10 Essential Monster Songs

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10 essential monster songs

It’s standard practice by now for us to do something Halloween-themed as we approach the spookiest night of the year. But then again, not everybody treats Halloween as if it were actually scary. In fact, the camp value is just as ample as the creep factor, and for that reason, we’re letting off the legitimate harshness and dissonance for a minute to give voice to the more approachable ghouls and goblins roaming the streets on the hunt for a good time. Yes, we’re making ourselves a fun top 10 list of monster jams, but not the type that you’d hear at sporting events. These are actual monster songs — songs about and dedicated to actual beasts (and some humans that are less than human, behaviorally speaking). It’s their day — they should have the benefit of a good playlist.

David Bowie - Scary MonstersDavid Bowie – “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
from Scary Monsters (1980; RCA)

Given David Bowie’s avant garde cred, ability to change shape at will and seeming inability to age at the same rate as most humans, it’s been speculated that he, himself, is supernatural — he played one in The Hunger, anyhow. But the scary monsters ended up haunting him in this early ’80s single, driven by Carlos Alomar’s squealing guitar riffs and Bowie’s own robotic vocals. But, see, the monster in question isn’t a baddie, just a human being that proves ultimately incompatible with the fatigued protagonist, no matter the affection between them (“I love the little girl and I’ll love her till the day she dies”). It’s helpful to know Bowie was going through a divorce at the time and on the other side of a period of drug use. As they say, what doesn’t kill you and so on and so forth — which is likely why this song and the album it came from are among the strongest in Bowie’s catalog. – JT

monster songs Warren Zevon Excitable BoyWarren Zevon – “Werewolves of London
from Excitable Boy (1978; Asylum)

On a surface level, “Werewolves of London” is a pretty silly song, but it packs a pretty heavy punch. After all, not every werewolf song (and there are many) features the rhythm section of Fleetwood Mac and a riff that that guitar legend Waddy Wachtel called “the hardest thing to get down in the studio” of his entire career. This elegantly simple track finds Warren Zevon recapping a series of wolf sightings (between howls of his own) over a steady, danceable rock vamp. But begins as a goofy affair (“I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand”) gets much more dismal as the tale carries on: “Little old lady got mutilated last night/Werewolves of London again.” – ATB

monster songs EelsEels – “My Beloved Monster
from Shrek (2001; Dreamworks)

This gloriously weird song has been called a song about a girl, a song about drugs, and even a song about a dog by fans and critics alike. With a name like that, despite likely not being about a (real) monster or even a girl (probably), the song landed a spot in Shrek. It fits, right? What’s great about “My Beloved Monster” is the thunderous drums during the chorus, the tender guitar and bass everywhere else, and the distorted guitar solo that sounds like a monster talking (which is probably what they were going for). And can we ever get enough of E doing “la la la?” No. So thanks, E, for being fantastically strange, yet charming, and for composing a song with monster in the title.  – NG

Slint - SpiderlandSlint – “Nosferatu Man
from Spiderland (1991; Touch and Go)

Slint created a pretty ominous atmosphere on the whole throughout their amazing 1991 album Spiderland, and there’s a strong argument for “Good Morning Captain” being the most intense, dare I say scary song on the album (combine a climactic, emotional scream with ghost-ship imagery, and that’ll happen). But on “Nosferatu Man,” Brian McMahon’s narrative actually puts him in the position of being a vampire. Its name taken from the classic F.W. Murnau horror masterpiece, “Nosferatu Man” is an abrasive post-punk screech, that ascends to a perilous, morbid conclusion: “She peeked around the corner/ She offered me her hand/ My teeth touched her skin/ Then she was gone again.” Post-rock gets its first taste of bloodlust here. – JT

monster songs misfitsThe Misfits – “Astro Zombies
from Walk Among Us (1982; Ruby)

About five years ago, a group of friends and I covered The Misfits’ “Astro Zombies” as a ballad during a local trivia night. It went over well, in that nobody could recognize the blazing punk burner with lush piano chords — lines like “Prime directive: Exterminate the whole fuckin’ race” notwithstanding. And that’s because it’s hard to separate Glenn Danzig’s grotesque lyrics from the New Jersey ghouls’ roaring punk rock. As monster songs go, you could have your pick from any number of Misfits classics. They practically invented horror punk after all. And maybe it’s just because of my own anecdotal experience with this one, but “Astro Zombies” is a monster essential. – JT

monster songs SonicsSonics – “The Witch
from Here Are the Sonics!! (1965; Etiquette)

All of the original songs on Seattle garage rock heroes The Sonics’ debut album Here Are the Sonics!! put a more ghastly and ghostly spin on the fuzzy style of rhythm & blues they cranked out via a number of covers. “Strychnine” hailed the benefits of drinking poison, “Psycho” was a prototypical bitches-be-crazy track, but “The Witch” was a genuine ode to a femme fatale with mystique and danger. Sure, she seems cool — alluring even (“She got long black hair/ and a big, black car”) — but then there’s that whole thing about being evil and knocking on your door while you’re sleeping and all that. Typical witch stuff. What really sells it, though, is the guitar/organ riff, which is remarkably simple, but spooky in a very 1960s, “There’s a monster around the corner!” kind of way. Monsters were so much simpler back then. – JT

monster songs jack kittel psychoJack Kittel – “Psycho
(1974; GRC)

Very few things can undercut your sense of security and well-being like a well-executed country death song. While most of them were rooted in the early folk tradition — try listening to the Louvin Brothers’ “Knoxville Girl” without shuddering — Leon Payne’s “Psycho” was a creation of post-countrypolitan Nashville in the 1960s. “Inspired,” you could say, by a conversation Payne had with his steel guitarist about the history of mass murderers, “Psycho” is unsettling in its narrator’s cold, almost Southernly gentlemanly confession of five killings — three adults, one girl and a dog — to his mother, for whom the future doesn’t look very encouraging either. He’s one easily distracted, confused bastard, and his lack of exact recall over what he’s done is a very scary reminder of our collective lack of self-control. It ain’t pretty. “Psycho” has been recorded or performed by artists like Elvis Costello, Amanda Palmer and Teddy Thompson, but it’s minor country figure Jack Kittel’s straightforward 1974 version that’s the most unnerving. Check out the adorably mucked-up piano ending where the musicians try to play a scary ending while reading up on Bernard Herrmann. – PP

Cramps Songs the Lord Taught UsThe Cramps – “I Was a Teenage Werewolf
from Songs the Lord Taught Us (1980; Illegal)

The Cramps didn’t only write psychobilly songs that brought B-movie horrors to life, but it’s definitely one of the times when they were at their best. “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” is part terror, part melodrama, and a spooky stomper of a rock ’n’ roll song. With its sustained guitar chords, minimalist drums and a borderline gothic vibe, it’s a perfect pick for your Halloween playlist. To call the track kitschy would be fair, but this rowdy piece of garage punk is still enough to get you howling at the moon. – ATB

New York DollsNew York Dolls – “Frankenstein
from New York Dolls (1973; Mercury)

Frankenstein’s monster has inspired a good many gems of pop music, from Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” to Alice Cooper’s “Feed My Frankenstein,” but it’s hard to top the New York Dolls’ campy rock ‘n’ roll anthem. David Johansen & Co. are closer to Iggy and the Stooges here than on any other song of theirs, particularly as Johansen wails the monster-creator’s name repeatedly at the song’s climax. But I’m getting ahead of myself — first there’s the ominous warning, “Something must have happened over Manhattan,” which leads to some of the band’s trademark cheeky humor (“All his shoes are too big/ And house jacket’s too small“). But chuckles aside, this monstrous creation turns into an awesomely snarling beast by the end, making it one of the glam-rock legends’ hardest rocking highlights. – JT

monster songs psycho killerTalking Heads – “Psycho Killer
from Talking Heads ’77 (1977; Sire)

When writing what would become his band’s 1977 breakout hit, David Byrne imagined “Alice Cooper doing a Randy-Newman-type ballad.” And while the end result would be much more taut and funky than that, the lyrical mood is spot on. Diving into the psyche of a real life monster, Byrne explores the thoughts a serial killer might have exclaiming thoughts like “say something once, why say it again?” and “I hate people when they’re not polite” before warning those around him to run away. “Psycho Killer” isn’t all gloom and homicide though; its tense disco-tinged rhythms hinted at the greatness Talking Heads would achieve later on in their career, and that driving bass line is among Tina Weymouth’s best. Whether or not it’s the season of fear, this is one killer song. Fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa! – ATB

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