It’s September? Really? It’s hard to believe that Fall is almost upon us, especially as the west coast of the U.S. is currently slowly being cooked on high, yet here we are and the spookiest season of the year is looming large. I don’t know about you, but few things set the mood for the Halloween season for me the way that music does. Creepy songs easily become the soundtrack of my home in September and carry me right through witch’s night.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share 10 of my favorites. You’ll find a little bit of everything here. From murder ballads to driving pop/rock songs, we’ve got ’em all. So settle in, and give these tunes a listen! When you’re done, let me know your favorites in the comments below!
**Author’s note: These songs do not necessarily mention or have anything to do with Halloween. They simply carry that creepy vibe we all know and love well. Also, in putting this list together, I decided not to include some songs from artists who might be more popular at this time of year. You won’t find Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, or Type-O Negative here, for example. I love those artists, but I wanted to do something different.**
#1 “Possum Kingdom” by The Toadies
Maybe it’s because I’m a Texan. Maybe it’s because I’m a certain age. Maybe it’s because the video for this song is just so utterly effective even after all these years, but there are few creepy songs that hit quite like The Toadies’ “Possum Kingdom.”
A killer(?) stalks his way around Possum Kingdom Lake–located in Palo Pinto County Texas–stalking a woman and entreating her to be his bride, singing:
“Don’t be afraid
I didn’t mean to scare you
So help me, Jesus
I can promise you
You’ll stay as beautiful
With dark hair
And soft skin, forever
With its uneven time signature and strange imagery, this song becomes an experience that’s perfect for ringing in the Halloween season.
#2 “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult
Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser wrote and sang this particular song that ponders the idea of eternal love and the inevitability of death back in 1976. It, of course, became a bit of an anthem and has been used often in movies ever since.
I just love the smooth sound of this song with the soft, almost poppy vocal quality over the driving drums, guitar, and yes, cowbell.
“Come on baby, don’t fear the reaper
Baby take my hand, don’t fear the reaper
We’ll be able to fly, don’t fear the reaper
Baby I’m your man.”
It’s a whole vibe and well worth keeping on the playlist no matter what time of year.
#3 “Long Black Veil” by Lefty Frizzell
For some of you, country music probably never crosses your mind when you think about creepy songs, but the genre has a history of recording classic and new murder ballads and “Long Black Veil” is a prime example of the kind of haunting imagery the genre can evoke.
The song tells the story of a man accused of murder. During his trial, he refuses to give an alibi because on the night of the murder, he was sleeping with his best friend’s wife. The man is convicted and executed and now, from beyond the grave, he talks about how the woman he loves visits his grave wearing a long black veil as the night winds howl around her.
“She walks these hills
In a long black veil
She visits my grave
When the night winds wail
Nobody knows, nobody sees
Nobody knows but me.”
The imagery is stunning with all the creepiness of a classic ghost story, and one that is definitely worth listening to if you’ve never given it a try before. The song was originally recorded by Lefty Frizzell but has been covered numerous times by everyone from Irish band The Chieftains with guest vocalist Mick Jagger to Marianne Faithfull to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
#4 “Furnace Room Lullaby” by Neko Case
Neko Case has one of the most recognizable voices of the last 50 years, and her haunting, powerful pipes are on full display in “Furnace Room Lullaby.” In concert, she’s been known to introduce the songs saying, “This is a song about me stalking you.”
The thematic elements of the song seem to relate back to Poe and his “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
All I hear
All I hear’s you heart
I’m wrapped in the depths
Of these deeds that have made me
I can’t bring a sound
From my head though I try
I can’t seem to find
My way up from the basement
A demon holds my place
On earth ’til I die”
The song was included on the soundtrack for the 2000 thriller The Gift featuring Cate Blanchett, Katie Holmes, Keanu Reeves, and Greg Kinnear among others. If you ever checked out the special features on the original DVD release, you probably saw Case’s video there.
#5 “Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Recorded by Australian rocker Nick Cave on the album Murder Ballads, “Red Right Hand” became synonymous with horror after appearing on the soundtrack to Wes Craven’s Scream–it would also appear in Scream 2 and Scream 3.
The song’s title references Milton’s Paradise Lost Book II Lines 170-174 when speaking of the vengeful hand of God:
“What if the breath that kindled those grim fires,
Awaked, should blow them into sevenfold rage,
And plunge us in the flames; or from above
Should intermitted vengeance arm again
His red right hand to plague us?”
The song eludes to this “red right hand” repeatedly through as it tells the story of man in a dark coat who leaves death in his wake:
“He’s a god, he’s a man
He’s a ghost, he’s a guru
They’re whispering his name
Through this disappearing land
But hidden in his coat
Is a red right hand”
#6 “The End” by The Doors
When poets ponder death, magic happens, and Jim Morrison was most definitely a poet. The nearly 12-minute-long epic song is one-part Freudian nightmare and one-part escape odyssey.
Overall, there is a seriously creepy vibe that becomes pervasive the long you listen and the more closely you listen to the lyrics.
“He went into the room where his sister lived
And then he paid a visit to his brother
And then he walked on down the hall
And he came to a door
And he looked inside
I want to kill you
Mother, I want to…”
Throughout his short life, Morrison gave various interpretations of the lyrics in interviews, always seemingly avoiding a straight answer.
#7 “Frontier” by Dead Can Dance
Okay, I realize at this point that this list is dating me, but in for a penny…
Gothic rock band Dead Can Dance released their song “Frontier” on their self-titled debut album back in 1984. As for this particular song? I’m not sure why, but it haunts me. Seriously.
It could be the the drumbeat or the lyrics that only vaguely point to a meaning, but something about this song gets inside my head and sits there.
“Please go after him
‘Cause he delayed them there
I see the proud man
He delayed to see them all
All have stayed
The bloodstains on the floor.”
#8 “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
This might be the most obvious entry on this list. If you only know this song from the Bette Midler and Hocus Pocus, then you’ve never really experienced just how creepy it can be!
What you might not know if you are familiar with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins version is that he originally recorded the song as a blues ballad. He reportedly said that the producer came into the studio and got everyone drunk at which point they recorded the off the wall, wild cut that became a staple for the singer and reshaped his career.
Michael L. LaBlanc, in his book Contemporary Musicians: Profiles of the People in Music, Volume 8, quoted Hawkins saying, “I don’t even remember making the record. Before, I was just a normal blues singer. I was just Jay Hawkins. It all sort of just fell in place. I found out I could do more destroying a song and screaming it to death.”
I don’t know if he screamed it to death, but he certainly breathed life into a song whose lyrics were already just a bit on the creepy side.
“I put a spell on you
Because you’re mine
Stop the things you do
I ain’t lyin’.”
#9 “Every Breath You Take” by The Police
Okay, some of you are rolling your eyes as me right now, but then some of you have never taken the time to listen to the lyrics of this song that is completely and totally about stalking someone.
“Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you.
Oh, can’t you see you belong to me
How my poor heart aches with every step you take.”
What’s more as the song comes to a close Sting and the background vocalists repeat, over and over again:
“Every breath you take, every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take (I’ll be watching you)
Every single day, every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay (I’ll be watching you)
Every move you make, every vow you break
Every smile you fake, every claim you stake (I’ll be watching you)
Every single day, every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay (I’ll be watching you)”
Creepy, right?! What’s worse is that folks have been listening to this song like it was a regular love song since it was first released back in the 80s.
#10 “Gloomy Sunday” by Rezső Seress
Putting a trigger warning on this one as it deals with suicide.
I wasn’t sure about including this song on the list. It has a lot of history, but it is indeed one that is so creepy in origin that it inspired its own urban legend, and well, I decided it needed to be here. Seress wrote “Gloomy Sunday” in 1933, but it would take two years to find someone to record the song due to its deeply melancholic feel and lyrics.
Interestingly, lyrics written by László Jávor became the more popular version of the song and appeared in most recordings after.
The English translation of the Hungarian lyrics go something like this:
“Sunday is gloomy,
My hours are slumberless
Dearest the shadows
I live with are numberless
Little white flowers
Will never awaken you
Not where the black coach of
Sorrow has taken you
Angels have no thought
Of ever returning you,
Would they be angry
If I thought of joining you?
Gloomy is Sunday,
With shadows I spend it all
My heart and I
Have decided to end it all
Soon there’ll be candles
And prayers that are sad I know
Let them not weep
Let them know that I’m glad to go
Death is no dream
For in death I’m caressing you
With the last breath of my soul
I’ll be blessing you.
The song was effective, and soon there were unsubstantiated reports of people committing suicide while listening to the song so that it became known as the “Hungarian Suicide Song.”
Adding to this was the composer’s own death in 1968. After having survived the Nazi death camps during World War II, Seress was never the same. He survived a jump from his apartment window only to later strangle himself in the hospital with a wire.
The song would go on to be recorded multiple times, though several radio stations reportedly refused to play the song for fear the urban legends were true. Among the artists who recorded the song was Billie Holiday whose version I’m including here.