Any boomer can identify the song as soon as the Boris Karloff voice says, “I was working in the lab late one night…” It’s Monster Mash, a Halloween novelty hit that was intended to piggyback on the success of the Mashed Potato and the Twist.
Just eight weeks after its release — on October 20, 1962 — Monster Mash hit number one on the Billboard charts. Its origins came about in a fortuitous fashion for Bobby “Boris” Pickett. Bobby Pickett had aspirations beyond music, and performed his impressions in a nightclub act in Hollywood in 1959 and ’60. As a singer with The Cordials, Bobby often did impressions for the audience between songs. He was known to imitate Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, among others. At one gig, Bobby recited the monologue in The Diamonds’ Little Darling in the voice of Boris Karloff. The audience reacted in such a positive manner that fellow bandmate Lenny Capizzi suggested Bobby do more with the impression.
Together, Lenny and Bobby penned Monster Mash to showcase his Boris Karloff impersonation. Bobby slipped a Bela Lugosi line into the song, too, with “Whatever happened to my Transylvania Twist.” After the song was rejected by four record companies, producer Gary Paxton’s Garpax label picked it up. Paxton had had previous luck with Alley Oop, a novelty hit in 1957. Bobby recorded the song with a group of studio musicians that some say included Leon Russell and Mel Taylor, the drummer for The Ventures. In fact, Leon was late for the recording session, so he played piano on the instrumental B-side of the 45 RPM, Monster Mash Party. Taylor is not credited on the record but rather, “Dr. Chud.” Together the group made up Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers. The album from which that 45 RPM was culled was called The Original Monster Mash, and was released in August of 1962 — eight weeks from the time the 45 RPM hit number one. For all you rock history buffs, what was the song that was number one right before Monster Mash? Sherry by The Four Seasons. And after? The Crystals’ He’s a Rebel. How’s that for being in the company of rock royalty circa 1962?
Bobby encouraged a dance along with the song, too. It was a variation on the Mashed Potato, only with outstretched “Frankenstein” arms. Ever the ham, Bobby went on TV to perform his one hit wonder. Somewhere along the way, Boris Karloff himself heard the song and loved the tribute so much that he performed “his” part on Shindig! in October 1965.
Monster Mash is the song that Bobby Pickett is remembered for, despite his long career as a songwriter, singer and playwright. But what a memory! The song is still played annually as the unofficial anthem of Halloween music. It has been recorded several times through the years, most notable by The Misfits in 1999, and mentioned in countless pop culture references, including an episode of Happy Days, in horror films, and covered by several bands, including The Beach Boys, who covered it on their Beach Boys Concert album in 1964. Perhaps one of the best ways the song has been remembered is also a blast from the past for boomers: Monster Mash has been used as an astronaut wake-up call on Halloween.
Did Monster Mash catch on in flash to become a graveyard smash for you, boomers?