through his work. Sometimes, the darkest obsessions make for the greatest art.
Humanity and the supernatural have had a close connection since civilization began. And so, as our little ones (and some big ones, I’ve noticed) galavant around our neighbourhoods hoping for more chocolate, and fewer of those crappy toffees that everyone gets, remember that Hallowe’en is at least in part about our cultural acknowledgement that our dark side exists, and is very much an integral part of the human experience.
Maybe that’s why we celebrate Hallowe’en. Maybe underneath the commercial veneer, that’s the point of it.