Monster Mash Discs: Graveyard Smash

Elvis may have hated it, but to millions of people, “Monster Mash” is Halloween’s anthem, and the novelty song’s first pressings are collectibles to die for.

The original “Monster Mash” single spent two weeks at the top of the charts in October 1962, providing a whimsical respite to America’s anxiety over the Cuban Missile Crisis. Reissued twice, the single reached Number 91 in 1970 and Number 10 in 1972. All are desirable collectibles, but the original 45, with its ghoulish sleeve, is the most sought after and can be found for less than $20 online.

1962 “Monster Mash” single sleeve

The top 20 “Monster Mash” album, also from 1962, is the holy grail of dual Halloween/vinyl collectibles. The mono and stereo versions currently book at $150 and $250, respectively, in the Goldmine catalog of American records, although high-grade copies can usually be found online for considerably less. The rare LP contains the title cut and fifteen other tracks, all in the same party-hearty vein

“Monster Mash” was the brainchild of Bobby Pickett and Lenny Capizzi, fellow members of the Cordials, a singing group that gigged around Los Angeles in the early 1960s. A horror-movie aficionado and aspiring actor, Pickett had long since perfected his spot-on impression of actor Boris Karloff’s distinctive, debonair-but-spooky baritone and used it to show-stopping effect in the monologue portion of the Cordials’ performance of “Little Darlin’.”

1962 “Monster Mash” album cover

Determined to fully exploit Pickett’s talent, the friends spent just two hours concocting the story of an impromptu monster party in a mad scientist’s castle and setting it to a simple, four-chord melody. Their demo caught the fancy of producer/arranger Gary Paxton, who recruited an all-star band (including the Ventures’ Mel Taylor on drums and legend-to-be Leon Russell on piano) to back up Pickett’s Karloffian homage. Legend has it the Crypt-Kickers, as the band was dubbed, recorded the song in one take.

Four major labels slammed the door in Paxton’s face. Undaunted, he pressed a thousand copies of “Monster Mash” (the title capitalized on the then-current Mashed Potato dance craze) on his own label, Garpax, and hand delivered them to deejays along the California coast. The song’s witty lyrics, boss sound effects and surf-rock vibe caught on in a flash, propelling the song to number one in eight weeks (with a little help from a contract with London Records) and making Bobby “Boris” Pickett a household name.

Song’s fans range from Boris Karloff to Bob Dylan

Over the years, artists as diverse as TV horror-flick host Zacherley, the Beach Boys and Mannheim Steamroller have covered “Monster Mash,” but Pickett’s version remains the Halloween mainstay. Boris Karloff paid Pickett the ultimate tribute when he performed the song on the Halloween eve segment of TV’s “Shindig” in 1965. Other famous fans include novelty-song maven Dr. Demento and Bob Dylan, who has played it on his XM Satellite Radio show. The song’s appeal was apparently lost on Elvis Presley, however, who reportedly dissed it as “stupid.”

“Monster’s Holiday,” a Christmas sequel to “Monster Mash” that reached #30 in 1962, was Pickett’s only other major chart appearance. Pickett toured tirelessly in oldies shows, introducing performances with the quip, “I’d like to perform a medley of my hit.” He died from leukemia in 2007 at the age of 69.

Resurrected every Halloween, this monster boogie classic stands alone among offbeat vinyl collectibles.

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