Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Ten atypical, scary songs for Halloween

By Jackson Maxwell

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Though they may not be as ubiquitous as the theme from “Ghostbusters,” or “Monster Mash,” these 10 songs will scare the pants off of anyone. If you feel daring, give these a listen this Halloween if you really want a fright.


  1. Sonic Youth: “Death Valley ‘69The first classic track by one of rock’s great, unsung bands, “Death Valley ‘69” is Sonic Youth’s searing, noisy take on the infamous Manson murders. Featuring screeching and backup vocals from punk rock poet Lydia Lunch, it’s a song that captures the full horror of the incidents. Equally fascinated and repulsed by its subject, “Death Valley ‘69” is a powerful look at the darkest underbellies of hippie culture.
  2. Suicide: “Frankie Teardrop” – Less spooky than absolutely terrifying, “Frankie Teardrop,” is perhaps the centerpiece of the discography of Suicide, one of punk’s earliest and most confrontational bands. Over nothing but a relentless, but completely monolithic, beat and a droning organ that slowly seeps under the listener’s skin, lead singer Alan Vega slowly details the mental disintegration of a poor factory worker. Over 10 minutes, the story becomes increasingly horrifying, and is punctuated by chilling, ear-piercing primal screams from Vega. Not for the faint of heart, this one.
  3. David Lynch: “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” (Bob Dylan cover) – Anyone who has seen a David Lynch film knows how the legendary director can switch from surrealism to pure horror in an instant. Lynch’s less talked-about ventures into music though, can be equally as surreal, and equally as terrifying. His cover of Bob Dylan’s haunting “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” is told through his quavering, strange vocals. As Hollis Brown – a similar character to Frankie Teardrop – loses his sanity, Lynch’s tone never wavers.
  4. PJ Harvey: “The Words That Maketh Murder” – Culled from her remarkable 2011 concept album, “Let England Shake,” PJ Harvey’s “The Words That Maketh Murder” is as sad as it is ghostly. Vividly detailing a World War I battlefield, Harvey sings of seeing “soldiers fall like lumps of meat.” One can almost feel the ghosts of those anonymous soldiers as Harvey sings about them.
  5. D.N.A.: “Lionel” – Though it’s completely instrumental, this two-minute slice of noise from seminal no wave band D.N.A. could probably clear out a party before it is even halfway over. Between Arto Lindsay’s completely unhinged guitar scrapes and Ikue Mori’s bludgeoning rhythms, this could easily soundtrack any horror film.
  6. The Stooges: “L.A. Blues” – Featuring Iggy Pop’s primal screams and wailing, atonal sax blasts from the recently deceased Steve Mackay, “L.A. Blues” is the most confrontational outburst from punk rock’s originators. A free-jazz/noise-rock hybrid of sorts, “L.A. Blues” embraces total musical anarchy rather than any semblance of structure. Though they were known for being raw, The Stooges never got more raw than this.
  7. Tom Waits: “Way Down in the Hole” – Even if it had not been immortalized as the theme song to the HBO television series “The Wire,” Tom Waits’ 1987 song, “Way Down in the Hole” would still stand as one of his greatest. As bizarre a gospel song as any that exists, “Way Down in the Hole,” relies on off-beat saxophones and a creeping stand-up bass to give it its disconcerting atmosphere. In that gravelly, unmistakable voice of his, Waits begs, “Don’t pay heed to the temptation,” declaring above all that, “You’ve gotta help me keep the devil, way down in the hole.” Only Tom Waits could make a song about fearing the devil more frightening than the devil itself.
  8. Dead Kennedys: “Holiday in Cambodia” – Though a brutal and brilliant piece of satire, the imagery in Dead Kennedy’s punk masterpiece “Holiday In Cambodia,” is still horrifying. The ever-provocative Jello Biafra – who wrote the song’s lyrics – spends the song taunting a moralizing, privileged college student, contrasting their life with the life of a typical Cambodian during the genocidal reign of Pol Pot in the mid-late 1970’s. “You’ll work harder with a gun in your back for a bowl of rice a day,” Biafra sneers at one point, playing off of the humorously over-done surf-rock guitars.
  9. Marissa Nadler: “Dead City Emily” – This exquisite slice of gothic folk is at once disarmingly gorgeous and chilling. Marissa Nadler is alone on this song, her own acoustic finger-picking circling defensively around her ghostly vocals. Nadler’s imagery is vague, leaving much of it to your own imagination to fill in the blanks.
  10. The Specials: “Ghost Town” – Though it was written to address the United Kingdom’s economic hardships in the early 1980’s, this should be a Halloween classic. The upbeat, ska-infused horns are eerie, cutting confidently through the intentionally desolate music. The wordless backing vocals are equally as unnerving, making this a strangely creepy pop-ska hybrid of sorts, but a brilliant one at that.

Jackson Maxwell can be reached at [email protected], or followed on Twitter at @JMaxwell82.

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