recess radio program

10/31/06
"The Monster Mash"
    by Kevin Shortsleeve

Much like Christmas, Halloween has its own set of songs that reflect the stories and themes of the holiday. You might call them Halloween Carols. "Haunted House" by Jumpin' Gene Simmons, "Spooky" by the Classic's Four, "Moondance" by Van Morrison and "Thriller" by Michael Jackson all add ambiance to any Halloween party. But no Halloween Carol tolls with the authority of Bobby 'Boris' Pickett's "Monster Mash" -- the groovy, ghoulish, granddad of all Halloween songs.

Pickett grew up in Somerville, Massachusetts. His father was the manager of a local movie theatre, and young Bobby was allowed unlimited access to the Saturday showings of monster movies. Pickett recalls, "I was fascinated with the horror genre and I loved Boris Karloff." As a teenager, Pickett perfected an imitation of Karloff. He would show up at talent contests, do about four minutes as Boris - and go home with the first place prize. In the late 50s, Pickett moved to Hollywood and joined a doo-wop group called The Cordials. Among the songs in their repetoir was "Little Darlin" and for the romantic spoken section in the middle of the song, Pickett was recruited to recite the lines as Boris Karloff might. His performance always resulted in big laughs from the audience.

A couple of years later, Pickett, and a former member of The Cordials, Lenny Capizzi, sat down at a piano with the idea of expanding the role of Boris in a song. In about two hours, "The Monster Mash" was done. At first, they didn't know what to call it. Because of recent hits by Chubby Checker, Pickett suggested they call the song "The Monster Twist." Capizzi, however, pointed out that the twist was out of fashion, and the newest dance craze was the mashed potato - so they temporarily settled on the title "The Monster Mashed Potato." The song was presented to record produced Gary Paxton. Paxton was famous for his novelty hit, "Alley Oop," and he suggested they further expand the title of their song to "The Mean Monster Mashed Potato" -- but fortunately, in the interest of brevity the title was reduced to "The Monster Mash" just prior to pressing the single.

Paxton had trouble selling the song, and it was turned down by every label they approached. Undaunted, Paxton packed up his station wagon with stacks of singles and drove all over California dropping them off. His perseverance paid off, and "The Monster Mash" was a graveyard smash of 1962 -- soaring to the exalted position of number one on the Billboard charts. But the greatest moment for Pickett was when a friend of his told him he had just seen Boris Karloff in a record store purchasing the single. Karloff was said to remark "I love this record."

"Now everything's cool,
Drac's a part of the band
And my monster mash is the hit of the land
For you, the living, this mash was meant too
When you get to my door, tell them Boris sent you."

Copyright 2006 Kevin Shortsleeve

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Monday, 02-Oct-2006 14:49:07 EDT


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."