Our Favorite Spooky Seasonal Songs : Pop Culture Happy Hour Halloween and Dia de los Muertos are creeping up on us, which means it's peak spooky music season. In this episode the hosts of NPR Music's Alt.Latino podcast share some of their favorite seasonal songs.

Our Favorite Spooky Seasonal Songs

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Just a quick heads up. This episode contains explicit language.


THOMPSON: The end of the year brings holiday music. Valentine's Day brings love songs. But the approach of Halloween and Dia de Muertos means it is time for spooky music. So we asked our pals at Alt.Latino to help us out with some seasonal song selections. I'm Stephen Thompson. Today we are talking about spooky season songs on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.


THOMPSON: Joining me today are two of our friends from the podcast Alt.Latino from NPR Music, hosts Anamaria Sayre and Felix Contreras. Hey, Anamaria, and hey, Felix.

ANAMARIA SAYRE, BYLINE: Hey, how's it going?

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: What's happening, Stephen?

THOMPSON: It is great to have you both. So it is October, which means we are firmly in the grip of spooky season. Maybe you've changed your Twitter name to something scary. Maybe you've plopped down hundreds of dollars for those giant, 12-foot skeletons. Or maybe you, like me, have gotten a jump-start on Halloween by buying and eating a giant bag of Kit Kat bars. There are so many ways to celebrate. We thought we would focus this episode on songs. Anamaria, let's start with you. Give me a song for spooky season.

SAYRE: Don't you mean (imitating ghost) spooky season...

THOMPSON: (Imitating ghost) Spooky...

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

SAYRE: ...Stephen?

THOMPSON: ...Season.


SAYRE: I'm like, cut the tape. Let's just celebrate Stephen-style, and we can all go eat a big bag of Kit Kats together.


SAYRE: Felix and I are notorious for bringing ghosts into a lot of conversations. We like - anytime we talk to a different show or different people, we're like, wouldn't it be cool to do, like, ghost stories? Like, that would be awesome, right? We're all about the scary, spooky songs. First pick - we went so classic. For those of you out there who - I am sure many of you know it, love it - "La Llorona." It is just one of the most classic spooky songs you can have. It's, like, all across Latin America, a totally known and talked-about tale. There's all kinds of iterations of it. But basically, it's this woman who kind of goes crazy. She kills her children, which is really dark. It sounds weird to be saying that on the air, but that's what happens. And in classic Latino fashion, she has all this guilt about it.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

SAYRE: She leans into that guilt. She's forced to live in this crazy, like, purgatory of just mourning and seeking her lost children for the rest of existence. So this is her singing. It's a warning to all children. You better be a good kid. She's going to come for you, otherwise. So this is "La Llorona," specifically the Natalia Lafourcade version because we're going so puro mexicano on this, as Felix and I love to do. Natalia is an absolute legend and has, like, actually, I think, like, five covers of this song. But we decided to go with this one. So this is "La Llorona."


NATALIA LAFOURCADE: (Singing in Spanish).

THOMPSON: Now, "La Llorona" - I mean, I know this song primarily from the movie "Coco."



SAYRE: Yes. Yeah.

THOMPSON: And so for me, like, this is just a reminder. It is spooky season. Dia de Muertos is coming up. It is time to rewatch "Coco."

SAYRE: Oh, my God. Are you trying to...

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

SAYRE: ...Cry all October, Stephen?


SAYRE: What kind of Halloween is this?

THOMPSON: Anamaria, how well do you know me? That's...

SAYRE: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: ...Like, my thing.

CONTRERAS: You know, what's cool about La Llorona is, like, especially for Mexican Americans, like, there are two - La Llorona y El Cucuy, right? And that means, like, a ghost or whatever. It's, like, this evil spirit. Parents use - they are basically mechanisms for discipline, right? Go to bed. Do your thing. Or La Llorona and El Cucuy are going to come get you.



SAYRE: OK. See, it's discipline, but it's also not always that much utility to it. I think there is, like, this secret Mexican parent thing where they're just like - want to cause you just, like, a little bit of misery that is rooted in fear. Like...


SAYRE: ...It's just like, if we can scare you just for fun...

CONTRERAS: Pretty much.

SAYRE: ...Like, we will.

CONTRERAS: I would agree.

SAYRE: And that is a tradition I...


SAYRE: ...Hope to carry on.


THOMPSON: All right. Excellent pick. So that was "La Llorona" by Natalia Lafourcade with Los Macorinos. Felix, give us a pick.

CONTRERAS: OK. So this one is called "En Entierro De Los Gatos," and it's from a band called Los Saicos. And they're a Peruvian punk band from, like, 1966. I picked it because of, like, the delivery, right? You know, we - I think we all know Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You," that - the whole thing he does - the whole shtick he does at the beginning. Check out the beginning of this song, and tell me if this is not bloodcurdling.


LOS SAICOS: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: There's a long story to Los Saicos and the whole punk thing. You know, the lyrics are, you know, a big cat has died. A major cat has died. A big cat has died. A major cat has died. Now the old cat died. Now the old cat died. I'll be the major cat, blah, blah, blah. It's, like - it's very, very basic, but it's about the death and the rebirth and all of that stuff. So that's the story behind my first pick.

THOMPSON: What I love about that song (laughter) in general is...

SAYRE: How do you pick one thing to love about that song, Stephen?


THOMPSON: I think part of what I like is, like, we're so accustomed to that one, like, stock - scream.

CONTRERAS: Right. Right.

THOMPSON: That scream has been kind of sanded down over time to where it's not actually scary anymore. And a truly unhinged scream can still unsettle.

SAYRE: That shook me to my core.


THOMPSON: So that was "El Entierro De Los Gatos" by Los Saicos. That's spelled S-A-I-C-O-S. Thank you, Felix. Anamaria, give us your next pick.

SAYRE: OK. So this next one is from Jenny and the Mexicats. They're a very cool band that I love to come back to - multicultural, composed of a lot of different people from Spain and Mexico and kind of doing a lot of different style things like flamenco and jazz and folk. And so they're always doing different kinds of fun stuff, cumbia, even. So really, really love them. This is "La Bruja," which - also, we all know Felix and I love to talk about brujeria all the time, which really is - it's an essential part of the season. We all know a bruja or two, casting a few spells, so nothing like getting us in the season to talk about it, of course. So here's "La Bruja."


JENNY AND THE MEXICATS: (Singing in Spanish).

THOMPSON: This is where I got to throw in a recommendation for the Jenny and the Mexicats Tiny Desk concert from 2018, which is truly fantastic. Actually, Natalia Lafourcade's done one, too.

SAYRE: Oh, yeah. She has.

CONTRERAS: They're a great band. I really like them a lot. And I like their take on just sort of the underbelly, the underworld thing, you know, because they're so versatile. The singer, she is British. And she learned Spanish from meeting these guys in Spain. Long, convoluted story, but she's completely, perfectly fluent in Spanish with a slight British accent. When she talks, it's pretty cool. But the band I really love. And I love how they just dug into this particular track.

SAYRE: I love that. I love the energy of it too. It's like the way that they communicate the spookiness is unexpected, but it works.

THOMPSON: So that was "La Bruja" by Jenny and the Mexicats. Felix Contreras, give us your next pick.

CONTRERAS: OK. So Cafe Tacvba, they have a song called "La Muerte Chiquita," and it means the small death. And this sort of goes into the whole Dia de los Muertos thing where it's not always a spooky thing, and, in fact, it's an embracing of people who have passed. As you see in the movie that you talked about, it is really an embrace of family and all that stuff. But it's still, you know, you're dealing with people who have passed on. And this song says, give me the small death. Give me the small death. And this way, maybe I can be in your arms, and I will reach full grace. So it's sort of a love song but through death.

SAYRE: And if that ain't the most Mexican s*** I've ever heard.


CONTRERAS: There's the whole thing with Mexicans and death. Like, you live with death. It's like, right here all the time.

THOMPSON: But a little death - are you sure that's referring to death?

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

SAYRE: I'll just sit back and listen.

CONTRERAS: I'm looking at the lyrics, and like, yeah, and it could be death. It could be something else.

THOMPSON: Maybe we should just hear the song.

SAYRE: Let's hear this. Cut. Cut to the music.

CONTRERAS: Yeah, thanks, man. Thanks.


CAFE TACVBA: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: Give me the small death before the ultimate dream. It could go either way, man.


THOMPSON: All right. So the song was "La Muerte Chiquita" by Cafe Tacvba. Anamaria, bring us home. Give us one more pick.

SAYRE: This is from Ana Tijoux, which we're big Ana Tijoux fans over at Alt.Latino. She is amazing. She shares my name. Anas are amazing. Let's just say it.


SAYRE: Anyway, so this is her doing "Calaveritas," which, for people who don't know, it's basically like it's skulls, but it's kind of like this special, like, Mexican candy-type sugar thingy - I don't even know how to describe it - for Dia de los Muertos. So this is her doing that. And she specifically has Celso Pina on this, which I thought was really cool to include his feature here, kind of like a legendary singer accordionist from Mexico, from Monterrey. Shoutout to my primos in Monterrey. He does a lot of cumbia and so really cool to have him on this track. And this is "Calaveritas."


ANA TIJOUX: (Singing in Spanish).

THOMPSON: So that was "Calaveritas" by Ana Tijoux featuring Celso Pina. We want to know your favorite spooky season songs. Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter @pchh. If you like the songs you heard in this episode, head over to npr.org/music to hear more songs like this and a full Alt.Latino playlist where you can hear the entire songs and not just little tiny clips of it that are, you know, spooky, though they may be. You can enjoy the full thing over there. That brings us to the end of our show. Anamaria Sayre, Felix Contreras, thanks to you both for being here.

CONTRERAS: Thanks, brother.

SAYRE: Thank you, Stephen.

THOMPSON: It's such a pleasure to have you both. Thank you for listening to Pop Culture Happy Hour from NPR. This episode was produced by Rommel Wood and Hafsa Fathima and edited by Jessica Reedy and Mike Katzif. Special thanks to Patrick Murray for his help on this episode. Hello Come In provides our theme music. I'm Stephen Thompson, and we will see you all tomorrow.

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