Last year, Harmonix released three Christmas tracks for Rock Band download. While the tracks themselves (Barenaked Ladies’ “Hanukkah Blessings”, The Pretenders’ version of “Blue Christmas”, and Billy Squire’s “Christmas Is the Time to Say I Love You”) were not necessarily the classics I would have wanted, it did introduce an intriguing idea: seasonal track packs.
Now, while I eventually plan to tackle Christmas, for the moment I’d like to look at some music for a holiday that’s a lot closer: Halloween.
Believe it or not, I’ve been working on this blog idea for a while – long before Guitar Hero announced
that they were doing basically exactly what I had in mind. While their choices (GWAR’s “Gor-Gor”, “Beautiful People” by Marilyn Manson, and The Misfits’ “Astro Zombies”) are actually pretty good, I think Harmonix could do even better.
“Ghoul’s Night Out”, Goldfinger
The pop-punkers covered The Misfits’ “Ghoul’s Night Out” for the ‘Violent World’ tribute album and produced a track that’s much more suited to Rock Band than the original. Like most of the Misfits’ earlier recordings, in their cut the sound quality isn’t very good and the performances are a little sloppy. The Goldfinger track kicks off with a hard, crisp drum beat that jumps into their fast-driving, bouncy version. It’s even got a fun moment where the instruments cut out and everybody gets to jump in and shout “Ghouls, ghouls, ghoul’s night out!” It’s perfect Halloween party fodder – upbeat but with a creepy subject matter.
“Pet Sematary”, The Ramones
Steven King, a big Ramones fan, approached the band about contributing a title track for the film based on his novel; the result is one of the Ramones’ most melodic singles. “Pet Semetary” has everything you need for a great Rock Band track: a driving guitar riff, relentless drums, and droning, memorable vocals. The Groovin’ Ghoulies’ cover would be a good alternative – it’s slightly faster and has a more prominent solo.
”Halloween”, Dream Syndicate
The first of four (!) tracks on this list titled simply “Halloween”, Dream Syndicate’s mellow, otherworldly sound hides a deceptively tricky, technical guitar solo that lasts more than two minutes. Solid drums and bass back up the catchy lyrics, which on closer inspection appear to be about a stalker closing in on his prey with nefarious intent.
“Paint It Black”, Gob
(Try to ignore the fact that they look like goofy frat house rejects.)
Little-known punk outfit Gob did this cover for 1999’s Stir of Echoes soundtrack, and it’s got a crisp, varied guitar line and fast drums with a great military-snare break. The vocals are pretty good, though they don’t live up to Mick Jagger’s performance. Of course, the Rolling Stones’ original is even greater, but I think this version is more Halloweeny. Could just be me. Either one would be awesome.
Yup, another Misfits cover. Once again, the Misfits wrote a great Halloween song, only to have somebody else record a superior (for purposes of Rock Band, anyway) version. AFI’s cover is tighter, faster, and more intricate than the original, and the sing-along finale will have everyone in the room screaming “Hallowee~ee~ee~een”. Of course it goes without saying that they’d have to edit out the two minutes of discordant piano at the end.
“Dead Man’s Party”, Oingo Boingo
Before Danny Elfman was the king of creepy/catchy movie soundtracks, he (and his band Oingo Boingo) was king of creepy/catchy new wave rock. This one’s been a Halloween party classic since the 80s, and it’s easy enough to sing along to, even for inebriated partiers. The song’s got a great deep bass line, which plays off the little riffs the guitarist drops after every sung line. This one’s pop appeal guarantees it to energize any Rock Band session.
“Halloween”, Dead Kennedys
A fast, thrashy track from the punk pioneers. As with DK’s other Rock Band tracks, the song requires a lot of energy no matter which part you’re tackling. Sure, the lyrics are more about mocking uptight American culture than Halloween itself, but it ends with the phrase “Why don’t you take your social regulations, shove ‘em up your ass”, so it’s okay in my book.
“Die, Monster, Die”, The Misfits
(The only video I could find has multiple songs in a row – “Die Monster Die” runs from 5:26 until the end)
Finally, a track from the horror-punk legends themselves. Sure, it’s the band’s latter-day incarnation, but that chunky guitar riff would just be too much fun to play in Rock Band.
Stick somebody on vocals who’s drunk enough to croon like an undead ‘50s idol and you’re good to go.
“Superbeast”, Rob Zombie
(No, I have no idea why the song is playing over an ATV jumping a ravine. Just go with it.)
There’s always been a criminal lack of Rob Zombie in Rock Band, and Halloween’s the perfect time to remedy that. Back when Mr. Zombie wore creepy makeup onstage, most of his lyrics were inspired by classic horror movies – you could grab any random track off his ‘Hellbilly Deluxe’ album and it’d be perfect Halloween music. But “Superbeast” is my pick: every instrument’s got fun stuff to do, and the singer’s got to switch back and forth between violent growling and throat-shredding screams.
“Halloween”, Siouxie Sioux and the Banshees
video on YouTube that had the original studio version in it is this one, which is the last 10 minutes of the movie “Monster House” – the song plays over the credits. Song starts at about 6:23, tons of “Monster House” spoilers before that.)
My personal favorite from this list. Siouxsie and the Banshees helped define the punk and goth scenes in the late 70s and early 80s; “Halloween” comes from their 1981 album ‘Juju’. I don’t know where to start on this one – it’s got a stabbing guitar part that plays up and down the neck, fast pounding drums, and of course Siouxsie’s haunting vocals. It’s my favorite Halloween song ever, and every time I hear it I curse the fact that I don’t have a plastic guitar in my hands.
So the ball’s in your court now, Harmonix. Don’t let Activision steal the holiday-specific track pack crown. Put some of these songs in Rock Band, so that I can make my Halloween party that much more rockin’.
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