Many moons ago, I was walking through Trinity Cemetery in New York City when by chance, on the gravesite of my old favorite DJ Grandmaster Dynamite, I happened across a disc containing the songs listed below. Once called “the David Lynch of mix-tapes,” whether Dynamite made this compilation before his death or after I’ll never know. But he did provide enough obscure chills and popular thrills to make a mummy dance.
Not every track here is as scary as a zombie from “Thriller,” but they are rather disturbing. As Dracula once said to his son, “Take a bite, it won’t kill you.”
1. “The Raving Vampire,” Souls Unlimited
“Stay out my way or you’re sure to get bit,” warns “The Raving Vampire.” Coming to town two years before Blacula flew in the window, this dude was out “commitin’ sins” and fanging the funky females. With an old school soul groove that still has bounce, these ghouls were in the jungle groove.
2. “Diary of a Madman,” Gravediggaz
Forget about Freddy Krueger or that kid Jason: nothing is scarier than a real-life crazy person. In this Gravediggaz single from their 1994 debut 6 Feet Deep, the cemetery hip-hop crew exposed us to the thought process of a few murderous psychos. While the track was co-produced by Prince Paul and RZA, their creepy video was an early Hype Williams gem.
3. “Wolf Like Me,” TV on the Radio
“We’re howling forever,” the werewolf sings in this brilliant tale of love and transformation beneath the full moon. TV on the Radio’s music was already creepy sounding, but combined with the B-movie lyricism of “Wolf like Me,” they also created a perfect Halloween anthem.
4. “Blue Flowers,” Dr. Octagon
If Naked Lunch author William S. Burroughs was born a bizzaro Black man from the Bronx, he would’ve been Kool Keith. A former member of the classic crew Ultramagnetic MCs, homeboy has been bugged-out for years. But his surreal surgeon character Dr. Octagon is also more than a little scary.
5. “I Put a Spell on You,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Looking like he could be Kool Keith’s pops, the big daddy of voodoo rock Screamin’ Jay Hawkins originally wrote and performed this haunting blues tune in 1956. Although it has been covered by everyone from Nina Simone to Estelle, brother Hawkins’s blend of love and horror was spellbinding.
6. “(Rock) Superstar,” Cypress Hill
Two things make Halloween special: that faded out Charlie Brown special about the Great Pumpkin and Cypress Hill playing their annual New York City concert. Indeed, only the tree smokers from the West could make the dream job of rock star into a haunted house attraction.
7. “Hell Is ’Round the Corner,” Tricky
Depending upon one’s religious beliefs, Satan is either very real or just a mythological character. Either way, Tricky’s blazing “helter skelter” interpretation of hell is more than a little disturbing.
8. “Maggot Brain,” Funkadelic
As a kid, whenever my cousin played this Funkadelic jam, I always thought maggots were crawling out of that crying guitar. Hazel’s musical meditation of his mother’s imagined death made a young me want to flee and crawl under the covers.
9. “Sunshine and the Rain,” Joi
Years ago, I witnessed Joi performing “Sunshine and the Rain” on a Halloween float in Greenwich Village and instantly thought of this disturbing video. Tinted blue with our diva hanging from a meat hook, director Josh Taft laced the clip with a haunting Nine Inch Nails-styled strangeness that’s as soulful as it is eerie.
10. “Superstition,” Stevie Wonder
After that 13-month-old baby shatters the mirror, it’s all over for good luck for a while. A masterful single from his classic Talking Book, this crossover hit was funky. Still, one got the sense whoever he was telling “superstition ain’t the way” was going to keep on believing no matter what he said.
Cultural critic Michael A. Gonzales has written cover stories for Vibe, Uptown, Essence, XXL, Wax Poetics and elsewhere. He’s also written for New York and The Village Voice. Read him at Blackadelic Pop and follow him on Twitter @gonzomike.