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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's already begun hasn't it, Steve, on this very program - costumes, scary voices, talk of ghosts and flesh eaters.

To add to the mood, we turn to NPR music writer and editor Stephen Thompson.

STEVEN THOMPSON: Pumpkins are on doorsteps. Movie screens are aglow with zombies and torture devices. Virtually every show on television has a Halloween theme. For one last day, Halloween is everywhere. But where's the Halloween music?

In the classical world, many works evoke a shadowy underworld of supernatural terror.

(Soundbite of music, "Toccata and Fugue")

THOMPSON: But in popular music, the season just comes and goes.

The holiday itself is all about demystifying our darkest fears - violent death, a tortured afterlife, the menaces that lurk in the dark, unseen. Halloween takes those things and makes them silly. It takes vicious killers and gives us "The Monster Mash."

(Soundbite of song, "The Monster Mash")

Mr. BOBBY PICKETT (Singer): (Singing) He did the monster mash from my laboratory in castle east, to the master bedroom where the vampires feast. The ghouls all came from their humble abodes to get a jolt from my electrodes.

THOMPSON: Today, only a few brave souls still pay musical tribute to October 31st. For example, a band called "The Evangelicals" has a free download called "Halloween Song." It's a lovely little track that captures the season's mystery, while bathing it in a nice, warm autumn glow.

(Soundbite of song, "Halloween Song")

THE EVANGELICALS (Band): (Singing) Impossible costumes, but he got no suit I've seen. And no one gets out alive this Halloween. I can see me those lone tree (unintelligible) are weak.

THOMPSON: Still, music is a footnote in most Halloween celebrations, in part because the two are so easily separated. Holiday music works best for occasions driven by big plans and high expectations. In the days before Christmas, music is there for the big stuff. There's love and joy, but there's also stress and melancholy, even disappointment.

Halloween, on the other hand, is a holiday of low stakes and small rituals. These days, I mostly spend Halloween night lugging my kids around the neighborhood, and then eating their candy after they go to bed. That's it.

Halloween is lighthearted escapism, a celebration of make-believe conflict, fears so unrealistic that it's safe to mock them. And in that way, the songs of Halloween show why it's the happiest holiday of all.

(Soundbite of song, "The Monster Mash")

Mr. BOBBY PICKETT (Singer): (Singing) They did the monster mash. The zombies were having fun.

MONTAGNE: Stephen Thompson is a writer and editor for NPR music. To hear more of Halloween music, including some pretty scary classical and jazz, visit npr.org/music.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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