A Monster Smash: An (Imagined) Oral History of the Best Halloween Song of All Time
BORIS "BOBBY" PICKET // NOVEMBER 9, 2018
*Note: While this account is fabricated, all facts within this story spoken by Boris and his contemporaries are 100% true, and Google-able!
Boris “Bobby” Pickett: Howdy, stranger! I’m Boris “Bobby” Pickett, a Korean War veteran, and writer and performer of the indelible Halloween bopper “The Monster Mash.” I’m speaking to you, fittingly, from beyond the beyond. I died in LA back in 2007, at age 69 ( ;) pretty sweet, right?). Still, in the spirit of All Hallow’s Eve, I decided to get in touch via spirit medium with your Grape Arts + Culture editor PJ McCormick, to finally tell the tale of how I came to write the most ghoulish Halloween song ever put to tape. What follows is a true account of my misadventures. If you’ve ever done the Transylvanian Twist, read on!
Part 1: Humble Beginnings
Boris “Bobby” Pickett: You might not have guessed, given my prominence as a novelty Halloween superstar, but I never even wanted to be a singer! Back in the 60’s I moved to Hollywood to become an actor. The talkies had just started rolling out 35 years prior in 1927, and I wanted to strike while the iron was hot. So I packed up my stuff and moved to the City of Angels, just to get all mixed up in a rock group called Cordials! Who woulda thunk!
Leonard Capizzi (Bobby’s bandmate): So me and Bobby were playing a show one night and we decide to bust out a cover of “Little Darlin’” by The Diamonds. Bobby was always such a silly goofball, full of these Hollywood aspirations, doing impressions and stuff all the time. One of the he’d pretty much mastered was horror legend Boris Karloff, most famous for portraying Frankenstein in the 30’s.
Boris Karloff: Side note here, but I died at age 69. Pretty sweet, right? ;)
Leonard Capizzi: In the middle of the song, Bobby decides to do a monologue as Boris Karloff, and the crowd went nuts. I remember thinking after the show, “We gotta do something about this.” So we did!
Boris “Bobby” Pickett: I got an idea about how cool it would be to go to a party full of monsters. Like, what if you were right in the middle of Dracula and the Wolfman and you all decided to just start dancing? That would be freaky dope! So me and Leo sat down and finished the whole thing in one afternoon. For a songwriter, this is rare. But when you have subject matter as rich as a party where Frankenstein does a dance and Dracula joins my band— I mean, the thing just writes itself.
Leonard Capizzi: We start shopping it around to labels, but no one is biting. Hard to believe, but monster party material was pretty hard to sell in the 60’s.
Boris “Bobby” Pickett: Finally, we got in touch with Gary S. Paxton, who agreed to produce and engineer the track.
Part 2: Halloween Magic
Gary S. Paxton (Producer): There are some times in life when you hear a song and it just stops you in your tracks. For some, it’s a track by the Beatles, Nas, Elton John, or Soundgarden, but for me, it was the “Monster Mash”. The demo was transcendent. I had never considered what it might be like to attend a party where most of the guest were monsters or ghosts before. Nowadays the song’s themes have been copied so much it can seem commonplace, but back in 1962 it felt like Bobby and Leo had a key to the future. There was a lot to be scared of at the time, but I found solace in the notion of a world where humans and monsters peacefully coexisted, and even got to boogie down together.
Boris “Bobby” Pickett: We laid down the track pretty quick. I did my trademark Boris Karloff for the whole thing, except for the line about the Transylvanian Twist, where I do a pretty good Bela Lugosi, another horror movie star. This thing had come together quicker than a ghost can say “boo!”
Part 3: Spooky Superstardom
Boris “Bobby” Pickett: 8 weeks after we recorded it, in October of that same year, the “Monster Mash” was a #1 single on the Billboard Charts! Me and Leo had done it! We had finally conned the world into believing that monsters weren’t scary. It was the greatest trick I ever pulled.
Leonard Capizzi: A lot of ink has been spilled trying to describe what life is like when you’re a nationally recognized rockstar, but I can confirm firsthand that nobody has ever done it justice. The rush that I felt every morning waking up knowing that I had co-written the best Halloween song of all time... there’s nothing like it.
Boris “Bobby” Pickett: We tried to follow up on our success a couple times, but none of them connected with Americans in the same way the “Monster Mash” did. I also recorded “Monster’s Holiday,” a Christmas song about naughty monsters trying to steal Santa’s sleigh in 1962. In the midst of the media blitz surrounding “Monster Mash,” it was hard to see why, but looking back, I think that making the monsters naughty in “Monster’s Holiday” was a bad idea. People really liked when the monsters were nice.
Leonard Capizzi: I tried to talk Bobby out of making the monsters so naughty in “Monster’s Holiday.” The people weren’t ready! We had just gotten to #1 on the basis of monsters being nice and good to party with. But he wasn’t having it. He went forward with lines like, “The Mummy was to signal from the castle roof/ At the very first sound of a reindeer hoof/ As Santa slid down the chimney wall/ The zombies were to make off with sleigh and all.”
Boris “Bobby” Pickett: I was disappointed then, but even more in 1985 when I recorded “Monster Rap.” I was trying to connect to the kids with a song about trying to teach the monsters how to rap. One of the actual lyrics is “I’ve given you a voice, now rap for daddy!” To this day I can’t work out why the song didn’t catch on.
Part 4: Looking Back on a Halloween Masterpiece
Leonard Capizzi: All in all, it’s been a wild ride.
Boris “Bobby” Pickett: I hope you enjoyed my account of “The Monster Mash.” To honor my memory, please play it at your Halloween bash this Hallow’s Eve. For my money, it’s the Halloween treat that can’t be beat!