By Randal C. Hill
Bobby “Boris” Pickett
In summer 1973, Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s original “Monster Mash” (released this time on Parrot Records) reached the Top 10 for a second time. Its first success had come about 11 years earlier, when Pickett’s platter shot all the way to Number One.
Pickett sang lead with a Hollywood band called the Cordials. One evening, while performing the old Diamonds’ hit “Little Darlin,’ Bobby delivered the song’s monologue in the low-pitched voice of horror movie icon Boris Karloff. The audience loved the spoof, and fellow Cordial Lenny Capizzi encouraged Pickett to keep up the fun. Eventually the two musicians (both horror movie fans) decided that such goofiness could be developed into a Halloween novelty tune.
And were they ever right!
Their original title was “Monster Twist,” but at the time Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” was fading and being replaced by DeeDee Sharp’s dance disc “Mashed Potato Time.” The duo altered the lyrics accordingly:
“I was working in the lab late one night
“When my eyes beheld an eerie sight
“For my monster from his slab began to rise
“And suddenly to my surprise
“(He did the Mash)
“He did the Monster Mash
“(He did the Mash) It was a graveyard smash
“(He did the Mash) It caught on in a flash
“He did the Monster Mash.”
The lyrics are, of course, based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel “Frankenstein.” In Pickett’s rendition, a benevolent monster throws a dance party that features other horror-based creatures of lore (Dracula, the Wolfman, etc.).
Pickett and Capizzi’s taped demo came to the attention of Gary S. Paxton, a Los Angeles record producer whose initial success had been the 1960 million-selling “Alley-Oop” by the Hollywood Argyles. For the Pickett-Capizzi ditty in 1962 (which would also top the Billboard chart), Paxton created his own label, Garpax Records.
The background women’s voices heard came via the Darlene Love-led studio outfit the Blossoms. (When you hear the Crystals singing “He’s a Rebel,” you are hearing the same group.) Leon Russell played piano on that eventful day.
Paxton devised the sound effects for the one-hour recording session. A coffin lid creaking open was created by pulling a nail out of a 2×4. Bubbles from a cauldron came by blowing through a straw in a glass of water. Dropping chains onto the studio floor provided the clatter of clanking shackles.
A hastily assembled Garpax album — “The Original Monster Mash” — made the LP Top 20 and included such blessedly-now-forgotten tracks as “Blood Bank Blues,” “Graveyard Shift,” “Transylvania Twist,” and “Me and My Mummy.”
Pickett’s novelty became a runaway hit. His follow-up of “Monster’s Holiday” — the creatures were now enjoying a Christmas party — hit the Top 30. For years after that, Pickett tried to wring one more success from his one-hit wonder. He released “Monster Swim,” “Monster Man Jam,” “Monster Concert” and, perhaps inevitably, “Monster Rap.” Each sank without a trace.
Pickett claimed that his “Monster Mash” sold 4 million copies. “I’ve been paid,” he once said, “so I’m gonna believe it.”