Halloween Rock: 10 Songs to Awaken the Spirits
Rock and roll has never been short of songs celebrating monsters, zombies, aliens and other creatures from the netherworld. From Alice Cooper to Rob Zombie, artists have exulted in offering up campy odes to the scary movies and horror-themed comic books of their youth. With Halloween upon us, we gathered 10 songs below to put more fright into the night.
“Frankenstein” – The Edgar Winter Group (1973)
This 1973 hit garnered its title from its hard-hitting riff and (in Edgar Winter’s words) its “monster-like, lumbering beat.” The song topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart for one week starting in May 1973—Paul McCartney’s sugary ballad, “My Love,” knocked it from the top spot--and sold over one million copies. Incidentally, Edgar Winter is widely believed to have been the first musician to strap a keyboard instrument around his neck, in order to attain the same mobility onstage as a guitar player.
“Ogre Battle” -- Queen (1973)
This lead track from “Side Black” of Queen’s classic second album is one of the most ferocious rockers in the band’s catalog. Freddie Mercury composed the song on guitar, and in the studio Brian May delivered its propulsive riffs with a sledgehammer wallop as drummer Roger Taylor delivered thrash-metal percussion. From 1973 to 1977, Queen performed “Ogre Battle” at nearly concert they staged.
“I Love the Dead” – Alice Cooper (1973)
To write a song about necrophilia is audacious enough; leave it to Alice Cooper to go one step further and fit it with a sing-a-long chorus. Truth is, like most of the band’s “sick” songs, this track from Billion Dollar Babies was delivered tongue-in-cheek and with a mock-horror flair. Nonetheless, Cooper did once say the whole idea behind the Billion Dollar Babies album was to exploit the notion that people have sick perversions.
“Creature from the Black Leather Lagoon” – The Cramps (1990)
The Cramps’ unmatched facility for fusing comic-book grotesques to psycho-billy music was in full evidence on this track from their 1990 album, Stay Sick! Guitarist Poison Ivy deftly channels the likes of Scotty Moore, Carl Perkins and Link Wray, and then injects those influences with a brazen punk attitude. Of course, late singer Lux Interior’s goth-comic version of Elvis Presley was key component as well.
“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” – Bauhaus (1979)
This nine-minute classic is widely considered the first-ever “goth rock” song. Singer Peter Murphy’s gloomy baritone sends shivers, while Daniel Ash’s droning guitar moans like a ghost in a graveyard. The song, which was recorded live-in-the-studio in a single take, was memorably featured in the opening scene of the 1983 cult vampire film, The Hunger.
“Werewolves of London” – Warren Zevon (1978)
Guitarist Waddy Wachtel and singer Warren Zevon composed this classic tune at a time when both men were working with The Everly Brothers. In addition to Zevon and Wachtel, the recording featured Fleetwood Mac members Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass, with Jackson Brown producing. Oftentimes, in his live shows, Zevon would replace the line "I'd like to meet his tailor" with "And he's looking for James Taylor!"
“Dragula” – Rob Zombie (1998)
This lead single from Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe album is far and away Zombie’s best-known song as a solo artist. In an interview with Billboard, Zombie said the title came from "the name of Grandpa Munster's dragster on the old [Munsters] TV show." The spoken-word audio clip that kickstarts the track—“superstition, fear and jealousy”—was lifted from the film Horror Hotel and is spoken by horror actor Christopher Lee.
“Night of the Vampire” – Roky Ericson (1980)
This melodramatic ballad from cult figure Roky Ericson brings to mind the gothic rumblings of a Black Sabbath song. Recorded with his band, the Aliens, the song ranks among the best of several Ericson-penned tracks—including “I Walked with a Zombie” and “Creature with the Atom Brain”—that were inspired by horror movies. In 2008, Ericson released a collection of live performances of such tunes--titled, simply, Halloween.
“Monster Mash” – Boris Pickett (1962)
This classic novelty song topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in October 1962. Horror-film actor Boris Karloff was so smitten with the recording—on which Pickett imitated him to great effect—that he performed the song on a 1965 episode of the rock variety show, Shindig. Rock and roll legend Leon Russell, then just 20, played on the recording as part of a group dubbed The Cryptkickers.
“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult (1976)
Writer Stephen King has cited this classic-rock staple as the inspiration for his novel, The Stand. Indeed, many people have ascribed morbid connotations to the song, but guitarist Buck Dharma, who wrote it, has always insisted it’s about eternal love. The song’s distinctive riff was recorded on a Gibson ES-175 running through a MusicMan 410 combo amp. The idea for the trademark cowbell percussion came later, and was overdubbed.