Hey, remember Gary Paxton from a few weeks ago? The guy who sang and produced the #1 hit “Alley Oop” back in 1960? Well, he wasn’t quite finished with novelty songs. Or #1 singles. And when “Monster Mash” showed up at his door, he knew what to do.
Bobby Pickett grew up loving horror movies. He made his way to Hollywood hoping to become an actor and spent his days going to auditions while performing with a doo-wop group in the evenings. One of the bits that received the best audience reaction was a Boris Karloff impression inserted into the middle of a cover of the song “Little Darlin” by The Diamonds. (For you non-horror buffs, Karloff was the original Frankenstein’s monster and later narrated the classic holiday cartoon The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.) Pickett’s piano player suggested they extend the routine into its own full-fledged song, but Bobby demurred.
Shortly afterwards the group broke up, Pickett’s agent died, and the acting jobs became few and far between. Not having much else to do, Pickett called his piano player to suggest they work on the Karloff bit. Together they came up with the idea of a mad scientist whose monster invents a new dance craze, and wrote the entire song in only two hours. Bobby then used the one music connection he had, a fan of his former group whose boyfriend happened to be a big-time producer. Enter Gary Paxton.
Paxton loved the song. He took Pickett into the studio with a few other musicians and laid down the basic track for “Monster Mash.” They added some homemade sound effects, and Bobby—who had never been in a recording studio before—nailed his vocal in one take. Paxton dubbed the new group Bobby (Boris) Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers. He then took the finished track to every record label in town, every one of which turned him down, saying it was a stupid song and would never sell. Pickett felt discouraged but Paxton told him not to worry. He insisted “Monster Mash” was a #1 single.
Putting his money where his mouth was, Paxton released the song on his own teeny-tiny Garpax label. He pressed a few hundred copies, loaded them into his car, and drove up and down the California coast, delivering the 45s to every radio station he could find. The timing couldn’t have been better: his journey took place in late August and September. By Halloween of 1962, “Monster Mash” was the #1 song in the US. (In the UK, it was banned by the BBC as “too morbid.”)
Bobby Pickett turned “Monster Mash” into a career, and Gary Paxton went on to produce huge hits for Tommy Roe and The Association—including the #1 “Cherish”—before moving into country and Christian music in the 70s.
So grab your dancing shoes and head to the laboratory. It’s time to get your spooky on.