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Saturday, October 20, 2012

October 20th, 1962: The Monster Mash

As Halloween approaches, we are all going to hear a song that every one of us has had many times before. As the years have gone by, it has become synonymous with Halloween, just as Felice Navidad has with Christmas. But how many of us know the origins of how the song came to be?
Today marks 50 years since it became a number one hit. So, I will give you some of the history of the song, and the man behind it, who while he did other things, will always be remembered for that one song.

(Note that most of the text below I took direct from Wikipedia, mostly verbatim and made a few small changes.)

 "Monster Mash" is a 1962 novelty song and the best-known song by Bobby "Boris" Pickett. The song was released as a single on Gary S. Paxton's Garpax Records label in August 1962 along with a full-length LP called The Original Monster Mash, which contained several other monster-themed tunes. The "Monster Mash" single reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on October 20 of that year.
Pickett was an aspiring actor who sang with a band called The Cordials at night while going to auditions during the day. One night, while performing with his band, Pickett did a monologue in imitation of horror movie actor Boris Karloff while performing The Diamonds' "Little Darlin'". The audience loved it and fellow band member Lenny Capizzi encouraged Pickett to do more with the Karloff imitation.

Pickett and Capizzi composed "Monster Mash" and recorded it with Gary S. Paxton, Leon Russell, Johnny McCrae, Rickie Page, and Terry Berg, credited as "The Crypt-Kickers". The song was partially inspired by Paxton's earlier novelty hit "Alley Oop", as well as by the Mashed Potato dance craze of the era. A variation on the Mashed Potato was danced to "Monster Mash", in which the footwork
was the same but Frankenstein-style monster gestures were made with the arms and hands.


"We very seldom had a musical accompaniment: we sang accapella. We did mostly cover versions and one of our big numbers was 'Summertime' because Billy Capizzi had a voice like Pavarotti he could hit three high C's. Anyway we did the tune 'Little Darlin'' that The Diamonds had recorded. I asked Lenny if I could do a Boris Karloff impression in that part where the bass baritone sings. The audience loved it and then Lenny said immediately that we should do a novelty record. These things sell and with Lenny's voice we could get Gary Paxton to produce it. Gary had previous success with 'Alley-Oop' and was the lead singer with 'The Hollywood Argyles' when he was 17. At this time he was one of the hottest young producers in Hollywood.
One Saturday in May 1962 we wrote the song and put it on a Wollensak tape recorder. We took it to Gary Paxton and he said, 'I want to produce this, it is a hit record.' That was the story, it was a fluke. When I recorded 'Monster Mash' it was just a lark and I thought a few Boris Karloff freaks might enjoy it. It was number one in eight weeks!"

  Gary Paxton at the time had success two years earlier with "Alley-Oop". He was the lead singer for The Hollywood Argyles when he was 17. But now, at this moment in time, he was one of the hottest young producers in Hollywood. So he was the only guy we knew in the music business. One Saturday in May 1962, we wrote the song and put it on a Wollensak tape-recorder and we took it to Gary Paxton and he said "I want to produce this. This is a hit record", so he knew from the start. That's the story. I'm an actor. I've done a lot of acting since then, but it was a fluke. When I went in to record "Monster Mash" I thought it was just a lark and a few Boris Karloff freaks will enjoy this. Gosh, it was number one in eight weeks. 
-Bobby Pickett

The song is narrated by a mad scientist whose monster, late one evening, rises from a slab to perform a new dance. The dance becomes "the hit of the land" when the scientist throws a party for other monsters. The producers came up with several low-budget but effective sound effects for the recording. For example, the sound of a coffin opening was imitated by a rusty nail being pulled out of a board. The sound of a cauldron bubbling was actually water being bubbled through a straw, and the chains rattling were simply chains being dropped on a tile floor. Pickett also impersonated horror film actor Bela Lugosi as Dracula with the lyric "Whatever happened to my Transylvania Twist?"

Below is a profile of Bobby Pickett, in more detail than this song gives. It shows his early fascination with the genre that led to the song that made him famous.

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