Creepy 1920/30s Era Music
October 14, 2014 6:10 PM   Subscribe

For a Halloween party, I'm setting up a haunted speakeasy, where the devil is emcee. I'm looking for vintage sounding records that may fit. Creepy, eerie tones are preferred. I'm looking for suggestions that run the gamut between piano only tracks, haunting vocals, maybe some orchestral and even big band sounds, and possibly some organ music. These don't have to be authentically from the era, but should sound like they would fit.
posted by Unsomnambulist to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
East St. Louis Toodle-Oo by Duke Ellington (make sure it's the right version--some are darker than others). Also, the first 2 minutes and starting here in Black and Tan Fantasy.
posted by umbú at 6:28 PM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Django Reinhardt recordings, even the upbeat ones, are old and scratchy and beautiful and, in the right setting, creepy in the way you seem to be describing. Django formed his Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934, but I'd go with any of his recordings, including those from the 40s, even though they're a little after your requested time period. Here's an example. Here's another.
posted by The World Famous at 6:28 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

ThereminThis instrument was invented in 1928, and is signature for creepy classic.
posted by effluvia at 6:29 PM on October 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

The only known recording of a castrato singing ave Maria.
posted by asockpuppet at 6:34 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Minnie the Moocher has a strong Halloween-y feel, thanks to the creepy Betty Boop cartoons and Forbidden Zone. Both the Cab Calloway and Danny Elfman versions sound old-timey and awesome.

The Squirrel Nut Zippers have a couple of fun pastiches that might fit: Hell and Ghost of Stephen Foster.

I'd suggest looking at Fleisher and Disney cartoons of the era. They did plenty of spooky shorts, often featuring performances of toe-tapping Halloween-y tunes.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:37 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I came in to say what Effluvia said: you want theremin music.
posted by alms at 6:38 PM on October 14, 2014

Squirrel Nut Zippers have a few songs that might work:
Ghost of Stephen Foster
posted by belladonna at 6:39 PM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

How close are you sticking to the time period? If you are taking liberties, there are lots of songs by Pram that might work, or perhaps tracks from Quintron's Halloween recording "The Frog Tape ."
posted by umbú at 6:40 PM on October 14, 2014

Dead Man Blues, Jelly Roll Morton and the Red Hot Peppers.
posted by nangar at 6:49 PM on October 14, 2014

Cab Calloway - The Nightmare and St. James Infirmary
Bennie Moten - Imagination
posted by ChuraChura at 6:52 PM on October 14, 2014

Oh! And definitely Danse Macabre, which comes in orchestral, piano, and banjo versions. Also, the Postmodern Jukebox version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun is creepy.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:55 PM on October 14, 2014

Sorry, a few more: Lead Belly In the Pines, Robert Johnson - Hellhounds on My Trail. And I'm really done, promise.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:12 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mysterious Mose

Also a bunch of suggestions in this video.
posted by fings at 7:12 PM on October 14, 2014

Possibly something by the Comedian Harmonists? They were a German all-male close-harmony group from before WWII, and some of their recordings tap a pleasantly shivery vibe for me. Something about the hollow antique hiss of some of the tracks, plus the falsetto of their tenor. I mean, sometimes they do bouncy and/or goofy songs, but sometimes they do something languid or wistful or yearning and it has the potential to be eerie.

I was listening to some tonight, and here are a few tracks to check out:


Liebling, mein Herz läßt dich grüßen

Puppenhochzeit (more chipper than the above, kind of plinky, lots of hiss and falsetto)

You can easily buy individual mp3s from Amazon, and I'm sure other places as well.
posted by theatro at 7:23 PM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Dark Was the Night by Blind Willie Johnson
Haunted House Blues by Bessie Smith
Devil Got My Woman, Skip James
Water Boy, Odetta
Freight Train, Elizabeth Cotten
posted by aka burlap at 7:32 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Party sounds frightfully fun. Can I come?

Night Owl by Cliff Edwards

Evenin by Cab Calloway

The Russian Nightengale Song by Amelita Galli

Two Guitars by Eddie South

Somber Dimanche by George Boulanger et Son Orchestra.

Devil in the Bayou by Harry Choats (from 1946 but has the right vibe)

Somber Dimanche by Damia

Sam and Bill at the Graveyard by Emmitt Miller

Marie Laveau

Sorry for the lack of links but you can probably find them all on the YouTubes.
posted by teamnap at 7:37 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seven skeletons found in the yard by Lord Executor
posted by Ian Scuffling at 7:53 PM on October 14, 2014

Sorry, thought of a few more!
Gloomy Sunday, Billie Holiday
Blood Thirsty Blues, Victory Spivey
The Mooche, Duke Ellington
posted by aka burlap at 7:56 PM on October 14, 2014

Die Moritat von Mackie Messer. The original version of Mack the Knife.
posted by interplanetjanet at 8:00 PM on October 14, 2014

I think this bit of exquisite creepiness from the Avett Brothers would fit right in.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:20 PM on October 14, 2014

The Okeh Laughing Record (discussed here) is pretty unsettling.
posted by MrBadExample at 8:47 PM on October 14, 2014

I would like it very much if you could get ahold of Marlene Dietrich doing "Hot Voodoo."
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 10:11 PM on October 14, 2014

Mefi Music's own The Scarring Party has at least a few songs that might fit the's the one that came to mind first: No More Room in Hell.
posted by redsparkler at 11:00 PM on October 14, 2014

Oh and Tom Waits frequently takes a hard left into spooky cabaret territory ... "Black Box Theme," "Flash Pan Hunter," "Tango Til They're Sore," "Swordfish Trombone," "Temptation."
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 11:24 PM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I second The Scarring Party! Their Ocean Bottom is the first thing I thought of when I saw your question. Check out their website for more tracks.
posted by yankeefog at 2:15 AM on October 15, 2014

"Jazz Devil" by Barry Adamson is tailor-made for your party.
posted by jbickers at 5:33 AM on October 15, 2014

The Firewater cover of Paint It Black has a great Doomed Party feel and is slightly rougher/darker feel. "I Don't Care Much" from Cabaret, the spookiest waltz about desperation ever.
posted by The Whelk at 6:23 AM on October 15, 2014

"You Rascal, You," by Coleman Hawkins & The Mound City Blue Blowers. Cheerful but insistent death threats, backed up by kazoo and banjo.

"Miss Otis Regrets,"a murder ballad written by Cole Porter. Ella Fitzgerald's take is definitive, but Ethel Waters' crackly 1934 version might be a better fit for your party.
posted by Iridic at 8:24 AM on October 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Almost all recordings from the 1920s sound spooky to me, but the Anamule Dance by Jelly Roll Morton is one of my favorites. You might also want to check out playlists compiling songs from Sleep No More, which often goes for the same kind of vibe you're going for (and the spooky 20s background music was one of my favorite things about it).
posted by lampoil at 8:27 AM on October 15, 2014

It's not explicitly "creepy", but if you're looking for a 20s/30s vibe with a bit of a twist, I've been enjoying a group called Caravan Palace. In addition to that YouTube link, there's a bunch of stuff on Spotify. Could fill out a playlist if you don't get enough of the really creepy stuff. Plus it's upbeat.
posted by brentajones at 10:04 AM on October 15, 2014

It's actually kind of jolly, but the Memphis Jug Band's Whitewash Station is about the place ten miles from Hell where they're going to go when they die. Basically, it's where you can party without having to burn and the Devil can't get your soul. Also, jug band music is awesome party music.

More blues roots stuff:
-Geeshie Wiley - Last Kind Word
-more Blind Willie Johnson - God Moves on the Water
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:14 PM on October 15, 2014

Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit. That link is from the 50s but she started singing it in the 30s.
posted by bluebelle at 9:33 PM on October 15, 2014

Oscar "Papa" Celestin's "Marie LaVeau" is pretty creepy.
posted by Bluestocking_Puppet at 10:39 PM on October 15, 2014

Artie Shaw's "Nightmare" is kind of seminal.
posted by softlord at 12:21 PM on October 19, 2014

You need The Caretaker
posted by steganographia at 12:31 PM on October 19, 2014

Some songs on the soundtrack of the animated movie "Chico and Rita" are that kind of jazz that is telling a sad story. I like it very much.
posted by kostia at 6:46 PM on October 19, 2014

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