How to Make a Howlingly Good Party Playlist

Nostalgia is a natural part of human existence.  Regardless of when one was raised, there is always something that one will point to as an example of the good things that were lost.  I graduated from high school in the late eighties, so naturally I look back fondly at the crowning glory of my generation…

…the mix tape.

There was something which elevates the mix tape above its modern equivalent: the playlist.  Perhaps it is the permanence of the medium.  You had to plan everything carefully, making sure that each song flowed from one to the next.

The same care should be used when putting together a play list for a Halloween party.  It is important to get just the right blend of creepy and danceability.  Too many atmospheric songs and the dance floor empties.  Too many upbeat songs and you run the risk of losing that wonderful Halloween feeling.

I have compiled a list of songs which I feel should be included in any good Halloween Party mix.  I should note that the “party” in question is one for adults, preferably one with adult beverages.  Some of these songs may not be appropriate for parties with younger guests.  In a similar vein, you will not find some of the tried and true children’s party classics like “The Monster Mash” or “The Purple People Eater.”

There are some easy ways to pick songs for a Halloween playlist.  The most obvious is to look for any song with the word “Halloween” in it.  Readers will note a number of songs which feature this category including entries by Siouxsie and the Banshees, Ministry, the Dead Kennedys, and Danny Elfman.  Another is to look for songs which feature supernatural topics like werewolves, monsters, ghosts, zombies, and the like.  From this we get entries from Florence and the Machine, Ozzy Osborne, Strung Out, The Meteors, and of course the late, much missed, Warren Zevon.  Other potential topics include killers, gore, and horror movie characters — see DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, Michael Jackson, Wednesday 13, and The Talking Heads.

There is some debate about the inclusion of actual theme songs in party mixes.  Some people say that they tend to be tempo killers.  Others say that they lend to the atmosphere of the event.  I agree with the latter, so you will see a couple of them here.

Closely related to the theme song is the movie soundtrack.  I will admit that I tend to lean away from these, but I have included some which I feel are absolutely necessary.  Songs from The Nightmare Before Christmas are always appreciated.  I have also included the bulk of the soundtrack from the film The Lost Boys because just about every song on there rocks.

Obviously, the songs which one includes in a playlist will depend upon the individual creating it.  My personal list will include 80’s, alternative, psychobilly, post-punk, and some other songs I just plain enjoy.  I may include songs which you would not.  I might also have left off songs which you think are required.  Mileage may vary.

“Dead Man’s Party” — Oingo Boingo 

While I have not placed the songs in any particular order, I would recommend this as an opener.  Why not set the stage right off the bat?

“Halloween” — Siouxsie and the Banshees  

The first of the songs whose title bears the name of our favorite holiday.  The combination of eerie music and Siouxsie Sioux’s haunting vocals makes this a must for any Halloween party.  To be fair, just about anything off of the Juju album would fit right in at a Halloween bash.  Towards that end I have also included:

“Head Cut” — Siouxsie and the Banshees

Spend a few minutes listening to the lyrics and see if you don’t end up shivering.

“Cities in Dust” — Siouxsie and the Banshees

An entry from later in their career, this song is about the destruction of Pompei.  Haunting lyrics set to a pop music beat.

“The Killing Moon” — Echo and the Bunnymen

How can one not include this 80’s treasure?

“Flesh for Fantasy” — Billy Idol

Not one of Idol’s most popular songs, “Flesh for Fantasy” strikes a chord that merits it’s inclusion in the list.  Plus, it’s just fun to watch a whole group of people do their best lip sneering, fist pumping Idol impressions.

“Every Day is Halloween” — Ministry

If every day were actually Halloween, the day wouldn’t be so special.  That’s not reason not to include Ministry on the list.

“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” — Bauhaus

There is no way that this classic was not going to be on the list, however, it is a LOOOOOONG song.  The intro (and it is a magnificent intro) itself goes on for almost three minutes.  A wonderful tribute to the vampire, but perhaps best suited as background music for games or announcements.

“Vampires” — Strung Out

Speaking of vampires, the upbeat tempo of this song is guaranteed to clear the bar area and get people out on the dance floor.

“Werewolves of London” — Warren Zevon

Yes, you will hear it a couple dozen times in the weeks leading up to Halloween.  Yes, you might even hear it when you walk into the Halloween store to buy your costume.  Guess what?  You are going to hear it on my playlist too.

“American Werewolves in London” — Wednesday 13

“Haddonfield” — Wednesday 13

“Till Death Do Us Party” — Wednesday 13

Wednesday 13 is one of those acts that deserves to be played at Halloween parties.  Their mix of humor and metal is heavily tinged with horror sensibilities.  The songs are fun to listen to, then when you have a chance to examine their lyrics you see the clever thought put into each song.  Just about any of their songs will fit at a Halloween party.  Their album Fang Bang could just be played lip to label with songs about grave robbing (“Morgue Than Words,” “Happily Ever Cadaver” — also a tribute to Rocky Horror Picture Show’s good doctor), murder (“Home Sweet Homicide” and “Buried With Children”), and the Devil himself (“Faith in the Devil”).  However, real horror fans will thrill over the lyrics of “American Werewolves in London,” “Haddonfield” (a tribute to Halloween), and “Till Death Do Us Party” (Friday the 13th) which is why they make the list.

“The Time Warp” — The Rocky Horror Picture Show Soundtrack

There are certain songs which invite everyone to the dance floor.  “The Chicken Dance” and the “Hokey Pokey” are for weddings.  We Halloween types would much rather start with a “jump to the left.”

“Thriller” — Michael Jackson

Once everyone is on the floor and ready to move together, why not put on the quintessential Halloween dance song?  Bonus points for everyone who knows all the dance moves.  Double bonus points to the DJ if the video (directed by John Landis with special effects by Rick Baker) is played.  Every Halloween party needs a little Vincent Price.

After all of that dancing, people might need to cool off a little.  Now would be a good time to introduce some songs which everyone will recognize but not want to dance.  I’m speaking about horror movie theme songs.

Some people love the idea of putting songs from horror movies and television shows into their playlists (I almost said “on their mix tapes” there).  This is fine for when you are just sitting around and want some background music, but it might not apply to one which will be the background music for a party.

My suggestion is to sprinkle them in sparingly.  Like any good spice, too much will overpower the dish and a clump in one area will ruin that bite.  Feel free to include your favorites, but spread them out over the whole playlist.  The ones I would include are:

“Theme from Halloween” — John Carpenter

“Tubular Bells (The Theme from The Exorcist” —  Mike Oldfield

While I would not usually recommend playing deep cuts from a film’s soundtrack, there are some notable exceptions.  One of these is the music from the film The Lost Boys.  Just about any of these songs will fit your party needs.  The best part is that the song styles are varied enough that you could play the whole album if you wanted to.  There are a few songs that didn’t make the cut for my list however.  Feel free to pick and choose.  My choices:

“Lost in the Shadows (The Lost Boys)” — Lou Gramm

“Good Times” — INXS

“Laying Down the Law” — INXS and Jimmy Barnes

“Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” — Roger Daltry

“People Are Strange” — Echo and the Bunnymen

“Cry Little Sister (The Theme from The Lost Boys)” — Gerard McMahon

“I Still Believe” — Tim Cappello

“This is Halloween”  — Nightmare Before Christmas Soundtrack

“Oogie Boogie’s Song” — Nightmare Before Christmas Soundtrack

You may have noticed that the last two are not from The Lost Boys soundtrack.  Everyone loves Danny Elfman.  In fact, he’s already appeared at the beginning of this last with his band Oingo Boingo.  The amusing this is that the song “This is Halloween” would also make a great song to start of the evening.

Of course you don’t have to limit yourself to movies, there are plenty of great television show themes as well.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer Theme” — Nerf Herder

This is a lively track sure to put a jolt into your party goers.  Odds are many will recognize the song from guitar intro.

“Catharsis of Sufferance” or “Sanctuary” (The Theme from Angel) — Darling Violetta

The title of this song varies, depending upon whom you ask.  Either way it is one of the coolest mixes of various instruments on this list.

“Twin Peaks Theme” — Angelo Badalamenti

A great slow dance song that will leave fans smiling.  Plus I just found out that the show will be returning to the air in 2016 with new episodes set in the present.

“Bad Things” — Jace Everett

The theme song to the HBO series True Blood should probably appear rather late in your set list.  This is one of those songs that encourages close, dirty dancing and may inspire your party-goers to do, well…bad, bad things.

A very popular, if short, selection would be the“Theme from Doctor Who” by  Ron Granier and Delia Derbyshire.  However, due to it’s length (too short) and the coolness of KLF, I would include the following alternative.

“Doctorin’ The TARDIS (12-inch mix)” — KLF

Pet Semetery” — The Ramones

Obviously we are moving back into the area of danceable music again.  I mentioned that there would be a dose of psychobilly music in the list.  Fortunately, there is plenty of overlap between the bands and horror topics.  Some of the promotional material for Jane Rose and the Deadend Boys even feature the undead (like the tee shirt I have).  The Grim Reaper even appears in one of their videos.

“Bitten” — Jane Rose and the Deadend Boys

“Death Becomes Him” — Jane Rose and the Deadend Boys

Other notable songs include:

“She’s a Zombie Now” — The Meteors

“Ghost Train” — The Sharks

You may have noticed that I have stayed away from the funny or overly campy songs.  While I have already stated that I am keeping away from songs like “The Monster Mash,” that doesn’t meant that we can’t have a little fun and a few laughs.

“Nightmare on My Street” — The Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff

This will be one of those songs that people will cock their heads at first, then they will remember it and start laughing.

“Re: Your Brains” — Jonathon Coulton

Ever wonder what it would be like if the next guy over in the cubicle farm turned into a zombie?  Wonder no more as JoCo illustrates an undead office takeover from the recently turned’s point of view.  Hopefully there will be a few people at the party who know the song well enough to sing the zombie parts in zombie voice.

“Creepy Doll” — Jonathon Coulton

Not a funny song, but a genuinely creepy one.  As if you didn’t already have enough reasons to hate those dolls up in your attic.

“Frankenstein” — New York Dolls

There is something about the word “camp” that makes one think of bands like the New York Dolls.  Naturally, this makes one think of their song “Frankenstein.”

Halloween” — The Dead Kennedys

We’re going to include this one for the bass line alone.  Bonus points for being about our favorite holiday.

“Little Red Riding Hood” — Bowling for Soup

OK, this one isn’t technically a Halloween themed song.  It doesn’t feature any supernatural monsters.  It does, however, allude to a big, bad wolf, and it’s a great cover.  Besides, I can’t make any song list that doesn’t feature at least one song from BFS.

“Hungry Like the Wolf” — Duran Duran

Sure, he might be hungry like an every day wolf, but that’s no reason not to include this song.

“Bark at the Moon” — Ozzy Osbourne

We could do a whole list of just wolf/werewolf songs if we wanted to.  This rock classic would certainly be on it.  While we are exploring Mr. Osbourne’s material, we might also want to include:

“Mr. Crowley” — Ozzy Osbourne

“Diary of a Madman” — Ozzy Osbourne

“Howl” — Florence + the Machine

“Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up) — Florence + the Machine

“Girl With One Eye” — Florence + the Machine

Florence and the Machine has some great material on the Lungs album.  “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) invokes images of an interesting ritual.  “Howl” the sensual side of werewolves, “Girl With One Eye” tells a story of lust and revenge that is just downright creepy.

“Ghost Town” — The Specials

We have to have at least a little ska.

“Psycho Killer” — Talking Heads

“Superstition” — Stevie Wonder

This song is chock full of bad images, plus a description of the worst parents in the world.  Who let’s a one year old play with a mirror?

“Witch Hunt” — Rush

With it’s dark tone and heavy music, many will ask “Really, this is Rush?”

“Wicked Old Witch” — John Fogerty

Another great song featuring a witch.  We can also tap Fogerty for some other songs.  It just depend on whether you want more of a rock sound or a little more country, or perhaps both.

“Eye of the Zombie — John Fogerty

“Haunted House” — John Fogerty

“Black Magic Woman” — Santana

You didn’t honestly think I was going to leave this one out, did you?

“(I Always Feel Like) Somebody’s Watching Me” — Rockwell

A story of fear and paranoia which gets bonus points for referencing the film Psycho.

“Psycho Killer” — The Talking Heads

Speaking of Psycho…

“It’s a Sin” — Pet Shop Boys

We all know what the rewards of a sinful life are.

“Highway to Hell” — AC/DC

Play this tune at the end of the evening and it will wake everyone up and provide a not so subtle hint that it’s time for them to hit the road.

I’m sure that there are many songs that I am forgetting to include, but these are the ones that jumped into my brain.  There are tons of other songs that are great for parties, but I was going for a theme here.  There are also plenty of songs which fit the theme but were left off because they are not ones which I enjoy.  What songs would you include on your own personal Halloween party playlist?

0 comments on “How to Make a Howlingly Good Party PlaylistAdd yours →

Post a comment