If you watch the Billboard charts closely, there’s a good chance you’ll see a 50-year-old single sneak into the Hot 100 as we get nearer and nearer to October 31st.
With the new rules in place governing how streams are counted in this ranking of popular songs, and as Halloween-themed playlists get put together, it’s possible that “Monster Mash,” the 1962 novelty hit credited to Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers could get yet another life, commercially-speaking.
It would be far from the first time that happened. After the song hit No. 1 in the year of its release, it has returned to the hit parade multiple times after that. As recently as 2008, it hit No. 60 on the British charts. Like a pesky zombie, it refuses to die.
The recurring fate of “Monster Mash” obviously delighted its creator, who, after years of trying to make it as a nightclub comic and actor, finally hit the big time with a song that took him and his friend Leonard Capizzi all of three hours to write and that took advantage of his wonderful Boris Karloff impression—so much so that he unashamedly embraced his position in the world of novelty hits and kitschy horror nostalgia by trying to strike gold again and taking a winking look back at his fluke success.
Naturally, his first attempt involved Christmas, the most music-centric holiday in the Western world. After rushing out a full-length album in the fall of ‘62 titled The Original Monster Mash featuring tracks like “Skully Gully” and “Blood Bank Blues,” Pickett and his producer Gary S. Paxton hurried along the single “Monster’s Holiday” for a December release. Even with the sleigh bells jingling alongside the rattle of chains in the tune and new lyrics about robbing Santa, the crew behind the song hedged their bets by essentially rewriting “Monster Mash” down to the chirpy female vocals in the chorus and a backing track that aped “My Boyfriend’s Back.”
That same principle applied to the single Pickett and Paxton laid down two years later. Released under the name Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Rolling Bones, the song “The Monster Swim” barely attempted to gloss over their carbon-copy efforts by working in references to The Blob and The Creature From The Black Lagoon, as well as some soaring countermelodies by a horn section.
The story of Pickett’s post-”Mash” efforts gets even goofier as the years go on. There were forays into other novelty territory in the ’70s with his Dr. Demento-approved single “Star Drek” and a Karloffian ode to King Kong, as well as recording a fairly quaint ode about graduating from high school that is better known for its inclusion on a live Beach Boys album. Otherwise, though, Pickett and his collaborators worked overtime to reconfigure his big hit for the musical trends of the day.
In the early ‘70s, that meant an appeal to the Woodstock generation with his song “Monster Concert,” which took place at a big outdoor music festival populated by all manner of ghouls and ghosts. And, yes, that also meant that when hip hop began its ascent in the cultural universe, Pickett and his producer Bobby Paine released “Monster Rap” in 1984. It’s a bit painful to listen to the Larry Blackmon-style production topped off with a man rapping, in the voice of Boris Karloff, about trying to teach Frankenstein’s monster to talk through rhyme. There’s a quaint charm to the tune as well, akin to watching the rapping grandmother in The Wedding Singer.
Even into the new millennium, Pickett still found ways to bring “Monster Mash” back into the modern times, only this time with a more political bent to it as he rewrote the song to vent his frustration at the George W. Bush administration and their indifference towards environmental issues.
As much as we can laugh at Pickett for holding on so tightly to a song and a persona that is becoming more and more dated with each passing year, there’s a strange nobility to how he accepted his cultural fate. He didn’t harbor any misconception that he was going to win any awards for his music or for his acting appearances in straight-to-video fare like Boogie With The Undead and the 1995 film adaptation of his musical I’m Sorry The Bridge Is Out, You’ll Have To Stay The Night (retitled Monster Mash: The Movie, natch).
Instead, Pickett seemed to embrace his place in the pop music canon and just tried to have fun with it. Until his death in 2007, he would pop up at conventions to sign autographs and would make regular concert appearances to sing his one big hit for fans old and new. Pickett made the most of his one graveyard smash and will likely never be forgotten because of it.