From shopping malls to TV commercials to entire radio stations, Christmas music gets plenty of attention — but what about Halloween? The trick-or-treat loot might be sugary and empty, but the songs sure aren’t.
From tunes about the devil to songs about the living dead to tales of monsters dancin’ the night away, Halloween music is killer. Put these songs on for a spell and you’ll have a bloody good time. They’re scary good (you get the idea).
Get into the spirit of the season with the Top 25 Halloween Songs of 2018, as determined by the Billboard charts. This data comes from titles ranked by a formula blending digital sales, radio airplay and streaming, as measured by Nielsen Music. Radio airplay and U.S. streams encompass Oct. 25 to Oct. 31, 2017, while digital song sales cover Oct. 27 to Nov. 2, 2018.
25. “Dead Man’s Party” – Oingo Boingo
Before composer Danny Elfman crafted The Simpsons theme song and began his fruitful pairing with filmmaker Tim Burton, he was in a delightfully wackadoo new wave band with his brother called Oingo Boingo. The ska-flavored “Dead Man’s Party” is proof that you don’t need Weekend at Bernie’s to boogie with the deceased.
24. “My Demons” – Starset
With urgent strings and ominous vocals, this fist-pumping anthem from Ohio rockers Starset is a nice Halloween companion to their other spookily-titled smash hit, “Monster.”
23. “This Is Halloween” – Marilyn Manson
When Disney re-released the beloved 1993 flick The Nightmare Before Christmas in digital 3D in 2006, shock rock icon Marilyn Manson lent a deranged vocal performance to a song originally performed by a ghoulish assortment of ghosts, skeletons and a clown with a tear-away face.
22. “Runnin’ With The Devil” – Van Halen
With a bass line so heavy Lucifer himself probably felt the reverberations, Van Halen’s ode to fast-living – complete with David Lee Roth’s banshee hail – kicked off their first album and had teenagers around the world throwing up the devil horns.
21. “Black Magic Woman” – Santana
Santana’s swampy mixture of blues, Latin, rock and jazz on their cover of “Black Magic Woman” (originally written by Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green!) is as bewitching now as when they released it in 1968.
20. “The Time Warp” – The Rocky Horror Picture Show Cast
Even if The Rocky Horror Picture Show is too willfully weird for your tastes, just try to not take a jump to the left or a step to the right when this deliriously catchy romp starts.
19. “Dragula” – Rob Zombie
Melding metal with pounding industrial electronics and an audio snippet of horror icon Christopher Lee, Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” – named after a car from the TV show The Munsters – is an unstoppable demon of a tune, and just about as demonically fun as metal gets.
18. “Hells Bells” – AC/DC
Opening with funerary church bells, the Aussie rockers rip into one of their sickest riffs on this Back In Black classic – which takes on an even weirder resonance when you remember that this album was recorded in the wake of (and is titled in reference to) former singer Bon Scott’s unexpected death.
17. “Zombie” – The Cranberries
The Irish group’s dirge-like protest against the senseless deaths during The Troubles in Northern Ireland isn’t anywhere near Night of the Living Dead territory, but every Halloween, it gets trotted out for playlists regardless of its intent.
16. “Creep” – Radiohead
Thom Yorke might be singing about being an outsider on this seminal ’90s alt-rock hit, but all things creepy and crawly get a Halloween playlist boost in October, which is why this decidedly non-spooky song crops up here.
15. “Sympathy For The Devil” – The Rolling Stones
Mick Jagger might be the one singing from the perspective of Lucifer in this recounting of historical atrocities, but when Keith Richards unleashes that spiky guitar solo over the samba beat, it’s clear that he’s the real devil in the Stones.
14. “A Nightmare On My Street” – DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
If “A Nightmare on My Street” makes you think about A Nightmare on Elm Street, well, the rights holders of the film series felt the same way and served DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince with a lawsuit. Yes, at one point in history, Will Smith and Freddy Krueger were engaged in a terrifying battle about… copyright infringement.
13. “Bad Moon Rising” – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Songs about bad tidings don’t usually sound this jubilant, but even when he was railing against war or The Man, a melodist like John Fogerty couldn’t help but sound like he was having the time of his life. Its use in 1981’s An American Werewolf In London helps solidify this as a Halloween classic.
Sure, it’s more about inner demons than the kind that would drag you to hell, but Em & Rih’s uber catchy “Monster” still gets a massive spike each October.
11. “Halloween Theme (Main Title)” – John Carpenter
With skittering synths and an eerie, uneasy piano riff that repeats ad infinitum, it’s hard to listen to this one and not feel like someone is creeping up behind you. Tip your spray-painted William Shatner mask to John Carpenter, who crafted this theme song for a movie he also co-wrote and directed.
10. “Monster” – Skillet
A crunchy, anthemic ode to antiheroes, “Monster” finds the Tennessee rockers wailing about the demons lurking just beneath the skin: “I hate what I’ve become, the nightmare’s just begun.”
9. “Werewolves of London” – Warren Zevon
The werewolves might be from London, the menu might be Chinese, but the Professor Longhair-flavored piano riff is straight outta New Orleans (even though Warren Zevon wasn’t). Few Halloween songs are this impossibly charming.
8. “Highway To Hell” – AC/DC
You probably think you want to end up on a path to paradise when you kick the bucket, but after hearing Bon Scott’s libidinous shrieks about the virtues of a highway to hell, you might find yourself taking a damned detour.
7. “Don’t Fear The Reaper” – Blue Oyster Cult
Halloween songs don’t get more perfect than this. The vocals are drifting and detached, the guitar riff is sinister and sick, and lyrics – which reveal a Gothic romantic fixation on death – are unsettling precisely because they make death sound not scary. The only thing worse than not having this song on your Halloween playlist is not having enough cowbell.
6. “Somebody’s Watching Me” – Rockwell
Kennedy Gordon, the son of Motown founder Berry Gordon, rechristened himself Rockwell and – thanks in no small part to the addition of backing vocals from Michael Jackson – scored a hit with this eerie ode to paranoia in 1984.
5. “Demons” – Imagine Dragons
A lot of songs about the demons/monsters inside are woefully short on horror movie imagery, but you gotta throw the devil horns in the air for Imagine Dragons, who name check grave-digging, beasts (#metal) and stale blood while singing about internal turmoil.
4. “This Is Halloween” – Danny Elfman
Be honest: You wish your city was this cool. In the beloved 1993 flick The Nightmare Before Christmas, this introductory theme song sets up that the town of Halloween has all the eerie delights you crave come Oct. 31: Pumpkins, spiders, snakes, banshees, a man hiding in a trashcan… wait, what?! Okay, maybe you don’t want everything they’re serving up in the town of Halloween.
3. “Monster Mash” – Bobby “Boris” Pickett & The Crypt-Kickers
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone under 60 who knows how to do the mashed potato, and yet well over 50 years after its release, Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s novelty dance hit “Monster Mash” is cherished by guys and ghouls of all ages. Some songs are so silly they’re just plain genius.
2. “Ghostbusters” – Ray Parker Jr.
Decades later, the entire world still knows who to call when there’s something strange in your neighborhood. Or if there’s something weird, and it don’t look good. And that invisible man sleeping in your bed? His motives are so transparent. Call the Ghostbusters.
1. “Thriller” – Michael Jackson
What else would be No. 1? Michael Jackson’s GOAT horror pop classic boasts howling wolves, an ominous organ, and a funky bass line that wiggles like a worm in a fresh corpse. Not to mention its cameo from B-movie thespian Vincent Price, whose maniacal laugh will set your pulse pounding – that is, if you’ve still got one.