Something that becomes more apparent as you get older is that Halloween can mean greatly different things to different people. For some, it's the season of spookiness, toffee apples, and trick-or-treating. And for others, it's simply the greatest party time of the year. So it's kind of understandable that nobody has managed to create any modern Halloween songs which can appeal to the sweet quaintness of the former and the hedonistic needs of the latter — well, nobody except Stephen Colbert, that is. On Thursday night's episode of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, hip-hop impresarios Run The Jewels made a Halloween song with Colbert called "Halloween Wiggle," and my oh my, was it truly a wondrous fright.
Combining the old-school, whimsical grooves of Halloween songs of times long past (performed adorably by Colbert) with the hardcore, explicit content of most modern music, "Halloween Wiggle" provides a hilarious collision of cultures. With Colbert singing lines like, "You just stretch your bat wings and make em flap / and don't forget to do the skeleton clap!" while Run The Jewels is laying down blush-making rhymes like, "Drop the pumpkin down low and make my fun size sticky / 'Bout to find out if you're a treaty or a tricky," the song is a wonderfully disastrous Halloween mash-up of old and new musical styles.
In addition to laying down some perfectly delivered funnies, "Halloween Wiggle" is also a pretty spot-on pastiche on the evolution of Halloween songs in general. Though Colbert is correct in his assertion that "there's no really good Halloween novelty songs," there are enough which have become iconic Halloween songs by proxy. And if you take at look at them over the years, then you can easily see how they've evolved from the style mimicked in Colbert's playful and family-friendly take on Halloween hits to Run The Jewels' NSFW version.
Bobby Pickett, "Monster Mash" (1962)
The original Halloween song and undeniably one of the absolute best. "Monster Mash" is one of the main songs which Colbert parodies in "Halloween Wiggle." And it remains a campy and cute Halloween classic.
Donovon, "Season Of The Witch" (1966)
This psych-rock classic has surreptitiously been something of a big Halloween tune for decades, which is completely understandable given the subject matter — even if it does have very little to do with spookiness and more to do with outright trickery. Still, it's pretty on the nose and family-friendly, regardless.
Michael Jackson, "Thriller" (1982)
Jackson's legendary tribute to the horror genre is one of the biggest Halloween songs of all time. Sure, the music video was alarmingly scary to watch as a kid, but all in all, the song is simply oodles of gleefully spooky (and dance inspiring) fun.
Will Smith feat. Jazzy Jeff, "A Nightmare On My Street" (1988)
Another tremendous tribute to the horror genre, but this time specifically to The Nightmare On Elm Street series, "A Nightmare On My Street" sees Smith taking on Freddy Krueger via the power of song. As you might expect from Smith, it's beautifully lacking any cynicism whatsoever and is exactly the kind of ghoulish good times that you want to hear on Halloween.
Alice Cooper, "Feed My Frankenstein" (1991)
Oh boy. While it's certainly checks the spooky box, "Feed My Frankenstein" is also stuffed full of the sort of raunchy innuendos which children definitely don't need to be hearing on this most hallowed of holidays. I'm sure Run The Jewels would be proud of his saucy lyricism, though even if most moms would disagree.
Ryan Adams, "Halloweenhead" (2007)
"Halloweenhead" is a great song, don't get me wrong, but imagine my dismay when I discovered that it wasn't actually about Halloween, but the horrors of addiction. The '00s were definitely not an era where fun-time, spooky songs reigned supreme.
Death Grips, "Guillotine (It Goes Yah)" (2011)
Easily one of the scariest and most unnerving hip-hop songs made in recent years, "Guillotine (It Goes Yah)" often is featured in Halloween playlist recommendations, even though its horror credentials are totally abstract. Rather than celebrating the horror genre like some other favorites, this song is the horror genre and it's deeply disconcerting to listen to.
Eminem feat. Rihanna, "The Monster "(2013)
And the 10's continue to roll with songs featuring explicit content, as "The Monster" indelibly proves. It's a great song, and as a Halloween favorite, it uses the metaphorical idea of a "monster" to talk about a struggle with personal demons. It's pretty dark, to say the least.
This is only a small sample of a far greater list, but I think everyone can agree that it's easy to observe how Halloween songs have changed over the years. They've transformed from being full of fun, family-friendly, and talking about literal monsters, to being genuinely scary on a primitive level, NSFW, and using ideas of horror in an allegoric manner. And that's exactly what makes Colbert's and Run The Jewels' "Halloween Wiggle" so hilarious — it bridges the gap between this evolution and highlights just how off-course Halloween style music has traveled. Bring back Bobby Pickett, I say.
Image: The Late Show With Stephen Colbert/YouTube