I can think of dozens of Christmas songs, a few Thanksgiving and Easter songs, but only one Halloween song comes readily to mind, and 50 years ago this week, it topped the Billboard Magazine Singles Chart.
The above fact brings us to Robert George Pickett, 1938-2007, who adopted the professional name of Bobby “Boris” Pickett. After a three year stint in the U.S. Army, he put together a vocal group called The Cordials with some high school friends. While performing one evening, he did a Boris Karloff interpretation in the middle of a song. Band mate Lenny Capizzi was so amused he suggested that he and Pickett write a comedy song using the voice, and so the perennial Halloween song, “Monster Mash,” was born.
“Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers ended the five week run of “Sherry” by the Four Seasons at the top of the charts. It became the number one song in the USA on October 20, 1962, and there it remained for two weeks, which included Halloween.
The song was released in the middle of the pre-Beatles dance craze era. It was really a dance record about a dance. It was based on the popular dance song “Mashed Potato Time” by Dee Dee Sharp. The combination of Pickett’s vocal interpretations and the appeal of monsters doing the mash made it a wildly popular graveyard smash, selling in excess of one million copies.
The song had staying power. It reappeared on the U.S. charts in 1970 and 1973. It was banned in England during 1962, but 11 years later became a top five hit, and returned to the chart again during 2008, proving that a good song always remains a good song.
Picket would go on to become a radio personality and continue to record and perform until his death, but “Monster Mash” would be the highlight of his career. Fifty years ago it topped the music world and can still be heard regularly during the Halloween season.
One final note: Boris Karloff himself performed the song on a 1965 episode of Shindig, but that’s another Halloween story altogether.