19 Of The Best Songs About Ghosts: Ghostly Playlist

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Songs about ghosts come in all shapes and sizes. Some are spooky and suitable for a Halloween haunted house. Others are slow and melancholy. Some are even surprisingly moving. 

That’s not surprising since ghosts, whether metaphoric or actual, are different from the people they once were.

To spotlight their many shades, we put together 19 of the best songs about ghosts. Read on to find out more about these ghostly and haunting songs.

1. “Ghostbusters” By Ray Parker Jr.

We start our list with one of the most ubiquitous ghost-centric songs going. Even if you aren’t familiar with any of the Ghostbuster movies, chances are you know their theme song, “Ghostbusters,” by Ray Parker Jr.

Written in 1984, it’s a fast-paced and playful romp about the titular Ghostbusters. They are on a quest to round up some rambunctious ghosts. It’s a fantastic song to dance to.

Its enduring popularity meant that when the Ghostbuster movies came around for a remake, they didn’t change the theme song. The artist may have changed, but otherwise, it sounds exactly as written almost 40 years ago.

2. “Watching You Without Me” By Kate Bush

Our next song with “ghost” in the lyrics, Kate Bush‘ “Watching You Without Me,” is a poignant song about ghosts. More than that, it grapples with themes of loss and communication.

The singer has yet to realize her ghostly status, though. She tries ineffectually to communicate with the man she left behind. But she’s always on the wrong side of existence and can never communicate with anyone.

The petition “Don’t ignore, don’t ignore me” resonates deeply with listeners. It also applies to the mundane trials and tribulations of relationships with less ghostly people.

3. “Haunted Heart” By Jo Stafford

Up next, Jo Stafford‘s “Haunted Heart” is a touching reflection on loss and separation. It predates Kate Bush’s song, but it’s easy to see how one feels like a response to the other.

“Haunted Heart” is all about the ghosts created by absence. We feel the presence of a person long after they’re gone, finding them in the most mundane things. And whenever the singer stumbles across a reminder, she’s haunted by ghosts and old memories of what she lost.

Stafford infuses the song with astonishing warmth and tenderness. Unsurprisingly, her ghost haunts all the modern-day efforts to rerecord it.

4. “Ghosts’ High Noon” By D’Oyly Carte Opera

It’s a little-known fact that Gilbert & Sullivan operettas are full of ghosts. “Ghosts’ High Noon” by D’Oyly Carte Opera is the most obvious example.

This wonderfully weird and creepy-sounding chorus is all about the witching hour. It says that when the moon’s high, the ghosts come out to play. Not only ghosts, but certain events also occur. We’re talking about clouds “sail over the midnight skies” and black dogs howling at the moon, among others.

The melody is suitably eerie and expertly uses chromatic intervals, especially the devil’s interval. It refers to music that puts you on edge.

5. “Ghost” By Justin Bieber

Another song about ghosts that deal with loss is Justin Bieber‘s “Ghost.” It’s arguably the best song on his 2021 album Justice.

In the lyrics, the singer laments losing someone very dear to him. We can tell how much he loves her, even to the point of following her if he could. But he knows she’s somewhere he can’t follow.

The realization of her absence finally dawns on him. With her gone, he would settle for her ghost and her memories. But it doesn’t stop him from missing her badly.

6. “Ghosts That We Knew” By Mumford & Sons

Our next song, “Ghosts that We Knew,” is about a person dealing with depression. Mumford & Sons included this song in their 2012 album Babel.

The song follows the singer who’s going through dark times in his life. The line “Broken glass, saw the blood run from my veins” is an indication of self-harm. But we find out that he has someone, presumably a lover, who saw his pain but didn’t give up on him.

In the end, the singer still goes through depression. But he’s hopeful about healing and getting through it. The ghosts, or the demons he has to fight every time, will soon be gone, and they can live long lives.

7. “Ghosts” By Joshua Redman

Jazz saxophonist Joshua Redman offers a first-class example of musical word painting in this song with “ghosts” in the title. “Ghosts” is instrumental, so there’s no story here. But there doesn’t need to be.

Redmond playing soprano is fabulously ghostly. It slides, slips, and sometimes wails with an appropriately ethereal sound.

The music helps Redmond along. The intervals are weird, even by the unconventional standards of jazz. And with the long, sustained phrasing the melody favors, what comes out is an unforgettably ghostly performance.

8. “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky” By Johnny Cash

In 1979, Johnny Cash released his own version of “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky.” It climbed its way to #2 after staying on Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks for 16 weeks.

“Ghost Riders in the Sky” is a western song about the vision of a cowboy. In the vision, he sees a herd of cattle with red eyes and steel hooves. The cows are “plowin’ through the ragged skies,” chased by ghost riders.

These riders are damned cowboys who have been “trying to catch the devil’s herd across these endless skies.” One of them tells him that if he doesn’t change, he’ll be doomed to do the same.

9. “Commendatore Scene” By Kurt Moll And Samuel Ramey

Ghostly recriminations run rampant in this song, not only about ghosts but sung by one. The “Commendatore Scene” by Kurt Moll and Samuel Ramey is taken from Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni.

Trying to put the ghost of his paramour’s dead father to rest, Don Giovanni invites him to dinner. The ghost arrives but won’t be appeased. As the music reaches its climax, he carts a meddlesome Don Giovanni off to a fiery inferno.

It’s one of the opera’s most famous songs about ghosts. And it will make young lotharios think twice about getting involved with the wrong person. Or that was the theory at the time.

10. “Ghost Of Yesterday” By Billie Holiday

Listening to Billie Holiday can conjure ghosts all on its own. But here, she also sings a song about ghosts. In “Ghosts of Yesterday,” Holiday sings the song with lyricism and tenderness. It sounds how you might imagine a heartache sounds, and it’s gorgeous to listen to.

Fundamentally this is a love song. But it’s a poignant one about how memories linger and the ghosts of times and people past haunt us. The singer muses on how even when she thinks she’s moved on, old ghosts come back to haunt her.

They’re worse in the middle of the night – aren’t ghosts always? They don’t just haunt her. They whisper about the possibilities that died when the relationship ended and beset her with old, long-dead dreams.

11. “Ghost Of Me” By Daughtry

The word “ghost” can refer to more than just a spooky apparition. Sometimes, like in Daughtry‘s “Ghost of Me,” it’s something that’s already gone.

While the song can be interpreted in different ways, it can be about a relationship that already ended. However, the woman is still pining for him, and memories of him and their past give her sleepless nights.

Worse, her imagination fuels her desire for him. It adds to his frustration and so he implores her, “Don’t look over your shoulder.” Because she’ll only be seeing a ghost of him.

12. “The Ghost Of Tom Joad” By Bruce Springsteen

Our next entry, “The Ghost of Tom Joad” by Bruce Springsteen, was based on John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath. It features a ghostly rendering of one of the book’s more memorable characters, Tom Joad.

It’s a mellow, reflective song about a ghost. But that sells it short. There’s much more going on here than a garden variety haunting. The song uses Joad’s ghost to tackle complex issues of injustice, violence, and freedom.

Towards the end, there’s a touching suggestion that we should always see our loved ones in the struggling and vulnerable people around us. These were key tenets of Steinbeck’s novel, and it’s why Springsteen’s song is as powerful as it is.

13. “My Name Is John Wellington Wells” By John Reed

As discussed, Gilbert & Sullivan have a surprising number of ghosts in their satirical operettas. John Reed‘s “My Name is John Wellington Wells” is another of them. It comes from The Sorcerer, which is full of demons, devils, and djinns.

This patter-song starts as a quirky catalog of magical accessories. But as it builds momentum, it takes a sudden turn for the ghostly. It turns out the resident djinn does an eclectic line in hauntings and especially summoning ghosts.

This song that mentions “ghosts” is appropriately creepy. It is a tongue-twister as much as a haunting, and listeners can’t help enjoying it.

14. “Miles! Ah, Miles, I’m Here” By Julian Hubbard And Sally Matthews

Here’s another song from an opera that deals with ghosts. “Miles! Ah, Miles, I’m Here” by Julian Hubbard, and Sally Matthews appears in Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw.

Here, young Miles grapples with the lingering ghosts of Peter Quinn and Miss Jessop. In the scene, Miles is torn between telling the governess about Quinn and not betraying Quinn.

One of the great psychological conundrums of the twentieth century is whether these ghosts are real. Or perhaps they’re figments of young Miles’ imagination. Whatever the answer, Miles is undeniably haunted.

15. “Misguided Ghosts” By Paramore

Not all songs about ghosts are about literal ghosts. In Paramore‘s “Misguided Ghosts,” the singer feels like a ghost because the world repeatedly passes her by.

Throughout the song, she describes feeling askew to and adrift from the world around them. One of the most poignant moments of this song comes with the revelation that she is not the only one wandering the world like a ghost. She’s horrified by how many people feel this way and wander the world without leaving a mark.

It’s a compelling reminder that connections with other people are important. Not only because people are social by nature. But also because part of how many of us find value is by impacting the lives around us.

16. “The Ghost Of You” By My Chemical Romance

It’s truly difficult to deal with the passing of a loved one. “The Ghost of You” by My Chemical Romance is another excellent song about ghosts where the singer is haunted by a dead girlfriend.

While he grapples with her permanent absence, he wonders how to carry on without her. Her memories continue to haunt him, making it that much more painful.

Whenever these ghosts rear their heads, he mourns lost conversations as much as the woman herself. He ends up thinking of the things they could have done together.

17. “Ghosts Of Cape Horn” By Gordon Lightfoot

Here’s another song by Gordon Lightfoot crammed full of ghosts. From the start of “Ghosts of Cape Horn,” its jaunty whistling evokes a ghost story sensibility.

From ghost ships to dead pirates and drowned sailors, there’s no escaping this song’s specters. It talks about Cape Horn’s history through a melody that’s alternately dance-like and folksy.

The song says that sunken ships “sailing away at the break of dawn,” and the people who were in them are the ghosts of Care Horn.

18. “Ghost Behind My Eyes” By Ozzy Osbourne

Up next is Ozzy Osbourne’s rock ‘n roll classic, “Ghost Behind My Eyes.” In the song, Osbourne perfectly describes what it’s like to have a person living in your head.

Its tune sounds spooky enough for any carnival funhouse, with evocative lyrics to match. Osbourne describes how “she” comes to haunt him every night. While many say he is referring to his wife, Sharon, the ghost can refer to anything that haunts us.

In this case, the ghost the singer wrestles with is a lost love. Whenever he closes his eyes, he relives memories of her.

19. “The Ghost Of Smokey Joe” By Cab Calloway

Finally, here’s a song by Cab Calloway from the perspective of a ghost. “The Ghost of Smokey Joe” is both jazzy and suggestive of hauntings.

The titular ghost comes back from Hades to say hi to his friends. They are understandably spooked to see him in his ghost form. He convinces them that he’s not a stranger and asks them to reminisce about some events prior to his death.

At the end of the song, Joe has to go back to his estate in Hades, where a hot date awaits his return.

Summing Up Our List Of Ghostly Songs

As you’ve seen, ghosts are not only those we associate with Halloween. Although, you have to admit, songs about those never go out of style. And the list above only proves that they are as different as the people who wrote them.

By turns, they’re spooky, poetic, and whimsical. But they all grapple with the different ghosts that haunt us, from gothic specters to painful memories.

Whether you’re seeking thrills, chills, or something to dance to, our list should have something to please everyone.

Photo of author

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.