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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Jukebox - The Monster Mash

There certainly are a lot of songs out there for almost every holiday on the calendar. Certainly, there is no shortage of Christmas favourites (and yes, in a couple of months from now, you will likely be seeing some of them in the blog). There are dozens of love songs out there for lovers to dance to on Valentine's Day. There's a few for New Years Day, a few for the 4th of July, and heck, I wouldn't be surprised if there were some for St. Patrick's Day.

For Halloween, there's really not a lot of choice to pick from for the Sunday Jukebox. I certainly have found some picks. Some you've seen already, while others you will see in either the near future or even next year.

Still though, it seems as though finding a radio station that will play Halloween music on Halloween night is a bit of an impossibility. I have actually been hearing reports that some radio stations are already playing Christmas music. To me, this is absolutely ridiculous, as Christmas isn't for another few weeks yet.

And, yes, I realize that I have posted Christmas songs in both July and September entries for the blog, but that was merely for supplemental purposes. I mean, who knew that a Christmas version of the Macarena existed?

The thing is that a lot of the Halloween themed songs that have been recorded over the years seem to get lost in the shuffle when it comes to the tens of thousands of songs on the various playlists of radio stations all over the world. It's hard to say why this is the case though. One theory could be that the songs are too scary for young children (which I find ridiculous as the whole point of Halloween is to celebrate the spooky and scary). Another theory is that the radio stations just don't have very many songs to play. But if one were to really look at various sources, they may find that there are more Halloween songs than they think.

How many of you remember something called 'DTV'?

DTV was Disney's answer to the phenomenon known as MTV, the music video station that premiered in 1981. During the 1980s, several DTV specials were produced and aired. The program was designed as such that clips from classic Disney cartoons, movies, and television specials would be set to a song that had charted on the Billboard Top 40. It was a neat idea, I have to admit, and certainly it was an idea that I supported more than the carbon copy shows the company is churning out these days.

And sometimes these DTV specials were holiday themed. I know there was one for the Christmas season. A Valentine's Day special was also produced. And in 1987, a Halloween DTV special was produced, where one of the songs put in the special is today's blog feature!

ARTIST: Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers
SONG: The Monster Mash
ALBUM: The Original Monster Mash
DATE RELEASED: August 25, 1962

In 1962, the song 'The Monster Mash' was released on radio by a man named Bobby “Boris” Pickett and his band the Crypt-Kickers. Its chart history is a very interesting one.

In North America, when the song was first released in the summer of 1962, it peaked at the top of the charts the week of October 20 (appropriately enough for Halloween) and stayed at the top until November 3 when 'He's A Rebel' by the Crystals unseated the Monster Mash. But that wasn't the only time that the song found its way to the Billboard Charts. It entered the Billboard charts a total of three times. The first time was in 1962, but it also made reappearances in 1970 and 1973.

1973 was a fairly important year for the song in Great Britain. That was the year that the ban on the song was lifted (the BBC had banned the song from airplay the same year of its release as it was declared 'too morbid'). It managed to reach the number three position on the British music charts in October 1973. It managed to make a second appearance on the British charts in November 2008, where it hit #60.

For a song to chart five separate times on two different music charts over its nearly five decade history, you know it had to be a popular song.

The song has also been covered by several artists over the past few decades. The Beach Boys released a version in 1964, and veteran horror film actor Vincent Price recorded a version of the song in 1977. Horror punk band The Misfits recorded a cover in 1997. Alvin and the Chipmunks put out their own version in 1994, while Mannheim Steamroller put out a version of their own during 2006. Even in 2011, three cast members from the Disney television show 'Shake It Up' remixed their own cut of the track for a younger generation (though admittedly, it's not my own personal favourite mix).

Still though, for new versions to be churned out every few years or so, it had to have a great impact on the world of music, specifically Halloween music.

But how did the Monster Mash first come into fruition? Not in the way you might think.

Before Bobby Pickett took on the stage name of 'Boris', he was looking at breaking into the world of acting. During the day, he would attend various auditions, while performing in a band known as The Cordials at night. During one of these performances, when the band was performing their cover of The Diamonds' Little Darlin', Pickett did an impression of Boris Karloff. That impression left the audience wanting more, and band member Lenny Capizzi encouraged Pickett to do more with the impression.

Which explains why Pickett adopted the 'Boris' handle.

This lead to Pickett and Capizzi working together to pen the lyrics and compose the music for 'Monster Mash'. With help from a group of musicians who dubbed themselves the Crypt-Kickers, the song was recorded during May 1962. An instrumental version of the track was released as the B-side, which included an additional musician, pianist Leon Russell, who had arrived late to the recording session.

The song was reportedly influenced by a couple of other songs that were popular at the time. Gary S. Paxton's novelty hit, Alley Oop, as well as the dance craze known as the Mashed Potato.

Because the song was recorded on a budget, a lot of the sounds heard in the song were created by simple household objects. The sound of a coffin opening up was replicated by a rusty nail being pulled out of a board. The sounds of chains dragging were made by dropping a set of chains on bathroom tiles. The sound of a bubbling cauldron was made by people sticking a drinking straw in a cup of water and blowing bubbles. Simple tricks that made for effective sound effects.

On top of all that, Pickett seemed to have a lot of fun perfecting his mad scientist voice for the recording of the song. He even managed to slip a reference to actor Bela Lugosi by reciting the line 'Whatever happened to my Transylvania Twist?' in a Lugosi like accent.

The Monster Mash proved to be Bobby 'Boris' Pickett's only number one hit, but it certainly wasn't the last time he would have success on the music charts. In 1962, he released a Christmas themed follow-up of the song called 'Monster's Holiday', and peaked at #30 on the charts that December. This prompted the release of the album 'The Original Monster Mash', with other horror themed songs including 'The Monster Swim' and 'Werewolf Watusi'. Another single, 'Graduation Day' would peak at #80 in June 1963.

Years later, Pickett would record a novelty spoof with Peter Ferrara based on the television series 'Star Trek', entitled Star Drek, in 1975. The song was played on the Dr. Demento radio show for years. A year later, Ferrara and Pickett would collaborate again with the song 'King Kong (Your Song)'. Over the years, he would record three more songs based on his biggest hit. In the mid-1980s, a version called 'Monster Rap' was released, capitalizing on the growing popularity of rap music at the time. It didn't do as well as the original version, but it was on a regular rotation on the Dr. Demento show. Another loose sequel of the song was recorded and released in 1993 entitled 'It's Alive', but it didn't chart. One of Pickett's final recordings was in 2005, which was meant to serve as a protest song against the inaction of the United States government towards global warming, in a song called 'The Climate Mash', a reworking of his hit single. That same year, he released his autobiography called 'Monster Mash: Half-Dead In Hollywood'.

On April 25, 2007, Bobby “Boris” Pickett died at the age of 69, after a battle with leukemia. The May 13, 2007 edition of Dr. Demento was dedicated to his memory, and aired a documentary retrospective of all of his work.

Which would not have been possible had he not recorded the Monster Mash.

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