If the holiday of trick or treating, pumpkin carving, and decorating your front porch with skeletons is your favorite of the year, then you'll no doubt already have a playlist stacked with creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky bangers ready to fire up on Oct. 31. But if you want to add a bit of prestige to your supernatural soundtrack, there's another list of Halloween-friendly songs to check out — one that highlights another celebrated annual occasion.
While the GRAMMYs might not yet have awarded Rob Zombie, Jukebox the Ghost, or And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead, it has embraced the odd musical spooktacular in several forms. In 1988, for example, it gave Halloween obsessive Frank Zappa Best Rock Instrumental Performance for Jazz from Hell. A year later, it handed Robert Cray Band Best Contemporary Blues Recording for Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. And it's also dished out goodies (of the statuette, rather than the sweet, variety) to the likes of Mavis Staples' "See That My Grave Is Clean," Chick Corea's "Three Ghouls," and Mastodon's "A Sultan's Curse."
With Halloween 2023 fast approaching, here's a closer look at ten other tracks which left the music industry's biggest awards show completely bewitched.
Stevie Wonder — "Superstition" (1974)
It seems unlikely that Stevie Wonder walked under a ladder, crossed a black cat, or 'broke the lookin' glass' while recording "Superstition" — the squelchy Moog-funk classic kickstarted his remarkable run of 25 GRAMMY Awards when it won both Best Rhythm and Blues Song and Best R&B Vocal Performance Male in 1974. Taken from what many consider to be his magnum opus, Talking Book, "Superstition" also gave Wonder his first No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 in over a decade. And the soul legend further leaned into its supernatural theme in 2013 when he appeared as a witch doctor in a Bud Light Super Bowl commercial soundtracked by the Tamla favorite.
Mike Oldfield — "Tubular Bells" (1975)
Incredibly, considering how perfectly it complements all-time classic horror The Exorcist, Mike Oldfield's prog-rock epic Tubular Bells was recorded long before director William Friedkin came calling. Mike Oldfield, then aged only 19, used a variety of obscure instruments across its two mammoth pieces. Yet, it's the brilliantly creepy Steinway piano riffs which open Side One that are still most likely to bring anyone who experienced the movie's hysteria in a cold sweat. Oldfield was rewarded for helping to scar a generation of cinemagoers for life when a condensed version of his eerie masterpiece picked up the Best Instrumental Composition GRAMMY.
The Charlie Daniels Band — "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (1980)
The Charlie Daniels Band certainly proved their storytelling credentials in 1979 when they put their own Southern country-fied spin on the old "deal with the devil" fable. Backed by some fast and furious fiddles, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" tells the tale of a young musician named Johnny who bumps into Beelzebub himself during a jam session in the Peach State. Experiencing a downturn in soul-stealing, the latter then bets he can win a fiddle-off, offering an instrument in gold form against Johnny's spiritual essence. Luckily, the less demonic party proves he's the "best that's ever been" in a compelling tale GRAMMY voters declared worthy of a prize, Best Country Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group.
Michael Jackson — "Thriller" (1984)
The 1984 GRAMMYs undeniably belonged to Michael Jackson. The King of Pop picked up a whopping 11 nominations for his first blockbuster album, Thriller, and then converted seven of them into wins (he also took home Best Recording for Children for his narration on audiobook E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial). Remarkably, the title track's iconic John Landis-directed video didn't feature at all: its making of, however, did win Best Music Film the following year. But the song itself did pip fellow superstars Prince, Billy Joel, and Lionel Richie to the Best Male Pop Vocal Performance crown. Jackson would also win a GRAMMY 12 years later for another Halloween-esque anthem, his Janet Jackson duet "Scream."
Duran Duran — "Hungry Like the Wolf" (1984)
Produced by Colin Thurston, the man behind another early '80s Halloween-friendly classic, (Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy"), "Hungry Like the Wolf" cemented Duran Duran's status as MTV icons. Alongside their much raunchier earlier clip for "Girls on Film," its jungle-themed promo was also responsible for giving the Second British Invasion pin-ups the inaugural GRAMMY Award for Best Music Video, Short Form; it featured on the Duran Duran compilation that was crowned Best Video Album, too. Frontman Simon Le Bon had been inspired to write their U.S. breakthrough hit by Little Red Riding Hood, giving the new wave classic its sinister, and appropriately predatory, edge.
Ray Parker Jr. — "Ghostbusters" (1985)
Ray Parker Jr. not only topped the Hot 100 for four weeks with his ode to New York's finest parapsychologists, he also picked up a GRAMMY. Just don't expect to hear "who you gonna call?" in the winning version: For it was in the Best Pop Instrumental Performance where "Ghostbusters" reigned supreme. The fact that Parker Jr. wrote, performed, and produced the entire thing meant he still took home the trophy. However, Huey Lewis no doubt felt he should have been the one making the acceptance speech. The blue-eyed soulman settled out of court after claiming the spooky movie theme had borrowed its bassline from "I Want a New Drug," a track Ghostbusters' director Ivan Reitman admitted had been played in film footage intended to inspire Parker Jr.
Ralph Stanley — "O Death" (2002)
Traditional Appalachian folk song "O Death" had previously been recorded by the likes of gospel vocalist Bessie Jones, folklorist Mike Seeger, and Californian rockers Camper Van Beethoven, just to name a few. Yet it was Ralph Stanley's 2002 version where GRAMMY voters first acknowledged its eerie a cappella charms. Invited to record the morbid number for the Coen brothers' period satire O Brother, Where Art Thou, the bluegrass veteran won Best Male Country Vocal Performance at the 2002 ceremony, also picking up a second GRAMMY alongside the likes of Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, and Emmylou Harris when the soundtrack was crowned Album Of The Year.
Skrillex — "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" (2012)
David Bowie fans may well feel aggrieved that his post-punk classic "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" was entirely ignored by GRAMMY voters, while the bro-step banger it inspired was showered with awards. The title track from EP Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites added Best Dance Recording to Skrillex's 2012 haul: the asymmetrically haired producer also walked away with Best Dance/Electronica Album and Best Remixed Recording: Non-Classical for his work on Benny Benassi's "Cinema." Packed with speaker-blasting beats, distorted basslines, and aggressive synths, Skrillex's wall of noise is enough to scare anyone off their pumpkin pie.
Eminem and Rihanna — "The Monster" (2015)
Who says lightning can't strike twice? Just four years after picking up five GRAMMY nominations for their transatlantic chart-topper "Love the Way You Lie," unlikely dream team Eminem and Rihanna once again joined forces for another hip-pop masterclass. Unlike their previous collab, however, "The Monster" didn't go home empty-handed, winning Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2015 ceremony. The boogeyman hiding under the bed here, of course, isn't a Frankenstein-esque creation, but the mix of paranoia, self-doubt, and OCD that leads the Real Slim Shady into thinking he needs a straitjacket.
Jason Isbell — "If We Were Vampires" (2018)
While the Twilight franchise may have failed to add a GRAMMY to its trophy cabinet, it did pick up several nominations. But four years after the Team Edward vs Team Jacob saga wrapped up, folk hero Jason Isbell proved mythical bloodsuckers weren't a barrier to awards success. Emerging victorious in only the fifth ever Best Americana Roots Song category, "If We Were Vampires" is a little less emo than the various Twilight soundtracks. Still, as a love song dedicated to wife Amanda Shires, and the quiet acceptance that the Grim Reaper will inevitably end their story, it's certainly no less emotional.
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