The definitive Halloween mixtape, annotated
Peter Mikulski | Wednesday, November 1, 2023
Christmas playlists are too easy. Thanksgiving playlists are impossible. The Halloween playlist, however, lies right at the Spotify connoisseur’s sweet spot. There’s enough Halloween music out there to get you started, but after just a little while, you have to start getting creative and stretching your definitions if you want to make a satisfying full-length playlist. Here’s what might be my masterpiece: the definitive Halloween mixtape, annotated.
“Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach. Popularized by the transcription for orchestra featured in “Fantasia” and by its use in “The Phantom of the Opera,” this piece has become a musical byword for evil and for peril. Google “organ song that goes DA DA DA” or “scary organ song” — it’s the first result. The piece was originally intended as a prelude, meant to kick off a concert and to give the organist a chance to flex his chops. The gripping toccata needs a sensitive touch, and the fugue needs virtuosic precision. Hence, it kicks off this playlist.
“Vamp Anthem” by Playboi Carti. Work of genius that it is, Bach’s Toccata is also a ten-minute piece of classical music — we need to get the energy up. Thus, Playboi Carti’s signature hit. The fact that it opens with a riff on the previous track is an added plus.
“Monster” by Lady Gaga; “Cannibal” by Kesha; “She Wolf” by Shakira. None of these dance-pop songs are technically Halloween music, but there’s enough monster imagery in them that I think they make the cut.
“I Want Candy” by Bow Wow Wow. According to the strictest definitions, “I Want Candy” isn’t a Halloween song either. Still, it matches a child’s manic passion for trick-or-treating so perfectly that it feels fine to include it. The track comes off of a 1980 album by Bow Wow Wow titled “We are the 80s.” Sadly, they were not (in fact) the 80s — they were a one-hit wonder.
“Friday I’m in Love” by The Cure. Just like Bow Wow Wow, The Cure is an 80s band from the United Kingdom, but what’s the Halloween connection? They’re goth, and every day is Halloween when you’re goth.
“Spellbound” by Siouxsie and the Banshees. Here’s another old school British goth track, one with extra Halloween relevance because of the sorcery motives happening in the lyrics and the witchy aesthetics Siouxsie and the Banshees have got going on in general.
“Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” by Skrillex. This dubstep classic rounds off the playlist’s goth detour. While goth started in the United Kingdom at the beginning of the 1980s as an outgrowth of punk and post-punk music, I think if you ask most Americans to imagine a goth, they’ll either picture a vampire, Marilyn Manson or that video of those cyber-goths dancing to techno music under a bridge. Thus, “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” makes it into the goth section of the Halloween playlist — with bonus points for the word “monsters” in the title.
“Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush. It’s a song about a ghost, in fact, a song narrated by a ghost. That’s pretty spooky! Spooky enough for this playlist, at least. This track is off of Bush’s debut album “The Kick Inside,” and you should listen to that album’s opener, “Moving.” It’s a sleeper hit, and it’s also hilariously about Bush’s dear mime teacher — yes, Kate Bush took formal mime classes!
“‘The Addams Family’ Theme”; “‘Ghostbusters’ Theme”; “‘The Munsters’ Theme.” Next up is a medley of the most iconic Halloween-y movie and television theme songs. “The Munsters Theme” in particular goes needlessly hard, and I genuinely listen to it year-round. It’s an ideal hype song.
“Psycho Killer” by The Talking Heads. A la “Wuthering Heights,” here’s another song whose lyrics have a scary speaker — the titular psycho killer!
“‘The Shining’ Theme”; “‘Psycho’ Theme.” Another medley: two of the most ominous pieces of film music ever composed.
“Superstition” by Stevie Wonder. The throbbing Dies irae synths from “The Shining” and the screeching dissonant strings from “Psycho” aren’t exactly the most danceable pieces of film music ever composed, though, so to balance them out, we need a bop. Therefore, “Superstition.”
“This is Halloween” from “The Nightmare Before Christmas”; “The Phantom of the Opera” from “The Phantom of the Opera.” Tim Burton and Halloween are inextricably linked, and while I’m more of a “Corpse Bride” man myself, this selection from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a nod to him. “The Phantom of the Opera,” its musical’s title track, has some spooky organ riffs that allude to the Bach Toccata which the playlist started with, signaling that we’re coming to a close. But there’s still one essential banger we haven’t covered:
“Thriller” by Michael Jackson. This is the big finale before the playlist winds down, a feast for ears and eyes. (In an ideal realization of this playlist, you would navigate off of Spotify and onto YouTube in order to enjoy all 13 glorious minutes of the original music video.)
“The Great Pumpkin Waltz” by Vince Guaraldi. To tie things off, we take a deep breath, and then we switch on perhaps the most autumnal piece of music in the world from perhaps the best of all the “Peanuts” holiday specials. Savor the lilting flute melodies, the mournful trumpet harmonies, Guaraldi’s twinkling piano playing, a throbbing guitar solo and a killer drummer-bassist duo. Take another deep breath, and then get to work on your Christmas playlist. Whether you’re a day-after-Thanksgiving hardliner or a whenever-I-feel-like-it radical, the time’ll be here before you know it.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.