How a ‘Novelty’ Halloween Song Brought a New Englander Fame and Fortune
You love it, or you hate it. But as with candy corn, there’s no escaping it come October.
For six decades, it has been to Halloween what “Deck the Halls” is to Christmas, or "Aung Lang Syne" is to New Year’s. The spooky season hasn’t truly arrived until you hear “Monster Mash.”
And its singer and co-writer, Bobby “Boris” Pickett, grew up right here in New England.
Pickett lived in the Winter Hill neighborhood of Somerville, Massachusetts, the same area that Whitey Bulger’s aptly named Winter Hill Gang called home base. The son of a movie theater manager, young Pickett grew up watching horror films, which served as the seeds for imitations he would later do in Hollywood night clubs in the 1950s, according to a 2007 article in the Lincoln Journal Star just after Pickett's death.
In 1962, Pickett and bandmate Leonard Capizzi cowrote “The Monster Mash,” a play on various “dance craze” songs of the era that featured Pickett impersonating horror stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. It would hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 exactly 60 years ago this month.
Before long, other artists – most famously The Beach Boys – would cover the song and incorporate it into their own concerts. The original, meanwhile, would continue to chart nearly every Halloween.
What’s most notable, however, are the other monster-themed songs Pickett composed that have flown under the radar, for instance, the Christmas-themed “Monster’s Holiday”, wherein the monsters from the original gather to exchange gifts.
But it is safe to say that nothing tops Pickett’s most ambitious piece: 1985’s “Monster Rap,” where a mad scientist grows frustrated with his monster’s inability to talk, and decides that he will simply teach it to rap instead.