After 52 Octobers, the grooves on Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash” record are well-worn. Aren’t you ready for a different kind of graveyard smash? For Halloween 2014, CapRadio Music curated a playlist of 13 classic spooky jams along with great covers of each song. As you hang your cobwebs and stock your candy bowls, check out these artists donning a musical mask and reinterpreting the dark, strange sounds worthy of your Halloween mixtape.
From all the werewolves, witches and zombies at Cap Radio Music, enjoy a safe and spooky Halloween this year!
#13 -- “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins from At Home with Screamin Jay Hawkins (1958) One of the quintessential songs to get in the right mood for Halloween is Screamin’ Jay Hawkins soulful song about a haunting love. Nina Simone’s strings-infused 1965 cover vaulted the song into the pantheon of American music, inspiring artists to reinterpret it for years to come. Boomer audiences know the song as one of the singles from the first eponymous Creedence Clearwater Revival album.
Millennial audiences will recall Bette Midler’s iconic version from the 1993 kids movie Hocus Pocus. The most recent recording on Annie Lennox’s forthcoming Nostalgia album also finds new life in the song. Other notable covers include She & Him appearing on Conan; Van Morrison’s brief tenure with the band Them; Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds cover from 2005; and Jeff Beck’s cover featuring Joss Stone.
#12 -- “This is Halloween”
by Danny Elfman from The Nightmare Before Christmas(1993)
The opening number from Tim Burton’s animated film sets the tone for the world of Halloween. Danny Elfman, film composer and former Oingo Boingo frontman, voiced Jack Skellington’s parts in this memorable holiday mashup of Christmas and Halloween. Glam-goth rocker Marilyn Manson and pop-punk rockers Panic! at the Disco both recorded covers of the song for a 2006 re-release of the soundtrack. (Not to be confused with Panic! at the Disco’s groovy original “It’s Almost Halloween.”)
#11 -- “Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard”
by Tom Waits from Blue Valentine (1978)
Tom Waits’ growling vocals over this up tempo shuffle-step give this song an ominous undertone (but you could say that about several Tom Waits records). Screamin’ Jay Hawkins covered the Waits song in the twilight of his career on the 1994 album Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On. In both versions, the dark imagery and droning saxophones give the song an eerie vibe worthy of any Halloween cemetery boogie.
#10 -- Halloweenhead
by Ryan Adams from Easy Tiger (2007)
Ryan Adams’ October ballad uses trick-or-treat imagery to show a downtrodden narrator struggling with addiction, anxiety and indifference to his situation. Building on bad luck and bad voodoo, the song swells for a briefly triumphant guitar solo before ending on an unresolved chord. For Halloween 2013, The Rum Sessions, a cover band fronted by producer Seth Murphy, released a folky cover of the Ryan Adams song on their Tumblr with a video of Seth getting a comic book-inspired Two-Face makeover applied in fast-motion. For a stripped down acoustic version, listen to Ryan Adams’ own video released on his blog on Thanksgiving 2008.
#9 -- “Don’t Fear the Reaper”
by Blue Oyster Cult from Agents of Fortune (1976)
The psychedelic melodies of Blue Oyster Cult’s biggest hit feature mellow vocals, an operatic guitar solo and ominous lyrics. Insomniacs who were wide awake during the late 1990s will remember a bizarre sock puppet cover on MTV’s The Sifl and Olly Show. The song also became inextricably entwined with TV history in the classic 2000 Saturday Night Live sketch with Christopher Walken and Will Farrell demanding “MORE COWBELL!
After departing White Zombie to go solo, Rob Zombie’s lead single from the 1998 album Hellbilly Deluxe peaked at number six on the charts in the US. Rob Zombie attributes the name “Dragula” to the car that Grandpa Munster drove on the 1960s TV show The Munsters. The Pennsylvania (not Transylvannia) metalcore band Motionless in White released a 2009 recording of “Dragula” on their 2012 reissue of Creatures. The Los Angeles-based electro-rockers Crosses also remixed the song on their 2012 album Mondo Sex Head.
by Ozzy Osbourne from Bark at the Moon (1983)
The title track from Ozzy Osbourne’s third solo album features a video filmed at a sanatorium in England with Ozzy in werewolf makeup, which was a fan favorite in the early days of MTV. On the 2000 compilation Punk Goes Metal, Strung Out covered it at a sped up tempo that would make most shredders bleed from their fingertips. The North Carolina horror punk rockers Frankenstein Drag Queens from Planet 13 slowed down their head banging with a cover on their 2001 album Viva Las Violence. Thrash metal band Shadows Fall released a cover of “Bark at the Moon” as a single in 2010.
#6 -- “Season of the Witch”
by Donovan from Sunshine Superman (1966)
One of Donovan’s most haunting psychedelic songs became an anthem for the 1960s. Joan Jett included an excellent cover on her Japan-only album Nakedin 2004. The spookiest cover of “Season of the Witch,” clocking in at nine minutes and finding new depths unheard in the original or its numerous covers, appears on the TV show Crossing Jordan soundtrack by British singer-songwriter Richard Thompson.
#5 -- “Superstition”
by Stevie Wonder from Talking Book (1972)
Recorded at Electric Lady studios in New York City, Stevie Wonder’s chart-topper has been a staple of Halloween mixtapes (and R&B compilations) since 1972. The original record features a killer horn section lead by Trevor Laurence (sax) and Steve Madaio (trumpet). The song steeped into the ears and minds of a generation, including youngsters watching Stevie Wonder boogie down on Sesame Street the year after Talking Book was released. Other notable covers include Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble’s guitar slinging cover from Live Alive in 1986 and the SF Jazz Collective’s 2011 video with over a quarter million views.
#4 -- “Ghost Town”
by The Specials from Ghost Town EP (1981)
The Specials, a British ska revival band, captured the dreary mood of the summer of 1981 with their record “Ghost Town.” A series of riots across England fueled by racial and economic tension inspired the bleak mood of the record and its floaty flute and echoing trombone solo. In the 1990s, No Doubt performed a ska-punk pop version of “Ghost Town” on their tour to support Tragic Kingdom. Last year, Elvis Costello (who produced The Specials 1979 self-titled record) covered “Ghost Town” with The Roots in Brooklyn. Hot 8 Brass Band, a New Orleans-based second line band, released a cover of “Ghost Town” on their 2012 album The Life and Time Of...
#3 -- “Thriller”
by Michael Jackson from Thriller (1983)
No Halloween playlist would be complete without the title track from Michael Jackson’s 1983 pop masterpiece Thriller. Composition credit goes to Quincy Jones’ studio wizard Rod Temperton, the former leader of Heatwave. Both the song and the album changed the course of pop music, riding on a wave of popularity driven by the catchy beat and dazzling 13 minute music video. The song has been covered a lot, probably more times than the Internet can even account for. To sample the range of covers, check out the Australian band Koritni’s hard rocker, Imogen Heap’s soft piano ballad, the Vitamin String Quartet’s tribute, and Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard’s solo acoustic version.
#2 -- “Psycho Killer”
by Talking Heads from Talking Heads 77
When trick-or-treaters knock this Halloween, check to make sure David Byrne isn’t at the door. Byrne performs the disturbed character in the 1977 song “Psycho Killer” very well on stage, perhaps too well… He reinterpreted the song for their 1984 film Stop Making Sense, giving the ‘70s new wave classic a mid-’80s drum machine beat. Cage the Elephant included a faithful indie rock rendition on their 2008 release Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.
#1 -- “Werewolves of London”
by Warren Zevon from Excitable Boy (1978)
The most howl at the moon on this year’s Halloween mixtape is Warren Zevon’s 1978 noir-inspired tune “Werewolves of London.” Music fans owe Zevon’s friend Jackson Browne a debt of thanks for convincing him to come out of obscurity and make Excitable Boy backed by John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. The Grateful Dead were known to perform it live, including on Halloween in 1985, 1990, and 1995. Heck, even Adam Sandler recorded it on a Warren Zevon tribute album.