The 10 greatest (and scariest) Halloween songs of all time

29 October 2020, 17:14

Michael Jackson and Ray Parker Jr
Michael Jackson and Ray Parker Jr. Picture: Epic/Arista/YouTube

By Tom Eames

Just before we start dusting off Slade, Wizzard and Wham! Christmas classics every December, we have a very short window of opportunity to play a very specific genre of music: Halloween songs.

While not as common as Christmas songs, there are still some absolute classics that we can't help but listen to every time October 31 rolls around.

So, here are just 10 of the absolute must-listens if you're staging any kind of Halloween gathering...

  1. Eagles - 'Witchy Woman'

    This 1972 Eagles tune is about a seductive enchantress, with Don Henley later explaining that he was inspired by reading Zelda Fitzgerald's biography while suffering from flu.

    He later said: "It had a haunting quality, and I thought it was interesting, so we put a rough version of it down on a cassette tape."

  2. Mike Oldfield - 'Tubular Bells'

    This instrumental would have been creepy enough as it is, but after it was used in the soundtrack to The Exorcist, it took on a whole new level of terror.

  3. Danny Elfman - 'This Is Halloween'

    This song featured in the 1993 Tim Burton animation The Nightmare Before Christmas, and it perfectly sums up the night of Halloween.

    In the movie, it is performed by the residents of the fictional 'Halloween Town', and it was later covered in a metal-style by Marilyn Manson.

  4. Blue Oyster Cult - '(Don't Fear) the Reaper'

    This 1976 classic rock anthem was written by Donald Roeser, and it deals with the subjects eternal love and the inevitability of death.

    Singer Buck Dharma later said: "It's basically a love song where the love transcends the actual physical existence of the partners."

  5. Screamin' Jay Hawkins - 'I Put a Spell on You'

    Hawkins had intended to record this as “a refined love song, a blues ballad”. However, the producer “brought in ribs and chicken and got everybody drunk, and we came out with this weird version”.

    After this, he became known for his outlandish stage persona, which included a long cape, rising out of a coffin in the midst of smoke and fog, snakes and fireworks.

    The song has since been covered by everyone from Nina Simone, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bryan Ferry, and Marilyn Manson.

  6. Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue - 'Where the Wild Roses Grow'

    Nick Cave was inspired to write this murder ballad after listening to the traditional song, 'Down in the Willow Garden', a tale of a man courting a woman and killing her while they are out together.

    While it was unusual move for Kylie at the time, it worked perfectly.

  7. Ray Parker Jr - 'Ghostbusters'

    "I ain't afraid of no ghosts..."

    For one of the greatest movies of the 1980s, rapper Ray Parker Jr came up with a perfect theme tune, back when they still made an effort with such things.

  8. Rockwell - 'Somebody's Watching Me'

    Thanks to this 1984 tune's haunted house music video, it has become a Halloween classic.

    Rockwell is actually Motown chief Berry Gordy's son Kennedy, and he teamed up with Michael and Jermaine Jackson on this party anthem.

  9. Bobby 'Boris' Pickett - 'Monster Mash'

    One obvious choice for this year is this novelty song from 1962.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Monster Mash'

    The Boris Karloff parody has become a perennial Halloween favourite ever since, particularly in the States, where it reached number one at the time.

  10. Michael Jackson - 'Thriller'

    Halloween is pointless without this spooky Michael Jackson anthem being blasted out the speakers.

    Probably the greatest music video of all time from one of the greatest entertainers. Bonus points for convincing Vincent Price to rap.

    Honourable shoutout to Michael's other scary tracks, including 1996's 'Ghosts'.