Tim Burton‘s The Nightmare Before Christmas is Disney’s most iconic Halloween movie (sorry/not sorry, Hocus Pocus). The 1993 stop-motion animation stands apart because of its exquisitely designed puppets, visceral visuals that jump off the screen, and, of course, the story. Yes, it’s about two holidays colliding, but more than that, Nightmare is about a skeleton’s ennui. He’s trying to find his place and rediscover his passion for his Pumpkin King career.
Jack Skellington’s journey is relatable, and the music Danny Elfman wrote for the film underlines the skeleton’s emotions and struggles. Elfman’s rich score and thoughtful lyrics complete Burton’s world and director Henry Selick‘s vision. Nightmare Before Christmas wouldn’t be as iconic without the songs. Period.
Though I can happily listen to the entire soundtrack without skipping a tune, some of Elfman’s compositions for the movie rise to the top. This is how I’d rank all 11 songs from The Nightmare Before Christmas, from bottom to top:
The final song of Nightmare is final on this list simply because it’s so brief. The music and lyrics call back to previously played tunes and put a tidy, poetic bow on the movie. I can’t think of a better way to end the film than Jack and Sally singing “For it is plain as anyone can see, we’re simply meant to be.”
10. “Making Christmas”
The denizens of Halloween Town have a little trouble understanding the appeal of fun and cute presents. They do their best to assemble the holiday spirit in “Making Christmas.” Bells and more cheerful noises are sprinkled into the rougher Halloween music for a preview of how the two events will mesh together, and Jack’s gleeful and encouraging voice on top of that music is icing on the cake.
9. “Kidnap the Sandy Claws”
“Kidnap the Sandy Claws” is the ideal henchmen ditty for Lock, Shock, and Barrel. They’re annoying kids, and the song matches their personalities, which I mean as a compliment. Their plans to capture Santa Claus unfold through clever and slightly terrifying lyrics and one of the peppiest beats on the entire soundtrack.
8. “Jack’s Obsession”
After Jack learns about the magic of Christmas, he tries to duplicate it by using a scientific approach. Like you do. “Jack’s Obsession” details his efforts, and as is typical with Elfman, the verses are complex and the notes and keys are in perfect harmony with Jack processing the information before him.
7. “Poor Jack”
Jack’s idea for taking over Christmas was okay in theory but terrible in execution. When his time as Santa Claus went inevitably awry, it all came out in “Poor Jack.” The piece makes a mark because it manages to incorporate the themes of failure and forgiveness in a natural arc without making Jack’s comeback feel like whiplash.
6. “Sally’s Song”
It’s odd to think of anyone feeling like a misfit in Halloween Town, but Sally did–especially once everyone started to buy into the Christmas spirit. Her song is a lonely, stirring one, and I wish it was longer than a couple of minutes. Still, as is, “Sally’s Song” packs a punch of melancholy and pragmatism. And yes, Catherine O’Hara kills it.
5. “Town Meeting Song”
The lyrics of “Town Meeting Song” push it into the fifth spot. Elfman seized the comedic possibilities of Jack trying to explain the notion of Christmas to his fellow Halloween Town citizens. It captures one of the ideas at the heart of the movie: an attempt at remaking Christmas without fully understanding what the holiday’s about. The town’s misguided enthusiasm make this song an amusing joy.
4. “Oogie Boogie’s Song”
If you didn’t have a clear idea of why the residents of Halloween Town thought Oogie Boogie was so awful (I mean, the bugs oozing out of his body are enough of a reason, really), “Oogie Boogie’s Song” paints a picture. The lyrics make the green villain more frightening by revealing his motivation comes from being mean-spirited. The gravelly, rough sound of the song highlights the character’s nefarious edge. But what really pushes this song towards the top is Ken Page’s chilling performance.
3. “This Is Halloween”
When you think of Nightmare, chances are “This Is Halloween” is the song that comes to mind. And for good reason. It’s kind of the anthem of Halloween Town. The number helps build the world as it describes who the denizens of this weird world are and details what they do. It’s like an exposition dump in a song but handled creatively and with so much verve. The music matches what you’d expect for a place like Halloween Town too, with a spot on scratchy quality.
2. “Jack’s Lament”
Many of us have faced moments in life when we’re doing well and finding success, but we’re not sure if we’re happy or in the right place. “Jack’s Lament” captures every ounce of that feeling and pushes into its nooks and crannies. The pitched and dramatic song is notable because of how it highlights Jack’s triumphs without making him an arrogant and unlikable and character (look, skeleton dude’s just really good at what he does) and how it taps into a deep place of longing. Elfman’s bold vocal stylings emphasize Jack’s despondency.
1. “What’s This”
“What’s This” is the best song in The Nightmare Before Christmas because of its frenetic pace, the delicate and whimsical lyrics, and the palpable sense of wonder injected into each word. It captures all the exciting and touching beats of a person discovering a realm of new possibilities and a different way of life. “What’s This” is the uplifting sweep necessary after the frustration and low points of “Jack’s Lament.”
How would you rank the songs of The Nightmare Before Christmas? Scare up some thoughts and share them in the comments below!
Images: Disney, Giphy
Amy Ratcliffe is an Associate Editor for Nerdist. Follow her on Twitter and keep up with her Disney food adventures on Instagram.