"The Monster Mash": The Most Popular Holiday Novelty Song

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website.

Holiday songs are nothing new. Whenever Christmas approaches, we will all be bombarded on our radios and at the malls we visit, by various Christmas carols, classic songs and novelty tunes. “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks is as expected at Yuletide as electric razor commercials for Dad or diamond ring commercials for your girlfriend.

More recently, we have Randy Brooks' “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Even Hanukkah now has Adam Sandler's recent classic “The Hanukkah Song.” These are all categorized as "holiday novelty songs.”

But for Halloween, for the past almost 50-odd years, we've all become accustomed to listening to the musical strains of a man named Bobby "Boris" Pickett and his main contribution to musical immortality. It is almost impossible for most of us (especially those of us who grew up in the '60's) to think of Halloween novelty songs without immediately thinking of "The Monster Mash."

Robert George Pickett grew up in a movie theater in Massachusetts where his father was the manager. Like countless millions of kids before and after him, he fell in love with the movies and dreamed of growing up and becoming a movie star. Bobby started doing impressions of the various movie stars he'd see on the silver screen. He did various impressions of the stars he loved, but by far, his favorite movie star was horror movie icon Boris Karloff.

When he turned 21, Bobby moved to Hollywood in pursuit of his movie star dreams. Again, like millions of others before and since, his dreams came to naught. But Bobby did fall in with the local L.A. music scene. He got involved with a doo-wop group called The Cordials.

At concerts, during the Cordials' renditions of various songs, Bobby with break into his Boris Karloff impression, always delighting the crowds. Soon Bobby and fellow band member Lenny Capizzi started working out an entire routine they would perform during their shows featuring the Karloff impression. After that, the two started working on a humorous dance song based on the Karloff shtick.

First they thought of incorporating the song with the dance fad "the twist.” But that fad had slightly cooled off at this point, so they chose a more au currant dance fad called "the mashed potato.” They dubbed their new novelty song "The Monster Mash.” For the song, they decided to call their backing band The Crypt-Kickers.

To spice up the tune, they added various sound effects. For the sound of a coffin opening, they used a rusty nail being pried out of a board. For a boiling cauldron, they blew bubbles in a glass of water. For the sound of chains, they simply dropped real chains on the floor.

Bobby, of course, did his legendary Boris Karloff, but he also added his take-off on another horror movie immortal, Bela Lugosi. He mimicked Bela's voice at the end of one chorus, asking “Whatever happened to my Transylvania Twist?" Reputedly (and unbelievably) they recorded and nailed this musical novelty masterpiece in one take!

(YouTube link)

The boys knew the song was a hit, but record labels disagreed. Every label they sent the song to rejected it. So record producer Gary S. Paxton printed 1,000 copies of the song and delivered them to every radio station he could find. The radio stations loved it, as did their listeners.
"The Monster Mash" was officially released on August 25, 1962. It hit #1 in the billboard charts on October 20th, just in time for the '62 Halloween season.

The song soon became so popular, it reached the charts three more times over the next few years. It was re-released in December of '62, August '70, and May of '73 and made the charts each time. Incredibly, on none of these occasions was it released anywhere near the Halloween season. Whereas almost every other holiday "classic" became popular during its holiday's celebration, "The Monster Mash"'s popularity seemed to even transcend Halloween.

Originally banned by the British BBC in 1962 for being "too morbid,” it finally was released in Britain in 1973 and hit #3 on the charts. Re-released in Britain in 2008, it charted at #60.

Boris Karloff (himself!) actually paid the song homage and sang a version on the musical show Shindig in 1965.

Pickett released a rap version of the song in 1985 called “Monster Rap.” It dealt with a scientist who created a monster who couldn't talk, so he taught it to communicate in rap.

(YouTube link)

Finally, he did a version dealing with global climate change in 2005 called “Climate Mash.”

Bobby "Boris" Pickett even achieved his childhood dream by appearing in a movie in 1995. Bobby played the role of Dr. Frankenstein in the aptly titled Monster Mash: the Movie. The movie was a massive flop, hardly seeing the light of day and not even being released on DVD.

No matter. Bobby "Boris" Pickett had already achieved his own unique piece of show business and musical immortality. Bobby published his autobiography Monster Nash: Half Dead in Hollywood in 2005.

He passed away on April 25, 2007, from complications resulting from leukemia. On May 13, 2007, famed satirical radio host Dr. Demento dedicated his entire radio show to a documentary retrospective of the life and career of Bobby "Boris" Pickett.  

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Every year - back in the late 70's and 80's - when it got to be Fall I would work in a novelty store that sold theatrical make-up, Halloween costumes and tons of novelty items. I was the resident make-up artist who did faces for adults. I gave kids black eyes for free (with make-up, of course!) My specialty was werewolves using crepe hair and facial glue to layer the hair onto their skin bit by bit. I could do a complete werewolf in an hour including hands and chest.

Anyway, this note is longer than I meant it to be. What I was getting around to saying was that I had to hear the Monster Mash on October 31st before midnight every year. It was like some sort of superstitious mania that compelled me to hear that song on the radio on that very day. I just love that song and Halloween just isn't Halloween to me without hearing it.
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