Thursday, October 25, 2012

Monster Mash

If ever there was a song identified with Halloween, it is "Monster Mash" by Bobby "Boris" Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers. There were certainly many songs suitable for play at Halloween before it, including such classics as "That Old Black Magic," "Witchcraft," and the more recent "I Put a Spell on You." And there would be many songs befitting the holiday after it, everything from "Spooky" by The Classics IV to "(Don't Fear) the Reaper" by Blue Öyster Cult, but it would seem that "Monster Mash" is the most popular song during the Halloween season.

"Monster Mash" was written by Bobby Pickett and Leonard L. Capizzi. At the time the two of them were part of a band called The Cordials. As a child he spent much of his time at the cinema in Somerville, Massachusetts, managed by his father. As a result he not only picked up a desire to act and a love of movies, but he also developed a very good impersonation of Boris Karloff's voice. Wanting to become an actor, Mr. Pickett moved to Hollywood when he was an adult While there he joined the vocal group The Cordials. It was one night while The Cordials were performing The Diamonds' song "Little Darlin'", Mr. Pickett did his Boris Karloff impersonation. Bobby Pickett's imitation of Boris Karloff proved to be a hit with the audience. It was Bobby Pickett's friend and fellow Cordial Lenny Capizzi who suggested that they make a novelty record using Mr. Pickett's Karloff impersonation.

Bobby Pickett and Lenny Capizzi considered various dances at the time around which they could base their novelty song around. They ruled out "The Twist," feeling that it was passée.  They eventually settled upon the Mashed Potato, a dance that had been introduced with Dee Dee Sharp's hit song "Mashed Potato Time" and had since figured in several other songs. The Cordials had the good fortune to be heard performing "Monster Mash" by the daughter of record producer Gary S. Paxton, who had produced, among other things, The Hollywood Argyles' novelty hit "Alley Oop." The song was recorded with Bobby Pickett, Lenny Capizzi, Gary S. Paxton, Terry Berg, Johnny McCrae, Leon Russell,  and Rickie Page. It was credited to Bobby "Boris" Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers. Surprisingly for a song that has passed the test of time, "Monster Mash" would be rejected by every record label that Gary S. Paxton took it to. In the end Gary S. Paxon pressed 1000 copies of the record using his own money and then sold it to every radio station he could find who would buy it.

Gary S. Paxton's hard work in promoting "Monster Mash" would pay off very, very well. In only eight weeks "Monster Mash" reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, just in time for Halloween. While the song was a huge hit in the United States, however, it would not repeat that success in the United Kingdom for many years. In 1962 the BBC deemed "Monster Mash" as being "too morbid" and banned it from airplay. It would eventually be released in the UK in 1973, when it reached #3 on the British singles chart in October of that year.

"Monster Mash" would be re-released several times in the United States (generally around Halloween) and actually returned to the charts in 1970 and 1973. "Monster Mash" would also be covered several times by various artists over the years. Even Boris Karloff himself performed the song on the Halloween edition of Shindig! in 1965. Over the years the song has been covered by such bands as The Beach Boys (1964), The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (1969), Vincent Price (1977), The Big O (1988), and The Misfits (1997). The song would provide the basis for a 1995 feature film, Monster Mash, starring Bobby Picket as Dr. Frankenstein.

While many songs fitting Halloween were made before and since "Monster Mash," today it remains the song most identified with the holiday. Indeed, it seems doubtful that any song will ever replace it. With lyrics referencing the classic Universal monsters and special effects evocative of old horror movies, it would seem that it was literally made for the holiday.

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