Pumpkin Songs 2019: 31 Spooky Party Jams

In the past, I’ve composed my playlists with tracks carefully selected from soundtracks and the backgrounds of movies and television. That’s good and all, but it’s time for a little change of pace—let’s flip the tape to Side B and play music fit for a Halloween party. No, not the ambient chiller noise that you can buy at any grocery store around October, but some tracks made to make you dance, squirm, scream, and embrace that inner freak. We’re grabbing songs from various genres here so there’s something for everyone; we’ve got your classics and a few that might pumpkin spice up your next party. So blast the stereo, or put on your headphones and sit back, relax, and enjoy.

  1. “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers. We begin our bash with this classic tune celebrating a gathering of monsters. As many have pointed out, the song doesn’t specifically mention the month of this gathering so feel free to play this song year round. It’s a fun nostalgia trip for adults, kid-friendly, and perfect for showing off your best Watusi. Some people might give a good groan, but you can’t have a graveyard smash without this song.
  2. “Little Demon” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Most would expect this madman’s other hit song “I Put a Spell on You” to be the choice here, but we’re switching to something a little more unexpected. You’ll still get Hawkins’ signature wailing, incoherent lyrics, and touch of the paranormal with this song but a more upbeat tempo. This feels like a good song for spinning around a room, making deals with demons, or maybe even a festive exorcism. The manic energy Hawkins presents will make most anyone exhausted by the end of it.
  3. “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder. God, I love this song. The drumbeat, the riff, and the lyrics all build toward this psychedelic state of wonderful anxiety; it’s hard to believe the rough demo was largely improvised, but that’s musical genius for you. If you’re a believer in superstitions then maybe this is a track you should avoid—you never know if it’ll bring the bad luck on. But if you don’t believe in things that you don’t understand and want to do the complete opposite of suffering then this is a must-have track.
  4. “Zombies” by Childish Gambino. We’ll slow it down for a moment to embrace this funk song that on one level is about the titular creatures quite literally and, on another level, is about the commercialism of the music industry. Either way this is a slow and sexy track that feels perfect for mixing a drink, staring out a window at the horde, and holding your loved ones close. The synth and Gambino’s vocals mix well to build the tension in this relationship between the narrator and the zombies that surround him.
  5. “A Nightmare on My Street” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. Drawing inspiration from and then sampling the theme of A Nightmare on Elm Street, this hip-hop track becomes both a song that pays homage to the series and then so much more. The addition of the hard beat over the score makes it both more mainstream and somehow scarier. The rhymes and story they build are both fun as Jeff and Will see the film and then are followed by our favorite prince of nightmares. This is a track that’ll be a fun throwback for fans of The Fresh Prince and/or the Elm Street franchise, but it’s a spooky track all on its own merit as well.
  6. “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” by Geto Boys. Sometimes what’s scarier than the paranormal is reality waiting right outside your door and the anxiety that can bring. Sure, Halloween candy is mentioned in the track itself, but we all know the feeling of being home alone and not trusting our minds or surroundings 100%. Scarface, Willie D, and Bushwick Bill spit rhymes over a sample of Isaac Hayes’ “Hung Up on My Baby” and turn the relaxed tune into a warped sense of safety. After listening to this track, you’ll probably want to check that your door’s locked…multiple times.
  7. “Disturbia” by Rihanna. Along the same vein of not trusting your mind, Rihanna’s hit track not only features twisted lyrics but a “disturbing” music video to go along with it. The thumping bass will make almost anyone want to get up and dance and it’s the perfect track for a Halloween party full of crazy people. By the end of the song you may doubt your sanity, but that’s only because Rihanna’s musical genius has wormed its way into your ears.
  8. “Stan” by Eminem feat. Dido. We’ll slow it down again for this rain-backed track that is mellow, depressed, and terrifying in equal turns. Eminem raps as the titular Stan, an obsessed fan, and himself as they write letters that get progressively darker; Dido breaks in with a beautiful chorus that samples her song “Thank You.” It’s vaguely reminiscent of Misery in its story of the number one fan, but it’s the mix of the rhythm, rhymes, and Eminem’s signature style that make this 1memorable. Sure, it’s not quite a song for dancing but it’s perfect for thinking about your latest obsession.
  9. “She’s My Witch” by Kip Tyler and the Flips. Switching genres here, we’re traveling back in time to the good old days of Halloween hits. This slow and rhythmic number is perfect for rolling hips and sensual performances of black magic. If a girl’s looking to put a spell on a guy at the party then this would be the song to do it. The instruments and Kip Tyler’s relatively relaxed voice imagine a world where men fall in love with witches who are no longer old crones but tempting vixens.
  10. “Lotion” by The Greenskeepers. Whether or not people are familiar with this song before it begins playing they’ll be singing along to the chorus by the end. This ode to Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs is strangely perfect in many ways. It incorporates his infamous quote about putting the lotion in the basket, it has a downright infectious bassline, and it’s written from his perspective. There’s plenty of macabre details in the lyrics—like using a skull as a bowl a la Dahmer—but, overall, this is all about getting his kidnapped victim ready for skinning via the titular lotion. There’s also a lot of fun ooohhhing.
  11. “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. You honestly can’t have a Halloween party without playing this song at least once. Not only is it a fantastic song to dance to (with its own choreography if you happen to have that memorized), but the music video is spooky and the song features our beloved horror-god Vincent Price. Everything about this song is as close to perfection as we can get—Michael Jackson’s gorgeous vocals, a wonderful beat, a killer chorus. It paints a terrifying story of being scared as in many of the classic horror movies, but in such a fun way that you won’t mind dancing to death by the end of it. A must-have for any party or playlist.
  12. “Black Magic” by Little Mix. Whether this song is about magic or seduction or both is up to your interpretation, but any way you brew the potion this song is girl group fun. It sounds both a little reminiscent of the groups of the ‘90s but also a bit new. The music video is Halloween-ish too, and it’s fun to have a song that’s reminiscent of “Love Potion Number Nine” without being an outright copy. There’s enough of a beat and jam impact to the chorus to make this feel like a track that could be enjoyable to fly around to.
  13. “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Switching genres again, we have this classic werewolf-related tune. Sure, it’s been included in many, many a horror movie and show, but I think that discounts it from any particular callout in previous years. Generally, everyone is at least somewhat familiar with this song so you’re in for some version of a sing-a-long and all the better if your party takes place on a full moon. There’s enough of a beat for some dancing and spinning around, and plenty of energy in the song to transform any boring brouhaha with some moonlight madness.
  14. “Hellhound on My Trail” by Robert Johnson. Supposedly selling his soul to the Devil for musical talent, Robert Johnson’s legend is worthy of a Halloween story but the lyrics and rhythm of many of his songs seem to back that up in spades. Johnson’s voice wails out over the slick guitar about how he has to keep moving to avoid that hellhound on his trail that wants to drag him to Hell. It’s a slower song, but there’s enough of a beat you can sway along or bob your head to. If you’re looking to spice up the party, why not summon a demon while listening to this track?
  15. “I Put a Spell on You” by She & Him. A lot of artists have covered this Screamin’ Jay Hawkins track and I love practically every cover so choosing just one was difficult. But there’s something about She & Him’s version that captures the spookiness of the song, the feminine magic of Nina Simone’s cover, and sounds beautiful in its stripped down simplicity. Zooey Deschanel’s vocals are almost raw as she screams out her obsession with her victim and the slowed down guitar drags on like a stalker’s footsteps. It’s a different sound than the original, and perfect for a slow dance between lovers.
  16. “Polly” by Nirvana. Who doesn’t want to listen to a song about a kidnapped girl in a basement? As always Cobain’s smoky vocals drag over the strumming of the guitar in a seductive manner; it almost makes you not mind that he’s singing about something so dark. Whether you choose the MTV live recording or the studio track it’s a treat because there’s something so resigned about the lyrics and the situation. While it’s not the best song for dancing, there’s enough of a rhythm for some movement and you could always create some drinking game for every time he says the titular name.
  17. “Zombie” by The Cranberries. This is another track where, if people are familiar, there’s a high chance they’ll scream along to the chorus. I will say that I once saw a ballet performance to an instrumental version of this song and it will haunt me until the day I die with its inherent beauty. Yes, this is a protest song, but if you live in a post Walking Dead world then you’re ready for the zombie apocalypse at any moment and this song captures that pretty well. Dolores O’Riordan’s voice is gorgeous and the surrounding music builds up the lyrics to a crescendo of beautiful pain.
  18. “Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums” by A Perfect Circle. I mean, if that title isn’t dark enough for you I don’t know what to tell you? This song has a little bit of everything in terms of sound: synth, screams, drums, echoes, whispering, weird breathing. When you throw in the creepy, possessive lyrics it kind of takes it all to the next level. This track sits on the border of industrial/rock and has a rhythm that’s fit enough for some hip swaying, or stabbing someone to the beat of the song if that’s more to your liking.
  19. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Marilyn Manson. You could probably pick any of Manson’s songs for some spooky fun, but this Eurythmics’ cover is one of his better tracks fit for the spooky season. While it is slower there is still an infectious drumbeat throughout the song and his signature croak sounds more reminiscent of Freddy Krueger than the Sandman, but we’re looking for nightmares here. If you’d rather have a bit of a mosh pit than a dancefloor at your party or a need a touch of the Gothic you can’t go wrong with Marilyn Manson.
  20. “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” by The Killers. While this may sound like a fun dance track if you pay attention to the lyrics you’ll find a story of obsession and murder among the funky beat and Brandon Flowers’ vocals. Part of The Killers’ “murder trilogy”, this climax finds the narrator recounting that he couldn’t have killed the titular Jenny because she was his friend and he didn’t have a motive. There’s a great bassline here and it’s reminiscent of The Cure in some ways that fans might enjoy, but with a touch of that Vegas sleaze we so love The Killers for.
  21. “Wolf Like Me” by TV on the Radio. The drumbeat in this song is pure adrenaline. If you don’t feel like jumping around then you should feel like running and howling at the full moon. It’s got a lot of working parts—vocals, drums, guitar, synth, and even a saxophone—but they work together to build to a crescendo before slowing down for a breather. If you were going to play a game of beer pong or some other fast-paced drinking game at your party then this would be a good song to time it to.
  22. “Which Witch (Demo)” by Florence + The Machine. Some have called Florence Welch’s vocals heavenly, possessed, or fairy-like so it’s only fitting she has a track on this playlist. She has plenty of material to choose from, but this magical song seems the best fit because it builds and builds as if she were trying to conjure Lucifer himself from the bowels of Hell. It’s full of feminine energy, banging drums, chanting, Welch’s signature wailing, and some celebratory horns. You almost feel as if you could levitate off of the earth to this music, throw fire from your palms, and right all the wrongs that have ever been cast against you.
  23. “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday. Few songs about ghouls, ghosts, and goblins are as haunting as this track about the horrors of America’s past. It’s a song that you have to be prepared for—emotionally, physically, spiritually—because Holiday’s vocals will dig into your very soul and remind you that human cruelty is the most fearful thing of all. The opening horn catches your attention before descending into the gentle piano and the fearsome lyrics. Not only does it describe the scene of a lynching, but the potent imagery within the song makes it hard not to imagine what’s being described. Perhaps not best suited for a party, but horrifying nonetheless.
  24. “Wolves” by Phosphorescent. Don’t be fooled by the calming ukulele; this is a song about wolves (real or metaphorical) invading a man’s home. This is a slow, indie track that’s perfect for slow dancing and relaxing, but it’s got some nice subtext that’s common across some horror films—man versus nature, man becoming nature, etc. The idea of being trapped by your demons (or wolves) is vaguely terrifying, but the mellow rhythm of the song makes it seem as if it’s not that bad. I mean, they might be nice wolves.
  25. “The Murder of the Lawson Family” by Vandaveer. This folk ballad is creepy enough since it’s talking about a man killing his wife and six children, but it’s more chilling when you know that it’s based on a true story. Something about the relatively dry delivery of the vocals and the slow strumming of the guitar makes it seem like a community casting judgment and telling stories about their neighbors. It’s one of those songs that remind us one of the scariest things about murders like these is sometimes being left without a reason why they occur. Bizarrely enough, I suppose this could also become a sing-a-long if your party is so inclined toward morbidity.
  26. “Taxidermy” by Kassi Ashton. If Buffalo Bill was a country woman promising to preserve her boyfriend for all eternity if he wronged her then he would be Kassi Ashton singing this song. There’s a slow sensual quality to the rhythm that doesn’t seem as if the song is going to go where it is leading, but then it goes there and it’s a pleasant surprise. There are plenty of songs that promise to get revenge on a man who’s done wrong in a relationship, but this is a delightful new level of absurdity. There’s also a catchy as hell refrain sure to bring joy to those who enjoy the finer points of interior decorating.
  27. “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by The Charlie Daniels Band. This oh-so classic song tells the tale of how the Devil got bested at a fiddle battle with a boy named Johnny. Not only are the lyrics and rhymes fabulous, but, dear Satan, the fiddle playing is practically orgasmic. Each ‘character’ has their own style and, while different, they each build the song as a whole and complement each other in their own ways. By the end of the song you might be willing to challenge the Devil to a musical competition for your own gain too.
  28. “Dragula” by Rob Zombie. Not only does Zombie make horror movies, but he creates some pretty spooky music too. We’ve got his trademark growling vocals telling us to dig through ditches and burn witches while the instruments back him up. It’s got enough rhythm to dance to or, if you’re so inclined, it’s also ideal for partying in dark nightclubs and ensnaring unsuspecting victims in your immortal gaze.
  29. “Spooky Scary Skeletons (The Living Tombstone Remix)” by Andrew Gold. Look, we’re living in the new millennium. If that doesn’t give people the right to take the outdated, overplayed thrift store Halloween tracks and remix them into a rave hit I don’t know what does. This song has it all—drops, lifts, scary skeletons, xylophones, hard-hitting bass, deep voices, repetition—and you will either get tired of it very quickly from how hard it memes or never get sick of it. New Year’s isn’t the only party that needs to go hard before that midnight hour hits; give the witching hour what it truly deserves.
  30. “Cry Little Sister vs Hello Zepp Klash-Up” by Celldweller. I’m bending the rules a little here, because this amazing mix takes two themes from two horror movies and puts them together. You’ve got the mental stress of Saw and the spiritual anxiety of The Lost Boys and what you get is a horror anthem. There are so many minor components that build up the song as a whole that it’s almost dizzying to take them apart. If you want to end your party on a high note this might be the song to do it, after all the games are done, the blood’s been spilt, and it’s time to send people crawling on their way home.
  31. “Ghost in this House” by Alison Krauss & Union Station. After the party’s over and you’re stuck cleaning up the mess, this is the perfect song to play as you pour one last glass of your beverage of choice and finally relax. Sure, it’s kind of melancholy but isn’t the end of every party and our beloved Halloween a time for mourning? Krauss’ effervescent vocals complement the backing instruments as she tells the story of haunting a house (whether it’s literal or not is up to you). It’s a sad, yet nice lullaby to end the night to as you already look toward the next Halloween party.

Whether you throw a party for all your friends or simply hold a party for one as you dance in your car on the way to work, it’s important to celebrate the beautiful season of fall and the wonderful holiday of Halloween. So download some tracks and play that spooky music for all to hear.

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