Spooky, scary songs (that aren’t "Thiller" or "Monster Mash")

A Halloween list

- October 31, 2014

Members of the English post-punk band Bauhaus.
Members of the English post-punk band Bauhaus.

If you’re heading to a Halloween party this weekend, odds are you’re going to hear “Thriller” and “Monster Mash.”

And why not? Those songs have become bonafide seasonal classics, catchy anthems for the season. But they’re not the only uncanny jams available, or the only compositions that are adept at sending shivers down your spine. We reached out to some of Dal’s musicology experts in the Fountain School of Performing Arts for their spooky suggestions.

(And if you’re more the visual or literary type, check out last year's list of some of our profs’ favourite pieces of horror or Gothic fiction.)

Steve Baur
Associate Professor, Fountain School of Performing Arts
Cross-Appointment w/ Gender and Women’s Studies

The piece that comes to my mind immediately is Henry Cowell's The Banshee, which requires the pianist to delve inside of the piano to make all kinds of spooky sounds by rubbing, scraping, and scratching the strings. Very spooky and witchy! Then there's Musorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, which is an orchestral rendering of a witches' sabbath. A witches' sabbath is also the subject of the final movement of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique. But for sheer spookiness, I think Cowell takes the cake.

Jacqueline Warwick
Associate Professor, Musicology
Gender and Women's Studies Coordinator

The thing that makes The Banshee so eerie is that we can’t easily identify the source of the sounds. That is also the case with Bauhaus’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” which I’ll contribute. The Bauhaus recording is long, and harmonically tense because it never really moves; the bass line just creeps down a minor third over and over, while Peter Murphy howls at us about bats, brides, and the undead.

Jérôme Blais
Associate Professor, Composition, Fountain School of Performing Arts
Cross Appointment w/ Canadian Studies

Ligeti's Lux Aeterna can be pretty spooky, and Pendercki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima is beyond scary — simply panicking. Although I must confess I constantly battle my students to go beyond the cliché that modern, atonal music sounds like horror movies music.

Ryan McNutt
Dal News editor and MA student, Musicology

In the more lighthearted spirit of the season, I’ll throw “Do They Know It’s Halloween?” into the mix: a 2005 charity single organized by Vice Records for UNICEF. Modelled after Band Aid’s iconic (and ham-fisted) “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” the song is a cheeky, creepy anthem credited to The North American Halloween Prevention Initiative. Its members (the song’s artists) include Arcade Fire, Beck, Buck 65, Feist, Elvira, Malcolm McLaren, Wolf Parade, this year’s Polaris Prize winner Tanya Tagaq and more.

What's your favourite song for a Halloween soundtrack? Share your suggestions in the comments below.



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