Let’s see how many times I can use variations of the word “spooky” in one article.
October is the spookiest month of the year, so it feels only appropriate to take a break from talking about the hits of 2017 to talk about the quintessential and most famous Halloween song: Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “The Monster Mash.” In fact, the song was so successful when it was first released in October 1962 that it reached the top of the Hot 100 for two consecutive weeks, and has enjoyed continued success every fall for the last 55 years.
Whether you’re 8 or 80 (or 800, oooh spooky), everyone knows “The Monster Mash,” but you might not be familiar with the story behind it. Pickett and co-writer Leonard Capizzi originally envisioned the song to be a simple parody of the series of dance crazes that were sweeping the nation (including Chubby Checker’s “Twist” and Dee Dee Sharp’s “Mashed Potato”), but the parody would soon transform into something else after Pickett decided to use his dead-on impressions of actors Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in the song (according to Pickett in later interviews, his impression of Karloff would make the crowds go nuts – that’s the fifties for you). Once the premise of Frankenstein’s Monster creating a dance craze came into their heads, the ingredients were in place, and “The Monster Mash” was born.
After adding a “Boris” to his name in honor of Karloff, Pickett shopped it to all of the major labels of the time only to be rejected outright by all of them. It finally got it’s chance when engineer Gary S. Paxton decided that the song would be such “a graveyard smash” that he self released it on his label, the short-lived Garpax Records. Paxton was correct in his assumption, and soon after releasing it in late August of 1962, it quickly became a Halloween standard.
“The Monster Mash” tells the story of Frankenstein’s monster rising from his slab and creating a new dance craze at a spooky party filled with all sorts of classic Halloween creatures shortly afterwards (including Dracula asking where his “Transylvania Twist” went [spoiler alert: “IT’S NOW THE MASH”]). The in-genius use of spooky sound effects taken from old radio dramas, like pulling a nail out of a board, water being blown through a straw, and dropping chains on the floor, gave the track a lot more credit to its premise, especially at a time where the recording studio was only beginning to be used as a place of creativity and inspiration.
Pickett milked “The Monster Mash” for all that it was worth until his death in 2007. In addition to creating a Christmas spin off titled “Monster’s Holiday” which peaked at #30 later in 1962. Two years later, Pickett gave us the “Monster Swim” (which according to Pickett was “bigger than the Mash” and a “poolside smash” but it was definitely not either of those things). Over twenty years later, he released the very dated and also very hilarious “Monster Rap” after noting the growing popularity of rap music. He also dabbled in film, starring in a 1995 film adaptation of “The Monster Mash,” which I have not watched and yet would still not recommend just on general principle.
By the way, if you were keeping count, the answer was six.
Watch Bobby Pickett absolutely kill it on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” in the video below, and make sure to check out the “Monster Swim” and the “Monster Rap” while you’re at it.