Mainstream Rock Songs: No. 50 peak in March 1981
The opening track on AC/DC’s 22x Platinum-selling Back in Black never made much of a chart imprint, peaking at No. 50 on the Mainstream Rock Charts in 1981, but remains a jukebox and jock jam favorite to this day. Not a particularly scary song -- unless your baseball team frequently had to face the ‘00s Padres in late-game situations, anyway -- but there’s nothing quite as chilling as that bell-tolling intro, except for maybe when Metallica stole the idea four years later.
24. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Bad Moon Rising”
Hot 100: No. 2 peak in June 1969
One of five — five! — No. 2 hits that Credeence Clearwater Revival notched on the Hot 100 between 1969 and 1970, and undoubtedly the doomiest, as frontman John Fogerty reads the lunar forecast and determines the end to be extremely f---ing nigh. From someone like Alice Cooper, lyrics like “Hope you got your things together / Hope you are quite prepared to die” might’ve sounded particularly ghoulish, though in Fogerty’s Bayou-via-Bay Area drawl, it comes off more like an uncle whose calls you should really let go to voicemail.
23. DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince, “A Nightmare on My Street”
Hot 100: No. 15 peak in October 1988
The Fresh Prince meets Freddy Krueger in this eerie old-school hit, in which Will Smith falls asleep after seeing the first entry in the Wes Craven horror series, and ends up squaring off with the iconic dream-stalking villain; saved only by his alarm clock going off. Released just before A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master in August 1988, and hitting the Hot 100’s top 20 that October — but in no way affiliated with the new film’s soundtrack — the duo were ultimately sued by New Line Cinema for copyright infringement.
22. Marilyn Manson, “This Is Halloween”
Rock Digital Song Sales: No. 50 peak in Nov. 2014
Perhaps one of the most Halloweeny songs in the history of music -- from the creepy melody to the sinister lyrics (you know, things like screaming pumpkins and spiders in your hair) – Marilyn Manson transformed Danny Elfman’s Nightmare Before Christmas classic into an even creepier track in 2006. He evidently cast some sort of spell on the tune, because it managed to land a spot on the Rock Digital Song Sales chart in 2014.
21. Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast, “Time Warp”
Pop Digital Songs: No. 41 peak in Nov. 2010
Whether you opt for the 1975 version or the one from the just-released Fox TV movie (we have to say: Laverne Cox's Dr. Frank-N-Furter by way of Grace Jones was pretty great), just make sure you have all your Time Warp moves down already before queuing this one up.
20. John Carpenter, “Halloween Theme (main title)”
Musical proof that you don’t need lyrics to make a haunting song. Frankly, Carpenter’s iconic theme for the classic horror film may be confirmation that a song is actually more frightening when there’s nothing but a plinking piano melody in the background. Or maybe it’s the uncanny Michael Myers mask. Either way, this song can be summed up in one word: chills. And not the good kind.
19. Rob Zombie, “Dragula”
Mainstream Rock Songs: No. 6 peak in Nov. 1998
It doesn't get more Halloween than this: First, it's a song by Rob Zombie, unofficial king of Halloween. Second, Zombie told Billboard that the name came from the drag race car on the 1960s series The Munsters. Finally, the lyrics are about the hounds of hell and burning witches at the stake. It's a Halloween hat trick.
18. Skillet, “Monster”
Mainstream Rock Songs: No. 4 peak in Jan. 2010
They might be in a Christian rock band, but that doesn't mean the members of Skillet don't have a dark side too. A sampling of the conflicted lyrics: "My secret side I keep hid under lock and key/ I keep it caged but I can't control it." And the chorus repeats "I feel like a monster." Well, for one night only on Halloween, feeling like a monster is totally encouraged.
17. Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil”
Rock Digital Song Sales: No. 32 peak in Sept. 2016
OK, so the word "devil" is in the title, but that might be where this song's Halloween connection begins and ends. It's a great song, however, and anyone dressed up like an owl at your party will particularly appreciate being able to join in on the "hoo hoos."
16. Radiohead, “Creep”
Alternative Songs: No. 2 peak in June 1993
Halloween is a celebration of misfits and outsiders (expect a lot of Suicide Squad costumes this year), so Radiohead's "Creep" fits right in. In addition to the lyrics about being a weirdo, the song has a really, well, creepy vibe overall -- especially for a top 40 hit.
15. Ella Henderson, “Ghost”
Adult Pop Songs: No. 5 peak in March 2015
Hot 100: No. 21 peak in March 2015
Not quite what you’d imagine as a Halloween song, other than the song’s title and the lyric “no more haunting, baby.” But Ella’s powerful pop lament managed to reach the top five on the Adult Pop Songs chart, so something about it clearly creeped under listeners' skin -- even if it isn’t exactly trick-or-treating pre-game material.
14. Blue Oyster Cult, “Don’t Fear the Reaper”
Hot 100: No. 12 peak in Nov. 1976
A masterpiece of reverb, dynamics, and fine yes cowbell, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” hit No. 12 on the Hot 100 in 1976, but has only seen its singular stature grow in the four decades sense, used for its singularly haunting (though empathetic) perspective on the Other Side in TV shows from Six Feet Under to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. A Halloween perennial if there ever was one — down to its usage in John Carpenter’s original Halloween.
13. Warren Zevon, “Werewolves of London”
Hot 100: No. 21 peak in May 1978
This classic-rock staple was inspired by the title of the 1935 film Werewolf in London, but the lyrics are more funny than frightening. The howling alone makes this a great one for your playlist -- just make sure you don't play Kid Rock's Zevon-sampling hit "All Summer Long" by accident.
12. Rockwell, “Somebody’s Watching Me”
Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs: No. 1 (five weeks) in March 1984
Hot 100: No. 2 peak in March 1984
Obviously you'll have Michael Jackson's "Thriller" on your playlist (wait for it…), but for a little more Jackson flavor at your party, play this one, which features MJ on the chorus, along with additional backing vocals from Jermaine Jackson. The song's best horror movie reference: "Maybe showers remind me of Psycho too much." Eek.
11. Five Finger Death Punch, “Jekyll and Hyde”
Mainstream Rock Songs: No. 3 peak in Sept. 2015
Just the band’s name is enough to give some people a fright, and those with faint-of-heart music taste would certainly find “Jekyll and Hyde” as scary as, say, The Exorcist. The song uses the deranged fictional schizophrenic analogously for a man who can’t escape his anger issues -- in reality, not totally far off from your typical angsty rock number, which is probably why it nearly topped the Mainstream Rock Songs chart last year.
10. AC/DC, “Highway to Hell”
Hot 100: No. 47 peak in Dec. 1979
The slightly fan-preferred of AC/DC’s two classic-rock staples about The Great Below, though Beavis and Butthead can probably get down to either pretty easily. Peaking at #47 on the Hot 100 in December of 1979, “Highway to Hell” is as unflinchingly celebratory a song you’re ever likely to hear about the inexorable march towards eternal damnation.
9. Little Mix, “Black Magic”
Billboard + Twitter Top Tracks: No. 3 peak in June 2015
Who knew a song about dark spells could be so danceable? Little Mix’s girl-group take on “bringing the boys to the yard” -- with a little ‘80s flair -- resulted in one of the more cheerful Halloween songs on this roster. If you’re looking to get lucky at your party, turn on this track and let Little Mix do the witchcraft for you.
8. Eminem feat. Rihanna, “The Monster”
Hot 100: No. 1 (four weeks) in Dec. 2013
A masterfully metaphorical tune about battling inner demons in lieu of the supernatural, the rap icon and hit-making queen teamed up for yet another No. 1 hit in 2013 (after the pair’s collab “Love the Way You Lie” topped the Hot 100 in 2010). The lyrics may be a bit dark, but the fast pace of the track and Rihanna’s extremely belt-able chorus make for one hell of jam for a Halloween dance floor.
7. Adam Lambert, “Ghost Town”
Billboard + Twitter Top Tracks: No. 7 peak in May 2015
Adult Pop Songs: No. 17 peak in October 2015
A singularly cinematic presence on 2015 radio — peaking at No. 7 on Billboard + Twitter’s Top Tracks chart around this time last year — “Ghost Town” is more John Wayne than John Carpenter in its dust-swept sonics. Nonetheless, if you’re reaching cabin-fever levels of emotional isolation, the lonesome whistle of Adam Lambert’s heart is a pretty eerie sound in its own right.
6. Danny Elfman, “This Is Halloween”
The fact that the most famous Halloween movie of the last 25 years is really more about Christmas probably says something conclusive about the quality level of Halloween movies this last quarter-century. Nonetheless, Tim Burton’s stop-motion fantasia did produce one of the holiday’s ultimate theme songs, a spooky showtune so evergreen (everorange?) that it’s the only song to appear on this list in two separate versions.
5. Death Cab for Cutie, “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive”
Alternative Songs: No. 3 peak in Nov. 2015
Despite some pretty Phantom-ish opening lyrics (“If only you'd have known me before the accident / For with that grand collision came a grave consequence”), the “Ghosts” haunting singer Ben Gibbard on this Kintsugi single sound most like the melancholy spirits of ‘80s L.A. new wave. Perhaps for the best, though as Death Cab’s emo New Order seance connected enough with listeners in 2015 to propel it to the top five on the Alternative Songs chart last November, making it the most-recent hit on this year’s list.
4. Imagine Dragons, “Demons”
Hot 100: No. 6 peak in Dec. 2013
Similar to the allegory Eminem and Rihanna brought with “The Monster,” Imagine Dragons’ 2013 top-10 hit provides more of a melodically lighthearted approach to the same concept of inner demons. Hardly a bone-chilling Halloween ditty, but it may turn your costume party into an all-out sing-along.
3. Ray Parker Jr., “Ghostbusters”
Hot 100: No. 1 (three weeks) in Aug. 1984
There were a few different versions of the 1984 original theme song on the soundtrack to this summer's Ghostbusters remake, but none matched the goofy-meets-spooky vibe of Ray Parker Jr.'s. Although, the more the theme repeats "I ain't afraid of no ghosts," the more we wonder if he doth protest a little too much. Nevertheless, Parker took this novelty song all the way to No. 1 on the Hot 100 -- so sip an Ecto Cooler at your Halloween party and enjoy this ghostly classic.
2. Bobby “Boris” Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers, “Monster Mash”
Hot 100: No. 1 (two weeks) in Oct. 1962
Proof positive that the best path towards novelty immortality is writing a song that’s guaranteed to soundtrack at least one holiday a year, the irresistibly daft “Monster Mash” has kept Bobby “Boris” Pickett in the public consciousness for 54 Halloweens and counting, since the song originally topped the Hot 100 in 1962. There have been scarier Halloween songs, there have been more popular Halloween songs, there have been more specifically Halloween songs -- but over half a century later, when someone says “Halloween song,” it’s still bound to be the first tune to come to mind.
1. Michael Jackson, “Thriller”
Hot 100: No. 4 peak in March 1984
Can’t really get more classic than this. While songs like “Monster Mash” and the Halloween theme existed before the King of Pop put his spin on the Halloween jam, the rest pale in comparison to what MJ dished. With an iconic and disturbing zombie-filled (13 minute-long) video, an eerily catchy chorus and Vincent Price's terrifying “ahahaha” finish, it’s hard to find a more agreeable track for Oct. 31 than “Thriller.”