No song sums up Halloween more than “Monster Mash.” Bobby “Boris” Pickett was an aspiring actor in LA when he recorded it in 1962. It was just a novelty tune, but it spent the week before Halloween that year at the top of the charts, and it’s never really gone away.
Steve Greenberg looked at the history of the song for a recent episode of his podcast “Speed of Sound.”
Greenberg explains that Pickett was in a local group that was playing around LA, and at the time, the U.S. was going through a monster movie craze. Films featuring Dracula, Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, and so forth were on TV for the first time, which drew a new generation of audiences.
“It was actually a very big cultural fad. There were monster lunch boxes and monster model kits. … Monsters were hot in America,” he says.
Pickett tried to cash in on the monster craze by doing a song in the voice of horror film star Boris Karloff. “In order to do that … he actually cashed in on yet another craze … this dance called ‘The Mashed Potatoes.’”
Greenberg continues, “It was that period of dance crazes in America, like the Twist … and the Watusi and all those dances. They all had records attached to them. So Bobby Pickett decided to do a parody of the song ‘The Mashed Potatoes’ and using as its subject matter, the monster craze. So he combined two cultural crazies of the moment to make one record.”
Greenberg says Pickett tried to get the record signed by LA labels, but everyone passed. Then it was picked up by a small independent label called Garpax, owned by Gary Paxton.
“Garpax Records was the only people who would put out ‘Monster Mash.’ But it turned out to be a number one record, and not just the number one record at the time. It actually came back 11 years later into the top 10 again in 1973, which is a very strange thing. Because when it came back in 1973, it wasn’t even Halloween. The record started to hit in the spring, and it got into the top 10 in 1973 in August.”
Greenberg says Pickett was a one hit wonder, and by the time “Monster Mash” hit the top 10 again in 1973, he was driving a cab in New York City.
“Until the time of his death a few years ago, he was one of those people who could always make a living performing [at] science fiction shows and horror shows … comic shows. … And he would be Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett, and he would do ‘Monster Mash,’” says Greenberg.
— Written by Amy Ta, produced by Christian Bordal