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The Good Listener: Where's All The Great Halloween Music?

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the fake blood we ordered for our son's Andrew W.K. costume is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on Halloween music.

Holly writes via email: "Christmas and Halloween both involve elaborate preparation, they're both associated with a specific season, and they're both tied into consumer culture — as you see if you set foot in any big store at this time of year. So where's all the Halloween music? Musically speaking, we seem to always skip right over Halloween in order to jump the gun on Christmas. It can't ALL be 'Monster Mash,' can it?

For every consumerist similarity between the two holidays, Halloween and Christmas also have critical differences — not only in terms of reverence, but also in the extent to which they're celebrated as seasons unto themselves.

In the weeks leading up to this year's Halloween, I've had to be mindful of pumpkin and candy purchases, and to make sure my kids' costumes will be ready before Oct. 31 this year. (They're dressing as Ozzy Osbourne and Andrew W.K., because I somehow hit the parenting jackpot to end all parenting jackpots.) But I don't think of those weeks as "Halloween season," and I don't think of my trips to the grocery store and various online retailers to be part of "Halloween shopping." There's precious little Halloween music for the same reason there's precious little Super Bowl music; neither marks a major holiday so much as an event.

That said, there's more to Halloween music than "Monster Mash" and the sound-effects CDs you hear outside the house of that neighbor with the yard-skeletons. Rock-music history is peppered with sinister spookiness that can be re-purposed for Halloween — one music outlet just wisely polled Alice Cooper for his Alice Cooper-intensive seasonal playlist — with Timber Timbre's entire recorded catalog being just one of the most recent examples.

As a benefit single a few years back, an all-star Murderer's Row of musicians and personalities recorded a parody of Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" called "Do They Know It's Hallowe'en?" It was a hit in Canada back in 2005 — for a collective billed as the North American Hallowe'en Prevention Initiative — and features Feist, Beck, Karen O, Elvira, David Cross, members of Arcade Fire and more.

It's also worth reminding folks about Dead Man's Bones, whose self-titled 2009 album (its first and so far only recording) is engineered for maximum enjoyment around this time of year. On paper, it looks like a throwaway vanity/novelty project — Dead Man's Bones is the duo of actors Ryan Gosling and Zach Shields — but the music is genuinely worth revisiting every year. In a just world, future iterations of "So where's all the Halloween music?" will be followed by the caveat, "It can't ALL be 'My Body's A Zombie For You,' can it?

Got a music-related question you want answered? Leave it in the comments, drop us an email atallsongs@npr.orgor tweet@allsongs.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)