For this Halloween we take a look at Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s perennial favourite The Monster Mash and some of our favourite cover versions from over the years.
It’s hard to think of another song more unbiquitously associated with Halloween than the Monster Mash, to the point where it almost seems as if it was tailor-made for the occasion. In fact, the song was written whilst Pickett was an aspiring actor who also sang in the evenings with a band called The Cordials. Inspired by a horror movie craze that was rampant in the US at the time, he started doing a joke impersonation of Frankenstein actor Boris Karloff on stage one night. It went down so well that he and fellow band-member Lenny Capizzzi decided to write a song drawing not only on horror movies but also the many dance crazes and associated records that were also hugely popular at the time, in particular the Mashed Potato around which a handful of records had already been based.
Of those records Dee Dee Sharp’s ‘Mashed Potato Time’ (itself a barely-veiled take on ‘Please Mr Postman’ by The Marvellettes) was a particular inspiration and in the clip below you can hear the similarities, right down to the ooh-aah-ooh backing vocals.
So how did a novelty record borne of two short-lived fads become such an enduring classic? It’s hard to explain, but at least part of it is down to the infectious sense of fun it conjures up. Put it on anywhere, anytime and you will see what I mean. No-one ever wants to turn it off, in fact usually it will get turned up, and pretty quickly the dance moves will follow. It’s also a wholly innocent and universal song, as good for kids as it is for the oldies in the same way that the best Christmas songs are. Pickett himself was as surprised as anybody that the song even became a hit, later saying “It was a fluke. When I went in to record “Monster Mash” I thought it was just a lark and a few Boris Karloff freaks will enjoy this. Gosh, it was number one in eight weeks”.
So there you have it. A “fluke” that became a pop music staple. It has inspired many cover versions of the years ranging from good to awful and every shade in-between. Below are a handful that we particularly like and which also represent the range of acts that have at some point in the last half-decade felt the need to do the Monster Mash…
The Beach Boys (1964)
America’s most famous surf-band covered this for the TV show Shindig and then again on their live album Beach Boys Concert, giving Mike Love a chance to vamp it up.
The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (1969)
A natural choice for Viv Stanshall’s band of rock jokers, this version taken from the TV show Do Not Adjust Your Set is simply fabulous.
Bad Manners (1980)
Buster Bloodvessel’s British ska outfit always had a certain comedic element to their performances, as you can see here in this gloriously enjoyable version is taken from the riotous Saturday morning kids show Tiswas and also features members of the band Darts.
João Penca e Seus Miquinhos Amestrados (1989)
This version by the Brazilian new-wave outfit was re-named O Monstro Macho. This clip (with apologies for the picture quality) is taken from a show called Angelica and features a distinctly un-Halloweeny studio set…
The Misfits (1997)
The legendary horror-punk outfit said that nmaking a cover vesion of this was a “no-brainer” and features bass-player Jerry Only on lead vocals for the first and only time.