Let's face it: you need something new to add to your Halloween music playlist. Sure, the pop world has offered up its fair share of classic spooky songs over the years, but together, the best of the best of those only comprise an hour or so of music. Luckily, a scary story and a song to go along is a favorite musical theme throughout the world. Try out some of these eerie numbers and mix it up a bit!
This swingy tune comes from Cajun fiddle legend Harry Choates. It's a spooky, minor-keyed instrumental punctuated by an occasional sinister "muahahahaha!" followed by a bone-chilling (or perhaps funny-bone-chilling) scream. In legend, the fiddle is known as the Devil's favorite instrument, and one suspects that this barnburner might just be a particular favorite of ol' Lucifer himself.
"Varulven" means "werewolf" in Swedish, and it's this horrifying creature of Norse legend that inspires this song, which Garmarna perform in their signature style: a blend of traditional Swedish folk music and hard-driving rock. It tells the story of a beautiful young maiden who goes to the woods to meet her love, but instead she meets a werewolf. She begs for her life and tries to escape, but when her lover finally arrives to meet her, he finds nothing but her bloody detached arm.
Though Bollywood films tend to be overwhelmingly romantic, comedic, and musical, the Indian film industry has put out more than a few horror flicks as well. They tend to be a bit cheesy, in the most endearing way possible, much like their low-budget American counterparts, but with an even more over-the-top aesthetic. The same goes for their soundtracks. This particular song comes from a compilation album called Bollywood Bloodbath (Compare Prices), a must-have for fans of fringe music. "Aa Jaane Jaan," whose lyrics tell the eerie story of a woman being caged, originally came from the film Intaquam, a semi-surrealist hyper-ultra-melodramatic psychological musical thriller from 1969, and it was the breakout hit song for playback singer Lata Mangeshkar, the younger sister of filmi music legend Asha Bhosle.
This old Mexican folk song, delivered beautifully here by the golden-voiced Lila Downs, sounds at first listen like a simple song about a very sad woman. Those familiar with Latin American folklore and legends, however, will recognize La Llorona ("The Weeping Woman") as a name that strikes fear into the heart of children throughout Mexico and beyond. The story in a nutshell: a woman's husband betrayed her, so she drowned her children and then killed herself. Not allowed into heaven until she finds her children, she's doomed to haunt the earth, and they say that she's still seen sobbing and weeping near bodies of water, occasionally snatching up a living child who closely resembles her own. In the grand omnicultural tradition of terrifying your children for fun, Mexican parents use this story (and this accompanying song) as a cautionary tale for naughty kids.
Unsurprisingly, the Caribbean is swarming with songs about zombies and the living dead, most of which are actually pretty silly. This one is my favorite. Also known as "Zombie Jamboree" and "Jumbie Jamboree," it's been recorded by a slew of artists, from Harry Belafonte to The Kingston Trio, not to mention dozens of small bands from several different islands. This version is a particularly great one, from one of the great bands of the acoustic mento era, the Jolly Boys. The lyrics tell of a zombie uprising in a New York cemetery, whereupon the zombies all get into all sorts of trouble since, after all, "I don't give a damn because I'm stone dead already!"
Everything about this song is straight-up creepy and fantastically entertaining. The band itself, who take their name from one of the deities in the Cthulhu mythos, were among the vanguards of the French zeuhl rock subgenre: an avant-garde neoclassical art-rock movement that produced seriously unearthly music. The lyrics of this song in particular are taken from the Gottfried August Burger's influential early gothic poem "Lenore" (translated into other languages as Leonore, Leonora, Ellenore, and other variants), which is widely recognized as something never to read after dark. And the track itself? Well. Wails, weird percussion, spooky string arrangements, moaning pipe organ, and the preternatural soprano of singer Ann Stewart... it's intense.
The British Isles are replete with ghost stories and ghost songs, and this grim ballad is a grand old one, believed to date back to around 1400. It tells the story of a man who mourns at the grave of his dead lover (sometimes the genders are reversed) for a year and a day, at which point the dead woman announces that she cannot rest in peace until he leaves her alone. He asks for one more kiss, but she refuses, saying that a kiss will kill him as well. "The Unquiet Grave" has been recorded many times over, but the stark elegance that Scottish traditional band Lau brings to the song makes for a particularly haunting version.
The Devil is a common theme in blues lyrics, but when it comes to Robert Johnson, it's not just lyrical, at least according to legend. As the story would have it, a young Johnson made a Faustian bargain with the Devil at the crossroads, trading his soul for prodigious guitar skills, and he spent the rest of his short life running from the old gentleman in black, who wanted to cash in his end of the bargain. Whether or not the story carries even a grain of truth, listening to this song makes it easy enough to believe that Johnson was afraid of some kind of impending doom.
Composer Tan Dun wrote the five-movement Ghost Opera for new music/contemporary classical group the Kronos Quartet and Chinese pipa player Wu Man, combining both Eastern and Western sounds. The music is based on his childhood memories of the 4,000 year old Chinese shamanistic exorcism-like ritual known as the "ghost opera," and it really is quite eerie. The second act, Earth Dance, is particularly intense, with its dark and fast-paced sound that evokes a sense of nervousness, or even frantic fear.
This classic Afrobeat song is scary on a few different levels. On a surface level, it's a song about zombies and the sorcerers who control them. In a deeper sense, though, it's also quite frightening: Fela Kuti used zombies as a metaphor for the brainwashed or coerced soldiers who did (and do) the violent bidding of corrupt governments. This song, a massive hit, caused such fury among the Nigerian government upon its release in 1977 that it led them to raid Kuti's compound, severely beating him and several members of his entourage, including his mother, who died of her injuries after being thrown from a window. Sometimes real life is scarier than ghost stories.