Warren Zevon, Talking Heads, Michael Jackson + others: Gimme Five, Halloween Edition

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Stuck for a playlist to help while away the minutes between tonight’s zombie apocalypses? We’re here to help, with a group of songs that matches this holiday’s fun mixture the macabre with the silly.

That means both Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” both the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” and “Time Warp” from the legendary Halloween film “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

And since we all know five is never enough, not on a night of candy-gobbling indulgence like this one, we’ve added a lengthy list of honorable mentions …

5. WARREN ZEVON, “WEREWOLVES OF LONDON” (1978): Any Halloween playlist has to have a scary creature tune, and there may not be a more howlingly (literally!) hilarious entry than this one from Zevon, co-written with guitarist Waddy Wachtel and recorded with Fleetwood Mac’s John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. Zevon’s version of the old black-and-white movie prowler is a smooth operator, when not ripping out the lungs of unsuspecting passersby: Even after engorging on chow mein (at Lee Ho Fook’s restaurant on Gerrard Street in London’s Chinatown), then knocking back an island libation or two, the beast’s “hair was perfect.”

4. ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW CAST, “TIME WARP” (1975): First, can you jump to the left? Then, we’ll need you to take one step to the right. Good. Place your hands on your hips, then bend at the knees. All that’s left now for you to complete one of Halloween’s most legendary movie-house crowd-participation dances is a pelvic thrust. Even today, it still drives us insa-a-a-a-a-ane! Rock ‘n’ roll fun fact: The film’s makeup artist Pierre La Roche also created David Bowie’s 1970s-era looks for the Ziggy Stardust tour and the Aladdin Sane album cover. Also, Mick Jagger was said to have wanted to play Tim Curry’s role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

3. TALKINGS HEADS, “PSYCHO KILLER” (1977): Many thought this was about David Berkowitz, known as the Son of Sam after murdering a series of six young women between 1976-77. But that couldn’t be, since David Byrne reportedly wrote “Psycho Killer” some two years before it was recorded. Still, arriving amidst the hysteria surrounding the serial killings, the narrative certainly fit. Making this song: Creep. eee. That is, until it was used in the now-famous episode of “The Simpsons” where Homer is hired by an evil corporation to kill celebrities (including George Clooney and Prince) so their public domain identities could then be used in advertisements.

2. ROLLING STONES, “SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL” (1968): The Stones’ creature of the night, like Zevon’s, is “a man of wealth and taste,” but their vision for his intentions — in keeping with the times from which it emerged — was darker, and far more violent. Damn scary, really. For it is he, even as Keith Richards unleashes a series of coiled retorts, who can be found nearby while Pilate washes his hands, as the czar is felled, as the Nazi tanks roll and — in a moment of disturbing timeliness — as the Kennedys are viciously murdered. The song, it’s said, was inspired by author Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita,” passed along to Jagger by girlfriend Marianne Faithfull. But its sentiments, and dangerous mythology, could only have come from the late 1960s.

1. MICHAEL JACKSON, “THRILLER” (1983): “Darkness falls across the land, the midnight hour is close at hand.” For those of a certain age, this chill-inducing closing monologue, courtesy of horror great Vincent Price, rolls off the tongue like some half-forgotten incantation: “The foulest stench is in the air … the funk of forty thousand years!” Sure, it’s the obvious choice. But there’s a reason it’s the obvious choice, right? From its undead-Jacko video to Price’s brittle, oh-so-ghastly departing laugh, this is the gold standard of Halloween tracks. Besides, after that Stones song, you’ll need something to lighten the mood. Yikes.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Alice Cooper, “Welcome to My Nightmare”; Bauhaus, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”; Blue Oyster Cult, “Don’t Fear the Reaper”; Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, “Monster Mash”; Creedance Clearwater Revival, “Bad Moon Rising”; David Bowie, “Scary Monsters”; Duran Duran, “Hungry Like the Wolf”; Iron Maiden, “Number of the Beast”; Ozzy Osbourne, “Bark at the Moon”; Metallica, “Enter Sandman”; Motley Crue, “Shout at the Devil”: Radiohead, “We Suck Young Blood”; Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, “I Put a Spell on You”; Santana, “Black Magic Woman”; The Cranberries, “Zombie”; The Eagles, “Witchy Woman”; and Van Halen, “Runnin’ With the Devil.”

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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