An All Hallow's Playlist

The perfect classical and popular music picks to spookify your Halloween.

If you’re looking to amp up your trick-or-treating playlist this Halloween, look no further. Local music critics Josh Breeden (pop) and Leah Harrison (classical) serve up their favorite spooky soundtracks, both classical and popular. You won’t find the famous organ "Toccata and Fugue" or the "Monster Mash" on this list, but instead some eerie choices that would make both Bach and Bobby Pickett’s hair stand on end.

For a popular panic…

5.  The Cramps, “Human Fly”

An anchor of the 70s and 80s CBGB scene, The Cramps specialized in psychobilly, a disturbing blend of punk, psychedelia and rockabilly. “Human Fly,” produced by Alex Chilton at Ardent studios in Memphis, perfectly characterizes the band’s Halloween-appropriate sound. Guitarists Poison Ivy and Bryan Gregory establish a scuzzy grind while vocalist Lux Interior details his reincarnated existence as a germ ridden insect. 

4.  Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”

David Byrne began his career as post-punk’s deranged stage-stalker with this cut off his band’s 1978, Brian Eno-produced debut More Songs About Buildings and Food. Strident guitar riffs, bouncing synths and Chris Franz’ gated-drum funk propel “Psycho Killer.” Byrne broods in the foreground, pleading, “I can’t sleep ‘cause my bed’s on fire, don’t touch me I’m a real live wire.”  

3. The Sonics, “The Witch”

Raw and soulful, The Sonics were the loudest, most aggressive fixture of the 60s garage movement. Pianist/singer Gerry Roslie and company released their debut, Here Are The Sonics, in 1965. “The Witch,” the album’s opening track and lead single, features Roslie howling about a mysterious new girl in town who may or may not deal in the black arts. Saxophone player Rob Lind drives the frothing tempo, matching Roslie’s Little Richard-like groan with foreboding tenor growl. 

2.  The Horrors, “Jack the Ripper”

Originally penned by 60s shock-rock personality Screaming Lord Sutch, “Jack the Ripper” was a natural rehearsal tune for The Horrors when they started up their garage-punk machine in 2005. The first recorded version appeared in 2006 as a b-side to “Sheena is a Parasite” on the band’s debut 7-inch. Vocalist Faris Badwan sets the tone with his demented cries, as guitarist Joshua Hayward and bass player Rhys Webb build up the track’s driving, sinister bulwark. It’s essentially a soundtrack to the famed serial killer’s nocturnal activities.

1.  The Zombies, “She’s Not There”

Keyboard player Rod Argent and bassist Chris White were responsible for The Zombies’ 1964 hit “She’s Not There,” a quintessential British Invasion recording. Released through British Decca, the song shot to number two on the American charts and propelled the Hertfordshire sextet to pop stardom. “She’s Not There” is fairly ambiguous lyrically.

Some say it outlines the shady dealings of a wrongdoing devil woman while others contend vocalist Colin Blunstone sings of murdering his unfaithful lover. From an instrumental standpoint it’s little more straightforward. Drummer Hugh Grundy lays down a hypnotic groove and Argent’s jazz-infused electric piano licks are a lesson in dramatic subtlety, acting as ghostly support for the cooing Blundstone.   

For some creepy classical...

3. Berlioz's “Dreams of a Witch’s Sabbath” fifth movement of Symphonie Fantastique (1830)

In the debut of Symphonie Fantastique, Berlioz included a program, or narrative, describing the events of each movement. As listeners, we witness a horrific story of unrequited love, the victim of which lapses into an opium-induced dream. After losing his head to the guillotine in his dream, he must witness his own funeral, attended by “a hideous gathering of shades, sorcerers and monsters” who taunt and torture him. Demons dance to a mocking version of the music representing his beloved as she joins them in an orgy. As the horror sets in, we hear the “dies irae,” an old liturgical tune used by the Catholic Church to symbolize wrath and judgment. This final movement is the crowning act of torment in Berlioz’s grotesque work.

Listen here.

2. Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig” (1815)

Schubert’s lied (German song), based on a poem by Goethe, requires the performer to play four roles: narrator, father, child, and Der Erlkönig, or Elf King. As the piano opens, we hear the stressed cadence of a galloping horse; we quickly learn that a father is racing through the night with his sick child, trying to get him to a doctor. As he rides, the child cries out in terror as the Elf King tries to lure him to death with promises of playmates and games. As the Elf King becomes more insistence, the terrified child begs his father to save him, but he is powerless against the demon and his son dies.

Read the text and translation here, and listen here.

1. Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt (1876)

This well-known little tune has been appropriated countless times for commercials and movies, usually symbolizing playful chaos and mischief. Its origins, however, are anything but. Grieg wrote approximately 90 minutes of music to accompany Henrick Ibsen’s play, Peer Gynt.

Peer is banished from his home after making a fool of himself at a friend’s wedding, and flees to the mountains, where he drunkenly hits his head on a rock and lapses into a dream. In his dream, he falls in love with a troll king’s daughter, amenable to the troll king until Peer refuses to marry her and a pregnancy is discovered. Though the piece begins with quiet, creeping music, it erupts into a treacherous trolls’ chorus:

“Slay him! The Christian’s son has bewitched the Mountain King’s fairest daughter! May I hack at his fingers? May I tug at his hair? Let me bite him in the haunches! Shall he be boiled into broth? Shall he roast on a spit or be browned in a stew? Ice to your blood!”

Listen here.

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