I’m a sucker for a good scary song. Just throw in some eerie wind effects, a creature howling, a zombie or two gibbering, and you’ve got my attention. Halloween is to me what Christmas is to Mariah Carey fans: an excuse to listen to thematic songs all month long. (Oh, and to hoard pumpkins like a squirrel preparing for winter.)
Not all of these songs are outright spooky — we’ve all heard “Thriller” one too many times. Instead, they’re a collection of creepy character studies, atmospheric tunes, and straight-up weirdness. From the Birthday Party to Halsey, here are 10 tracks to make your skin crawl this Halloween season.
David Bowie, “Please Mr. Gravedigger”
Before he was the Thin White Duke, Aladdin Sane, or Jareth the Goblin King, Bowie was just a sniffling gravedigger wandering around in the rain. A weirdo cut off of his debut 1967 self-titled album, “Mr. Gravedigger” is the perfect way to usher in this collection of spooky odds and bobs.
Prudence and Patience, “Tonight You Belong to Me”
This sweet 1926 song was made popular 30 years later by sisters Prudence and Patience, whose version has been included in everything from American Horror Story to Lovecraft Country. It’s ostensibly a cute long about love, but when injected into the worlds of ghosts and monsters, its possessive title takes on a much more sinister tone.
Shamir, “Lived and Died Alone”
Shamir’s haunting soprano is on full display on this track from his 2014 EP, Northtown — a cover of Canadian country singer Lindi Ortega’s 2013 song. A necrophilia-tinged love tune, it’s equal parts sweet and spooky: “When the sun has set, I will go dig up the dead/Lift their bodies from their graves/And I’ll lay them in my bed.”
Daniel Johnston, “Casper the Friendly Ghost”
Nothing like Daniel Johnston waxing poetic about a cartoon ghoul as a stand-in for his own loneliness. The song comes off of the late songwriter’s 1983 cassette Yip/Jump Music — one of Kurt Cobain’s 50 favorite records of all time.
Sad13, “Ghost (of a Good Time)”
Any of the songs from Sadie Dupuis’ new solo album, Haunted Painting, is applicable here, really. Just go listen. We’ll wait.
Exuma, “Seance in the Sixth Fret”
Bahamian musician Macfarlane Gregory Anthony Mackey, a.k.a. Exuma, made the most incredible, undefinable music during his heyday in the Seventies. Tune in for what sounds like a live seance off his 1970 album Exuma, the Obeah Man.
Donovan, “Season of the Witch”
Roky Erickson, “I Walked With a Zombie”
Obligatory, part two.
The Birthday Party, “Mr. Clarinet”
The opening track off of the Nick Cave outfit’s self-titled 1980 album, this track somehow makes a high school band staple into a complete horrorshow. Which, to be fair, it kind of was already.