Friday, November 07, 2014

Bobby (Boris) Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers, "Monster Mash" (1962 / 1973)

Sept. 15, 1962, #1 (2 wks.) / June 30, 1973, #10

"Monster Mash" is one of those rare hits that managed to hit twice (see also "The Twist," "Stand by Me," and perhaps others too ... anyone?). "Monster Mash" is a novelty song, basically a girl group vamp, which appropriately hit first within the Halloween time frame in 1962. The summer 1973 hit is a bit more mysterious (there was also a Hot 100 appearance in August 1970), but we'll get to that. On the original release in 1962, the BBC banned the song as "too morbid." In 1973 it was rereleased in the UK, where it peaked at #3 in October. But how it became a hit in the US just before that, well out of the Halloween time frame, is the mystery. I remember it on the radio that summer, and I remember enjoying it with others, in the car and such, because it really is a wonderful little thing, but I was puzzled also that it was a hit. Maybe somebody out there knows that story too. Anyway, it is a delicious toss-off relic of its first era, the NYC / Brill Building pop factory good times, specifically division of Twist. It is indeed a "monster mash" of time-bound parodies: the Mashed Potato dance craze (a variety of the Twist) paired with Bela Lugosi's Dracula and Boris Karloff's Frankenstein, themselves a craze because of the arrival on late-night TV of the Universal monster movies of the '30s. Total 100% formula, perhaps the very definition of a novelty song, and yet for me it entirely transcends the label. I like to think it has something to do with the presence of Leon Russell, but some sources say he was late for the session and only appeared on the b-side song. It's goofy funny with the Lugosi impersonation and sound effects and all, but what brings me back is the conviction of the backup singers and the pleasing way it rolls along. It gets to some good places.

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