Let’s be real…While songs like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash” are seasonal classics, it’s time to add some new tunes to your Halloween playlist. Thankfully, Memphians have been cranking out some amazing spooky tunes for at least 100 years, which means your options are nearly endless. From Memphis Minnie to Three 6 Mafia, here are 10 of our favorite holiday favorites.
“Haunted Blues”-Memphis Minnie (1936)
Known as “The Queen of the Country Blues,” Memphis Minnie’s expansive catalogue is saturated with tunes about voodoo, ghosts, murder, and other macabre subjects. Given this wealth of options, it was a bit tough to hone in on just one tune, but her 1936 classic “Haunted Blues” about the struggles of living with the ghost of a departed lover is hard to deny.
“I’m Gonna Murder My Baby”-Pat Hare (1954)
While not a household name, Pat Hare was one of the meanest and raunchiest guitarists of his generation, laying down absolutely nasty proto-metal riffs on several tracks for Sun Records. Although he largely acted as a sideman, his 1954 solo effort “I’m Gonna Murder My Baby” showcases his power as a singer as well and is haunting in both its subject matter and delivery. To make things even more unsettling, Hare would go on to be arrested for murdering his wife a few decades later.
“Li’l Red Riding Hood”-Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs (1966)
Best known for their smash novelty hit “Wooly Bully” about a monster with “two big horns and a wooly jaw,” Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs has several other silly and spooky tunes that fit the season perfectly. Our personal favorite is “Li’l Red Riding Hood,” a retelling of the classic fairy tale told from the perspective of the Big Bad Wolf. In the years since its release, everyone from Bowling for Soup to The Smashing Pumpkins have covered the holiday favorite.
“Insane Asylum”- Koko Taylor & Willie Dixon (1968)
If we wanted to (and believe us, we were tempted), this entire playlist could have been solely dedicated to the women of Memphis blues, who had an uncanny knack for channeling the darker side of life. Memphian Koko Taylor certainly delivers the goods on this track from her solo debut, which features fellow blues great Willie Dixon. The duet speaks about having a loved one institutionalized in an insane asylum, and the pain is visceral.
“Frankenstein’s Walk”-Gene “Bowlegs” Miller (1969)
During his long and illustrious career,Memphis trumpeter Gene “Bowlegs” Miller worked alongside some of the greatest talents this city has ever produced, including Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Al Green, and Isaac Hayes. Needless to say, his 1969 novelty track “Frankenstein’s Walk” probably doesn’t rank among his finest musical moments, but sometimes you just have to let loose and have some fun. The song features Miller as Frankenstein’s monster, who understandably isn’t the most skilled dancer. Unsurprisingly, the song comes with its own unique dance moves, making it a necessity for any Halloween dance party.
“Haunter of the Darkness”-Zuider Zee (1975)
If I were to ask you which 1970s Memphis power pop band unfairly floundered in obscurity despite coming out with undeniably excellent music, you’d probably respond with “Big Star,” which is certainly true. But Zuider Zee also fits the bill perfectly, as is evident from their darkly infectious track “Haunter of the Darkness.” If you don’t know now you know.
“She’s My Witch”-Tav Falco & Panther Burns (1987)
Much like their contemporaries The Cramps, Tav Falco & Panther Burns excelled in creating a creepy throwback sound that hearkened back to 1950s rockabilly with a dash or two of punk and goth thrown in for good measure. The group’s 1987 track “She’s My Witch” is an excellent example of their signature sound and a perfect tune to play for the special witch in your life.
“Potato Heads from Hell”- Wally Ford (1994)
Like a classic B movie rendered in song form, Wally Ford’s “Potato Heads from Hell” tells the story of an unfortunate man who is attacked by an army of blood-thirsty spuds from the underworld. Believe me, it only gets weirder (and more delightful) from there. I discovered the song several years ago from Mr. Ford himself, who played it to me while we sat next to each other at a bar. Needless to say, I haven’t been able to shake it ever since.
“Anyone Out There?”-Three 6 Mafia (1997)
No Halloween mixtape is complete without a track or two from the kings of horrorcore and this 1997 track finds the group at their bone-chilling best. Featuring a sample from the horror film “Man’s Best Friend,” the song serves as a solo track for Three 6 member Lord Infamous who weaves a horrifying narrative worthy of Edgar Allan Poe. “A family slaughtered by a loved one, forgive scarecrow/I turned against God and everything that I cared for most/Police arrived, candle light, butcher knives, bloody bedposts…” he raps, and that’s just the opening bars.
“Disco Werewolf”-Clay Otis & the Dream Sheiks (2013)
Prior to his untimely passing, Clay Otis (nee Clay Hardee) released some of the most adventurous and captivating music to come out of Memphis in years. Amongst his best tracks is 2013’s “Disco Werewolf,” an absolute banger that sounds like the sequel to “Thriller” we never got. The song, released on Halloween night of 2013, features some of Memphis’ finest current musicians and promises to be a local Halloween favorite for years to come.