Words by LargeUp Crew
Illustration by Spliffington
Reggae isn’t the first music genre most people would associate with Halloween, for a number of reasons. For one, there’s no such thing as Halloween in Jamaica — at least not until very recently — where it’s long been shunned as a Pagan holiday.
But you’d be surprised by how many reggae classics there are that deal with duppies, vampires, zombies and other undead entities, whether literal or metaphorical. The supernatural is a reoccurring theme in Jamaican music, from early rocksteady by Prince Buster to recent dancehall from Vybz Kartel, Tommy Lee and Demarco. We went digging on Apple Music for the ultimate reggae Halloween playlist.
Peter Tosh – Vampires (Dracula Version)
We begin our playlist with a werewolf’s howl — as heard on the dub version of Peter Tosh’s “Vampires.” The original song was about figurative sort of bloodsuckers, but the original Blackheart Man definitely got into character with the ghostly vocalizations on the intro.
Prince Buster – Ghost Dance
On this spooky rocksteady burner, the recently-departed Prince Buster offers goodbyes to those gone too soon, including many infamous posse members, while envisioning an after-life where the sound system dances rage on.
The Wailers – Duppy Conqueror
You can’t talk duppy business without this Bob Marley & The Wailers original. And by original, we mean the 1971 African Rootsman version produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry, not the slicker version that appeared on ’73’s Burnin’ — although that’s just fine with us, too.
Ernie Smith – Duppy Gun Man
There’s several versions of this Jamaican staple including this Polynesian-inspired one by Inner Circle, also with Smith on vocals, and a dancehall version by Yellowman. Both are great in their own way, but our top choice is the original for a few reasons — the trombone, and also because it inspired this classic episode of Jamaican TV show Oliver at Large.
The Upsetters – Vampire
Always ahead of his time, Lee “Scratch” Perry may have been the first person to speak of certain music business executives and fake Rasta men as “vampires.” If you think a figurative references to bloodsuckers makes the topic any less terrifying, just ask any creative who’s ever been burned by “The Man.”
Burning Spear – The Ghost (Marcus Garvey)
The dub version of Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey album was called Garvey’s Ghost, and the title track lives up to its billing with ghostly instrumental inflections.
The Specials – Ghost Town
The signature tune by the premier act of ska’s second wave was inspired by the urban decay, de-industrialization and unemployment The Specials witnessed around England on their 1980 U.K. tour. Whatever spawned it, “Ghost Town” is the ultimate haunted-house dance theme.
Scientist – Blood On His Lips
Dubmaster Hopeton “Scientist” Brown made the best Jamaican horror album ever in 1981’s Scientist Rids The World of the Curse of the Evil Vampires. With a full LP of tunes like “Your Teeth In My Neck,” “Ghost of Frankenstein” (does that even make sense?) and “Plague of Zombies,” you could pretty much just let it play straight through at any Halloween party. Due to contractual disputes, only “Blood on His Lips” is streaming online (not our top pick, but it does the trick) so you might actually have to go and pick it up on vinyl if you want to experience the full Evil Vampires experience this Halloween.
Horace Andy – Money Money (Wackies Version)
Horace Andy’s original “Money is the Root of All Evil” might not read as spooky. But pair Andy’s otherworldly crooning about “the root of all evil” with the eerie production style of New York dub/reggae wizard Lloyd “Bullwackie” Barnes on this 1982 Dancehall Style version, and things get real, real dark.
Lone Ranger – Barnabas Collins
Barnabas Collins was a 175-year-old vampire from the ’60s TV series Dark Shadows, as well as its 1991 revival and the 2012 Tim Burton movie, starring Johnny Depp in the role. He’s also the protagonist of this 1979 tribute from pioneering dancehall deejay Lone Ranger, who offers the truly terrifying promise to “chew your neck like a Wrigley.”
Black Uhuru – Anthem
The dystopian title track to Black Uhuru’s Grammy-winning 1984 album Anthem pits Mykal Rose’s living dread against dis yah dawn of the living dead. This one neatly fits into reggae’s culture tune category while occupying a distinctly dark, apocalyptic space thanks to Sly and Robbie’s atmospheric riddim track, and haunting backing vocals from Puma Jones.
Sancho – Chase Vampire
A New York dancehall classic guaranteed to rock a regular party as well as a Halloween party, this one demands to be included on the strength of the intro alone: “This one… is like a horra movie!”
Monster Shack Crew – Scream
This is actually a song about a girl with bad breath —it’s own unique sort of nightmare. It’s also a song called “Scream” with the refrain “Die Die Die” by a group called Monster Shack Crew (with a member named Ghost) on an album called Monster Party.
Elephant Man & Subatomic Sound System – Vampires & Informers (Subatomic Sound System’s Bloodstep Mix)
Dancehall’s “Energy God” Elephant Man released an EP’s worth of “Vampires & Informer” versions in 2010, painting a picture of a bizarro-world Jamaica as a cesspool for bloodsuckers and other blackheart types, over a variety of different riddims and genres.
Spragga Benz – Duppy Nuh Frighten Vampire
This re-casting of dancehall’s foundation Sleng Teng riddim from Jah Snowcone and Salaam Remi was a definite highlight of Spragga Benz’s highly-underrated Shotta Culture album — and earns extra points for its title.
Mr. Lexx – Duppy Dem
A duppy will trouble almost anyone in Jamaica — even the typically upbeat, fun-loving Mr. Lexx.
Demarco – Duppy Know Who Fi Frighten
Ditto for dancehall deejay Demarco, who seems to have something of a duppy fixation, having recorded “Duppy Know Who Fi Frighten” on the Shootout riddim in 2007, and later following with “Duppy Haffi Mek.”
Tommy Lee Sparta – Psycho
MoBay’s Tommy Lee Sparta was the first dancehall artist to fully immerse himself in darkness, adopting twisted, horrorcore imagery and a creepy vocal affectation. It’s hard to believe, but “Psycho” was the biggest song in Jamaica in the Summer of 2012, an otherwise optimistic time when the island celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence and wild success in the Summer Olympics.
Easy Star All-Stars – Thriller (feat. Mikey General & Spragga Benz)
The Easy Star All-Stars, the session band behind the Pink Floyd cover album Dub Side of the Moon, paid tribute to Michael Jackson’s Thriller in 2012 with reggae versions of each of the classic MJ album’s cuts. For their version of the horror-movie-inspired title cut, the group enlisted singer Mikey General and, in the Vincent Price role, Spragga Benz.
Lee “Scratch” Perry & Subatomic Sound System – Black Ark Vampires (Roots Rockers Mix)
If any reggae act has an open channel of communications with the other side, our guess would be Mr. Lee Perry. The Upsetter had his hand in quite a few tracks on this list (and others we wished to include) including Prince Buster’s “Ghost Dance” and the Wailers’ original “Duppy Conqueror,” making this 2016 release a fitting bookend to our program. Not to mention: We’d tip our medallion-covered hat to anyone who could pull off something resembling Scratch’s elaborate daily attire in a Halloween costume.