It’s that time of year again when the leaves turn a different color, and the weather cools in preparation for to that PNW wet cold to which we conform ourselves for the coming months. But before we get there, we have Halloween, a holiday which is both decorative and personal. Whereas for children it means candy and dress-up, to adults it’s about…well, candy and dress-up!
To me, Halloween is always about the music. Teaching all forms of exercise for over 30 years now, Halloween is a time for me to pull out the creative stops and dust off music that I rarely get to hear. Here are some suggestions which I have used in my classes in the past. There are some you’ve heard and some that may grow on you with time. I know they have with me. Enjoy!
1. Season of the Witch – Donovan
From the twitchy guitar sound at the start to the slow build-up that sonically ends the song, this is a wild ride of internal visual psychedelia. Released in June 1967, this song was never issued as a single but is one of Donovan’s most loved tunes. Trivia – The song was played over the end credits of the Gus Van Sant film To Die For in a movie-ending eerie twist.
2. People Are Strange – The Doors
A track from the Doors sophomore album release in the fall of 1967, People Are Strange was issued as a single in September and peaked at #12 on the Billboard charts. This track has such a great creepy vibe it will have you looking back over your shoulder in no time! This song is not specifically for Halloween, but it sure adds character to a scary playlist! Trivia – the song was composed after a “depressed” Jim Morrison came back from a walk to the top of Laurel Canyon in Southern California with Doors guitarist Robby Krieger.
3. Planet Claire – The B-52’s
What’s not to love about this track? I’ve seen The B-52’s in concert on three separate occasions, and each time they play this quirky first track from their debut album. I still remember my 15-year-old self putting the needle on the record and hearing this blast all throughout my small bedroom. Pure heaven. Trivia – this was the second release from The B-52’s following Rock Lobster.
4. Somebody’s Watching Me – Rockwell
1984 was a good year for this one-hit wonder on the Motown label. Rockwell is the son of Motown label owner and CEO founder Berry Gordy. Kennedy “Rockwell” Gordy composed this #1 song and has two world-famous brothers on backup vocals, which make this haunting anthem’s hook irresistible. Trivia – the backup vocals are covered by Michael and Jermaine Jackson.
5. Devil Inside – INXS
This up-tempo rock pop song was a #2 hit in early 1988 from the great late Michael Hutchence and his INXS group. This was the second release from their wildly successful album Kick. Written by fellow group member Andrew Farriss and Hutchence, it’s one of INXS’s most well-known and accessible songs. Trivia – Batman director Joel Schumacher shot and directed the club-themed video in Balboa, California.
6. Devil’s Haircut – Beck
This sound effects extravaganza barely cracked the Billboard’s Top 100, but it’s one of my favorite tracks by singer songwriter Beck Hansen (born Bek David Campbell). Only a studio genius could have created a track like this, and that is Beck, in my opinion.
Besides, where else will you hear such angry-glee screaming at the end of a song? From Beck’s second album release Odelay, Beck sings about “stealing kisses from lepers’ faces”, “discount orgies and “garbage man trees”…awesome. Trivia – the video shot in NYC, film-references both Midnight Cowboy and The 400 Blows.
7. Sheena is a Punk Rocker – The Ramones
Who hasn’t dressed up as a punk rocker at Halloween? This head-bobbing song clocks in at a whopping 2:49 and it will get you up and dancing around the room in no time! The surf-influenced rhythm song was written by Joey Ramone and is one of their most popular tracks, but only peaked at #81 on the Billboard Charts in the summer of 1977. Trivia – The song refers to a comic book character at the time, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.
8. Psycho Killer – Talking Heads
Of course this would be on my Halloween playlist! This track has been on every Halloween class list I’ve ever made. It’s a masterpiece of paranoia, anxiety and worry put to an irresistible thumping beat. Songwriter David Byrne, Chris Frantz (drums), and Tina Weymouth (bass) earned a spot on the 500 song list of singles inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame with this track. From their first album release, Talking Heads ’77, this was the band’s first single to reach the top 100 on Billboard, reaching #92. Trivia – the song was originally written and performed as a ballad.
9. Run Through the Jungle – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Written by CCR’s lead singer and guitarist, John Fogerty, this is a track off my favorite CCR album, 1970’s Cosmos Factory. The song is a clear and almost direct association with the Vietnam War, but Fogerty was quoted later as saying he penned the song to be about gun control. Trivia – the opening “jungle noises” was the band’s recorded loops of guitar and piano played backwards.
10. Heads Will Roll – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
This toe-tapping dance anthem is an irresistible piece of pop euphoria from the NYC based band from their 2009 album It’s Blitz!. The song clearly makes reference to Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts character from Alice in Wonderland, and makes you want to join in with her as you lop off each of her knights’ heads. Trivia – the song as we hear it today was not the original, but a remix by an American artist named JVH-C which became the most popular version heard now.
11. Missionary Man – Eurythmics
This haunting pop rock gem is a must for any playlist whether it’s Halloween or not. Taken from the UK band’s sixth release, it opens the album with a long slow building crescendo of sound recorded in what seems to be an industrial work site while a harmonica (played by Jimmy Zavala) swirls in and out like steam escaping from a series of grimy pipes. Lead singer Annie Lennox belts out her lead vocals with power and intensity while the beat pounds into your brain. Trivia – This would be the band’s last top 20 hit peaking at #14 in the summer of 1986.
12. Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones
Penned as a Jagger and Richards tune, but mostly a Jagger song, this hip-shaking, well-known, samba-styled Stones track is sung in the first person narrative by Jagger as he boasts of causing historical crimes and misdemeanors. The idea for the song, Jagger states, came from his Baudelaire books. “I took a couple of lines from the books and just expanded on it.” Trivia – the song had two earlier working titles: Fallen Angels and The Devil is My Name.
13. I’m Your Boogie Man – K.C. & The Sunshine Band
Yes, I know this is a contextual problem (not THE Boogieman), but it’s such a great motivating disco groove, try not to move about while listening to this 1976 #1 song. Trivia – the song, written and produced by Harry Wayne Casey (K.C. himself) and Richard Finch, is about the DJ in their home state of Florida (hence the Sunshine Band) who first broke their hit Get Down Tonight on the airwaves.
14. Devil Woman – Cliff Richard
Another pearl from 1976, this one peaked at #6 in June of that year. The song, written by Terry Britten and Christine Holmes, is about a man hexed by an encounter with a cat with “evil eyes”, who now must seek the aid of a gypsy to break the curse. It’s a hard driven electric guitar lead song notably recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. Trivia – the song was recently featured in the film I, Tonya.
15. Monster – Fred Schneider & The Shake Society
This is kind of cheating because I’ve already had a song by The B-52’s, but this is a solo project from the lead singer, released in 1984, and I’m sure I was one of only five people who bought the album. It’s full of really tacky demo-style recordings, but this is a great foot stomper and includes a laugh-out-loud back-up performance by fellow B-52 singer, Kate Pierson. Give it a spin and enjoy! Trivia – Kate Pierson appears in the video and it was included with The B-52’s video collection release.
16. Ghost Town – The Specials
If you’re looking for some SKA in your workout, here is a UK #1 song from June 1981. Urban decay, deindustrialization, unemployment and inner-city violence is all set to a bouncing bass heavy SKA beat. It is a bit repetitive (although I think that’s SKA’s m.o.), but the rhythm is perfect for that lull before your final workout song. Trivia – Keyboardist and Specials leader Jerry Dammers says he wrote the song with weird diminished chords to help convey impending doom and that certain members of the band wanted simple chords and resented the tune.
17. Dead Man’s Party – Oingo Boingo
Released on April 29, 1986, this raucous tune with it’s off-key live horn section intro was the third single released from lead-singer-and-future-Batman/Edward Scissorhands/Pee-Wee’s-Big-Adventure-score-writing-and-producing-genius Danny Elfman. It taps in at over 6 minutes of party dancing and booty shaking fun. Trivia – This was actually the B-side on several worldwide releases and was a bigger hit then the A-side “Stay.”
18. Witchcraft – Frank Sinatra
Old Blue-Eyes would recut this song later on his Reprise label, but this 1957 Capitol Records release, scored and orchestrated by the fantastically gifted Nelson Riddle, is the diamond to be admired. From the slithering clarinet opening to the hip finger snaps at the close of the song, this is a great way to bring your workout to an end while still making your heart beat fast! Trivia – This was recorded like most of Sinatra’s Capitol sessions with Frank standing live with the orchestra in the same room.
19. Spooky – Classics IV
This Billboard #3 song was released in October 1967 and is one my personal favorites. Originally, the song was written as an instrumental by Mike Shapiro and Harry Middlebrooks Jr., which stalled at #57, but James Cobb and producer Buddy Blue created the version here with fantastic and memorable lyrics about “a spooky little girl like you!”, sung so well by Classics IV lead vocalist Dennis Yost. Trivia – Cobb and Classics IV bandmate Dean Daugherty would later go on to create and become a part of the Atlantic Rhythm Section who would have hits with “So Into You” and “Imaginary Lover”.