meet the band ticket information jukebox multimedia visitortome mailing list

June 5, 2008

The Monster Mash: A Song for All Seasons.

By Jerry Murphy

I started Butch Whacks & the Glass Packs in the midst of late 60’s pyschedelia while baying at the Moraga moon pining for the simple songs of simpler times. To me the music and the times are indistinguishable, and indeed they are, however, as I got older I realized that neither the music nor the times were that simple.

So about a week ago in late May, 2008, while sitting at home changing the strings on my guitar, the sound track to the Cuban Missile crisis came over the XM Radio air waves and filled my house with the sound of bubbles and chains and a coffin opening, and I paused to recall that terrifying nuclear stand off and . . . the Monster Mash? In late May?

The October 1962 #1 smash by Bobby Boris Pickett and the Crypt Kickers, was the hit of the land during the 13 day stand down between the Kennedys and their Ruskie counterparts, when school kids across America practiced hiding under their desks bracing for the moment the thermonuclear Bomb hit . . . Fresno, in my case (looking back I think we were pretty safe).

Well, JFK kicked Khrushchev’s fat commie ass and the world was safe for the upcoming Our Lady of Victory annual Halloween bonfire hop where the shadows of ghouls danced above the licking flames while adolescent hobos preened for admiring young lady witches. Since then, the Mash has been played so frequently in the weeks preceding All Hallows Eve that one doesn’t hear it as a great record; it is so ubiquitous, you don’t hear it at all -- you hear the chains and the bubbles and hit the dial before the coffin opens.

But hearing it out of season last week caught me off guard and caught my ear, and I stopped what I was doing and fell in love with the Monster Mash all over again. I realized I love that record. First, it is a funny poem narrated by a mad scientist, which even today remains a well crafted lyric tying together the cinematic wax museum characters into a three verse mission – to create a dance that becomes the hit of the land that gets the body on the slab off his back and dancing at a party attended by all of the famous monsters, all set to the beat of the then current dance craze, the Mashed Potatoes. Next, the sound effects: a nail wrenched from a board to sound like a coffin opening, live bubbles blown into glass near a microphone to get the cauldron boiling effect – no budget whatsoever; and, of course the impersonation of horror actor Bela Lugosi as Dracula who observes the scene and asks at the end of the bridge "Whatever happened to my Transylvania Twist?" The Crypt kickers’ answer: “It’s now the Mash”.

Yeah, the Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi imitations are as irreverent to the then established Hollywood royalty as they are accurate, but listen to the rock solid rhythm section drums, bass, rhythm guitar and particularly the piano), listen to the backing Cameo Parkway style vocals chime “tennis shoe wah –ooh”, listen to the tight around the horn drum roll at the end of the bridge . . . this record contains every top 40 device used on hit records on the charts when it was cut. In fact, these guys are great musicians dumbing down to a teenage pop session for union scale (what? 500.00 bucks for three hours work maybe) with no clue their work would be granted eternal life, played forever more, and reviewed today 45 years later.

So I began to wonder, who are those masked men? So with some thanks to Wikipedia, let’s start with the mad Professor:

– Bobby “Boris Pickett”. Pickett was an aspiring actor who sang with a band called The Cordials at night while going to auditions during the day. One night, while performing with his band, Pickett did a monologue in imitation of horror movie actor Boris Karloff while performing The Diamonds' "Little Darlin'". The audience loved it and fellow band member, co-writer Lenny Capizzi encouraged Pickett to do more with the Karloff imitation.

Pickett and Capizzi composed "Monster Mash" and recorded it in time for the 1962 Halloween release with Gary Paxton (Creator of the Hollywood Argyles’ Alley Oop), Leon Russell, Johnny McCrae, Rickie Page and Terry Berg, credited as "The Cryptkickers". This song was partially inspired by Paxton's earlier novelty hit "Alley Oop", as well as by the Mashed Potato Time by Dee Dee Sharp, on Cameo Parkway records (home of Chubby Checker, the Orlons, Bobby Rydell, the Dovells and others). As for the spoofed actors, they loved it. In fact, Boris Karloff performed it himself on Shindig in 1965.

Pickett and Company weren’t through with their cast of holiday monsters. Next up was "Monsters' Holiday", a Christmas -themed follow up, recorded by Pickett and released in December 1962, peaking at #30 on the Billboard chart.

The Monster Mash has been used in the media on countless occasions, including most recently by none other than Bob Dylan, a fan of the song who played it on the Halloween 2006 edition of his Theme Time Radio Hour program on XM Satellite Radio.
So there you are, music from the cold war, alive today on XM Radio and here on the Glass Pack website. Monster Mash is a song for all seasons best heard when you are least expecting it.

# # #

P.S. Fellow Glass Pack Gary Murphy reminds us that another member of the Cryptkickers back-up ensemble was David Gates ("If", "Make it With You," and "Goodbye Girl theme"etc.) who played some of the opening sound effects on "Monster Mash." It was one of his first jobs after moving to LA from Texas. Here's a medley of some of David's hits.


  © 2008 Butch Whacks & the Glass Packs