"Monster Mash": Inside Halloween's Greatest Hit

MONSTER MASH
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(Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

It's the song synonymous with Halloween. It's a graveyard smash! "Monster Mash" was the Number One song in America the week before Halloween way back in 1962, and all these years later, the tune remains the spooky holiday's biggest and most enduring hit.

"Monster Mash" began appropriately enough, as a gag. Singer Bobby Pickett was also an aspiring actor, and one night while performing with band the Cordials, he did an imitation of actor Boris Karloff--famous for his role in Frankenstein--and the bit killed.

Dutifully inspired, Pickett and fellow Cordial Lenny Capizzi wrote the song, and a group of musicians--including the legendary Leon Russell on piano--hit a recording studio to put the idea on tape. Four major labels turned down the tape, so Pickett dug into his own pocket to press up 1000 copies of the tune on his very own record label, Garpax. He hit the road, dropping records off at radio stations along the California coast. By the end of his road trip, the record was already a regional hit. One of the labels that had turned Pickett down, London Records, even called him to apologize and offer him a deal. Pickett signed with London.

Officially released on September 8, 1962, "Monster Mash" hit #1 six weeks later, where it stayed for two straight weeks leading up to Halloween. The song would go on to hit the Hot 100 two more times, First in 1970, when it peaked at #91, and again in 1973, which it climbed as high as #10.

“‘Monster Mash’ has timeless appeal," Lou Simon, senior director of music programming at SiriusXM Radio, told Billboard last year. "The generations who grew up with it have fond memories of the song from the ’60s and again from its ’70s renaissance. The familiar arrangement is uncomplicated and delightful. It’s just one of those records that wears well and makes people happy. The children – and grandchildren – of our ’60s listeners love the song. We get requests for it all year long. ‘Monster Mash’ still sounds fresh. If someone made it today, I believe it would sound pretty much the same.”

Even Bruce Springsteen has covered "Monster Mash." Watch it below.

Sadly, Bobby "Boris" Pickett died in 2007 from leukemia complications at the age of 69. Through "Monster Mash," his legacy will live forever.

BONUS TRACK: Pickett would make a slew of monster-themed records in hopes of recapturing the magic of "Monster Mash." "Christmas Mash" would hit #30 in December of 1962. He went for summer vibes with "Monster Swim," which claimed to be "a poolside smash." The single failed to chart. Watch Pickett perform it on American Bandstand below.

 

 

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