And it was, by all accounts, a graveyard smash. Here is the story of The Original Monster Mash.
To bide his time until he landed a successful audition, actor Bobby Pickett fronted a Los Angeles cover band called the Cordials. Goofing around one summer night in 1962, he performed “Little Darlin’” in the spooky, monster-movie voice of Boris Karloff. It went over well, as America was in something of a monster movie revival period, with Karloff’s old horror films airing often on late night TV.
Pickett and his band mate Leonard Capizzi thought they might be on to something and wrote a whole song aping Karloff, while also aping early ‘60s dance-novelty songs. The song, “Monster Mash” was quickly recorded and credited to “Boris Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers.” (The plot of the song, in case you’ve somehow never heard it: a mad scientist, similar to Dr. Frankenstein, finds that his monster has created a new dance, and then they have a party for monsters, who do the dance, too.)
The song tapped into monster fever…and more importantly was released just in time to climb the charts as Halloween approached. It reached #1 for two weeks in October 1962 in the United States. In the U.K., it didn’t get much airplay at all. It seems ridiculous to think so now, but this silly song about a monster party was banned by the BBC because it was too dark and death-oriented. Seriously. (However, 11 years later, it was finally released in England, where it was a top 5 hit.)
Oddly enough, the song has been a hit in the U.S. three times, and only the first time, in 1962, was it during Halloween. “Monster Mash” got major radio airplay in August 1970 and May 1973. The latter’s success is widely attributed to providing a pleasant break from news reports on the Watergate scandal.
Pickett has come back to the monster well a few times. The Crypt-Kickers recorded a monster Christmas song called “Monster’s Holiday,” which was only a minor hit. Also a minor hit, and far more dated, is 1985’s “Monster Rap.”