Monster Mash

Monster Mash by krin.jpg

Date Aired
October 30th, 2012
Running Time
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Todd plays "Monster Mash" on the piano

A one-hit wonder retrospective

Todd: [waving hands around] Oooooohhh, spooooky scary... oh, man, I've never done a Halloween episode before. Guess I should, uh...dress up. I don't usually dress up for Halloween, but I'm...pretty sure I've accumulated some costume shit around here. [Picture of Todd as...] Okay, there you go—blonde Zorro a mask. Perfect. I feel totally ready for All Hallows' Eve now. But obviously, there isn't really much in the way of Halloween music.

Clip of...

Todd (VO): There's "Thriller" obviously, and I guess you can listen to [album cover of Halloween soundtrack] horror movie soundtracks, or you can listen to, like, [single cover of "Garbageman"/"Drug Train" by...] the Cramps or [picture of...] Rob Zombie or bands like that. But really, it's not fair. Every Christmas, we get a damn ton of Christmas music piled on us, but there's...

Todd: ...only one song that's associated with the darkest and most macabre, most evil of all days.

Video for "Monster Mash"
Bobby "Boris" Pickett: I was working in the lab late one night

Todd (VO): Yes, "The Monster Mash"—#1 hit in 1962, and re-charting in 1970 and 1973, and heard every October since then without fail. "The Monster Mash" is to Halloween what [book cover of...] "Jingle Bells" is to Christmas, [picture of champagne toast] "Auld Lang Syne" is to New Years, [picture of vomiting leprechaun] and the sound of drunks puking on the sidewalk is to St. Patrick's Day.

"Boris: He did the Monster Mash

Clip of the Groovie Goolies cover of "Monster Mash"

Todd (VO): What is it about this song? Why does it refuse to go away? For the love of God, why does it even exist? What would possess someone to write something like this? And who exactly is this Bob Newhart-looking joker singing it? Everyone knows this song, and yet I bet half of you have no idea what this guy's name is, despite the fact that I displayed it onscreen just a second ago.

Todd: Well, get ready for a history lesson, folks; we're about to go way back for this one. Let's find out whatever happened to the Transylvania Twist.

Boris: What ever happened to my Transylvania Twist?
Crypt-Kickers: It's now the Mash

Before the fame

Pictures of Bobby Pickett

Todd (VO): Bobby Pickett was a Korean War vet who moved out to Los Angeles to become an actor and/or stand-up comedian. He didn't really expect a career in music, but some buddies of his drafted him into their doo-wop group, the Cordials.

Todd: Now one of the songs they performed [clip of...] was a cover of "Little Darling" by the Diamonds, but out of boredom one day, he asked if he could sing their signature tune in a Boris Karloff impression. We don't have that footage obviously, but you can imagine what it sounded like.

Dave Somerville: My darlin', I need you
Phil Levitt: La la la la

Todd (VO): Apparently, it was hilarious at the time. So hilarious that one of his bandmates pushed him to make a whole song based around it. Specifically...

Todd: ...he suggested a whole Frankenstein dance craze.

Picture of Pickett with Dracula and Frankenstein's monster

Todd (VO): Now, why the hell did Pickett think that this dumb little thing would be a hit? Well, you need to understand the context.

Todd: Namely that the early 1960s pop scene was phenomenally stupid.

Video of...
Brian Hyland: It was an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka-dot bikini

Todd (VO): The era between Elvis getting drafted (1958) and the start of Beatlemania (1963) is generally recognized by rock historians as a pretty dark time. Not that there wasn't any good music being made, because there was, but there was also a lot of Pat Boone, a lot of completely worthless teen idols, and a whole lot of talentlessness. On top of that, it was the glory era of the inane novelty song.

Todd: Hell, "Monster Mash" wasn't even the first goofy Halloween song to hit the Top Ten.

Single cover of John Zacherle - "My Dinner With Drac" (1958)
John Zacherle: The hors d'oeurves were fine
But I choked on my wine
When I learned that the main course was me!

Todd: The danger of 50s rock n roll had been neutered, the era of psychedelia and free love were a distant dream of the future, and in the meantime...

Clips of "Witch Doctor"...
Dave Seville and the Chipmunks: Ooh eee, ooh ah ah
Ting tang walla walla bing bang
..."Hello Muddah Hello Fadduh"
Allan Sherman: Hello Muddah, hello Fadduh
..."The Purple People Eater"
Sheb Wooley: It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater
One-eyed, one-horned...

Todd (VO): Yeah, remember that whenever your parents talk about how much better music was when they were kids, alright?

Todd: And the other big thing in the early 60s was dance crazes.

Clip of Chubby Checker - "The Twist"
Chubby: Oh, twist

Todd (VO): Lot of dance crazes. The one "The Monster Mash" is parodying is [clip of Dee Dee Sharps's...] "Mashed Potato Time", but could have been one of anything. The Twist, the Peppermint Twist, the Locomotion, the Watusi, the Pony, the Hully Gully, there were a bunch of them.

Todd: And there was one other major factor in "Monster Mash"'s success—the changing trends in horror.

Promo clip of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

Todd (VO): In the 30s and 40s, the Universal movie monsters terrified millions, but by the 60s, they were pretty much done. Audiences were turning to newer bad guys, like [shot from Night of the Living Dead] zombies and [poster for The Devil Rides Out] Satan and [poster for Psycho] knife-wielding maniacs, while the classic monsters devolved into [hunchback figurine] kitsch and children's toys. [Clip of...] The Munsters were just around the corner.

Todd: So basically, there was no other time in history that "The Monster Mash" could've been made.

Picture of Gary Paxton

Todd (VO): Pickett took it to a producer friend of his, a guy named Gary S. Paxton, who, a couple years earlier, had had a big hit with his band, [clip of...] Hollywood Argyles with "Alley Oop"—a song about a cartoon caveman.

Alan Davis: He got a big ugly club and a head fulla hairuh
Argyles: Alley Oop, oop, oop-oop

Todd (VO): You see, this is exactly the kind of crap I was talking about, okay? Paxton assembled a bunch of Crypt-Kickers to record the song, [picture of...] including future legend Leon Russell, and [single cover] released it in 1962.

Todd: By Halloween, it was the #1 song in the country.

The big hit

"Boris: I was working in the lab, late one night

When my eyes beheld an eerie sight
For my monster from his slab, began to rise
And suddenly to my surprise
Crypt-Kickers: He did the mash
Boris: He did the monster mash

Todd: Okay...

Todd (VO): Elvis Presley reportedly called "The Monster Mash" the stupidest thing he had ever heard in his life, and believe me, Elvis would know about stupid recordings. [Brief clip from Blue Hawaii] Apparently, there was a dance that went with it too. It was basically just the Mashed Potato with Frankenstein arms.

Todd: I'd demonstrate, but...this wig is a little precarious.

Boris: The zombies were having fun

Todd (VO): Okay, so what "The Monster Mash" is about is that Dr. Frankenstein's monster starts doing a dance, and then all the other monsters join in.

Todd: The joke is that horrible monsters have fun too.

Boris: The scene was rockin', all were digging the sounds
Igor on chains, backed by his baying hounds

Todd (VO): And...that's pretty much it, it's one joke, and I'll be honest, it's not a particularly funny one.

Todd: But then, I'm saying that because I live in a world "Monster Mash" helped create. Wacky monsters were still a new idea back then, and [poster of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein] sure, they terrorized Abbott & Costello every now and then. But when were they ever the stars of their own comedy? Would we have [promo picture of...] The Munsters without "The Monster Mash"? [Clips of...] Would we have Rocky Horror? Would we have Hotel Transylvania? Okay, that one's not an endorsement, I realize. But you get my point.

Boris: When you get to my door, tell them Boris sent you

Todd (VO): He was credited on the record as Bobby "Boris" Pickett because of his Karloff impression, and seriously, that's a pretty damn good impression. Here's the real Karloff, for comparison.

Clip from Shindig!
Boris Karloff: It's a horrible sight
Ted Cassidy: What do you see?
Boris Karloff: Myself laughing. It's a terrible sight.

Todd (VO): For the record, Karloff himself performed the song on TV once, but that footage has been lost to time apparently, which is a real shame.

Another fun fact: the BBC banned it that year for being [spookily] too macabre. People say the Brits have a stick up their ass. Pshaw.

Boris: My Monster Mash is the hit of the land

Todd (VO): Okay, so I've covered all the reasons why it was timely, but why has the Monster Mash survived some sixty goddamn years after it was released? Surely, just the fact that we don't have any other Halloween music can't explain it alone.

Todd: I mean, you know, we've got other actual, like, scary stuff to listen to. We've got [picture of...] your Marilyn Mansons and shit. Well, the answer, as far as I can tell, is that "Monster Mash" lives on precisely because it's stupid and not scary.

Clip of Groovie Goolies cover

Todd (VO): Because let's face it: Halloween isn't scary. When was the last time you had any remotely scary Halloween? You ever get attacked by vampires or psycho killers or, I don't know, possessed ventriloquist dummies or something? No. No, you spend Halloween in a [picture of costumed kids] silly outfit collecting and binging on candy, until you're old enough [picture of two jack-o-lanterns with beer bottles, one of whom is vomiting] to spend it binging on beer.

Todd: "The Monster Mash" might be a Halloween song or a novelty song, but mostly it's a party song.

Todd (VO): In that sense, "Monster Mash" perfectly encapsulates what Halloween is all about. But it wasn't all fun and games for "The Monster Mash".

Todd: Because now we have to deal with the [spookily] scariest part of all—trying to come up with a second hit. Oooowweeee... why am I still wearing this?

The failed follow-up

Todd: [out of costume] You know, I've said in the past that my purpose for One Hit Wonderland is to shine a light on unfairly-maligned bands and artists, but that's mostly a secondary goal. [Clip of Carl Douglas - "Dance the Kung Fu"] It's actually to collect ridiculous pop culture ephemera like "Dance the Kung Fu". And folks, we have a goddamn gold mine tonight.

Poster for Chamber of Horrors

Todd (VO): Pickett had two more charting singles, though it would be stretch to call them hits. [Single cover of...] The first peaked at #30 a couple months after "The Monster Mash"—a Christmas jam called "Monsters' Holiday".

Song plays over picture of jack-o-lantern snowman and skeleton in Santa suit, then book cover of Little Dracula's Christmas
Crypt-Kickers: It was a monsters' holiday
Boris: But they were up to no good
Crypt-Kickers: It was a monsters' holiday
Boris: They didn't act like good monsters should
Crypt-Kickers: It was a monsters' holiday
Boris: They found themselves a new play
Crypt-Kickers: It was a monsters' holiday
Boris: They planned to rob Santa's sleigh

Todd: Yes, in this version, the monsters plan to kidnap Santa for his goodies until Santa steps in and resolves everything. You may recognize this as basically the plot of [clip of...] The Nightmare Before Christmas. Now there are differences obviously, but I honestly wouldn't be surprised to find out that Tim Burton was inspired entirely by this song. Either that or they both took inspiration from the same source—the amount of money you can generate with a double-holiday cash-in. Kudos, Mr. Pickett.

Album cover of...

Todd (VO): Both "Monster Mash" and "Monsters' Holiday" can be found on the album, The Original Monster Mash. I actually found a downloadable copy of Bobby "Boris" Pickett's only full-length LP, and...

Todd: is amazing.

Todd (VO): It features such classic tracks as "Monster Minuet", "Monster Motion", and "Monster Mash Party", as well as hit horror-themed parodies of other dance trends like the "Skully Gully", and of course, the obligatory version of the "Transylvania Twist". Drac is, of course, very happy about that.

Todd: And the whole thing is worth it alone for a not-at-all [album cover of The Fabulous Fabian] not-at-all-dated parody of teen idol Fabian entitled, "Rabian - The Fiendage Idol".

Boris: I'm a werewolf
Yeah yeah yeah, I'm a werewolf
Whoa whoa whoa
When I'm on the prowl and I hear your growl, I wanna howl

Todd: I feel like my life is complete now. Okay, after the release of "The Monster Mash", he only ever had one super-low-charting single ever again in 1963—the wacky, spooky, madcap comedy classic, "Graduation Day".

Single cover of "Graduation Day"
Bobby: A time we'll treasure
Through the years
We'll remember always
Graduation day

Todd: Yeah, okay, Dover boy. Whatever. Shut up.

Did he ever do anything else?

Todd: You thought "Monsters' Holiday" was a shameless recycling of his only hit? What about [demonstrates] the "Monster Swim"?

YouTube compilation video with "Monster Swim"
Crypt-Kickers: He did the Swim
Boris: It's a poolside smash
Crypt-Kickers: The Monster Swim

Todd: The "Werewolf Watusi".

Over picture of Wolf Man
Boris: 150 wiggling wolves
Man, it was out of sight

Todd: The "Monster Rap".

Over caricature of DJ surrounded by monsters
Boris: The bolt came down, his head went zap
Now he's doing the Monster Rap

Todd: If this hadn't come out the year before Labyrinth was released, I would've sworn he was sampling [picture of David Bowie in Labyrinth] "Magic Dance".

Believe it or not, Pickett also released some non-monster-related singles. [Single cover of "King Kong (Your Song)"] He did a few other novelty songs like this one about King Kong, [clip of video for...] and of course, the Dr. Demento classic sketch, "Star Drek".

Boris: These are the voyages of the Starship Booby Prize. Its five-year mission—to sell t-shirts...

Todd (VO): You've heard it. Yes, not only was he the first person to make monsters funny, he also performed the first notable Star Trek parody. Truly a groundbreaker in comedy. [Chuckles a little] USS Booby Prize.

Todd: But mostly he went on to pursue his career in acting, and he had some marginal success in that. [Clip from episode of Petticoat Junction, originally aired Oct. 26, 1965] He did a lot of TV, he had a few single-episode parts in, like, Bonanza and The Beverly Hillbillies and stuff like that. But he did have one major starring role in film—[clip from trailer for...] the 1967 classic, It's a Bikini World. The more I find out about this man, the more incredible his life becomes to me.

Todd: And he had a career as a playwright as well. [Cover of songbook for...] Also in 1967, he wrote a stage musical entitled I'm Sorry, But the Bridge Is Out. You'll Have to Spend the Night. In 1995, after undergoing some major alterations, that musical was turned into [poster and clip for...] Monster Mash: The Movie, probably the only film in existence that featured both Full House's Candace Cameron and Mink Stole from Pink Flamingos. Jimmy "J.J." Walker is in it too. I could only find snippets of it online, but it looks absolutely wonderful. Someday I'm gonna find it, watch it several times, and develop a religion based around it.

Did he deserve better?

Todd: Deserve better?!

Clip of older Boris performing "Monster Mash" at Chiller Theatre Expo

Todd (VO): My God, this guy lived one of the most amazing lives I've ever read about! I'd consider myself lucky if I accomplished even a fraction of the things this guy did!

Todd: Pickett died in 2007 at the age of 69.

Todd (VO): He never exactly struck it rich, but "The Monster Mash" assured that he'd never worry about making rent either. He went on tour playing the thing all the time, dressed in a bloody lab coat. All I can tell you is the man lived a full life; and while "Monster Mash" may seem tired now after seven bajillion plays, there's a reason why we still have it fifty years after it came out. To this day, when you think of dancing monsters, it's to the sound of early 60s doo-wop and girl groups. Can you imagine Wolfman or Dracula [respective pictures of couple and guy...] swing dancing or break dancing? No.

Todd: They do the Monster Mash, and so do you. This is Todd In The Shadows wishing you a wild and spooky Halloween! WOO, LET'S PARTY!!!

Shot of Todd with arms in air is frozen over "Monster Mash"
Crypt-Kickers: Then you can mash
Boris: Then you can monster mash
Crypt-Kickers: The monster mash
Boris: And do my graveyard smash
Crypt-Kickers: Then you can mash
Boris: You'll catch on in a flash
Crypt-Kickers: Then you can mash
Boris: Then you can monster mash

Todd spent Halloween alone as usual, watching Netflix movies in his room.
He had requested Final Destination 5, but Netflix sent him "My Best Friend's Wedding" by accident.
He thought it was okay.

Boris's original performance finishes to applause

Closing tag song: The Misfits - "Monster Mash"

"Monster Mash" is owned by Garpax Records
This video is owned by me

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