Every time Halloween comes around, I always remember the one that changed my life. My best friend Dave and I discovered Kiss in 1977, after I bought Love Gun on 8-track from Tower Records (yes, I’m old). On the way to the face-painting booth at the pumpkin patch, we would argue about who would get to be Gene Simmons. “Shut up! You can both be Gene Simmons,” his mom Joan would lovingly yell at us between pulls from a Virginia Slim.
But by 1978, I’d come to favor Ace Frehley. Sure, Gene sang “God of Thunder” and burped blood all over the microphone, but Ace had the better solo album. He also played a Les Paul that smoked and threw sparks. And after watching the made-for-TV special Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, I learned that Frehley had the best sense of humor and a great raspy laugh, not unlike that of Curly Howard from The Three Stooges.
We weren’t the only second graders who wanted to be Kiss for Halloween, because a week before it was time to trick-or-treat, we rolled up on a wall of prepackaged Kiss costumes at the local grocery store. As I beelined for a box with an Ace Frehley costume, I saw Dave already pulling the rubber band from an unboxed Gene Simmons mask over the back of his head. It occurred to me that members of Kiss would never wear a plastic mask and a plastic bib with their likeness silk-screened on the front. But I was still proud to represent Space Ace around various cul-de-sacs in our neighborhood.
Walking home on All Hallows Eve, our plastic pumpkins overflowing with candy, I heard the strained and cracking voice of a teenager yell, “Hey man! Check out these little Kiss dudes!” I looked up to see a juvenile with Peter Criss greasepaint pointing at us. He was with three other teenagers, all smoking cigarettes and wearing bell-bottomed jeans, Kiss baseball jerseys and painted faces.
As they ran over to us, I felt my heart beat faster and I suddenly wished our parents were nearby (parenting was very different back in the 1970s). The older kids surrounded us and squatted to check out these young new recruits for the Kiss Army. A pretty girl with feathered hair and a Paul Stanley star painted over her eye pointed at me and yelled, “Hey man! Look at little Ace, man!” She exhaled smoke in my face and yelled, “Kiss Army! Woooooo hooooooooo!” The group insisted we high-five them before scurrying off as Dave and I stood there frozen, not quite sure what had just happened.
I was equally frightened and fascinated with these denim clad ne’er-do-wells, but I also knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. In the third grade, I found a sunburst imitation Les Paul under the Christmas tree. And now, four decades later, it’s my job to make sure we’ve got a few old Kiss songs programmed in our Halloween Metal station. As for my obsession with Frehley, he’s still an influence that I wear proudly (and literally) on my sleeve.
Want to make your Halloween party spook-tacular? Take fright night to the next level with our suite of Halloween stations. They’re guaranteed to rattle your bones and keep the ghosts a’haunting.
Ghostly Grooves delivers all your favorite gothic pop and gloom rock jams. This is the perfect playlist for anyone who smoked clove cigarettes and wore too much eyeliner in high school.
Halloween Party plays the ultimate mix of Halloween classics, Halloween-themed songs and classic Halloween and scary soundtracks from a range of genres including pop, R&B, alternative, rock and oldies. It’s the perfect soundtrack to your very own monster mash!
Halloween Metal dishes out the headbangingest holiday jams around, because after all, Halloween and heavy metal go together like a hockey mask and a machete! Listen now for terrifying tracks of bloody brutality, from old school classics to today’s modern metal.
Witch House is the perfect soundtrack to your full moon grave rave. Light some candles, drape everything in black cloth, turn it up and let the ritual begin!
Hipster Halloween delivers the most frightening tunes from some of your favorite indie rock and alt-pop combos, along with ghostly grooves in the mix. Wax that moustache, don your steampunk barkeep costume and blast these tunes while trick-or-treating astride your penny-farthing!
Spooky Symphonies showcases classical music with eerie melodies, suspenseful rhythms and uncanny instrumentation. Listen to this station around Halloween for a murder mystery party or when you are just feeling spooky!
Family Halloween is loaded with Halloween-themed music for the whole family. Play this station for a kid-friendly selection of songs to add fun to any children’s party or trick-or-treat event.
I was 7 years old when I saw my first horror movie, Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive, in 1974. It was on cable, and my favorite babysitter let me stay up late and watch it, as long as I promised not to tell my parents. I loved it! Or at least I thought I did, until a few nights later when I started having nightmares. I was forced to admit to my parents that I was dreaming of flesh-eating mutant babies, thus implicating my babysitter, who was soon my babysitter no more.
A couple of years later, in what she considers a poor parenting decision to this day, my mom took my little brother and me to see John Frankenheimer’s Prophecy, a film about mercury poisoning transforming a bear into a killer mutant. It was terrifying and obscenely gory, so my mom made us leave even though I really didn’t want to. It was obvious to me, even then, that I was hooked on horror.
What I remember most about those movies, aside from how thrillingly scary they were, was how frightening the music felt, and how music could transform even the most innocuous scene into one of pure terror. And while I found myself mesmerized by horror soundtracks, it was only later that I would learn that Bernard Hermann, famous for scoring Alfred Hitchcock classics, composed the score to It’s Alive, and that Prophecy got its music from Leonard Rosenman, who would go on to score multiple Planet of the Apes movies and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Music has long played a major role in the history of film. The music behind many of cinema’s most iconic moments is indelibly linked to the images onscreen (or, in the case of 1989’s Dead Calm, a distinct lack of music). But horror movies tend to rely on music more heavily than most film genres. Horror soundtracks invoke dread, inspire terror and create a subtly spine-chilling atmosphere, especially through the use of primitive electronics and, later, synthesizers.
Film composers began experimenting with electronic sounds as early as the 1920s, coinciding with the release of the first theremin in 1929. Composer Miklos Rozsa first popularized electronic film music in the mid-1940s; his most famous scores are no doubt for Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound and Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend. Bernard Herrmann would first add electronic sounds to his score for The Earth Stood Still in 1951. This began a period in which film scores incorporated all manner of electronic sounds.
The first all-electronic score, however, was 1956’s Forbidden Planet. Louis and Bebe Barron’s groundbreaking effort would become a touchstone for electronic music at large. The Barrons were famously denied a spot in the film’s credits (not to mention Oscar consideration) because at the time, many considered their score not actual music.
The introduction of the synthesizer in the late 1960s heralded a dramatic shift in film music, especially horror movie scores. The instrument soon become ubiquitous in genre films, including horror and sci-fi. The Moog synthesizer in particular appeared on a spate of iconic scores throughout the next several decades, such as those for movies like Night of the Living Dead, A Clockwork Orange, Profondo Rosso and Suspiria.
But it’s the 1980s that saw scary soundtrack synth music come into its own. There was a video store near my college, and my friends and I would rent three or four movies per night. We’d stay up late, neglecting whatever paper was due, to indulge in every flavor of horror film we could get our hands on. Any movie with a gory cover or crazy title was fair game. And while the films themselves often disappointed, the soundtracks were a different story. Even the worst of these movies might very well have a stunning, Tangerine Dream-esque score, or one that was beautifully harrowing and minimalist.
That’s what I love most about ’80s horror: that these carefully crafted, beautiful works of sound accompanied latex monsters and cartoonishly spurting blood. One of my favorite examples of this visual-auditory dissonance is XTRO, a gross-out Z-movie about a little boy whose father is abducted by aliens. The father returns years later to lay eggs and take over the world, or something like that. Roger Ebert described the film as “an ugly, mean-spirited and despairing thriller that left me thoroughly depressed.” He’s not far off the mark. But XTRO’s score, composed by director Harry Bromley Devenport, is gorgeous — a pulsating swirl of synths rife with jarring electronic effects, lush ambience and moody melancholia. It’s a surprisingly nuanced suite for a film that lacks all subtlety.
From this same morass of kitschy horror came some of genre’s most beloved entries, along with their quintessential scores: Halloween II and III, The Fog, Phantasm (technically from 1979, but it’s my all-time favorite horror film), My Bloody Valentine, Friday the 13th, Maniac, The Boogey Man, Chopping Mall, C.H.U.D. (scored by O.M.D.’s Martin Cooper and David Hughes), Street Trash. The list goes on and on. And for every composer you might recognize — Ennio Morricone, John Carpenter, Goblin, Howard Shore — there are even more you probably don’t, like Alan Howarth, Fred Myrow & Malcolm Seagrave, Christopher Young, Andrzej Korzynski, Jay Chattaway, Stelvio Cipriani, Fabio Frizzi, Chuck Cirino or Tim Krog.
As technology evolved, retro synth sounds became a relic of the VHS era, but retained their nostalgic appeal. All manner of electronic music, from synthwave to witch house, has drawn upon sounds closely associated with ’80s slashers. In recent years, film and television music has reanimated many of ’80s horror’s sonic tropes. Just listen to the soundtracks for Stranger Things, Beyond the Black Rainbow or The Void.
While I still love this current crop of horror and its soundtracks, those ’80s video nasties — the grainy pictures, the goofy gore — it’s those sights, and especially those sounds, that will forever evoke the dusty corner of a video store whose overstuffed shelves promised untold horrors that would forever warp my impressionable young mind.
Beautiful Trauma, the latest from our favorite badass/acrobat P!nk, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. Leading the charge is hit single “What About Us,” which on the surface unpacks the complexities of a relationship. However, the track’s accompanying video makes it apparent that there’s so much more here. P!nk rallies with those who don’t fit in and questions society at large. Throughout Beautiful Trauma, we hear P!nk’s vulnerability, her excitement and her anxieties surrounding love, life and growth. The singer teams up with Eminem on “Revenge,” which is less “Where did we go wrong?” than it is a payback song. The two superstars go tit-for-tat in a nightmare of a relationship and vow to seek revenge… together. In “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken,” P!nk shows us what it’s like to be unstoppable. Smooth-as-silk ballads benefit from her true-to-form, straight-shooting delivery, uncovering the human pain and playfulness that creates all this Beautiful Trauma.
OK, so Vol. 1 isn’t really new. Uncle Acid’s Kevin Starrs released this sludgy debut back in 2010, but unless you were lucky enough to grab one of 30 CD-R pressings, shoddy bootlegs or internet uploads were the only way to hear it. To the delight of hard rock collectors, Starrs and UK label Rise Above have finally re-released Vol. 1; to the inevitable dismay of audiophiles, not much has changed. The band’s rhythm section still drowns in Starrs’ Ozzy-inspired warble and guitar corrosion, amplifying the sense of impending doom on these lowest-fi recordings. There are direct lines to Sabbath and early garage acts on nearly every song, especially the heavy-swung “Crystal Spiders” and shuffling “Lonely and Strange.” Shiver at the Link Wray perversion “Vampire Circus” before headbanging to “Do What Your Love Tells You,” an absolutely punishing boogie.
Some of the greatest Cramps songs are those nicked from obscure 1950s originals. Nowhere is this more obvious than on the group’s debut album. Recorded at the legendary Phillips Recording studio in Memphis with cult guru Alex Chilton producing, Songs the Lord Taught Us bends over backwards to reproduce the sound and spirit of deranged ’50s rockabilly with giant slabs of psychosexual subversion and a late ’70s B-movie attitude. Featuring the band’s original, bass-less lineup of Lux Interior on vocals, Poison Ivy and Bryan Gregory on guitars and Nick Knox on drums, this is the album that defined what these disciples of trashcan aesthetics were all about. Between the rocking energy of “I Was a Teenage Werewolf,” the low-key creep of “Fever,” the raucous “Sunglasses After Dark” and Lux Interior’s howling on “Garbage Man,” it would also be a crucial step in the development of the psychobilly style.
Horrorcore rap offers all the transgressive and gory narratives one could long for during Halloween season, but with a beat you can step to. The genre’s fertile crescent extends from its capital in Detroit (home to Insane Clown Posse and Eminem) to Kansas City, the birthplace of Tech N9ne’s Strange Music, Inc. But it was Sacramento rapper Brotha Lynch Hung who went platinum in 1995 with Season of Da Siccness, now a horrorcore classic. Tracks like “Locc to da Brain” take the best of West Coast gangsta rapʼs slow-riding beats, gliding synths and hypnotic basslines and inject necrophilia, infanticide and cannibalism into familiar tales of gang violence. The album ends with a half-unreal, half-too-real skit that sees Hung smoking tree with the devil. The demon makes fun of Hung for only pretending to be tough before one of them loses a quick game of Russian roulette.
Ruston Kelly has already established himself as a gifted songwriter in Nashville, with cuts penned for Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw. He takes a somewhat different route with his own output, wrapping folk rock around steel guitar and ripping harmonica. The songs range from ballads about romantic despair to clips of ambient noise and even a spoken poem, “How to Preserve the Life of Death.” Halloween sends the listener on a journey full of new sonic experiences and powerful storytelling.
Dead Moon are an Oregon institution, having influenced Nirvana, Mudhoney and countless other bands. The punk trio formed in 1987, 20 years after the marriage of singers Fred and Toody Cole. Fred has been in underground bands since the 1960s and produces and releases all his records (he owns the vinyl lathe that cut the mono lacquers for the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie”). His fingerprints are all over Echoes of the Past, a compilation that oozes raw garage mojo. But it’s Dead Moon’s pulsing rhythm section, feral guitar distortion, howling vocals and gripping songs that truly captivate.
In 1978, Bernard Fevre released an extremely influential and mysterious collection of cosmic disco under the moniker Black Devil Disco Club. Or maybe he went by Black Devil, and the EP was just called Disco Club? Truth be told, the album is credited to individuals both real and imagined, so it wasn’t exactly clear who made the album until relatively recently. Since its release, Black Devil Disco Club has become something of a cult disco masterpiece, influencing Fevre’s predecessors in space disco, Italo and Hi-NRG as well as the curated taste of labels like DFA, Italians Do it Better and Environ. The EP itself is a brooding disco experiment featuring live drums and tape loops, all recorded in Fevre’s home studio. Forward-thinking elements innovated here, like symphonic synths, futuristic sound design and vocal manipulation, remain prevalent in dance music even today.
Various Artists — Warfaring Strangers: Acid Nightmares
We’re told not to judge a book by its cover, but if ever there were a reason to break that cardinal rule, it’s this latest compilation from archiver extraordinaires Numero Group. The album’s eye-popping, dayglo/blacklight cover art practically screams “bad trip,” what with a long-haired biker, gaping demon head, hissing cobra, city-destroying gorilla, some sexy pin-ups, a drug deal in progress, a jail made of bongs and a guy puking on another guy. It’s like the entrance to a haunted house at a seedy ’70s carnival, but instead of a top-hatted barker hawking a tent full of “wonders,” a psychedelic speed freak ushers guests inside with the maniacal chant “Acid not meth! Acid not meth!” From then on, it’s a glorious flurry of fuzzed-out choogle, bombastic drum damage and lysergic lyricism. Obscure outfits Brass Alley and Crossblood Experiment deliver dope-drenched barnburners about “Pink Pills” and “Orange Sunshine,” and while a few names might be familiar, even those versed in vintage psychedelia and proto-metal will find plenty of surprises.
Various Artists — Bollywood Bloodbath
Things typically associated with Halloween: haunted houses, jack-o’-lanterns, candy corn and The Simpsons. Bollywood musicals: not so much. Nevertheless, give this collection of music from vintage Hindi horror flicks a spin for some tunes that are a treat to crank on everyone’s favorite, frightful holiday. Curated by Andy Votel of Finders Keepers, these selections feature all the creepy cackling, suspenseful strings and ominous FX you’d expect from the scariest of scary movie soundtracks, plus plenty of the sweeping romantic melodies and over-the-top disco bombast for which Bollywood scores are known. Campy, kooky WTF-ness abounds thanks to this chaotic collision of spooky atmosphere and tight, fright-funk jams. When you want to get down on the dancefloor in your sexy nurse (or sexy whatever) costume at the Halloween party, these tracks should do the trick.
Near-perfect power pop and jangly rock ‘n’ roll from one of the Bay Area’s best-kept secrets.
Cool, avant hip-hop/electronica, rife with weird breaks and tripped-out psychedelia.
Warm synth studies as heard through a thick sheet of glass.
Killer punky metalcore by big-name members of other metal and hardcore bands.
Tulsa band’s folk-rock flirts with Americana, Bon Iver and the Canterbury sound.
Hushed, experimental ambience and dreamy dronescapes. Lush and lovely.
Photo by Michael Baca
Daniel Gahr (DG) [Creative Director, Brand and Content Creative]
Who: I’m a Creative Director at Pandora, and I currently DJ and produce music under the moniker GAHR. I went by the name Tender Buttons for a long time, but after a pretty hilarious dispute with an artist of the same name, I decided it would be easier to just rebrand. Pretty sure my 15 fans got the message and are still with me! I am also in a psychedelic electronic duo called Leny Graham. My debut full-length, Mixed Signals, came out in 2015, and we just released the first Leny Graham EP earlier this year.
What: I play synths/keys and a bunch of drum machines, samplers and electronic instruments. I make all my music in Ableton Live, which is, in itself, an incredibly powerful and malleable instrument.
When: I started with obligatory piano lessons as a kid, played in band and jazz band through middle school and then, even as my love for listening to music was growing, kind of abandoned playing. In college, a friend introduced me to the Roland MC505 “Groovebox,” an all-in-one music-making machine that actually had some great drum kits and synth sounds in it. I saved up some cash and bought the Yamaha equivalent, the RM1X “Sequence Remixer,” and that really started my love affair with creating weird electronic music. That was almost 20 years ago.
Where: I was born and raised in Williamsport, PA and moved to the Bay Area in 2001 to go to graduate school.
Why: Like a lot of people at Pandora, I’m an obsessive musical omnivore, and always have been. My older brother got me into Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin as a kid, and in high school in the early 1990s, I got super deep into hip-hop, the Grateful Dead and Phish. But it wasn’t until I got into listening and making electronic music in the early 2000s that things finally clicked for me as a maker. I could finally bring all these varied influences, from soul and hip-hop to psychedelic rock and musique concréte, into something new, something that was mine. I continue to make music because it’s fun, challenging, cathartic and gratifying. The best compliment is when I drop a brand-new tune in the middle of a DJ set and no one notices.
Ask a Curator
Q: What’s the scariest song you know?
Nothing is known about the lady (or young boy?) who sings this 1961 rockabilly-gospel track. Along with the creepy shrieks and laughter, it’s a sinister addition to any vintage novelty Halloween playlist.
Eight and a half minutes of an orchestra screaming bloody murder. Harsh textures capture all the terror of nuclear devastation and imminent death.
Haunting and terrifying, full of lilting melodies buried beneath cascades of gristled noise. Chilling sound design that wouldn’t be at all out of place in an arthouse survival/paranormal thriller.