The Frights and Sounds of Halloween Music

todayOctober 14, 2022 88 1 1 5

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By Hannah Walls
Web Content Assistant

Amidst the fervent process of narrowing down costume ideas and deciding which spooky movies to watch leading up to Halloween, there is another vital piece of prep work to be done: curating the perfect playlist.

Some people find Halloween to be a bit of an overrated holiday. It is overwhelmingly commercialized; every ad is themed around all things spooky, branded food items are released with special holiday packaging and a slew of predictably cheesy horror movies hit the theaters for two glorious weeks.

I agree that some parts of Halloween have certainly become a bit of a cash grab, but Halloween signifies a sort of fall transition for me, especially when it comes to music. I measure summer in pool days, barbecues and fireworks, while fall means cozy evenings, a warm mug at my side and a slight morning chill in the air. My personal playlist drastically changes during this time as well. My pop-punk and sparkly synthpop is retired and gives way to more subdued folk, midwest emo and literally anything with a piano.

I find Halloween to be an interesting time of year because it combines fall aesthetics with the boisterous feeling of a fleeting summer, and I think Halloween music itself exists in a different genre because of this. It’s also interesting because the Halloween genre is very broad; most Christmas songs, for example, have a general sound and very specific elements that define them, such as jingle bells and brass instruments, but Halloween music is a bit harder to define.

So, what has defined Halloween music across the years? And what sets it apart?

Traditional Halloween songs from the 1960s and 1970s that serve as the foundation for nearly every Halloween party playlist derive much of their inspiration from doo-wop, jazz and classic rock. Think “Monster Mash” or “Psycho Killer.” The musical elements from these genres depend on a minor key and lyrics that are generally about holiday elements rather than the actual instruments or sound effects used.

The photo features a screenshot of an album cover with a blue background. The white text across the top says “Monster Mash.” There is a drawing of a cartoon green Frankenstein character holding sheet music for a cartoon man singing and playing guitar.
The album cover of the original “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers.

In the 1980s, a huge influx of horror and sci-fi films and their subsequent popularity definitely influenced the sounds of Halloween. The use of a theremin to create eerie supernatural suspense and the rising popularity of horror-based sound effects, such as those found in “Thriller” define the Halloween music of this time to me. Although it was done before this time, I also feel like a lot more films utilized musical effects to elevate specific horror elements, such as short, staccato violin jabs or a deep monotonous drumroll.

It seems as if there has since been a decline in songs that are distinctly Halloween, but many of these same musical elements are used in addition to a lot more creativity with electronic instruments.

Songs surrounding specific themes of Halloween appeared on the pop front as well in the 2000s. “Disturbia” and “Toxic” are perfect examples of this. The songs themselves can be enjoyed year-round (and make no mistake, they are!) but definitely utilize some spooky Halloween- specific elements, such as dissonant chords or eerie droning. Not to mention, the lyricism definitely fits in with Halloween classics.

The photo features an album cover with a turquoise background. The right side is shaded with dim lighting. Rihanna stands in the middle wearing a plain white dress. She is leaned back with her hands crossed across her hips, and her hair is swept across the right side of her face. There is red text that reads, “RIHANNA,” in the middle, with white text underneath that reads, “good girl gone bad: reloaded”
The cover for “Disturbia” off of Rihanna’s album, “Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded.”

Although I think the classics are vital for any good Halloween playlist, I also like to add songs that remind me of that fall transition I mentioned before. They do not necessarily have some of those traditional musical elements that are so good at evoking uneasiness and tension. Still, I do feel that they encompass the feelings of uncertainty and quiet contemplation that only seem to come during the fall. I love some of the softer aesthetics of Halloween, and songs like “Season of the Witch” remind me more of that.

Check out my personal Halloween playlist here to get into the fall spirit and prepare for the spookiest time of year!

Featured Imae by Anti Records.

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