Not all songs about ghosts and haunting have to be creepy or spooky (those tracks I’ll save for a future Halloween playlist,) but some are downright upbeat or catchy. Here, you’ll find songs about literal and figurative ghosts whether we’re talking about supernatural phenomena or ghosts of relationships past. (FYI- Tracks that almost made the cut were “Ghost” by Michael Jackson, “Ghost I” by Nine Inch Nails, “Ghost” by Neutral Milk Hotel, “Glass and the Ghost Children” by Smashing Pumpkins and “Ghost” by Phish.”)
Number Ten: “Ghost” by Sir Sly. “Ghost” is a song by Sir Sly, off of their 2014 debut album, You Haunt Me (the title track which I also considered for this list.) The song seems to be describing an old lover who literally or figuratively is haunting the narrator. Lyrics from the verses include, “was I too drunk to say what I said to you / was I too blind to go and see straight through you” and “so every now and then it feels so soothing / when you float on a bit and move right through me.” The chorus is simply “you’re a ghost” repeated four times. The last verse says, “get up, save face / find your way back to the grave / undead go find your way back home.” It seems that the narrator both enjoys the company of this “ghost” figure while at the same time he’s insulting this ghost, alluding to someone that’s transparent.
Number Nine: “Walking With a Ghost” by Tegan and Sara. “Walking with a Ghost” is a song by Tegan and Sara, off of their 2004 album, So Jealous. This catchy tune seems to be about a dead relationship. The lyrics are pretty short and sweet and pretty much consist of all chorus: “No matter which way you go / no matter which way you stay / you’re out of my mind / out of my mind / I was walking with a ghost / I said please, please don’t insist.” The song can also be interpreted as being overcome by emotions of guilt, while emphasis on certain words like “out” and “my” suggest trying to forget a past relationship (“you’re out of my mind”) and going crazy as a result of not being able to do so (“out of my mind.”) Sara, who wrote the song, said the following about it: “It’s kind of a cheesy metaphor for walking around the city feeling like the person I wanted to date was hanging out with me, but they weren’t. Some would call it an imaginary friend; I call it a ghost.” The track was also covered by the White Stripes.
Number Eight: “Happy Phantom” by Tori Amos. Although there’s no mention of the words “ghost” or “haunting” in the title of this Tori Amos song, I felt the need to include it as it’s a uniquely upbeat take on death (“Happy Phantom” is featured on Tori’s 1991 release, Little Earthquakes.) The song begins, “and if I die today I’ll be the happy phantom / and I’ll go chasin’ the nuns out in the yard / and I’ll run naked through the streets without my mask on / and I will never need umbrellas in the rain / I’ll wake up in strawberry fields every day / and the atrocities of school I can’t forgive / the happy phantom has no right to bitch.” Of course, Tori enters wonderfully quirky territory, making mention of “Judy Garland taking Buddha by the hand” and “Confucius does his crossword with a pen.” The chorus goes, “the time is getting closer / time to be a ghost / every day we’re getting closer / the sun is getting dim / will we pay for who we’ve been.” However, some of my favorite lines come from the last verse: “Will you still call for me when she falls asleep / or do we soon forget the things we cannot see.”
Number Seven: “Sleeping with Ghosts” by Placebo. “Sleeping with Ghosts” is a song by Placebo, off of their 2003 album of the same name. This song can be interpreted several different ways. The first verse goes, “the sea’s evaporating / though it comes as no surprise / these clouds we’re seeing / they’re explosions in the sky / it seems it’s written / but we can’t read between the line.” Then the script flips to a different perspective, within lyrics like, “this one world vision / turns us into compromise / what good’s religion / when it’s each other we despise / damn the government / damn the killing / damn the lies.” The beautiful, heartbreaking chorus is the following: “Hush / it’s ok / soul mate dry your eye / cause soul mates never die.” On one hand, this song can be viewed as a testament to relationships that last throughout eternity. On the other, it could be a sarcastic remark on how relationships can bind us and leave a mark on us, even after it’s over. I also find it interesting that after referring to something in nature, the narrator says, “soul mate dry your eye,” while after talking about the government, he says, “soul mate dry your eyes.” This could be far-fetched thinking, but perhaps the narrator was referring to one’s third eye in the first chorus, as it’s singular and therefore something sacred. Ironically, in the second verse he talks about a “one world vision” (which could be referring to the New World Order,) but how it’s dividing people instead of uniting them; perhaps this is why he changes “dry your eye” to “dry your eyes,” as if reflecting a blind government by comparing it to how blind we can be in relationships, even with both eyes open.
Number Six: “Ghosts” by Japan. “Ghosts” is a song by Japan, off of their 1981 album, Tin Drum. This minimalistic, almost disenchanting song seems to about someone who’s trying to live optimistically but keeps being haunted by demons of his past. The chorus goes, “just when I think I’m winning / when I’ve broken every door / the ghosts of my life / blow wilder than before / just when I thought I could not be stopped / when my chance came to be king / the ghosts of my life blew wilder than the wind.” The song has since been remixed and covered by bands like the Deftones and Air.
Number Five: “Is There a Ghost?” by Band of Horses. “Is There a Ghost?” is a song by Band of Horses, off of their 2007 release, Cease to Begin. The lyrics consist of three lines repeated: “I could sleep / when I lived alone / is there a ghost in my house?” This song can be interpreted several different ways, from the “ghost” being a lover who’s haunting the narrator and causing him not to sleep, or the narrator blaming lack of sleep on a ghost when other there are deeper reasons why. Apparently lead singer Ben Bridwell said the song was inspired by his affliction of paranoia, and how all the weird sounds a house can make can make you believe in supernatural forces.
Number Four: “Ghost Town” by The Specials. “Ghost Town” is a song by The Specials, released as a single in 1981. The track received various praises for its themes of inner-city violence, economical issues and overall urban decrepitude. Lyrics reflecting this include, “this town is coming like a ghost town / all the clubs have been closed down / bands won’t play no more / too much fighting on the dance floor / why must the youth fight against themselves / government leaving the youth on the shelf / no job to be found in this country / the people getting angry.”
Number Three: “The Ghost In You” by The Psychedelic Furs. “The Ghost in You” is a song by The Psychedelic Furs, off of their 1984 album, Mirror Moves. The most popular opinion of this song is that it’s a song about heartbreak. The lyrics begin, “a man in my shoes runs a light / and all the papers lied tonight / but falling over you / is the news of the day / angels fall like rain / and love is all of heaven away / inside you the time moves / and she don’t fade / the ghost in you / she don’t fade.” These lyrics could be describing how another man has taken his lover from him, whether this man stole her out of the relationship or accidentally killed her (“the man in my shoes runs a light” or was in a car crash.) It could also be describing how heartbroken he is, both about their break-up and about her death; the ghost of her “don’t fade” and their love feels like a “heaven away.” For a beautiful acoustic take on this track, check out the Counting Crows version.
Number Two: “Call off Your Ghost” by Dessa. “Call off Your Ghost” is a song by Dessa, off of her 2013 album, Parts of Speech. While she has a large underground following, Dessa (from theDoomtree collective) deserves more recognition as her music, while in the vein of hip-hop, is also spoken-word poetry. This song in particular seems to be about a girl who’s having trouble getting over her ex and therefore can’t bring herself to be friends with him. The lyrics are pretty straight-forward: “You’re asking can’t we just be friends / but this bell in my chest still rings / and it’s better to just pretend / that I can’t see you waving / can’t hear you call my name and / I know how much you hate it / but babe, I gotta walk away / you once said if we were careful / we could do this all our lives / but one of us got clumsy / and both of us got wise / and now we’re not so young seems / our wishing well’s gone dry.” She then goes on to describe how she wants to her ex to be happy, but “it’s just a lot to ask to watch your future walking past me.” The chorus goes, “we’ve been living / too long, too close / and I’m ready / to let you go / I’m ready / so call off your ghost.”
Number One: “I Died So I Could Haunt You” by Stars. “I Died So I Could Haunt You” is a song by Stars, off of their 2010 release, The Five Ghosts. Many speculate this song is about someone who literally died because they couldn’t be with the person they loved or because their lover cheated or betrayed them in some way. The first verse begins with the male vocal, “thousands of ghosts in the daylight / walking through my hometown square,” and continues, “The air grows cold around me and you, and it’s cold / you know that he’s there.” This echoes the sentiment of a lover haunting his woman, and how she knows by the “cold air” that he’s around, reminding her of her misdeeds. The second verse, this time with a female vocal, goes, “thousands of ghosts in the darkness / lost in a strange neighborhood / the lights from the warm houses haunt them / they forgot what they lost but they knew it was good / I was unfaithful, I lived as I chose / I want only to haunt you, but you’re never there.” This is where the tables turn and it appears that because her lover has died as a result of her being “unfaithful,” the woman decided to take her life too; however, she can’t find him. The last verse seems to beautifully describe how even ghosts will move on eventually to a different place: “Thousands of ghosts in the daylight / one day we all disappear / we’ll walk ‘til we get to the harbor / they’ll never know we were here.”