Pickett was a nightclub entertainer who performed with a group called The Cordials. He wrote "Monster Mash" with his friend Lenny Capizzi. They were both big horror movie fans, and Pickett would do an impression of the actor Boris Karloff (known for playing the monster in many Frankenstein
movies) during the speaking part of "Little Darlin'
" that went over well in his act. As Capizzi played the piano, he and Pickett put together this song with his Karloff impression in mind. They came up with the plot about Frankenstein's monster starting a dance craze.
The lyrics are based on the story of Frankenstein, which started as a 1818 novel by Mary Shelley and evolved into various film adaptations. In the story, Dr. Frankenstein creates a creature who comes to life, but what he created is a monster. The book is sober tale of regret and unexpected consequences, but the story is often played for comedy. In this song, the monster throws a big dance party, which is enthusiastically attended by many other creatures of lore (Dracula, Wolfman).
Pickett is imitating Boris Karloff, but is narrating the story as Dr. Frankenstein, not the monster that Karloff famously portrayed.
Pickett and Lenny Capizzi wrote this song in about two hours. They recorded a demo to tape and brought it to Gary Paxton, lead singer of The Hollywood Argyles ("Alley Oop
"). They recorded the song with Paxton and studio musicians Leon Russell, Johnny McCrae and Rickie Page, who were credited as "The Cryptkickers." Paxton, who is credited as the song's producer, also added the sound effects.
Paxton put the song out on his Garpax label and distributed it to radio stations around southern California. Response was overwhelming, as the stations saw their phone banks lighting up with requests for the song. A deal was struck with London Records, who distributed the song worldwide.
This is a dance song based on the "Mashed Potato" dance craze, which is where The "Mash" in the title comes in.
The original title was "Monster Twist" in an attempt to jump on the Twist
craze, but that fad was fading so they tried calling it "Monster Mashed Potato," then settled on "Monster Mash."
This being 1962, many of the sound effects had to be created in the studio. The sound effects on the song were done as follows:
The coffin being opened was made by pulling a rusty nail out of a lump of wood with the claw of a hammer.
The bubbling sounds came from blowing through a straw in a glass of water.
The sound of the chains was made by dropping chains onto plywood planks on the record studio floor.
Graham - Windsor, Australia
This is arguably the most successful novelty song of all time. Bobby Pickett accomplished the rare feat of reaching the top 100 music chart three times with the same song. On October 20, 1962, the original release hit #1 in the US. The song re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 on August 29, 1970 peaking at #91, and then again on May 5, 1972 when it went all the way to #10. The song has sold over four million copies and continues to be a Halloween favorite.
Mike - Mountlake Terrace, WA
The song made little impact in the UK until it was re-released there in 1973 and reached #3 on the Singles chart. By this time Boris Pickett was a 32-year-old part time New York cab driver.
Pickett quickly followed up this song with "Monsters' Holiday," where the monsters throw a mischievous Christmas party. The song, which was written by Paul Harrison of "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
" fame, did well, reaching #30 and giving Pickett back-to-back holiday hits in 1962. The following year, he reached #88 with "Graduation Day," his first entry that wasn't a novelty song. "The Monster Swim" reached #135 in 1964, which was his last chart appearance until the "Monster Mash" re-issues.
This has been used in several TV shows, including the following:
Magnum P.I. ("Make It 'Til Dawn" - 2019)
Stranger Things ("Trick Or Treat, Freak" - 2017)
Parks And Recreation ("One Last Ride" - 2015, "Greg Pikitis" - 2009)
The Simpsons ("The Great Wife Hope" - 2009, "I Love Lisa" - 1993)
The Office ("Costume Contest" - 2010)
Freaks And Geeks ("Tricks And Treats" - 1999)
Cheers ("Bar Wars V: The Final Judgement" - 1991)
Happy Days ("The Evil Eye" - 1978)
It's also been used in the movies Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982) and Sweet Hearts Dance (1988). In 1995, Monster Mash: The Movie was released, starring Pickett as Dr. Frankenstein.
Boris Karloff loved this song. He performed it on a special Halloween edition of the variety show Shindig! on October 30, 1965.
Artists who have covered this song include The Beach Boys (on their first live album - Beach Boys Concert
, released in 1964), Misfits, Mannheim Steamroller and Sha-Na-Na.
Bertrand - Paris, France, for above 2
Pickett was diagnosed with leukemia in 2000 and died in 2007. In his autobiography Monster Mash: Half Dead In Hollywood, he wrote: "Gone is that conditioned, morbid fear of physical death. I feel that psychological death is much more grueling and painful. Besides, to quote the great Bela Lugosi as Dracula, 'To be dead... to be really dead... that must be glorious!' Poor guy. A vampire's half-life must really suck."
Around Halloween in 2004, Pickett re-recorded the song as "Monster Slash." The new version was a protest against President George W. Bush and his support for logging, mining and other environmental policies Pickett felt were harmful. Sample lyric: "The guests included big timber, big oil, mining magnates and their sons."
Bertrand - Paris, France
, who sang the holiday favorite "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
," claims that she was one of the backing singers on this track, which is plausible as she was one of the most popular session singers at the time. Love occasionally performed the song at Bette Midler's Halloween shows.
The third release for this song in 1973 was a #1 hit in Australia, spending over 20 weeks on the Top 40 charts.
Graham - Windsor, Australia
When a novelty song becomes a surprise hit, a hastily produced album typically follows (see: "Pac-Man Fever
"). In this case, the album was called The Original Monster Mash
and included songs like "Blood Bank Blues," "Graveyard Shift," "Transylvania Twist," "Me And My Mummy" and "Irresistible Igor."
Pickett extended the "Monster" brand throughout his career. In 1970, he released "Monster Man Jam," 1973 saw "Monster Concert," and in 1984 he released the inevitable "Monster Rap."
Also an actor, Pickett made appearances on T.J. Hooker, Bonanza and The Beverly Hillbillies, and played Dr. Frankenstein in the 1995 film Monster Mash: The Movie, which also starred Candace Cameron and Jimmie Walker.
According to Mark Steyn's A Song for the Season, Elvis Presley was not a fan of this and called it the dumbest record he ever heard.
"Monster Mash" was the nickname of the professional basketball player Jamal Mashburn.
This was banned by the BBC from their airwaves in 1962 for "being too morbid."