We’ve been hearing this song since it first entered the pop charts in the fall of 1962, but how much do you know about its creation?
Bobby Pickett was an aspiring actor in L.A. who sang with a band called the Cordials at night while attending auditions during the day. One night as the group was performing a cover version of “Little Darling,” Pickett began a short monolog using an impersonation of Boris Karloff’s voice. The crowd loved it.
Pickett then sat down with fellow band member Lenny Capizzi and quickly worked up some monster-themed lyrics as a parody of Dee Dee Sharp’s “Mashed Potato Time.” While the major labels were not interested in their song, writer/producer Gary Paxton was. Paxton was no stranger to novelty records, having written, sung & produced “Alley Oop” just two years earlier.
Paxton called in session musicians like Leon Russell and Johnny MacRae and quickly got “Monster Mash” recorded and released on his own Garpax label. Bobby became Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the session men were christened “the Crypt-Kicker 5.”
The little record from an independent label was an immediate smash (just as Bobby had boasted in the lyrics), reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 during Halloween week of 1962!
Like the Frankenstein monster himself, the record refused to die, getting fresh airplay every year thereafter. It proved so popular that it actually re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970 and again in 1973 when it went all the way to # 10. The song was actually banned by the BBC in 1962 for being “too morbid.” Pickett had the last laugh when the 1973 re-issue also reached the Top 10 in the UK.
Pickett released several follow-ups to “Monster Mash” (some of which you’ll hear every Halloween here at Boomtown America), but never matched the success of his first release.
He went on a brief career as an L.A. disc jockey and also played bit parts in several low budget movies.
The song is still available on multiple compilations. Just remember, as Bobby said, “When you get to the store, tell them Boris sent you!”