Musicnotes.com is proud to feature an article about the song “Monster Mash.” This brilliantly-written article has been brought to you by the HFA, and has been reprinted with permission. For more about the HFA, be sure to visit the HFA website.
Behind the Song: “Monster Mash” – Bobby “Boris” Pickett and Lenny Capizzi
Written by David Schneider, HFA Publisher Services Agent
For almost 50 years, as Halloween season rolls around, a quirky, infectious tune starts pulsating through sound-systems across the country. “Monster Mash” first topped the charts on October 20, 1962, and it has remained a favorite ever since. The enduring appeal of the song can be attributed not only to a catchy melody and charmingly theatrical lyrics, but also to a sharp publishing acumen strengthened by the belief that a “novelty” song can transcend the cultural tastes of its time.
Bobby “Boris” Pickett launched his ghoulish legacy on a whim one night by suddenly imitating the voice of Frankenstein actor Boris Karloff onstage. Inspired by the audience’s enthusiastic reception as well bandmate Lenny Capizzi’s encouragement, Pickett tweaked the narrative and, along with Capizzi, fashioned it in the bouncy “mash potato” style that was popular at the time. The track was recorded in one take by a band calling themselves “The Cryptkickers,” which included Gary Paxton, a guitarist who had experienced his own novelty hit with “Alley Oop” in 1957. Paxton pitched the final cut to a several labels. No one was interested, so he pressed the record himself and started taking it directly to radio stations — and started his kooky Halloween legacy.
“Monster Mash” charted in the Billboard top 10 twice more in 1970 and 1973, and inspired dozens of covers, parodies, adaptations, and spin-offs. The song is currently published by Si Songs and the Estate of Lenny Capizzi. Neil Gillis, President of Si Songs, explains, “We definitely see it as an evergreen. The usages are amazing It’s clearly as much of an iconic song as any.” Not only has “Monster Mash” been covered by a diverse bevy of artists ranging from The Misfits to The Beach Boys, but it has become even more firmly embedded in pop culture consciousness through placements in Happy Days, Cheers, and The Simpsons. It has even been performed on the Jimmy Kimmel Show as a costumed duet of Bobby Brown and Mike Tyson. It’s remarkable that a song which so powerfully recalls the signature style of specific era has grown to transcend every demographic in American culture for multiple generations. As Gillis notes, “It’s like an American Songbook song, a gift that keeps on giving. It will last forever.”
During his lifetime, Pickett, who passed away last year, was as instrumental as his publishers in nourishing the longevity of his creation. He released the Christmas-themed “Monsters’ Holiday” in 1962 as well as “Monster’s Rap” in 1985, which expanded upon the monster’s story in the newly popularized hip-hop style. In 1995 he starred in Monster Mash: The Movie, and in 2005 he adapted the idea for a derivative work called “Climate Mash” designed to educate listeners about the issue of global warming. Gillis reports that Si Songs is currently negotiating a line of “Monster Mash”-inspired, Halloween-themed toys, and has also entered into an exclusive deal with a film company to produce an animated film featuring characters from the song. “Monster Mash” has gone from novelty to classic, and it’s a sure bet that it will remain the theme for Halloween as long as stores are stocking candy.