10 Spooky Musical Pieces for Halloween

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 26, 2015 03:33pm | Post a Comment

At one of the several jobs at which I work we’ve started listening to a Halloween playlist from Spotify or Pandora and like all of those pre-fab playlists it sucks. There aren’t that many explicitly Halloween songs so whomever programed it resorted to tossing in things like Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf" because what's scarier than a hungry Brummie? The Searchers’ “Love Potion No. 9” is not scary and although it's a bit mad, neither is Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s “I Put a Spell on You” -- both apparently chosen because, you know, potions and spells and such. That sort of thinking is also why David Seville’s deeply annoying (but not scary) “Witch Doctor” now haunts every facet of my brain. Basically this playlist is 90% the kind of stuff collected by Dr. Retarded, novelty record collector and chief head of surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital.

I like spooky music and horror films (although they're sadly almost never scary) so this kind of lazy mix-making gets no “squeaks” from me. There is so much more appropriate music out there. The other night some friends and I went to the Million Dollar Theatre to see Dawn of the Dead and before the show former Amoebite Jimmy Hey DJed a set which drew from film scores by Goblin, naturally, and some more unlikely picks, such as Scott Walker’s “The Electrician.” Of course this inspired me to write the following listicle for your enjoyment.

Alban Berg - Lulu (1937)

Alban Berg has always gotten under my skin -- in a good way. His first opera, Wozzeck, is based on Georg Büchner’s nightmarish, disorienting drama, Woyzeck. Lulu was Berg’s second and last opera, after being bitten by an insect on Christmas Eve, he died. Lulu, inspired by Frank Wedekind's plays Erdgeist (Earth Spirit, 1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora's Box, 1904), remains unfinished... and disturbing. 

Bernard Herrmann - The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

The other day as I was going to my friend’s birthday I put this on to get in the Halloween season mood and it’s perfect. Even the suburban streets of Eagle Rock were suddenly pervaded with unease, thanks especially to the liberal use of theremin (played by Samuel Hoffman and Paul Shure). "Klaatu barada nikto," indeed!

Delia Derbyshire & Barry Bermange - The Dreams (1964)

The Dreams is a five part musical collage of people describing their (invariably creepy) dreams, recorded by poet and dramatist Barry Bermange and with music was composed and performed by the great Delia Derbyshire (and, per BBC's  then-policy, credited upon its broadcast only to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop). It was the first of four Inventions for Radio composed by Derbyshire, who also famously recorded the original Doctor Who theme and many other groundbreaking electronic works. 

Dick Jacobs And His Orchestra - Themes From Horror Movies (1964)

I grew up listening to this record, comprised of Dick Jacobs And His Orchestra performing horror themes written by the likes of Hans J. Salter, Earl Lawrence, Foster Carling, Herman Stein, Paul Dessau, James Bernard, William Lava, and Henry ManciniAll of the tracks are introduced by impressionist and host Bob McFaddenAs a child I’d seen almost none of the films that the scores were composed for and used to stare at the thumbnail reproductions of films like The Mole Men, The Creature Walks Among Us, and The Deadly Mantis. Once I did see them they were almost never as good as I’d imagined or hoped that they would be — or that their scores actually were. 

Krzysztof Komeda - Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Krzysztof Komeda
came from the European jazz world and although jazz might horrify some, it’s rarely characterized as scary. The slightly swinging score for Rosemary's Baby is provides an atmosphere that for me is creepier than the actual film (which I like — but it hardly terrifies me). The year it was released Komeda died at the age of 37, when he was pushed off an escarpment by writer Marek Hłasko during a drinking party and died. Drunken accidents remain more of a mortal threat than Satanic impregnation. 

Coven - Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls (1969)

The members of Coven supposedly signed their contract with Mercury Records in blood. The psychedelic band from ungodly Indianapolis, Indiana were musically in the vein of a Jefferson Airplane albeit with a overtly Satanic outlook. Jinx Dawson's lyrics about satanic ritual, child sacrifice, and witch hunts are still surprisingly frank.

Louise Huebner - Louise Huebner's Seduction Through Witchcraft (1969)

In 1968, Louise Huebner was designated the Official Witch Of Los Angeles County, back when the witchcraft and Satanism were apparently thought of as a total gas! Jim Morrison married a witch, Jimmy Page studied the writings of Aleister Crowley, and Anton LaVey appeared as a guest on The Tonight Show. The album’s tracks consist of Huebner providing instructions on how to cast spells set to electronic music by Bebe and Louis Barron, the then-wife-and-husband duo who’d provided a similar score for the film, Forbidden Planet (1956). 

Lucifer - Black Mass (1971)

Lucifer was the nom de disque of Canadian Moog master, Mort Garson. Black Mass is almost entirely electronic, aside from the odd bit of treated percussion and heavily processed, haunting vocals. It's very much of it's time, which I reckon is a good thing because 1971 remains, in my imagination, a very creepy year.

Paul Giovanni and Magnet - The Wicker Man (1973)

The action of The Wicker Man is set around May Day, at the other end of the year from Halloween, but its Celtic religious aspects and British folk-inspired score seem appropriate as we approach Samhain. Then there's the fact that the disconcerting “Maypole” and “Fire Leap" are sung by children. Creepy!

Taro Iwashiro - Memories of Murder (2003)

Memories of Murder
is based on an unsolved serial murder spree which took place in the Hwaseong area of Korea. Unsolved serial killings are pretty much the only thing guaranteed to creep me out and Bong Joon-ho is a master and simultaneously serving up sadness, mystery, unease, frustration, comedy, and horror -- all at once and to the detriment of none. The score, by Taro Iwashiro, is the perfect counterpart. It also includes a pop song sung by Yoo Jae-Ha which, according to the film at least, was always requested on the radio each night that the killer murdered another victim. 

Also worth consideration: Amon Duul II, Anton Webern, The Birthday PartyThe Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Arzachel, BauhausBlue Oyster Cult, Blue Phantom, Blues Creation, The Cure, DanzigThe Doors, Faust, Fifty Foot Hose, Francis Seyrig, Geto Boys, György Ligeti, Iron Butterfly, Jan Dukes de Grey, Jerry Goldsmith, John Carpenter, Kate BushLokee, Medusa, NicoOlivier Messiaen, The Open Mind, Rune Lindblad, Tod Dockstader, Witold Lutosławski, and Writing On The Wall


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