Fifty years ago this week, an aspiring actor turned songwriter named Bobby Pickett reached the top of the Billboard charts under the moniker Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers with his song, “Monster Mash.” The novelty track spent two weeks at #1 on the charts in October of 1962 and, to this day, displays remarkable staying power: A quick look at the iTunes Singles chart this morning shows the track sitting in the #40 position, likely being purchased by children whose parents were not even alive when the song was first written during the music industry’s dance craze phase of the early 60s (think “The Twist,” think “The Mashed Potato,” think “The Loco-Motion”).
S-Curve Records founder Steve Greenberg penned a fascinating tribute to the “Monster Mash” on his record company’s website this morning, and it got us thinking a bit. Why is a song that is 50 years-old, written as a parody of (if you’re generous) or a cash-in on (if you’re more cynical) a long-forgotten dance craze, and pegged to an (admittedly awesome) impression of a film star who rose to fame in the 1930s still relevant to today’s youth?
Of course, one can’t look past the rise of Halloween as a American societal phenomenon; the National Retail Foundation recently estimated that Americans will spend over $10 billion on Halloween-related items this year (!!!). And it’s not like other songs haven’t tried to capitalize on people’s infatuation for getting spooked out (think MJ‘s “Thriller,” think the entire ouevre of Rob Zombie). So, why the “Monster Mash”?
We don’t have any hard evidence to support this, of course, but we feel that the song possesses an innate and unique ability to tap into people’s nostalgia receptors. Even if you’ve never heard the “Monster Mash,” upon your first listen, it feels instantly familiar. It also radiates an innocence that borders on naïveté, in a way that songs of today expressly do not. Propelled by the girl-group-aping “Wah-OOOO”s, this song is a veritable four-quadrant smash in its appeal to men, women and children. And let’s not forget the song’s rather meta-for-its-time subject matter, in which multiple monsters not only exist in the same reality, but also hang out and party together! In that right, the song was the Hotel Transylvania of its day.
So, tonight, do your part and keep the “Monster Mash” part of our cultural lexicon by giving it a few spins while children come to your door in search of tricks and/or treats. But please, for all of our sakes, immediately put the song back where it came from when tomorrow rolls around. Because as much as we love the song, it goes without saying that novelty songs are best enjoyed as, well, novelties. Catch you next Halloween, Bobby “Boris” Pickett!
THE MONSTER MASH AT 50: SOME THOUGHTS ON A CULTURAL PHENOMENON [S-Curve Records]