Welcome back to The MonsterGrrls' 31 Days Of Halloween, and today's post is about a true icon of Halloween; the man who gave Halloween its own song of the season. That man is Bobby "Boris" Pickett, and the song, of course, is "Monster Mash."
Bobby "Boris" Pickett was born Robert George Pickett in Somerville, Massachusetts on February 11, 1940. Bobby had an idyllic childhood, all things considered; his father managed a movie theatre in Somerville, and the young Bobby received firsthand influences from such iconic actors as Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, whom he idolized after seeing them respectively in Frankenstein and Dracula. At age nine, he began regularly imitating the voice of Karloff.
The monster kid grew up, and following an Army discharge in 1961, Pickett went to Los Angeles to try breaking into show business. Singing in nightclubs with a group called The Cordials, Pickett did impersonations to entertain the audiences between songs, and the Karloff voice naturally crept in. A particular crowd favorite was a version of "Little Darlin'" as done by Karloff, and his friend Lenny Capizzi suggested writing a novelty song around the Karloff voice. "Monster Mash" was written by Pickett and Capizzi in 1962.
The two approached Gary Paxton, who had sung lead on the Hollywood Argyles' hit "Alley Oop," to record and produce the song. Pianist Leon Russell played on the recording (done in one take), and many of the now-famous sound effects in the song were done by Pickett himself: the creaking door that begins the song is simply a nail wrenched from a board, while the bubbling lab effects are Pickett blowing into a cup of water with a straw. Pickett also appeared on chains, though not backed by baying hounds as the song describes, and Paxton styled the record as being by "Bobby 'Boris' Pickett And The Crypt Kickers."
When the record was finished, Paxton shopped it to four major labels, all of whom turned it down. Undaunted, Paxton pressed a thousand copies himself on his own Garpax label and began delivering them to radio stations across California. Eight weeks later, the Mash hit number one on October 20, 1962, and London Records, who had rejected the song, called Paxton to sign a deal.
The Mash re-entered the Billboard Hot 100 in both 1970 and 1973, and has since become the national anthem of Halloween. Pickett himself continued to write monster-themed songs, having a minor hit with a Christmas-themed version of the Mash called "Monster's Holiday," but none could match the success of his original. Nonetheless, Pickett was in demand for both Halloween performances and oldies shows, and even wrote two musicals with television writer Sheldon Allman (who created his own novelty horror album entitled Sing Along With Drac). One of these, entitled Frankenstein Unbound, was eventually made into Monster Mash The Movie in 1995, by the co-writers of the Disney/Pixar hit Toy Story.
Pickett died in 2007 of complications from leukemia, but his gift to Halloween lives on. One might consider him an "oft-sung" hero, since the Monster Mash still receives airplay at Halloween and is now a part of pop culture. Perhaps the largest nod of all came when Jerry Only, after taking the helm of seminal horror-punk band The Misfits, included the song in dynamically supercharged form as part of the 2003 album Project 1950.
Return with us tomorrow for The MonsterGrrls' 31 Days Of Halloween, and when you get to our door, tell 'em Boris sent you...
POST-MORTEM: Bobby "Boris" Pickett's website is still maintained at http://www.themonstermash.com. In pace requiescat.