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A Halloween playlist: Songs that give off that dark vibe

Published October 29, 2012 3:00 pm

Music • Novelty songs like "Monster Mash" aren't scary — but how about these?
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If you want to stay true to the pagan origins of Halloween, you've got to skip those gimmicky songs like "Ghostbusters" and "The Monster Mash" and go for scary — evil scary. Songs about murder, stalking and big, horrific things that go bump in the night.

Here are the 13 songs I will be playing on Halloween, as I sit alone in the dark, dressed as a man who doesn't give candy to children who ring the doorbell. The devil figures prominently in many of these songs. Go figure.

1. "Country Death Song" by Violent Femmes. In this spare song, the nasal-toned narrator loses his mind and decides to kill his family. He tells his little daughter, "Kiss your mother goodnight and remember that God saves." Later, he tells her, "You know your Papa loves you, good children go to heaven."

2. "Red Right Hand" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The spooky baritone sings about a man encountering the devil (with a red right hand) somewhere in the darkness on the edge of town. "He'll wrap you in his arms, tell you that you've been a good boy. He'll rekindle all the dreams it took you a lifetime to destroy. He'll reach deep into the hole, heal your shrinking soul. Hey buddy, you know you're never ever coming back."

3. "Ellis Unit One" by Steve Earle. The acoustic, folk-inspired song is a creepy voyeuristic depiction of life as prison guard on Death Row. The song, which was on the "Dead Man Walking" movie sound track, has a chill-you-to-the-bone final verse. "Last night I dreamed that I woke up with straps across my chest, and something cold and black pullin' through my lungs. Even Jesus couldn't save me though I know He did his best, but He don't live on Ellis Unit One."

4. "Nebraska" by Bruce Springsteen. The Boss' "Nebraska" album is chock full of characters you wouldn't ever want to meet, especially the stoic mass murderer in the title song who kills 10 innocent people and nonchalantly explains to the judge his reasoning: "Well, sir, I guess there's just a meanness in this world."

5. "Every Breath You Take" by The Police. The message of the song is different from what you think, because in this case, the narrator is a stalker. "Every bond you break … every game you play … every vow you break … every smile you fake … I'll be watching you."

6. "'97 Bonnie & Clyde" by Eminem. In the song he raps about taking a drive with his daughter to dump the body of Kim — his wife and mother of his child — in a lake after he slit her throat. "Oh where's Mama? She's takin' a little nap in the trunk. Oh that smell? Whew! Da-da musta runned over a skunk."

7. "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" by Pink Floyd. This brooding, largely instrumental song from the late 1960s is volcanic in its structure, with repeated whispers of the title punctuated with screams from Roger Waters. Heavy breathing never sounded so anguished.

8. "Halloween" by the Misfits. The horror-punk band sings of "dead cats hanging from poles," which sounds bad, until Glenn Danzig sings of "burning bodies hanging from poles." Not to mention the "little dead are out in droves," eventually becoming "little dead … soon in graves."

9. "Dead Souls" by Joy Division. Ian Curtis is living a nightmare, unable to escape the persistent voices including "Conquistadors who took their share." A bass line adds to the menace. "Someone take these dreams away … that keep calling me … They keep calling me … Keep on calling me … They keep calling me." For added drama, pair this with the band's "I Remember Nothing," with the sounds of shattered glass.

10. "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus. Considered by many to be the first Gothic rock single ever recorded. This nine-minute-plus single features creepy, out-of-tune instrumentation, dub-influenced guitar, and Peter Murphy murmuring, "The bats have left the bell tower, the victims have been bled." Lugosi, the Hungarian actor best known for playing Dracula in the 1931 film, died more than two decades before this song was recorded in 1979.

11. "Frankie Teardrop" by Suicide. A claustrophobic song about a Vietnam war veteran, Frankie, who returns home to murder his wife and newborn child. He then turns the gun on himself. After that, he burns in hell. "We're all Frankies!" screams singer Alan Vega. In the 10-minute song, the drum machine sounds like a throbbing heartbeat.

12. "Hellhound on My Trail" by Robert Johnson. The most important blues singer who ever lived sold his soul to the devil, and the devil took his life at 27 (according to legend). Throughout the song, the devil and his minions dog Johnson, who sings "I got to keep moving, I got to keep moving. Blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail. Mmm, blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail, And the day keeps on remindin' me, there's a hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail."

13. "Helter Skelter" by The Beatles. Who knows if this song would be as scary if Charles Manson didn't steal the phrase? Regardless, the song is raucous, raw and McCartney —the cute one — sounds possessed and not at all like the guy who wrote "Michelle."

dburger@sltrib.com

Twitter: @davidburger