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Solid Gold Spotlight: "Monster Mash"

Halloween's favorite song

By

The original US sleeve for

The original US sleeve for "Monster Mash"

source: ebay.com

Monster Mash

Performed by: Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Cryptkickers
Written by: Bobby Pickett, Lenny Capizzi
Working Titles: The Monster Twist, The Mean Monster Mashed Potato
Recorded: July 1962 (Homewood Studio, Hollywood, CA)
Mixed: unknown
Length: 3:01
Takes: 1
Musicians: Bobby "Boris" Pickett: vocals, bass
Gary Paxton: guitar
Leon Russell: piano
Mel Taylor: drums
Johnny MacRae: vocals
Rickie Page: vocals
First released: August 23, 1962 (Garpax 44167)
Highest chart position: 1 (October 20, 1962), 91 (August 29, 1970), 10 (May 5, 1972)
History:
    Spending hour after boyhood hour in a Somerville, MA movie theater (where his father was the manager) Robert George Pickett naturally developed a desire to act, along with a wickedly accurate Boris Karloff impersonation. His desire was so strong, in fact, that he migrated to Hollywood at 21 once his Army stint was over. But while hustling his budding acting career, he also indulged his other passion -- rock and roll, specifically doo-wop. Singing around town with a group called the Cordials, he often broke out his Karloff, used to hilarious result in, say, the spoken-word bridge of the Diamonds' "Little Darlin'." ("To hold in mine your little hand / I know, too soon, that all is so grand.")

    Fellow Cordial Lenny Capizzi suggested making a novelty song about monsters, using Pickett's natural talents. The Twist was deemed a dance whose time had come and gone, so they settled on a note-perfect recreation of the "Mashed Potato" craze made famous by, among other songs, Dee Dee Sharp's "Mashed Potato Time." It was during an impromptu Cordials performance that they were overheard by the daughter of Gary Paxton, a well-known producer who'd already scored a novelty hit in 1957, as the Hollywood Argyles, with "Alley Oop." Soon, Pickett was showing "Mash" to Paxton, who loved it.

    Laid down in one take, the record was nonetheless rejected by every major label Paxton shopped it to, so in true pioneer fashion, he pressed one thousand records and drove up and down the coast, hawking them to every radio station he could find. The strategy paid off instantly, shooting "Monster Mash" to Number One in just eight weeks, but what's most surprising is how well the song has stood the test of time: re-released for several Halloween, it continues to receive an amazing amount of airplay. Much more so, in fact, than the quick fad it sought to copy.

Trivia:
  • The sound effects on "Monster Mash" were all performed in the studio: the creaking door was a nail being pulled from a piece of wood, the bubbling beakers were suggested by blowing through a straw into a glass of water, and the heavy chains were dropped onto plywood for that "shackled" effect.
  • The Cryptkickers included members of Ronny and the Daytonas, the Ventures, the Bermudas, and Leon Russell, who later became a star singer-songwriter in his own right.
  • One of only three records to hit the Billboard Hot 100 three times.
  • Elvis Presley reportedly thought this was the most ridiculous song he'd ever heard.
  • Boris Karloff himself loved the song and performed it on the October 30, 1965 episode of Shindig.
  • Played to awaken US astronauts by NASA around Halloween.

Covered by: The Beach Boys, The Bonzo Dog (Doo Dah) Band, Andrew Gold, The Misfits, Mannheim Steamroller, Sha-Na-Na, Zacherle
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