Scene’s Selections: Spooky Halloween songs
Ghosts! Goblins! Gourds! Scary words that start with G! Put your costume on, grab a plastic pumpkin pail and venture through Scene’s spookiest Halloween picks — if you dare.
“The Beautiful People” by Marilyn Manson — Adam Ramos
1996 was a spooky year for music. As grunge continued to lose its relevancy in the pop charts, major records labels around the country tried desperately to find the next surprise hit. Yet, none were even half as lucky as Interscope Records. Headed by the forward-thinking industry veteran Jimmy Iovine and his media mogul partner, Ted Field, Interscope operated as a child company of Universal Music and aimed to provide its artists with complete creative control — Enter Marilyn Manson, the most polarizing figure in music to date.
With his terrifying imagery, provocative, anti-establishment ethos and legion of devoted fans, Manson found the perfect home at Interscope to take his art to the masses. On his 1996, platinum certified record “Antichrist Superstar,” Manson took spooky music to its creative and commercial peak. The album’s most popular track, a single titled “Beautiful People,” epitomized Manson’s image. With its menacing, lurching guitar, creepy pitch-shifted vocals and anthemic choruses, the track revels in terror. While the track may discuss “worms” eating their “hosts,” at its core, the track’s message isn’t necessarily horrifying. Halloween is a time to ignore our normal conventions of beauty. Who needs the beautiful people anyway?
“Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads — Owen Lane
Psycho Killer is possibly the most popular Talking Heads song ever, with good reason too. The track is infectious in every way: David Byrne’s stuttering “fa-fa-fa-fa”, the high staccato guitar strumming, the infectious bass line. If you find yourself doing some Halloween karaoke this week, this is an excellent choice, not only because it is a great song, but also for the high pitched screaming part. If you can nail that, I guarantee everyone in the bar will think you’re scary talented.
Of course, the song is also spooky in addition to being musically sound. It is about fleeing a murderer, and it contains a hefty amount of screaming, guitar chaos, and French lyrics. Damn, that is spooky. It is remarkable that such a bizarre song can also be so profoundly appealing. Running away from a psychotic murderer is not exactly pop song material, but somehow the Talking Heads know how to make it work.
“Stay Here” by Swans — Adrian Mark Lore
Talk about Swans if you want to freak anyone out. Swans’ aesthetic is purely terrifying, and that’s about as close to objective fact as you’ll get when it comes to discussing music.
“Stay Here” inaugurates the band’s 1983 debut, “Filth.” The record’s title sets the stage for frontman Michael Gira’s entire 30-year career: it’s filthy, gruesome and deeply unsettling. Swans’ first couple of LPs, in particular, represent the musical equivalent to extreme bondage pornography, focusing on themes of sadomasochism, raw aggression and sexual domination.
Perhaps it sounds unappealing on paper, but the record occupies an important niche in the music industry: it’s essentially horror music — the equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock films or Stephen King novels. And indeed there’s nothing quite as unsettling as hearing Gira growl “flex your muscles” over the course of “Stay Here.”
But, like Hitchcock films, there’s artistic substance beneath the horror. If you get past the thick layers of noise, vocal distortion and sluggish beats, “Stay Here” is quite the catchy tune. Should you play it at your next Halloween party? Know your audience. I will say, however, that “Stay Here” fully captures the holiday’s spirit: it’s nothing short of traumatizing.
“Kill Me In My Sleep” by Chad VanGaalen — Mike Donovan
You’d expect Chad VanGaalen’s psychopaths to exist in nightmare, as most dream-state killers too. Sans music, his lyrics depict a frighteningly raw scenario — “You’re gonna kill me in my sleep / You’ll slit my throat and drain my blood / You’ll step back and watch me bleed / And then you’ll make a clean escape. His remorseless killer deserves dissonant energy and distressed vocals.
It’s strange, then, to hear VanGaalen’s (almost) dreamy guitar lines spearhead the song, with nothing but a few synth accents and urgent minimalist percussion to suggest unease. He soaks his first “kill me in my sleep” in a solution, three parts bliss and one part uncertainty. Only by the chorus — “Sleep creeping around / Night stalking all around / You’ve got it down, yeah, don’t you” — does his musical ephemerality break to dissonance.
Soon, though, he returns to pseudo-contentment, characterizing the most unnatural of human behaviors as something to be expected. His efforts remove the killer of his other terrifying qualities, and place them in the hands of the protagonist. There’s something undeniably scary about fearlessness.