Open your bag, kiddies, I have something special for you.
Better than popcorn balls or candy corn, I swear, better than even mini-Snickers. The best trick ever, you’ll respond better to my treat than the checker did when I plopped down a bag of apples and package of razor blades at the grocery store.
For you, I have a truly scary Halloween mix of music that is not just guaranteed to snap the zombies out of their stupid pop-and-lock routine — meaning you won’t have to hear “Thriller” or “The Monster Mash” or the rest of the usual Halloween Mix fluff. No, these are songs meant to scare the bedsheets off the ghosts and shake the butts of the dead. A mix that gets your guest’s blood turned to ice and then, once reheated, gets the living undead well above room temperature, the floor joists rolling.
While Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” or Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” might seem appropriate to set the mood, you might want to consider starting the mix with Throbbing Gristle’s “Hamburger Lady,” one of the scariest songs ever recorded, drums, guitar and synth played over vocals reading a medical text’s account of a severe burn victim. Absolutely harrowing.
Next on the list,
“Tam Lin” by Fairport Convention, to set the tone for the night as Sandy Denny narrates a tale of a cold Samhain with dark riders at war with the fae folk. Meanwhile Richard Thompson shreds.
Follow that with one of the worst songs ever, a tale of three guys trapped in a collapsed mine and two deciding to eat their buddy to survive. Written by Rupert Holmes (of “The Pina Colada Song” fame; it’s up to you to decide who deserves to be diced and sauteed), “Timothy” by the Buoys made it in to the 17 spot in 1971, despite being largely banned by radio in an unusually reasonable decision by that era’s programmers.
Nonetheless, you want it, especially as it precedes “Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. We’re still in “scary” territory here and the song has all the atmosphere of an old motel room, set well off the main highway in the Arizona desert, where the carpet holds a large crimson stain and the walls hide bullet holes patched with toothpaste. Cave would bring menace to a lullaby but “Red Right Hand” is particularly creepy, a shadow in the mirror that flees the minute you turn your head to see what it is.
Since we can’t go full fright-fest with the mix, “It’s Halloween” by The Shaggs brings the party (and our mix) more in line with the spirit of the festivities — especially if you’re bobbing for mushrooms in a vat of whiskey. The song is revelry cubed, drunkenly spilling itself on the floor like the guest you should have cut off two hours ago.
And, if you’re that far along, “Living Dead Girl” by Rob Zombie fits the bill, right up front in the strip club music at the far rings of Jupiter. Zombie has a penchant for the seedy, immersed in the imagery of EC comics and indulging in the impossible proportions presented on the cover of a pulp novel. “Living Dead Girl” is Zombie at his best, stripping the subtlety off the boom-chicka-pow-pow with a claw hammer and pounding it back at maximum volume.
KMFDM’s “I Want To Go To Hell” picks up Zombie’s unabashed meretricious allure, waggling a finger in the direction of the door we’ve all been told we did not want to enter. Prodigy’s “Firestarter” cinches up our modern definition of approbation, coded in the isolation and insulation of a twisted psyche, blasted out by a bank of speakers.
Easing off the sheer evil blast from the last few songs, “Creep” by Radiohead brings the insanity theme to a beautiful crescendo, with Thom York’s vocals a desperate cry for understanding. So, standing on the other side and pointing at the aberrant, “Queer” by Garbage unfolds the original teenage vampire fantasy (predating the “Twilight,” “New Moon” and all that my 11-year old lives for), the unsated thirst for that which cannot be had, even if every drop of blood has been sacrificed. However, considering that most fifth-graders are not that serious about much of anything, the obvious follow up “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” by Bauhaus, an infinitely danceable tune, skeletons and goth stench notwithstanding. Bauhaus had a flair for the overly dramatic but “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” makes that quality essential in the spirit of the season.
Since our mix needs to go out on an up note, we twist the ends with a few songs that, while still adhering to the darkness, step out with a skeleton grin. “Ghost Town” by The Specials is a ska classic and, while not strictly about anything scary (unless you find thugs in a bar particularly frightening), it does have a Halloween-y kind of feel. On the other hand, “Hell” by the Squirrel Nut Zippers wears its allegiance to the dark side on its sleeve, giving us some idea of what the martini bar on the outskirts of Hades is like — a lot of fun, frankly.
Finally, the mix is completed by “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show Soundtrack. No one will be left seated for this one, with every first jumping to the left, then to the right, and with their hands on their hips, they bring their knees in tight… silly, I know, but if “silly” is bothering you, you’re probably not throwing much of a party. Not a mix for the feint of heart, this mix has been designed only for the truly adventurous, the serious tricksters among you.
And if you insist on “The Monster Mash,” I’d recommend picking up the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’s version. Not that it’s any more fun, but at least you’ll have a Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band album in your collection and there’s something to be said for that.