Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Twelve Days of Halloween, Day Seven: Truly Scary Songs.

Seven is a great number, so you know the seventh day of Halloween had to be something special.

Screaming Jay Hawkins, back when your
skeleton friend could still smoke on stage.

Here are seven truly scary Halloween songs. I'm not talking about Michael Meyers cheese fest or Nightmare Before Christmas play lists--although those are great too. I mean actual real deal 100% scary songs. It could be the melody echoing across the decades, or knowing everyone in the orchestra is long gone six feet under, or the rattling snare in the drums. Whatever it is, there is something just a little eerie behind the beat of these tunes.

Sons of the Pioneers - Ghost Riders in the Sky: When my Mom was little her grandfather used to put this record on to spin and she would listen in the dark candle glow of her grandparents' kitchen and get chills. Years later she played the same recording for me. Who knew chills were genetic? This haunting version of a cowboy greeted with the spirits of sinful ranchers charged with chasing the devil's herd across endless skies is plain ol' fashioned spooky. The ghostly chorus of 'hi-yos' will slip up and down your spine the first time you encounter it.

Mia Farrow - The Theme to Rosemary's Baby: At first it's just sweet and vaguely creepy like all lullabies. ("When the bough breaks the cradle will fall" anyone?) The longer this melody goes on however, the darker it becomes. I think we can all agree, if we were home alone and this started playing out of nowhere we'd pull a Cowardly Lion out the nearest window.

Fantasia - Night on Bald Hill Mountain: It's certainly scary enough without the technicolor Disney nightmare orgy, but Fantasia amps up the terror level on this tune hard. Seeing this in the theater as a child was one of those traumatic innocence-shattering moments that only Disney can bring you. Is that a ghost? Is that a skeleton? Is that a skeleton on a horse? What's that other thing on a horse? Hey, what's that on that mountain--IS THAT THE DEVIL? Popcorn bucket right over the head, complete with muffled, helpless shouts to your snickering parent of "WHAT IS GOING ON?"

Josh Wink - Don't Laugh: A favorite Rhode Island tradition is the Roger William's Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular. If you have ever been, you already know this song. It is played every year in the scary clown area (yup). If you've never been, you're probably feeling nervous enough only knowing that it is played every year in the scary clown area. Or that there is such a thing as a 'scary clown area'. I can best describe it as Batman's Joker crawling under your bed after a trip to the dentist. As many techno songs it takes a while to rev up. Once it gets going, you'll want to turn it off pretty much immediately. You can skip to where the song begins to get creepy by CLICKING HERE, or listen to the whole song below.

Henry Hall & His Orchestra - The Teddy Bear's Picnic: I love Teddy Bears. I love picnics. So why is 'the Teddy Bear's Picnic' nightmare fuel? It just is. It could be because it sounds like a band of cartoon ghosts is playing back up to a cartoon skeleton, or because if you go down to the woods today you better not go alone, or because the marvelous thing to eat is you because bears eat people. I don't know what it is exactly, but this song is brought to you by every twig that ever snapped in the woods while you were alone.

Screamin' Jay Hawkins' - I put a spell on you: Marilyn Manson tried to cover this, and he did an okay job, but nothing beats the conviction and desperate ferocity in Screamin' Jay Hawkin's voice. Or the Fun House music style guiding those shambling, swanky horns. Not only is it a song about someone who's just not taking no for an answer, but Screamin' Jay Hawkins manages to sound like he is singing this from inside your closet. True story I put this on to test the link, and all our rats fled to hide in their hammocks. Our rats were not having any part of this song--that's how scary it is.

Napoleon XIV - They're coming to take me away HAHA - Confession: I cannot handle this tune. I know it's supposed to be funny, and the weird thing is I remember loving it as a kid. However at a certain point in my life something changed and it began to irrationally terrify me. If I ever remember what it was (no doubt in some kind of Lifetime movie flashback sequence) I'll let you know. In the meantime, I once threw a radio into a wall when this came on unexpectedly. I'm not proud, I'm just admitting it happened. The drums started up and I tore out of the shower soaking wet, slip sliding over the floor, and yanked the plug out of one wall in the same instant I let the wretched thing sail into another wall. I lied to my Mom that the radio fell, which looking back was even more dangerous than running with wet feet on linoleum to grab an electrical plug with wet hands.

It's something about the drums, which I know only because my heart withers every time Bob Dylan's Rainy Day Women 12 & 35 comes on the radio with the bowel shivering terror that Napoleon whoever's awful voice is about to start threatening me. In the few long seconds before that horn laughs in, I feel pretty sickly. Whatever it is, I haven't heard this song in years and I gave it one more try this morning to check the link thinking, "It's cool, I'm a grown up."

Nope. Forget it. The voice tilted pitch and I was done.

I'm sure you have a song or two that grabs you by the guts the way these tunes get me. What are some spooky songs that get your heart ticking?


  1. The cover of Puttin' on the Ritz by "Taco" from the 80s. I hated the original song but when you put some 80s creeper in the mix it just becomes unnerving.

  2. My husband (a blues fanatic) first introduced me to Mr. Hawkins through his charming ditty entitled "Constipation Blues" which had me doubled up on the floor. (And not from being stopped up, mind you.) So, definitely NOT of the scary ilk.
    Although I must say that my favorite of his was "Heart Attack and Vine." :)

  3. You know, this is the first time it's occurred to me that terrible laughter is an actual song. Really lends a great air to the pumpkin tree - wish I had been able to catch it this year.

    And I really love 'Ghost Riders.' I have the Marty Robbins version.


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