Halloween: The Origins Behind 9 of the Best Haunted Hits
The witching season is almost upon us and besides the autumnal weather, pumpkin carvings, and trick or treating, it’s also a great time to haunt the dancefloor with our favourite spooky sounds.
We all know the opening riffs of ‘Ghostbusters’, the finger clicks of ‘The Addams’ Family’ theme tune and all the words to ‘This Is Halloween’, but how much do we actually know about some of our favourite Halloween tracks and how they came to be welcomed on our annual petrifying playlists?
We’ve taken on the role of music grave digger and digged out the back stories of some of our favourite terrifying tunes from David Bowie to Michael Jackson.
Blue Öyster Cult - (Don’t Fear) The Reaper
Opening with spooky guitar riffs before exploding with clunky drum beats and ringing cowbells, ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’ became Blue Öyster Cult’s biggest hit when it was released on their fourth studio album in 1976.
Whilst associated since for its spooky connotations and perhaps vampiric romance, the origins of the classic rock song are far from haunting. In fact, the song is about love in the afterlife. Written and sung by lead guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, the song is about love in the afterlife. More specifically, it’s about Roeser’s hope that he’d still be with his wife when they had both died.
Stephen King cited the song as an influence to ‘The Stand’ and was also used as the theme tune to its accompanying television adaptation. The song has also appeared in Halloween, Zombieland, and Bill and Ted's Bogus Adventure. Perhaps most creepy of all, the track was reportedly a favourite of 1970’s murderer Gary Gilmore.
Alice Cooper - Welcome to my Nightmare
Alice Cooper's debut solo album 'Welcome to My Nightmare' was ultimately a concept album based around the nightmares of a young boy called Stephen and inspired by horror films. Supposed to be played in sequence, the songs formed Stephen's story and would inspire a TV special in 1975 narrated by horror icon Vincent Price.
The title track serves as the album opener and our first introduction to Stephen's nightmares. Described as a 'nocturnal vacation' and an 'unnecessary sedation', the young boy's nightmares throughout the album would go on to include spiders and murder.
The Searchers (Originally by The Clovers) - Love Potion No. 9
Cleverly disguised as being about a transaction with a gypsy named Madame Ruth, ‘Love Potion No. 9’ is apparently not at all about buying magical elixirs from golden-toothed merchants.
Reading into the lyrics a little closer and it could make perfect sense that it’s actually about a guy buying drugs on Thirty-Fourth and Vine to help with his nervousness around women. Not so spooky, after all.
Michael Jackson - Thriller
By far the most iconic Halloween song and music video in the history of music, 'Thriller' was almost called something completely different. The song went through phases during production of being called 'Starlight' and 'Midnight Man' before finding its iconic title.
Whilst its hard to deny the sheer terror of 'Thriller' and its mention of werewolves, zombies and graveyards (alongside a brilliant Vincent Price cameo), it's thought the Michael Jackson song and its accompanying video are actually filled to the brim with social commentary. Released during an era of gang violence, crack cocaine addiction, and the AIDS epidemic, many theories suggest that the creepy sound effects and scare gags of ‘Thriller’ may actually be a distraction from a hidden political insight into an 80s America.
Kate Bush - Hammer Horror
‘Hammer Horror’ is a bit of an underrated classic, but it’s still managed to find a welcomed-spot on many a Halloween playlist.
Named after and featuring references throughout, the song is inspired by Hammer Films but is actually about the tale of an actor taking over a role after its original star died. Retelling the guilt as the new actor begins his lead role in ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, the star also ends up being haunted by the ghost of the dead actor. Pretty much on point for a Halloween track, then.
Soft Cell (Originally by Gloria Jones) - Tainted Love
‘Tainted Love’ is one of those songs that has been recorded over and over by numerous artists throughout the years. Made famous by Soft Cell’s electronic pop transformation of the track in the 80s, ‘Tainted Love’ was actually written way back in the 60s by Ed Cobb.
Whilst the song is a crowd pleasing Halloween dance-floor bop, the song is simply about a toxic relationship and knowing that, ultimately, it’s time to get out of the relationship as happiness is not to be found there. Whilst it’s not at all scary, it’s a hauntingly realistic story.
David Bowie - Scary Monsters and Super Creeps
Sorry to break it to you, but this David Bowie track is unfortunately not about Swamp Thing, Dracula and their pals. Nonetheless, the track still has a bit of an unsettling backstory.
The song tells the story of a man obsessed with his new girlfriend, who is a bit of a recluse. Eventually, his possessive nature becomes too much for her and she leaves him - descending into madness as she sees all strangers as ‘scary monsters’. The track actually provides social commentary on Bowie’s anxiety and self-doubt – themes that run throughout the whole ‘Scary Monsters’ album.
Janet Jackson - Black Cat
‘Black Cat’ helped Jackson become the first artist to ever be nominations across the Pop, Dance, Rock, Rap, and R&B categories at the Grammy Awards. While the song features many references to the folklore that cats have nine lives, it actually tells an even darker story.
Similarly to ‘Love Potion No. 9’, it’s presumed that ‘Black Cat’ is about drug use. About being in a relationship with a drug user or someone who lives a dangerous life, the song speaks about his lives quickly running out and the fact his “bad luck” is rubbing off on her. It’s about convincing herself that she needs to get out of the relationship before it’s too late. We might keep pretending to ourselves that it’s still about cats and superstition…
Bobby "Boris" Pickett - The Monster Mash
You might be surprised to find out that ‘The Monster Mash’ is not at all about monsters and is actually about the opening of the very first Wal-Mart store… We’re totally kidding.
‘The Monster Mash’ originated from an Boris Karloff imitation that Pickett performed whilst on stage with his band The Cordials. The resounding reaction from the audience saw the tale of a mad scientist having a party with his monster pals become a worldwide hit. The track, inspired by the Mashed Potato dance craze and novelty hit ‘Alley Oop’, continues to be a Halloween favourite today.
We’ve given you an extra treat this spooky season by creating our very own haunted hits playlist that you can listen to on Spotify right now.