How 'Monster Mash' is still such an iconic Halloween song 57 years later

31 October 2019, 12:47

Monster Mash
Monster Mash. Picture: YouTube

By Tom Eames

No-one could have predicted a novelty song recorded about ghouls and ghosts would still be played nearly 60 years later.

'Monster Mash' by Bobby 'Boris' Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers was released in 1962, and over the years it has grown to become a staple of everyone's Halloween.

You simply can't have a Halloween party without hearing 'Monster Mash' at least once.

QUIZ: Can you beat our devilishly difficult Halloween quiz?

So who exactly was Bobby Pickett and how did the song become such a... monster hit?

Bizarrely, the song was actually released in the height of summer in August 1962, but it ended up at number one in the States for Halloween week that year.

Who came up 'Monster Mash' and who was Bobby Pickett?

Pickett was a young actor, who sang with a band named the Cordials in the evening while he auditioned during the day.

One night, while performing with his band, he acted out a monologue in the style of horror movie actor Boris Karloff, while performing the Diamonds' 'Little Darlin''.

The audience were big fans, and his band member Lenny Capizzi encouraged Pickett to do more of the same.

Pickett and Capizzi then composed 'Monster Mash', and recorded it with Gary S Paxton, pianist Leon Russell, Johnny MacRae, Rickie Page, and Terry Berg, named 'The Crypt-Kickers'.

The song was inspired by Paxton's earlier novelty hit 'Alley Oop', as well as by the dance craze the Mashed Potato.

The producers used sound effects such as a coffin opening (by taking a rusty nail out of a board), a cauldron bubbling (water being bubbled through a straw), and chains rattling (chains being dropped on a tile floor).

"The song wrote itself in a half hour and it took less than a half hour to record it," Pickett told The Washington Post. Its parent album - The Original Monster Mash - featured 15 tracks in total.

The song was backed by vocal group The Blossoms, which featured singer Darlene Love.

What is the song about?

Bobby Pickett
Picture: Getty

The song is narrated by a mad scientist, whose monster creation rises from his slab to perform a new dance routine, inspired by the Mashed Potato.

The dance soon becomes "the hit of the land", and the scientist throws a party for other monsters, including invitees the Wolfman, Igor, Count Dracula and his son.

Pickett imitated Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula and actor Peter Lorre as Igor.

How did it perform in the charts?

Despite being a huge hit in the States in 1962, the BBC banned the record in the UK for being "too morbid".

It was re-released in America in 1970 and 1973, and finally reached number three in the UK in 1973 upon re-release.

There was a Christmas version

You've probably never heard it, but 'Monsters' Holiday', a Christmas-themed follow up, was recorded by Pickett and released in December 1962.

In 1985, Pickett released 'Monster Rap', describing the mad scientist's annoyance at being unable to teach the dancing monster from 'Monster Mash' how to talk. He solves the problem when he teaches the monster to rap instead.

A movie musical based on the song starring Pickett himself was also released in 1995.

What happened to Bobby Pickett?

Bobby Pickett
Bobby Pickett. Picture: Getty

"Let's just say that it has paid the rent for 43 years," Pickett told The Washington Post when asked if the royalties from the song helped him through life.

It wasn't until 1989, from a suggestion of his longtime manager Stuart Hersh, that Pickett finally licensed the song for film and TV use.

Pickett carried on performing until November 2006, five months before he died of leukemia, aged 69.

However, Pickett's graveyard smash will ensure that his legacy lives on forever.