I’m scared, Lordy Lord, I’m shaking, I’m petrified

Favorite holiday?

Many say Christmas, and with good reason. Others pick Thanksgiving, also a fine choice. Even the Fourth of July gets a nod from a few, and that makes sense as well.

But me? I’ve always loved Halloween. As the leaves turn, the temperatures dip and the sun keeps setting earlier in the day, I get a sense of foreboding that gives me goosebumps. I relish a good scare, whether it’s from negotiating my way through a haunted house or sitting through a marathon of really hair-raising horror movies.

Like other holidays, Halloween comes with its own soundtrack, but I don’t mean the lame, overplayed stuff like “The Monster Mash” or “Werewolves of London.” I’m talking about music that imparts a sense of unease and makes you want to glance repeatedly over your shoulder to be sure there’s no one about to do you harm.

I’ve gathered 15 haunting pieces of music from the classic rock era that should make your trick-or-treat season just a little bit more creepy. They’re all on a Spotify playlist at the end of this post, along with a handful of honorable mentions.

May the ghosts, goblins and monsters from your psyche come visit you this weekend!


“‘Halloween‘ Theme,” John Carpenter, 1978

Every October, I dial up this horror classic starring a young Jamie Lee Curtis, and it never fails to give me the willies. I was astonished to learn very recently that the frightening soundtrack theme music was written by the movie’s director, John Carpenter. We used to use it every year for the haunted house we staged in our Atlanta neighborhood. It’s such a hypnotic piece, using a 5/4 beat, minor chords, piano and synthesizer to build a relentless heartbeat to what turned out to be the first in a long series of scary movies about the unkillable killer Michael Myers.

“‘Psycho‘ Prelude,” Bernard Herrmann, 1960

I still rank this Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece among my favorite films of all time (not just scary ones), and part of the reason it retains its effectiveness is Herrmann’s incredible score. He uses staccato violins almost exclusively to build tension as he torments the audience while star Janet Leigh struggles with moral issues, and then co-star Tony Perkins as Norman Bates wrestles his inner demons. It might be the most terrifying soundtrack ever created. This piece and two others from “Psycho” were also a regular part of our haunted house music accompaniment.

“Season of the Witch,” Donovan, 1966

It’s hard to decide which version of this classic song grabs me more: Donovan’s five-minute original or the 11-minute track by Al Kooper, Stephen Stills and Co. on the legendary 1968 “Super Session” LP. Donovan, the British mystical folkie responsible for “Sunshine Superman” and other flower-garden reflections of the mid-to-late ’60s, wrote it as a somewhat creepy ode to October. Two years later, Kooper & Stills recorded a remarkable jam on Donovan’s chords that became something else entirely, also haunting and intriguing in its own way. “When I look out my window, so many sights to see, and when I look in my window, so many different people to be, and it’s strange, so strange…”

“Black Magic Woman,” Santana, 1970

Written by the great blues guitarist Peter Green and released as a single with his band Fleetwood Mac back in 1968, this song became a huge #4 hit for Carlos Santana and his band in 1970, from “Abraxas.”  It was combined in a medley with the 1966 track “Gypsy Queen,” and utilised congas, timbales and Latin polyrhythms to give the whole thing a distinct voodoo feel: “Got your spell on me baby, yes, you got your spell on me baby, you’re turning my heart into stone, I need you so bad, magic woman, I can’t leave you alone…”

“Spooky,” Classics IV, 1968

Written in 1967 as an instrumental featuring the saxophone riffs of Mike Shapiro, “Spooky” stalled at #57, but the next year, Mike Hirsch added lyrics about “a spooky little girl like you,” and the Classics IV took that version to #3.   James Cobb of the Classics IV went on to form The Atlanta Rhythm Section in the ’70s, and their re-recorded rendition in 1979 reached #17 on the charts.  Not really a very spooky tune at all, but still appropriate lyrically:  “Just like a ghost, you’ve been haunting my dreams, so now I know you’re not what you seem, love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you…”

“Witchcraft,” Frank Sinatra, 1957

Carolyn Leigh was a successful lyricist for Broadway shows and films throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Among her most popular efforts was her collaboration with composer Cy Coleman on “Witchcraft,” the 1957 song made famous by Frank Sinatra. It reached #6 that year on US pop charts and was nominated for Song of the Year and Record of the Year at the. very first Grammy Awards. Its lighthearted tempo and melody may not be exactly right for Halloween, but the words certainly send a few chills up the spine: “Those fingers in my hair, that sly ‘come hither’ stare that strips my conscience bare, /It’s witchcraft, /And I’ve got no defense for it, the heat is too intense for it, /What good would common sense for it do? /’Cause it’s witchcraft, wicked witchcraft…”

“Thriller,” Michael Jackson, 1982

Jackson’s trailblazing 13-minute music video of his title track “Thriller” broke new ground as a short story, fully choreographed with gory zombie makeup, and the first to be preserved in the National Film Registry…and for the finale, horror movie legend Vincent Price recites the spoken section that ends with his maniacal laugh.  It has become a Halloween classic, and rightly so:  “It’s close to midnight, and something evil’s lurking in the dark, under the moonlight, you see a sight that almost stops your heart, you try to scream, but terror takes the sound before you make it, you start to freeze as horror looks you right between the eyes, you’re paralyzed…”

“Black Sabbath,” Black Sabbath, 1970

Death metal, Goth, Satanic rock — the bands who revel in these genres have plenty of disturbing, macabre lyrics that could certainly be deserving of space on a Halloween setlist, but frankly, I don’t claim to know much about them.  I do, however, recall the spooky chill that made me shudder the first time I heard the song “Black Sabbath,” the leadoff track from Black Sabbath’s debut LP (and check out that creepy album cover).  An ominous tolling bell, a rainstorm with distant thunder, then huge power chords in a minor key, and Ozzy Osbourne demanding to know, “What is this that stands before me?”  Brrrrr. If this isn’t appropriate Halloween music, I don’t know what is.

“Too Much Blood,” The Rolling Stones, 1983

Mick Jagger gets the lion’s share of songwriting credit for this strangely compelling dance track from The Stones’ 1983 LP “Undercover” that protests gratuitous violence in 1980s films even while it’s knee-deep in graphic images about that same violence.  Sparked by a lurid murder in Paris that year involving dismemberment and cannibalism, the song’s lyrics devolved into rap in the middle third, specifically mentioning the 1974 film “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and bemoaning, “I can feel it everywhere, feel it up above, feel the tension in the air, there’s too much blood, yeah, too much blood…”

“Don’t Fear the Reaper,” Blue Oyster Cult, 1976

Out of Long Island, New York, in 1971 came Blue Oyster Cult, one of the stalwart hard rock bands of its era.  BOC guitarist Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser wrote this 1976 hit single in his early 20s, imagining an early death for himself.  “I wasn’t suicidal,” he said, “just thinking cosmically about eternal love and premature death.”  Seems spooky enough to me to be perfect for a Halloween mix… “Then the door was opened and the wind appeared, the candles blew and then disappeared, the curtains flew and then he appeared, saying, ‘don’t be afraid, come on baby, don’t fear the reaper’…”

“D.O.A.,” Bloodrock, 1971

The two-note drone of a European emergency siren is the basic hook on which this gruesome song hangs, and embodies that feeling of dread you might feel in a dark alley or as you approach a haunted house.  The lyrics, which caused the song to be censored in some markets, graphically describe the thoughts of a plane crash survivor as he is brought into a hospital:  “I try to move my arm and there’s no feeling, and when I look, I see there’s nothing there…Life is flowing out my body, pain is flowing out with my blood, the sheets are red and moist where I’m lying, God in heaven, teach me how to die…”

“Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps),” David Bowie, 1980

Bowie had written an early version of this song called “Running Scared” in 1975, and recorded a demo, but ultimately put it aside until compiling tracks for his 1980 LP that he intended to be more commercial than the so-called “Berlin Trilogy” albums that preceded it. “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)” is a punky, heavily distorted track featuring Robert Fripp’s harsh guitar, and Bowie so loved the way it turned out that he chose to make it the album’s title track. The eerie lyrics convey the dysfunction behind a strange relationship: “When I looked in her eyes, they were blue, but nobody home, /Well, she could’ve been a killer if she didn’t walk the way she do, /She opened strange doors that we’d never close again…”

“Devil Woman,” Cliff Richard, 1976

British rock ‘n’ roll legend Richard ruled the UK airwaves in the pre-Beatles years (1957-1962) and is one of the most successful recording artists of all time, but he rarely made a dent in the US charts. In 1976, after he had gone through a softening phase, dabbling in gospel and Christian music, he found himself with a big hit in “Devil Woman,” which reached #6 in the US and sparked four more Top 20 hits here in the late ’70s. The lyrics tell the tale of a man jinxed from an encounter with a stray cat with evil eyes, and his discovery that the psychic whose help he sought to break the spell turned out to be the one responsible for the curse in the first place

“I Put a Spell on You,” Nina Simone, 1965

Written and originally recorded by “Screamin'” Jay Hawkins in 1956, “I Put a Spell on You” has been covered by more than a hundred different artists, from Creedence and Jeff Beck to Annie Lennox and Bryan Ferry. In 1965, blues/jazz singer Nina Simone recorded an amazing rendition that reached #23 on the R&B charts here and also charted well in England. Hawkins, a blues singer, had established himself in the rock ‘n’ roll pantheon by turning the song into a ghoulish stage centerpiece, rising from a coffin amidst smoke and dry ice to deliver a frightful screaming vocal that gave him his nickname.

“‘The X-Files‘ Theme,” Mark Snow, 1993

Martin Fulterman, known professionally as Mark Snow, has written theme music and incidental score parts for several hundred film and TV series since his first project, “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble,” in 1976. Other series include “Hart to Hart,” “Starsky and Hutch,” “Vega$” and “Cagney and Lacey.” At first, Snow was hesitant to work on “The X-Files” because he thought creator Chris Carter and his staff were “kind of weird.” That weirdness is reflected in the theme he ended up composing, which utilized electronic whistling and spooky piano scales that complemented the often macabre story lines.


Honorable mention:

Welcome to my Nightmare,” Alice Cooper, 1975; “Yes, I’m a Witch,” Yoko Ono, 1974/2007; “Evil Woman,” Electric Light Orchestra, 1975; “Cemetery Gates,” The Smiths, 1986; “Witchy Woman,” The Eagles, 1972; “Halloween,” The Misfits, 1981; “Hells Bells,” AC/DC, 1980.


There’s still time to change the road you’re on

Upon moving to Los Angeles 11 years ago, I didn’t have to wait long before I found myself driving down streets and highways whose names I recognized from popular song lyrics:

“I flew past LaBrea out to Crescent Heights…I passed her at Doheny and I started to swerve…”  — three major streets in West Hollywood off Sunset Boulevard, made famous in Jan & Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve.”

“Drive west on Sunset to the sea…” As Sunset reaches the Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades, from Steely Dan’s “Babylon Sisters.”

“…And the sun comes up on Santa Monica Boulevard” from Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do.”

And so on.

The same is true, no doubt, for those who move to New York City, or London, or any number of other areas of the country or the world where famous or obscure streets and highways inspire artists to write about them.

There are hundreds and hundreds of great songs from the classic rock era about hitting the road, written and/or recorded by artists from Eric Clapton to Bruce Springsteen, from Steppenwolf to Jackson Browne, from Joni Mitchell to The Doobie Brothers, among countless others. Most of these songs feature lyrics that could be about traveling on any road anywhere.

Today, let’s shine a light on 14 songs about specific roads.  Perhaps you’ve driven down them yourselves, or will someday…


“Highway 61 Revisited,” Bob Dylan (1965)  

Regarded by many fans as one of Dylan’s finest albums, “Highway 61 Revisited” features the titantic masterpiece “Like a Rolling Stone” and such serious works as “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “Queen Jane Approximately” and “Desolation Row.”  One of the lighter moments is the breezy, bluesy title tune, complete with a siren whistle to punctuate each new verse with comical effect. The song was inspired by U.S. Highway 61, which runs from Louisiana north through the Mississippi River valley to Dylan’s home state of Minnesota.  It’s the route followed by many Blacks as they left the South for jobs and opportunities in the North.

“Toulouse Street,” Doobie Brothers (1972)  

One of the better known streets in New Orleans’ famed French Quarter, Toulouse Street is a magical brew of fabulous restaurants, sketchy strip bars, outrageous souvenir shops and mysterious voodoo characters. Doobies guitarist/singer/songwriter Patrick Simmons wrote the hauntingly beautiful ballad about some bad times in The Big Easy, with lyrics about Creole girls and back rooms where “the blood’s a-flowing fast, and spells have been cast.” The track stands in stark contrast to the harder edged rock found on the rest of the “Toulouse Street” LP, but Simmons actually contributed several more gentle pickin’ tunes to The Doobies catalog over the years.

“(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” Nat King Cole Trio (1946) 

A fellow named Bobby Troup wrote this infectious standard during and after a cross-country trip he made with his wife just after World War II, much of it while traveling on U.S. Route 66, which runs from Chicago to L.A.  Troup’s wife Cynthia suggested the title that rhymes “kicks” with “66.” The lyrics mention ten cities one encounters along the iconic highway (can you name them?), and Cynthia remarked later, “I can’t believe he didn’t find a way to include Albuquerque in there lyrics.” The jazz/blues tune has been recorded by more than 75 artists over the years, from Nat Cole and Bing Crosby to Chuck Berry and The Rolling Stones, from Glenn Frey and John Mayer to Natalie Cole and The Manhattan Transfer.

“Lake Shore Drive,” Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah (1972)  

Those outside the Greater Chicago area may not be familiar with this one, but Windy City music fans have long hailed the irresistible beauty of this catchy, piano-driven ode to the famed roadway that runs along Lake Michigan from the North Shore past the Gold Coast to downtown.  Guitarist Skip Haynes — one third of the trio with bassist Mitch Aliotta and keyboardist John Jeremiah — wrote the tune to celebrate the road her and his friends so often traveled as they headed into Chicago for nights on the town. The lyric “Just slipping on by on LSD, Friday night, trouble bound” was thought by those not familiar with Chicago to be a reference to the hallucinogenic drug, but Haynes insists that drugs have nothing to do with it. The song was revived for the “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” 2017 film sequel.

“Bleecker Street,” Simon and Garfunkel (1964)  

One of Paul Simon’s first songs, which appears on the duo’s largely ignored debut LP “Wednesday Morning 3 A.M.,” pays tribute to the street that slices through the bohemian Greenwich Village neighborhoods of Manhattan in New York City. Simon and Garfunkel, both from Queens, frequented the numerous coffeehouses on Bleecker where many folk artists performed in the late ’50s and early ’60s. The simple melody and lyrics, typical of Simon’s early work, evoke a poetic vibe: “Voices leaking from a sad café, smiling faces try to understand, /I saw a shadow touch a shadow’s hand, on Bleecker Street… The poet reads his crooked rhyme, holy holy is his sacrament, /Thirty dollars pays your rent on Bleecker Street…”

“Seven Bridges Road,” The Eagles (1980)  

This pretty piece was written in 1969 by country rock musician Steve Young, named after a road that leads southeast out of Montgomery, Alabama. On maps today, it’s identified as Rte 39, or Woodley Road, but for a century or more, it was known by locals as Seven Bridges Road because of the seven wooden bridges one had to traverse as it headed into rural county and ended as a dirt road there. Said Young, “Consciously, I was writing a song about a girl and a road in south Alabama, but I think, on another level, the song has something kind of cosmic about it that registers in the subconscious. The number seven has all of these religious and mystical connotations.” He recorded it in 1969, and Ian Matthews devised a five-part harmony for it on his 1973 rendition, but it’s the version by The Eagles that is best known. They began all their post-1979 concerts with it, and included it on their live 1980 LP.

“Penny Lane,”  The Beatles (1967)  

As a counterpoint to complement John Lennon’s song of childhood remembrance, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Paul McCartney came up with this whimsical tune about Penny Lane, a retail area and transit turnaround in a suburb of Liverpool, England. The lyrics paint a carefree picture that captured the activities and characters — the banker, the nurse, the barber, the fireman — McCartney recalled seeing there when he was a boy. Just as Lennon’s song uses a somewhat surreal melody and arrangement to match his enigmatic lyrics, McCartney’s happy-go-lucky melody provides a suitable underpinning to carry the buoyant words. The songs, released as a double A-side single in February 1967, topped the charts in the US and is regarded as one of The Beatles’ best.

“Creeque Alley,” The Mamas and The Papas (1967)  

This autobiographical song by John Phillips tells the story of The Mamas and The Papas — how they met, how they got together, how they became famous, and what was going on with some of their musical contemporaries at the time.  The title, which is never mentioned in the lyrics, refers to Creque Alley, a tiny lane in the Virgin Islands where Phillips, his new wife Michelle and his first band, The New Journeymen, used to perform and hang out in a club there. The group was struggling financially while living there, but soon made their way to Los Angeles and a record deal. By the final verse, when “California dreamin’ is becoming a reality,” they’ve left behind the spartan life on Creque Alley. The song peaked at #7 in 1967 and became their final Top Ten hit.

“The E Street Shuffle,” Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band (1973)

During his formative years, Springsteen wrote quite a few songs about streets, from the fictional “Thunder Road” to the Manhattan-based “Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?” Following a largely ignored debut LP, Springsteen broadened his musical palette to write more operatically for his follow-up album, “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.” Springsteen’s original piano player, the brilliant David Sancious, lived on E Street in Belmar, a town near Asbury Park, NJ, and the fledgling band often met and rehearsed there. They began referring to themselves as the E Street Band, and Springsteen wrote the funky, horn-heavy album opener, “The E Street Shuffle,” to commemorate that fact.

“52nd Street,” Billy Joel (1978)  

Following the enormous success of “The Stranger” album and its multiple hit singles, Joel took a praiseworthy turn toward jazzier themes and arrangements, which showed up in sophisticated tunes like “Zanzibar,” “Stilletto” and “Honesty.”  They can all be found on Joel’s aptly named LP “52nd Street,” the Manhattan street that served as the hotbed of jazz clubs in New York City in the ’40s and ’50s, and perhaps not coincidentally, the location of the studio he used to record the album in the ’70s. The brief title song deftly draws a parallel between romance and jazz music: “They say it takes a lot to keep a love alive, /In every heart there pumps a different beat, /But if we shift the rhythm into overdrive, /Well, we could generate a lot of heat on 52nd Street…”

“Baker St. Muse,” Jethro Tull (1975)

Three years before Gerry Rafferty had an international hit with his sax-dominated tune “Baker Street,” Ian Anderson wrote this 16-minute, four-part suite about the same street for Tull’s “Minstrel in the Gallery” album. It offers a wistful, rather melancholy look at the various sketchy characters and sordid scenes encountered during a walk down Baker Street, a major boulevard in London, in the 1970s. Prostitutes, drunks, weary beat cops and opportunists populate Anderson’s impressive piece as its navigates multiple tempos, genres and instrumental arrangements. The final section finds Anderson looking at his own career at that point, making sure not to take himself too seriously (“If sometimes I sing to a cynical degree, it’s just the nonsense that it seems…”)

“On Broadway,” George Benson (1978)  

The iconic thoroughfare of Broadway, in the heart of Manhattan, one of the world’s top two centers of theater arts, has been the inspiration for numerous movies, plays and songs over the past century.  Many of them focus on the hopes and dreams of aspiring actors and musicians who want nothing more than to have their names up in lights on a theater marquis there.  The song “On Broadway,” which does a particularly fine job of this, was the result of a rare collaboration between two famous songwriting teams. Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, who wrote it as a perky shuffle for the girl group The Cookies, reworked it into more of a bluesy tempo with assistance from Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. The Drifters nailed it with a version that reached #9 in 1963 followed by numerous other artists’ attempts. Jazz guitarist/vocalist George Benson did a fabulous remake in 1978, peaking at #7 on the pop charts.

“Telegraph Road,” Dire Straits (1982)  

Singer/guitarist/songwriter Mark Knopfler was on tour in the Midwest U.S. one day on a tour bus, reading a book about the degradation of urban centers.  He noticed that he was on one road, Telegraph Road, for a very long time, and observed how the landscape and development changed dramatically as it headed north from the Ohio border past Detroit into the northern suburbs. He saw a parallel between what he was reading about and what he was seeing as he traveled the lengthy thoroughfare. A few months later, he was moved to write one of his most impressive compositions, a multi-part, 14-minute masterpiece named for the road in question, which would appear on Dire Straits’ next LP, “Love Over Gold.” The tune goes through about as many changes as the road he had been traveling.

“Shakedown Street,” Grateful Dead (1978)  

Not a real street at all, but a term coined by lyricist Robert Hunter in the title song of the Grateful Dead album of the same name. Hunter used the phrase to describe the kind of sketchy urban boulevards found in countless large cities where drugs, prostitution and street hustles reigned supreme, and customers were often fleeced.  Since the song’s release in the late ’70s, the term “Shakedown Street” has evolved in more recent years to connote the area in parking lots at Grateful Dead (and other jam band) concerts where fast-talking vendors sell food items, beverages and many other wares of questionable value.


We’ll conclude with a tip of the hat to some of the great generic songs about the pleasure and freedom of driving, life on the highway, and the allure of the road:  “Life is a Highway,” Tom Cochrane (1992);  Born to Be Wild,” Steppenwolf (1968); Rockin’ Down the Highway,” The Doobie Brothers (1972); The Road, Jackson Browne (1977); Racing in the Streets,” Bruce Springsteen (1978); I Can’t Drive 55, Sammy Hagar (1984);  Ramblin’ Man,” Allman Brothers Band (1973); On the Road Again,” Willie Nelson (1980); Refuge of the Road, Joni Mitchell (1976); Riders on the Storm,” The Doors (1971).