Halloween is upon us, and that means plenty of scary movies, ghost stories, spooky-themed parties and creepy songs. So, get ready to hear Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and Bobby Pickett's "Monster Mash" a few hundred times.
Or, you could change up your Halloween playlist and add these creepy country songs. Ghosts, murder, torment -- the stuff that makes for entertaining haunted houses also show up in spades throughout classic and modern country tunes. Some songs use Biblical imagery, while others utilize classic Southern storytelling and the murder ballad tradition.
Let's get in the Halloween spirit and enjoy some spooky country songs.
"Creepin'," Eric Church
Before delving into the classics, consider the unapologetic creepiness of this Church co-write with Marv Green. As the Charlie Daniels Band does below, Church crosses country and blues-rock to capture the feel of the sort of horror movie in which the villains are depraved and ill-intentioned swamp-dwellers.
"The Legend of Wooley Swamp," The Charlie Daniels Band
Daniels sings of a greedy old man who hides his money in Mason jars. After three young men murder him and steal his money, they face his ghost's vengeance.
Count a better-known Daniels classic, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" as an honorable mention tale of the supernatural.
"Ghost Riders in The Sky," Johnny Cash
"Ghost Riders in The Sky" entered the country music canon in the '40s, with few iterations capturing the true feel of the song like the Man In Black's. Cash's low baritone sings of demon riders scorching the sky with their fiery hooves. They're tormented and doomed to chase a never-ending herd. But as they pass, they speak to a cowboy witnessing the terror and tell him to change his ways or endure their hell.
"Marie Laveau," Bobby Bare
The tale of Marie Laveau fascinates musicians and storytellers around the globe. The "Voodoo Queen Of New Orleans" inspired many myths, and jukebox favorite Bare put it to song on the tune "Marie Laveau." In it, Bare basically describes the modern day vision of a witch. When a handsome swindler tries to take her for a chump, Laveau shows her wrath.
"Satan Is Real," The Louvin Brothers
Technically, this Louvin Brothers classic is a gospel song that's supposed to uplift you. But if you can imagine a horror movie scene where this song kicks on over loudspeakers in some demented house of horrors, you can see just how scary it really is. Especially when the spoken verse ends with the line, "Hell is a real place -- a place of everlasting punishment."
"Ghost in This House," Alison Krauss & Union Station
Krauss' version of "Ghost in This House" --a song previously recorded by Shenandoah-- can be taken either literally or figuratively, but either way it's just downright sad. Whether the protagonist lost a loved one or just the love of another, it's very clear that it kills them. Krauss' beautiful voice keeps this song from having the same vibe as some of the other tunes.
"The Ride," David Allan Coe
Gary Gentry swears the ghost of honky-tonk hero Hank Williams appeared to him in his darkened house one night. Gentry says he tried to summon Williams for a little inspiration. After lighting a candle and shouting for Williams to show himself, lo and behold, there he sat on Gentry's couch at the end of the hallway. So, he wrote this song at 4 a.m.
Coe delivers its haunting tale, in which a hopeful songwriter gets a ride to Nashville thanks to the ghost of a forlorn, forsaken and foundational country singer.
"Pardon Me, I've Got Somebody to Kill," Johnny Paycheck
This song is terrifying for a few reasons. First of all, the loveless main character in the song is kind of a psychopath. He tells of his polite plans to murder the man his woman moved on to, and Paycheck delivers it in such a subdued, woeful way. But the second reason it's so scary? Because Paycheck actually tried to kill somebody during his sordid life, so not only are you listening to the tale of a man preparing to murder, but you're hearing it from a man who went to jail for attempted murder.
"Open Pit Mine," George Jones
Following early verses that set the stage for a sweet love story, this Jones classic takes a dark turn. When our narrator catches his true love in the act of cheating, he murders her and tosses her dead body into the open pit mine where he'd worked hard to afford an engagement ring. At the song's end, the guilt-ridden murderer's sleeping by the open pit mine, presumably to turn himself in to the police.
"The Rubber Room," Porter Wagoner
"The Rubber Room" is just downright creepy. Thanks to swirling strings and a slight psychedelic vibe, it embodies the feel of a psychiatric ward, which is exactly what the lyrics are about.
One of the things that makes this song so scary is that it's written from the perspective of the man trapped in the room.
"Long Black Veil," Lefty Frizzell
In Frizzell's "Long Black Veil," a man gets sentenced to death for the murder of another man. He didn't commit the crime and has the alibi to prove it, but he refuses to give the evidence of his innocence. Why? Because he was sleeping with his best friend's wife at the time and would rather die than admit it. Now the widow is forced to visit the executed murderer's grave with a long black veil at night to hide her shame and grief.
"Delia's Gone," Johnny Cash
Want to give the whole party shivers? Play our creepiest song for them, with Cash singing so nonchalantly, "First time I shot her/ shot her in the side/ hard to watch her suffering/ but with the second shot she died." In this tune, a man murders Delia, whom he loves, for no clear reason. And the patter of her feet keeps him awake at night.
Like other emotionally-wrenching songs from Cash's American Recordings era, its official music video adds a further sense of dread.
Honorable mentions: "Gravedigger" by Willie Nelson, "Two Black Cadillacs" by Carrie Underwood, "Better Dig Two" by The Band Perry, "The Devil Gets His Due" by Loretta Lynn, "Devil Woman" by Marty Robbins, "Psycho" by Eddie Noack, "Monster's Holiday" by Buck Owens, "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" by Reba McEntire, "Midnight in Montgomery" by Alan Jackson, "Diggin' Up Bones" by Randy Travis and "Jeannie's Afraid of the Dark" by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton
This story previously ran on Oct. 12, 2021.
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