Halloween music on a record with ghost background
Illustration by Lauren Wood, The Ohio State University
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Halloween music on a record with ghost background
Illustration by Lauren Wood, The Ohio State University

Everybody knows ‘Thriller’ and ‘Monster Mash,’ but have you heard of these older tunes?

When it comes to holiday-specific music, the only holiday able to compete with Christmas is Halloween. Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” are two examples of Halloween music, and with the former song featuring famous monsters and the latter song’s iconic music video, these two songs fit the season very well.

Besides these, there are many other spooky songs that match the Halloween spirit. Some are less known, either because they are more obscure or because they are old. However, they are still worth listening to. With less than one hundred days until Halloween, here is a list of less popular tunes to get you into the spirit of the spooky season.

1. “The Little Man Who Wasn’t There”

Performed by big band artists Glenn Miller and Tex Beneke in 1939, “The Little Man Who Wasn’t There” is something like a remix of the poem “Antigonish” by William Hughes Mearns. The song features a conversation between Miller and Beneke. Tex tells the story of a little man “who wasn’t there” who haunts his home and follows him around. In both the song and the poem, “the little man” appears to be a spirit, making it a perfect song for a Halloween playlist.

2. “Spooks” 

Sung by Louis Armstrong and performed by Gordon Jenkins and His Orchestra, “Spooks” was released in 1954. It is a lighthearted song about a family of ghosts who haunt a house, making “the back door squeak,” “the faucets drip” and “the shutters shake” to raise their spirits up. The narrator, who appears to be living in the house, decides to leave the clearly haunted house.

3. “O Willow Waly”

Originally produced for the 1961 gothic horror film “The Innocents,” this song is much eerier than the previous two. The singer speaks of lost love, stating: “We lay my love and I beneath the weeping willow/ But now alone I lie and weep beside the tree.” It is ambiguous as to what happened to the lover, though a death is strongly implied. The song was also used in Netflix’s “The Haunting of Bly Manor,” which was released around Halloween in 2020. Both “The Innocents” and “The Haunting of Bly Manor” are adaptations of Henry James’ novel “The Turn of the Screw,” in which a governess becomes convinced that the children she watches over are haunted.

4. “The Unquiet Grave”

Like “O Willow Waly,” this song mourns a lost love. Unlike “O Willow Waly,” this song is the oldest on the list. It is a traditional English folk song. Because of this, numerous artists have covered it. The singer tells of someone who yearns and grieves so much that their lover cannot rest in peace.

5. “Midnight, The Stars, and You”

The most famous version of “Midnight, the Stars, and You” was originally performed in 1934, with music by Ray Noble and His Orchestra. Though the song is purely romantic and omits anything remotely related to Halloween, it was used in the ending of the 1980 horror film “The Shining.” The association with the movie conjures images of the song echoing through an empty hotel and makes it an honorable mention on any Halloween playlist.

6. “Headless Horseman”

The most famous version of this song is probably Bing Crosby’s due to its inclusion in the Disney animated film “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.” The song is based on Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” It warns of the Headless Horseman, a much-disliked spirit who goes riding across the countryside in search of a head to replace his missing one.

7. “Mysterious Mose”

Another jazzy and upbeat song about a ghost, “Mysterious Mose” is the name of the specter. According to the song, he “sees all, knows all, he gets in everywhere” and can be found in the graveyard, waiting upon the stairs or in the cellar. The song was originally produced in 1929 and was used in a Betty Boop cartoon of the same name.

8. “Tip Toe Thru’ the Tulips with Me”

Originally written in 1929, the most well-known version of this song is Tiny Tim’s, which was produced in 1968. Like “Midnight, the Stars, and You,” this is a romantic song that bears no mention of anything related to Halloween. However, Tiny Tim’s high voice has led many to describe the song as uncanny. The fact that the song was featured in the horror movie “Insidious” doesn’t hurt its creepy reputation either.

9. “Swinging at the Seance”

Also produced by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra and sung by Dorothy Claire, “Swinging at the Seance” appears to be about a spiritualist meeting, a jazz performance or both. It describes an event taking place in a countryside home at midnight, with trumpets, horns, mediums and “blue notes.” Trumpets are an instrument often used in jazz, but the “spirit trumpet” was also a tool employed by mediums. The song also mentions Billy May, a jazz musician who was still alive when the song was produced.

10. “T’aint No Sin”

T’aint No Sin” was created sometime in the 1920s. Though it is about hot weather, the lyrics “T’aint no sin/ to take off your skin/ and dance around in your bones” conjures images of dancing skeletons, which is very appropriate for Halloween.

11. “The Twilight Zone

The original theme for the television series “The Twilight Zone” was created by Bernard Hermann, who also composed the score for Alfred Hitchcock’s films. There are a few other versions, including an extended one by the band The Ventures. The iconic opening conjures images of floating doors, disembodied eyes and Rod Serling’s narration.

12. “Nightmare”

Another purely instrumental song, “Nightmare” was actually produced as the opening and closing song for Artie Shaw and His Orchestra’s radio show broadcast. The constant drumbeat and the high sounds and low sounds of the horns make for a spooky and somewhat foreboding mood, fitting the song’s title.

While Halloween has a great many songs associated with it, there are still a few that aren’t as well known. Even if they weren’t created with Halloween in mind, the above songs capture the moods of the holiday. Because of this, they are worth a listen — especially if you are ready to get into the Halloween spirit.

Writer Profile

Melissa Wade

Northern Arizona University
English

Melissa Wade is a student at Northern Arizona University. She is majoring in English and minoring in studio art.

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