Last night, I returned to Ohio Wesleyan to attend a Zombie Prom. People were wearing torn suits and blood-splattered gowns, makeup encrusted with rot and decay, and assorted other trinkets and decorations. One person had a human-heart corsage. So why couldn't I enjoy this macabre mash (aside from being an antisocial type)? The music.
I arrived early before the festivities and asked one of the organizers what sort of tunes to expect. I asked if we'd be hearing Ozzy Osbourne's "Zombie Stomp" and Rob Zombie's "Living Dead Girl," and the answer was no. Attendees probably wouldn't enjoy stuff that heavy. Instead, we got a lot of pop and hip hop melodies. Sure, there was some fitting selections, but most of it felt out of place.
In this state of mind, I have compiled a list of 12 rocking tracks that would be perfect for Halloween. If you want to get away from ambiance sound effects played on a loop for trick-or-treaters I recommend these killer tracks. These aren't in any specific order, but let me state upfront, these are songs picked because they fit more so with the morbidity of Halloween. Some songs could work for costumes (like "Iron Man"), but I picked these to be ghoulish. I deliberately left off "Monster Mash" by Boris Pickett and the Cryptkickers because that goes without saying.
1) "Bark at the Moon" by Ozzy Osbourne
From the album of the same name, "Bark at the Moon" features Ozzy as a werewolf, the unholy creature of lore inciting frightened villagers and seeking vengeance from the beyond the grave. It's a fun dichotomy of heavy metal and old-fashioned monster tale. This is also the first time Ozzy worked with guitarist Jake E. Lee. Other good Ozzy songs for Halloween include "Zombie Stomp," "Hellraiser," "Let Me Hear You Scream," "Mr. Crowley," and "Diary of a Madman."
2) "Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon
If "Bark at the Moon" is reminiscent of Lon Chaney as The Wolf Man, then "Werewolves of London is reminiscent of An American Werewolf in London. It's funkier and more lighthearted, but that makes it a good counterpoint.
3) "Living Dead Girl" by Rob Zombie
Just listening to the introduction, I get this mental image of a zombie girl jumping rope. Then, the title is revealed in a distorted vocal proclamation, and the song kicks into hard-driving gear. For years, I tried convincing my sister to use this as her batting song in fast pitch softball because it's forceful and cool. I guarantee she would have intimidated any pitcher she faced. This song contains numerous references to the 70's exploitation films Rob Zombie grew up on. Just about anything by Zombie would fit in at a Halloween party, but I recommend "Superbeast," "Dragula," and the stuff he did with White Zombie.
4) "Boris the Spider" by The Who
Written and sung by bassist John Entwistle, "Boris the Spider" is about the creepy crawler he sees on his wall. It may not involve dismemberment and devils, but some people are freaked out arachnids. It's got a solid bass line and an awesome snarl on the refrain, but overall, the song has a playful feeling. The rhythm is so simple and catchy, it's hard not to smile while listening.
5) "Thriller" by Michael Jackson
To give credit where it's due, this was played at the zombie party, and it certainly is an iconic song, even if it is pop. I'm not a Jackson fan, but I admit he's in top form here. And for a pop song, it is pretty dark. Special props for getting Vincent Price to read the passage in the middle, and the music video by John Landis is effective. It creeps me out.
6) "Night Prowler" by AC/DC
This song, the final track of Highway to Hell, generated controversy in 1985 when a Los Angeles serial killer known as the "Night Stalker" was a reported to like this song, and police stated he wore the band's shirt while committing the murders. The Young brothers maintain this song is about a boy sneaking into his girlfriend's bedroom while her parents are asleep. Still, the song has a sense of danger and menace that fits with Halloween. It's slower than the band's other songs (time signature is 6/8 instead of the usual 4/4) and under tuned, very bluesy but heavy. Listening to it, you feel like someone's coming to get you.
7) "Black Sabbath" by Black Sabbath
You can't discuss ominous without mentioning the lords of gloom and doom. Here's a song about being chosen by Satan to bring about the end of the world, and it works like a Gothic poem. The lyrics are sparse and contain distinct images: "figure in black which points at me," "big black shapes with eyes of fire," and "Satan's sitting there, he's smiling." When Ozzy comes in with,"What is this that stands before me?" you can picture this evil being rising up out of the fog and atmosphere. . "The Wizard," "N.I.B.," "Children of the Grave," "Lady Evil," and "Paranoid" also work for Halloween.
8) "The Thing that Should Not Be" by Metallica
Metallica, like Sabbath, has a number of apocalyptic songs, and this is one. Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," which is about a mutant race worshiping god figures from the Cthulu mythos, this song came at the height of Metallica's thrash days, but this is a slower, moodier piece than "Master of Puppets." We got monsters lurking beneath the sea, people driven insane after seeing the indescribable, fallen cities, and living dead. Other Metallica tracks inspired by Lovecraft include the instrumental "The Call of Ktulu" (a deliberate misspelling lest the creature be summoned) and "All Nightmare Long."
9) "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult
Love against death. That's what this song is about. Death, as represented by the Grim Reaper, claims all, but in the meantime, we have our love and let's go with that. The song has two tones, the defiant rhythm section celebrating life and the dark guitar solo representing death. It's undeniably a classic, but it could have used a little more cowbell.
10) "The Number of the Beast" by Iron Maiden
You know your song is ominous when the opening passage about the devil is from the Book of Revelation and read by a Vincent Price sound-alike. This album also marked the debut of Bruce Dickinson as vocalist and how fitting. This song really gave him a chance to show off his operatic style and high range. Coupled with the band's typically excellent musicianship, you have an instant classic lineup.
11) "Feed My Frankenstein" by Alice Cooper
Ah yes, the monster as a phallic image. "I'm hungry for love and it's feeding time," Alice Cooper sneers during the chorus. Once again, Cooper revels in the underlying humor prevalent in most horror movie imagery. The more blood and guts there are, the funnier it becomes. When performed live, this song is accompanied by Cooper assembling a Frankenstein mannequin on stage. It's Cooper at his most fun, and the song garnered exposure by appearing in Wayne's World. Like Rob Zombie, Alice Cooper has an entire catalog that can be used on Halloween: "Teenage Frankenstein," "Sick Things," and "The Ballad of Dwight Fry."
12) "Pinhead" by The Ramones
Inspired by the classic shocker Freaks (which used real deformed people to portray side show attractions), "Pinhead" is classic Ramones: stripped to the basics, short, and catchy. This also where we got their catchphrase, "Gabba Gabba Hey." The song refers to the film's most memorable aspect, the freaks chanting "Gooble gobble, we accept you one us!" When the villains run afoul of the freaks, it becomes "Gooble gobble, we will make you one of us!" It's creepy but darkly funny poetic justice, and the song captures the mood about being one of society's rejects and outcasts.