1) The Moontrekkers, "Night Of The Vampire" (available on It's Hard To Believe It: The Amazing World Of Joe Meek)
English producer Joe Meek had an amazing run of hit singles in the early '60s, thanks to an uncanny talent for unique, layered productions and an ear for catchy songs. Meek, who eventually killed his landlady and himself, also tried to commune with the dead. Occasionally, he found a way to make his macabre side and his hit-making side meet, as on this eerie/catchy instrumental by a British combo best known for, well, "Night Of The Vampire."
Never mind Ministry's claim: Every day really is Halloween for Roky Erickson. After the leader of 13th Floor Elevators suffered his infamous acid-and-institutionalization breakdown, he re-emerged in the '70s as a truly original, hard-rocking singer with a fixation on supernatural and horror-film imagery and songs that are simultaneously macabre, kitschy, and sung with the passionate intensity of a believer. "Bloody Hammer" is one of his creepier efforts.
3) Screamin' Jay Hawkins, "Little Demon" (available on Voodoo Jive: The Best of Screamin' Jay Hawkins)
The minor late-'50s craze for horror-kitsch rock 'n' roll and rockabilly songs has been almost completely forgotten now, but Screamin' Jay Hawkins is still justifiably remembered for his outlandishly theatrical performances (being brought onstage in a coffin and singing to his sidekick, a skull named Henry) and the creative energy and wit of songs like "I Put A Spell On You." "Little Demon" is one of his classic comic freak-outs, introducing a vengeful little hellspawn who takes out his frustration over his disappointing love life with a series of flashy magic tricks ("he made the sky turn green, he made the grass turn red, he even put pretty hair on grandma's bald head") and yowling incantations. "You gotta be real cool to hear the words he said," Hawkins sings, following it up with a deliriously catchy chorus consisting entirely of frenzied mumbles.
4) Jim Stafford, "Swamp Witch" (available on The Best Of Jim Stafford)
Country singer Jim Stafford became famous on the strength of his 1974 novelty hit "Spiders & Snakes," leading to stints hosting his own TV variety show and the short-lived Those Amazing Animals, but he first cracked the charts the previous year with "Swamp Witch," a genuinely eerie tale of Black Water Hattie, who "lived back in the swamp where the strange green reptiles crawl," and the dislike she engenders among the nearby townsfolk.
5) Geto Boys, "Mind Playin' Tricks On Me" (available on We Can't Be Stopped)
The last verse of Geto Boys' sinister masterpiece of paranoia and suicidal despair finds Bushwick Bill, Willie D, and Scarface jacking li'l trick-or-treaters for snack-sized Snickers bars and popcorn balls on Halloween. Or does it? Is it possible that Bushwick Bill's mind is merely playing tricks on him? Chillingly, the horrors on display here are strictly of the psychological variety. As Scarface solemnly attests, it is indeed "fucked-up when your mind is playing tricks on ya."
6) Jack Kittel, "Psycho" (available on the Larger Than Life soundtrack)
Penned by Leon Payne (the songwriter behind "Lost Highway" and others) and recorded by Michigan country singer Jack Kittel in the early '70s, this song was made semi-famous when Elvis Costello cut it as a B-side. But the straight-faced original is even more chilling than Costello's version. There's something about the way Kittel deadpans lines like "Don't hand me Johnny's pup, mama / 'Cause I might squeeze him too tight" that really sends chills up the spine.
7) Porter Wagoner, "The Rubber Room" (available on RCA Country Legends: Porter Wagoner)
And where do psychos end up? In the rubber room, a place described in excruciating detail in this echo-laden, first-person Porter Wagoner track. How did he get there? Who knows? But from the sound of things, he's not going home any time soon.
8) Ted Cassidy, "The Lurch" (available on Otis Fodder's online Halloween compilation Ghouls With Attitude, oddiooverplay.com/ears/hallowseve)
Zombie butler Lurch of the ghoulish sitcom The Addams Family always had a musical bent—that's him in the theme song saying "Neat, sweet, petite," and he was often seen playing the harpsichord and even, in one episode, recording a hit teen-pop single. Later, actor Ted Cassidy shambled toward making that a reality with "The Lurch," which debuted, complete with dance moves, on the 1965 Halloween episode of the TV show Shindig; a 45 rpm single followed. Backed by a Motown-style female chorus, Lurch croaks his way through a peppy little number explaining how to get your undead groove thing on.
9) Future Bible Heroes, "I'm A Vampire" (available on Eternal Youth)
Vampires in art tend to be a gloomy, angst-ridden, brooding bunch, prone to cursing the gods for their damnable fate. But in Future Bible Heroes' "I'm A Vampire," being a vampire kicks major ass. With his trademark deadpan wit, songwriter Stephin Merritt enumerates the oft-overlooked benefits of membership in the undead, from never aging to always remaining "impossibly glam" to being a "bitch goddess from beyond your grave." Who says a song about vampires can't be as upbeat as "Walking On Sunshine," and twice as catchy?
10) Sufjan Stevens, "They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From The Dead!! Ahhhh!" (available on Illinois)
Not nearly as panicked as its title, this track makes the prospect of an Illinois-based zombie apocalypse sound almost peaceful.
11) North American Hallowe'en Prevention, Inc., "Do They Know It's Hallowe'en?" (available as a CD single or online at vice-recordings.com)
Those entranced by the list of all-star contributors—Beck, David Cross, Elvira, The Arcade Fire, one of those kids from Sum 41—will want to hear "Do They Know It's Hallowe'en?" at least (or exactly) once, so a mixlist is the perfect place for it. A parody of star-fueled benefit singles, this one seeks the world's help in eliminating the evil North American holiday, though proceeds will actually go to UNICEF. Though not scary, particularly catchy, or even that funny, it's nonetheless a noteworthy addition to a holiday that doesn't have enough songs of its own.
12) Godspeed You Black Emperor, "Blaise Bailey Finnegan III" (available on Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada)
The kind of scary that's scarier because it's not really trying to be scary, Godspeed You Black Emperor's monumental 18-minute "Blaise Bailey Finnegan III" is built around an interview with the kind of fed-up American you don't want to meet on the subway. As the Canadian band builds spooky swells and crashes, the interviewee—presumably Mr. Finnegan, but it's never made clear—catalogs his personal arsenal and reads a poem about government conspiracy and societal decay.
13) Slayer, "Raining Blood" (available on Reign In Blood)
A multi-part suite by a band that likes its nihilism done up fancy, "Raining Blood" drizzles a slew of doom-drenched lines around the image of the gooey red stuff spilling from "a lacerated sky." The guitars crunch and squeal in speed-metal time, but the whole thing reaches a disquieting end with the sound of a storm cracking overhead. It turns out a blood shower sounds a lot like regular rain, which makes it eerier.
14) The Lemonheads, "Skulls" (available on Favorite Spanish Dishes)
On a similar note, what's scarier than The Misfits' original tune about collecting the skulls of little girls? Try this sensitive acoustic rendition in which Evan Dando sings "Corpses all hang headless and limp / bodies with no surprises" with the same quivery sensitivity that briefly made him an alterna-pop pinup favorite in the early '90s.
15) Ramones, "Chain Saw" (available on Ramones)
Joey Ramone finds the girl of his dreams, then laments that she'll never escape from some kind of Texas chainsaw "mass-a-cree." Love hurts.
16) Fred Schneider, "Monster" (available on Fred Schneider & The Shake Society)
There's something wrong with B-52's frontman Fred Schneider, and it seems to involve a monster in his pants doing a dance. Here's a question: Is this song more disturbing taken at face value, or as a double entendre?
17) The Cramps, "TV Set" (available on Songs The Lord Taught Us)
Tonight on The Cramps' television: your head. Never wasteful, they've also used your eyes for dials and found applications for the rest of your body throughout the house. Tomorrow night promises the same programming.
18) The Dream Syndicate, "Season Of The Witch" (available on The Day Before Wine And Roses)
Stretching to nearly 10 minutes, this cover of Donovan's darker-side-of-flower-power hit drags and drags, then explodes as if waiting for just the right moment to announce the arrival of a new, more disturbing epoch.