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BEACON Senior News

The story behind "Monster Mash," a timeless Halloween classic

Sep 29, 2023 08:28PM ● By Randal C. Hill

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’,” Pickett 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, who were both horror movie fans, decided that such goofiness could be developed into a Halloween novelty tune.

And, boy, were they right!

Their original title was “Monster Twist,” but at the time Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” was fading and being replaced by Dee Dee Sharp’s dance disco, “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

(The Monster Mash) It was a graveyard smash

(He did the mash) It caught on in a flash

(He did the mash) 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, such as Dracula and the Wolfman.

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 female voices heard in the background came via the Darlene Love-led studio outfit, The Blossoms. (You’re hearing the same group in The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel.”). 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 two-by-four. 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 track, “Monster’s Holiday”—where 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 four million copies. 

“I’ve been paid,” he once said, “so I’m gonna believe it.”