Halloween is upon us, and that means plenty of scary movies, ghost stories and spooky themed parties. 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 country music. Some songs use Biblical imagery, while others use classic Southern storytelling.
Let's get in the Halloween spirit and enjoy some of the best country tunes that are a little spooky.
David Allan Coe, "The Ride"
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 Hank 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. and David Allan Coe delivers its haunting tale, in which a hopeful songwriter gets a ride to Nashville thanks to the ghost of a forlorn and forsaken Hank Williams.
Johnny Paycheck, "Pardon Me, I've Got Somebody To Kill"
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, 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. Yikes.
Johnny Cash, "Ghost Riders In The Sky"
"Ghost Riders In The Sky" is a massive hit, but few iterations capture 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, the speak to the cowboy witnessing the terror and tell him to change his ways or endure their hell.
Lefty Frizzell, "Long Black Veil"
In Lefty Frizzell's "Long Black Veil," a man gets sentenced to death for the murder of another man. But he didn't commit the crime and has the alibi to prove it, but 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 she's forced to visit his grave with a long black veil at night to hide her shame and grief.
Bobby Bare, "Marie Laveau"
The tale of Marie Laveau fascinates musicians and storytellers around the globe. The "Voodoo Queen Of New Orleans" inspired many myths, and jukebox favorite Bobby Bare put one 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, well, Laveau shows her wrath.
The Charlie Daniels Band, "The Legend Of Wooley Swamp"
"The Legend Of The Wooley Swamp" is a lot more rocking than some of these tunes but the subject matter is quite ghastly. When Daniels talks in the verses, he tells of a greedy old man who hides his money in mason jars. When three young men murder him and steal his money, well, his ghost has other plans in mind.
Count a better-known Daniels classic, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" as an honorable mention tale of the supernatural.
Porter Wagoner, "The Rubber Room"
"The Rubber Room" by Porter Wagoner is just downright creepy. Thanks to a bit of swirling strings and a slight psychedelic vibe, the song seems almost the embodiment of a psychiatric ward, which is exactly what the song is about. It makes "The Rubber Room" sound sadistic. 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.
Wagoner's catalog also brings us the seasonally-appropriate Dolly Parton duet "Jeannie's Afraid of the Dark."
Alison Krauss & Union Station, "Ghost In This House"
Following the theme of first-person scariness, Alison Krauss' version of "Ghost In This House" 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 (and it barely classifies as "classic country" since Shenandoah released the original in 1990).
The Louvin Brothers, "Satan Is Real"
Technically, this Louvin Brothers classic is a gospel song that's supposed to uplift you, but if you can just 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."
Johnny Cash, "Delia's Gone"
Want to give the whole party shivers? Play this song for them, with Johnny 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 apparent reason. And the "patter" of her feet keep him awake at night.
Honorable mentions: "Gravedigger" by Willie Nelson, "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 and "Diggin' Up Bones" by Randy Travis
This story previously ran on Oct. 29, 2020.