13 Beats of the Week: Spooky Songs


Whether it’s a creepy sensation or a visceral expression of horror, music has a unique ability to convey a sense of dread, making it an essential component in frightening media. In honor of Masque and Triangle’s production of The Addams Family, which premieres at the Palace Theater on Friday, Feb. 25 (showtimes are on the Arts at the Palace website), here are 13 chilling tunes guaranteed to send a shiver down your spine.

  1. “Blue Jay Way” by The Beatles

This song was written by an impatient George Harrison as he awaited a music journalist, and the psychedelic nature of the track conveys a foggy sense of worry. Distorted pleas of “please don’t be long” echo dissonantly over sustained organ chords while a cello performs classical Indian scales, coalescing in a mood that is much more sinister than the story behind the song.

  1. “Lights On” by FKA Twigs

Tahliah Barnett juxtaposes low, rumbling synths and an ominous upright bass melody with the higher register of her vocals to give them a haunting quality. Although the verses are quiet and subtle, a dynamic mix swells in towards the end of the piece. Barnett even samples a car alarm to contribute to the chaos. The eerie and overwhelming aspects of this song reflect the lyrics, which depict the anxiety of vulnerability and exposing your “ugly sides” to others.

  1. “Ain’t it Funny” by Danny Brown

While the first two songs apply their unsettling characteristics more subtly, “Ain’t it Funny” is brash about making the listener uncomfortable. The song samples blaring horns and throbbing low brass from Nick Mason’s psychedelic song “Wervin’” as Danny Brown frantically rambles about substance abuse. Together, the song encapsulates the panic and isolation of a bad trip.

  1. “Red Right Hand” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Nick Cave’s deep, lurking vocals are accompanied by menacing chime hits and a creeping bass line, creating a dark and brooding atmosphere. Cave’s vocal inflections on the title lyric make the figure with the red right hand a truly threatening warning against material greed. This made the song a perfect choice for the soundtrack for the TV drama series “Peaky Blinders.”

  1. “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath

Judas Priest’s Rob Halford described this song as “the most evil track ever that’s been written,” and it’s not difficult to see why. Ozzy Osbourne’s harrowing cries for mercy are gut-wrenching and Tony Iommi’s primary guitar riff is based on the tritone interval, which was forbidden in medieval compositions due to its dissonant and “devilish” character. This riff repeats incessantly throughout the song, contributing to a feeling of madness.

  1. “On The Bound” by Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple turns a bluesy chord progression into a threatening scene with slammed piano keys and an aggressive bass line. Despairing strings also pair with the lyrics to depict a unique sense of dread – when life is good, but a sense of anxiety that it won’t last looms over you.

  1. “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” by Krzysztof Penderecki

Penderecki essentially developed a new musical language with this composition: The string players slap their instruments and bow in non-traditional places to sound like skittering and squeaking rats, and the score looks more like a blob of expanding range than a series of notes. This piece crosses the line from unsettling to disturbing, for the sound is so harsh and sickening that Penderecki chose to dedicate it to the victims of Hiroshima after hearing it performed.

  1. “Lullaby” by The Cure

Robert Smith combines his own phobia of spiders with his experience suffering from the effects of drugs to craft a horrifying “bedtime story” about being eaten by the “spiderman.” While the instrumental is gentle and melodic enough to be a proper lullaby, Smith’s trembling, petrified whispers betray the true terror contained in the lyrics.

  1. “Rid of Me” by PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey depicts obsession to the point of sadism with graphic imagery and extreme dynamic range. Muted guitar riffs and strained whispers give way to explosive drums and shouts of “don’t you wish you never met her” during the chorus. This contrast and the physical threats make this song a frightening listen, especially for the object of the narrator’s interest.

  1. “I Put a Spell On You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

Hawkins truly sounds possessed in this song as his gruff howls echo over a bluesy number. As one of the first songs to feature such harsh vocals, this track was banned from the radio in the 50’s. However, it has since been recognized as a cult classic and one of the most important songs in the development of rock and roll.

  1. “Faceshopping” by SOPHIE

SOPHIE uses roaring bass and glitchy electronics to constantly disorient the listener and subvert their expectations. These qualities make the pitch-bending synths and overly-sweet vocals even more unsettling. SOPHIE draws lyrics from her experience as a trans woman to express the ever-present anxiety to appear a certain way that trans people especially feel.

  1. “Less Sex” by Daughters

The verse of this song is propelled by a bleak, singular repeating note and throbbing bass drum hits, giving the impression of a dark, empty space. This menacing drone persists until dissonant, yet euphoric tremolo guitar notes overtake the vacancy and overwhelm the listener. The sinister tone of this song is used to represent addiction and dependency.

  1. “Move Toward The Darkness” from The Addams Family

Full disclosure (you’ll get that if you see the play): This song isn’t scary in the slightest. However, Masque and Triangle’s production of “The Addams Family” will feature a vile performance by yours truly for this song. Reserve your free seats on the Arts at the Palace website