If you're entering Halloween with some trepidation this year, I don't blame you. While many soon-to-be revelers are likely rushing to return their presidential debate-inspired Sexy Ken Bone costumes to the store, who knows what might fill the pop culture void in the interim — Sexy Chris Wallace? Perish the thought.
However, one edge that Halloween does retain on the other holidays is the abundant possibilities for good music. It takes some doing to find decent Christmas music, but Halloween is practically begging for a good mixtape, and here are a few of my personal favorites to put between "Thriller" and "The Monster Mash" on your Halloween Eve playlist.
Few artists are as Halloween-ready as cult favorite Roky Erickson, the frontman of mythic Texas psychedelic rock act The 13th Floor Elevators, who put out their own brand of electric jug-led madness from 1965 to 1969. Following legal troubles, struggles with paranoid schizophrenia, and internment at several state hospitals, Erickson returned to music in 1974 and spent the next couple decades doubling-down on themes from horror and science-fiction films. The period produced some wonderfully catchy, if somewhat troubling, heavy rock 'n' roll tunes such as "If You Have Ghosts," "I Walked With a Zombie," "Night of the Vampire" and "I Think of Demons."
Of course, the world of metal and heavy rock is rife with spooky and extreme imagery — though not everyone has the intestinal fortitude to spend a whole night listening to Cannibal Corpse. However, alt-metal supergroup Fantômas, comprising members of Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, The Melvins and Slayer, hit a spooky, evocative stride with their 2001 LP The Director's Cut, which features down-tuned arrangements of classic horror film themes such as "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Omen," as well as stranger fare in "Spider Baby" and "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." Plus, to keep the metal local, take another look at Malakai's haunted house music video "Die Violent" to instantly get in the Halloween mood.
Post-punk and art-rock, while not as obviously grim as metal, has its own innumerable dark entries for a great holiday playlist. (It was seminal industrial act Ministry, after all, who declared that "Every Day is Halloween" in their early synth-pop years.) Goth-rock progenitors Bauhaus' best-known track, "Bela Lugosi's Dead," is an obvious staple of the season, and David Bowie's wild "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)" makes for a sentimental addition for this year.
Nearly everything from the discography of garage-rockers The Cramps fits in, with the sleazy B-Movie vibe of "Garbage Man," "Human Fly" and "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," as does the campy deathrock of 45 Grave's "Riboflavin" and "Surf Bat."
Alice Cooper's zombie tale "Black Juju" is a lesser-known early career highlight with its bad-trip psychedelic organ work, but punk enfant terrible Lydia Lunch put her own sinister spin on the tune in 1991, featuring an extended ending with a nerve-wracking "incantation" and even more menacing guitar work courtesy of the Birthday Party's Rowland S. Howard. Lunch's collaboration with Sonic Youth, "Death Valley '69," also has plenty to offer in the way of noisy terror.
On the more elegant side, you can't go wrong with Kate Bush's intricate "Hammer Horror" as a celebration of the legendary film studio, and the late Lou Reed's The Raven is essentially an Edgar Allan Poe rock opera.
You might not immediately think of country music for Halloween, but anyone who has seen Deliverance knows that no instrument instills fear quite like a banjo. The work of The Pine Hill Haints is driven by washtub bass, fiddle and other folk instruments, but is chock-full of ghosts, bad omens and occasional Misfits references. While their sincerity is impressive, however, none can match the work of West Virginia outsider Hasil Adkins, who performed as a one-man band and populated his songs with aliens, decapitation and an upsetting amount of poultry.
While Adkins wins points for gratuitousness, no one sang murder ballads as well or as tragically as brothers Charlie and Ira Louvin. The Louvin Brothers are often remembered for their 1959 LP Satan Is Real, where the rather lurid album cover belied the completely irony-free morality tales within. The cover of King Crimson's debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, is also famously disturbing, as is its opening track "21st Centurey Schizoid Man."
And, of course, it goes without saying that there's plenty of local music offerings to keep you company during Halloween, which can be found in the adjacent Playing Around section.
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