The AJ Halloween Playlist

A group of Arts Journalism grad students share their favorite songs for creating the perfect Halloween atmosphere.

The Cranberries – “Zombie"

Well, OK, it’s not an ominous song, but "Zombie" is the perfect pick for the looming man-eating apocalypse. It’s more of an emo-esque grunge piece based off of the deaths of two children during the Warrington bombings tragedy in Ireland in 1993. Yet, lead singer Dolores O’Riordan delivers to creepy perfection sob-like lyrics that would make Edgar Allen Poe shake. Aside from that, who doesn’t love to belt out the gusto-inducing “ZOOOOOmbie” while driving? Let the Halloween anthem for zombies ring everywhere.


Arthur Freed and Nacio Brown - "Singing In The Rain"

The classic song is extraordinarily cheerful. The brass section floats along with the flits of the woodwinds. In the film, the tap dancing is stellar and Gene Kelly is a goofy, happy-go-lucky man in love — he made dancing in the rain awesome. Yet, the song is now one of the scariest pieces ever — without the grandiose accompaniment. When you hear the chipper doorbell with the morose “Who on earth could that be?” You know what’s coming: rape and murder. Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange has ruined the treasured musical number by turning into a grisly, off-key slaughter piece — one that that with each beat is a new kick or slap to the face instead of a splash in a puddle.

- Josh Austin


The Avett Brothers - "Complainte D'vn Matelot Mourant (Lament of a Dying Sailor)"

The brothers Avett take a detour from their normal happy, jangly roots-rock to record this ominous track. They create an atmosphere of despair that you can feel on your skin. From the 2004 release Mignonette, an album about the sinking of an English yacht and subsequent cannibalism by the surviving members, this melancholy instrumental is rife with the slow picking of a banjo and the mournful wail of a cello. Halfway through the song, Seth and Scott Avett begin howling, making it all too real what it's like to be alone with nowhere to go.

- Nic Bell


Chavela Vargas - “La Llorona”

 A single Mexican-picked guitar haunts Chavela Vargas’ “La Llorona.” Complemented by Vargas’ rasping voice, the song creates a melancholy that builds to a hollering climax. Her song makes reference to the folkloric Llorona who drowns her children, in some versions for the love of a man, and spends the rest of her nights wailing for the children she’s lost. Evoking the bitterness in weeping to one’s death, Vargas’ “La Llorona” lends a contemplative creepiness to Halloween.


Warren Zevon - “Werewolves of London”

Warren Zevon would love to supply his “Werewolves of London” to any self-respecting Halloween party. His feel-good ‘70s piano jam demystifies werewolf culture, highlighting their predilection for Chinese food and piña coladas. In this highly danceable song, werewolves and humans alike can dig the guitar solo. Zevon’s “Werewolves” will have everyone howling the chorus: “Aaooh, werewolves of London.”

- Paige Cooperstein


Philip Glass - “Candyman Theme (It Was Always You, Helen)”

Philip Glass’ hypnotically repetitive score percolates, ascends and lacerates through the film’s opening scene, a handful of synth notes stuck in a Sisyphean trance while organs and strings swell. It’s as if Glass was asked to write the score for the film — "Hey, Philip, wanna score a horror flick?" — and, having little experience with the genre, decided to watch just a handful of films with well-regarded score—Carpenter’s Halloween and The Thing being the most obvious influences. Then Glass, reaching back into the vast catacombs of his mind, conflated Carpenter’s chilling synths with his own operatic proclivities. It’s a horror score written by someone who doesn’t know horror films but knows tragic music, knows the darkness looming behind every kind gesture and the dirty gears grinding inside all of us, and his music pervades every scene, birthing this brooding, dreadful atmosphere, trickles of blood frozen into crimson icicles rubbing against the base of your neck. Candyman is a strangely ambitious horror film, almost like a proto-Chan Park-Wook, with the compositions and framing immaculately calculated but exhuming morbidity; Glass’ score, which would significantly influence the music in Wook’s penetrating Vengeance Trilogy, is as much a star as any performer in the film.

- Greg Cwik


Marek Zebrowski & David Lynch - "Night - Interiors (Polish Night Music)"

This ominous track, from Lynch's most recent cinematic freakfest Inland Empire, builds an atmosphere of anxiety from the moment it begins. Scattered notes of hammered piano keys fall on top of droning synthesizer beds, making it very easy for the imagination to get lost within the creepiness. This is the perfect haunted house track, but if you’re looking for a quick fear fix, sitting alone in a dark room listening with a pair of headphones will work just fine.


Type O Negative - “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare All)”

If you like your Halloween music a bit on the hammy side, you can’t do much better than The Drab Four. Throughout the '90s, Type O Negative was great at humorously spiking Beatles melodies with Black Sabbath atmosphere, and this song exemplifies that approach with more of that extra wink and a nudge than usual. The late Peter Steele’s comically deep baritone sarcastically sings the praises of a goth girl’s choice of hair dye and sexual prowess (or lack thereof), simultaneously standing both as an indictment of his groupies and as a call-and-response anthem for his clove-smoking fanbase.

- Nick DeSantis


Michael Jackson - "Thriller"

Call it a cop out, but this song is classic Halloween. I distinctly remember the music video scaring the absolute crap out of me when I first saw it. Seeing it as an adult, it's hard to believe, but when my 7-year-old eyes locked with The King of Pop's shiny, cat-like, creeper peepers, I got my first real taste of Halloween fear. So call up some costumed comrades, stretch those undead digits and review this classic routine, because no Halloween is complete without a good "Thriller" dance-off.

- Melanie Deziel


Japandroids - "Evil's Sway"


TV On The Radio - "Wolf Like Me"

Halloween has a very obvious link to youth culture, but as those kids grow up, the holiday changes in ways that most parents, and kids themselves, may be unable to straight away deal with. That's why Blackboard Jungle and Rebel Without a Cause are just as valid fare to me as any Jason or Freddy movie when it comes to entertainment during this holiday's season. The trans-formative time of adolescence folds neatly into the transformation into another character, persona, or state as the seasons most visibly change from summer to winter. So I've selected two songs that deal with this dichotomy very well. Unrelenting beats with aggressive dark guitars, mix with a particular physicality in both songs to embody this subtext and make it visceral and danceable. They're not spooky; they're youthful, enervating, sexy and fun. Your Halloween party will thank you.

- Joseph DiDomizio


The Ting Tings - "Great DJ"

It's one of the few songs that REALLY haunts me for years. With simple chords and numb drumbeats, it drowns me. The layers that added to the idleness in the chorus easily excite me. Hopefully, it will drown and excite you too! It sounds great if you listen to it while walking alone in a big city at night.

- Xiaoran Ding


Juno Mak - "Becoming the Devil"

Juno Mak is a Cantonese singer from Hong Kong. This song is his first tryout on a more alternative and edgy style, back in 2007. It is about, well, you can probably tell from the title.

- Vinny Ying Huang


"Good and Evil" from the Broadway musical Jekyll and Hyde

Linda Eder makes this song very festive for the holiday with her chilling voice. To quote Stewie Griffin: "How deliciously evil!"

- Zach Marschall


Santana ft. Everlast - "Put Your Lights On"

This track, from Carlos Santana's album Supernatural, contains lyrics and themes easily applied to a Halloween playlist. When Santana sings, "Hey now, all you children, leave your lights on, better leave your lights on because there's a monster living your bed," it immediately takes you back to those days as a kid when you had to check under your bed before heading to sleep. And how your imagination of monsters and goblins only intensified during the creepy Halloween season.

- Alyssa Nappa


Nina Simone - “I Put A Spell On You”

If you're looking for something a little different than the traditional fun, pop Halloween songs, Nina Simone's "I Put A Spell on You" will do the trick. The eerily yet soulful executed vocals make this a unique track for any Halloween playlist. In the just over 2 minute song,  Simone sings each note with an air of disdain, passion and pain that encompass her signature elocutionary style and leaves listeners with a dark sense of love and passion.

- Christina Riley


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Image by fmosca/Flickr


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