Behind The 'Monster Swim' and Other Halloween Tracks You Never Knew Existed
When Bobby “Boris” Pickett and his group of Halloween-mad studio musicians laid down the “Monster Mash” in 1962 they were just trying to cash in on teen dance crazes like the Mashed Potato, the Frug, and the Watusi. In their bid for pop stardom with an irreverent novelty song, they created an entire mini-genre of horror-themed surf rock and dance songs. Released in 1962, "Monster Mash" is the unofficial Halloween party anthem, but what about the songs that followed in Pickett’s shambling footsteps?
Overnight Success Can Be Terrifying
These are the tales of mad monster parties, drive-in make out sessions, and an odd obsession with Doctor Frankenstein’s assistant Igor. As horrifying as vampires and undead monsters can be, real terror is the possibility that all success is fleeting; that popular pieces of art are simply the product of throwing something against the wall to see if it sticks. Bobby “Boris” Pickett lived this nightmare after the success of the “Monster Mash” as he attempted to follow up his surprise hit with monster themed rock tunes to increasingly diminishing returns.
Bobby 'Boris' Pickett’s Further Attempts At Raising The Dead
After the Mash hit hard with audiences across the United States, Pickett went back to the studio and recorded a full length LP with 15 more songs that are hit and miss at best. There’s the single “Blood Bank Blues,” a track about a down-on-his-luck Dracula having to scrounge for change so he can eat, and it contains the phrase, “blood is just my meat,” so you can imagine how well the song did on the radio (hint: not well).
The LP also features an inspired slow dance number “Me & My Mummy” that tells the story of Pickett falling in love with a mummy at the pyramids, before launching into a track about “Irresistible Igor,” a song that imagines a world where Igor is so confident that women can’t stop themselves from falling in love with him despite his appearance. The album closes with the Christmas tune “Monsters Holiday,” a track about the characters from the “Monster Mash” kidnapping Santa Claus. The song failed to chart, but two years later it was covered by Lon Chaney Jr. in a version that’s inherently listenable even though it sounds like Chaney recorded the whole thing in one take.
Everybody's Surfing, Even Frankenstein
In 1964, RCA released Pickett’s single “The Monster Swim,” which directly references the “Monster Mash” while attempting to cash in on the trend of surf movies. The song isn’t bad, it’s just that it reeks of desperation. The most memorable thing about the single is Pickett’s performance of the song on the Halloween episode of American Bandstand complete with lip-synching, some fascinating eyebrow work, and a vampire octopus.
Don Hinson Found Success Throwing A 'Monster Dance Party'
The years following the success of the “Monster Mash” saw studio musicians throughout the Los Angeles area getting together to write spooky tunes to see if they could squeeze any candy corn out of the horror music genre. There’s not a lot of information about Don Hinson out there, he appears in 1964 as the leader of The Rigamorticians on their LP Monster Dance Party,” and it’s likely that he's a radio personality (if he’s the same Don Hinson who was at KFOX in Long Beach in the 1970s).
Audiences Balked At Riboflavin-Flavored, Non-Carbonated, Polyunsaturated Blood
Whoever Hinson was, his LP of spooky dance tracks has some great cuts despite riding the coattails of the “Monster Mash.” The “Monster Jerk” has a killer horn section, and while “Riboflavin-Flavored, Non-Carbonated, Polyunsaturated Blood” failed to chart as a single (likely due to its unwieldy title) it took on a new life when it was covered by LA punk band 45 Grave. “Monster Dance Party” failed at becoming a beloved Halloween staple only because it was released two years after Pickett’s accidental hit. Even though the tracks on Hinson's LP are more structurally sound than those on Pickett’s record, they’re so heavily indebted to the original songs that it’s impossible to separate the two records -- Hinson even opens his album with the Mash while including a cover of “Monster Swim.”
Hinson moved away from monster themed dance songs in later years. In ’66 he released “The Protest Singer,” an acerbic take on anti-war songs of the day, and in 1984 he released a comedy album under the name “The Reverend Ginkfingdingler.”
It Takes The Batman, Wolfman, Frankenstein Or Dracula
So how do you craft a bopping horror dance tune that’s sure to get the kids on the floor? Listen to any song that comes after the “Monster Mash” and you’ll hear a few important pieces. There’s a simple, shuffling beat, a saxophone solo, and a list of the creatures who are going to appear at the festivities. “Frankenstein’s Party” by the Swingin’ Phillies, a doo-wop group from Philadelphia present a story that features a wide array of creatures.
Mad Monster Party Indeed
According to the Swinging Phillies, the creepies and ghouls attending Frankenstein’s on Blueberry Hill are none other than Dracula, Mr. and Mrs. Mummy, and even Mighty Joe Young. Of course, Igor’s going to be there dancing with “Long Tall Sally,” it seems that in this horrific vision of a party, characters from popular films and songs can show up for a good time.
'Frankenstein Rock' And Other Monstrous Makeout Classics
A surprising recurring theme in “Monster Mash” follow-ups from artists like Eddie Thomas and The Diamonds is the admission that they only like watching horror movies because it gets their dates revved up for a make out session. In “Batman, Wolfman, Frankenstein, or Dracula," The Diamonds sing, “It takes a monster from outer space to make my baby want my embrace.”
The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor Gets Meta
"Batman, Wolfman, Frankenstein, or Dracula" and Thomas’ “Frankenstein Rock” are both firmly entrenched in teen culture more so than straight forward horror songs like “The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor.” They’re not just referencing the horror film glut of the day, but they’re investigating the reason why the drive-in movies were so popular - they provided an acceptable place for young people to be away from their parents.
Dig Through The Ditches, Burn Through The Witches, Slam In The Back Of 'Dracula's Deuce'
The surf rock community latched onto the burgeoning horror music genre in the early ‘60s, spawning tracks like “Out of Limits” and the theme to The Twilight Zone, songs that have managed to rise above their connection to the “Monster Mash.” Many surf musicians played as session musicians on monster themed singles, so it was only a matter of time before an entire surf-horror-hot rod hybrid album was released.
“Dracula’s Deuce,” an LP that crawled from the grave (aka Capitol Records) in 1964 was spearheaded by Gary Usher and Roger Christian, two songwriters who worked with every surf band of the era. Christian co-wrote “Dead Man’s Curve” for Jan and Dean while Usher co-wrote “In My Room” with Brian Wilson, along with a handful of other Beach Boys tracks. The album, released by the faux band “The Ghouls” features half instrumental tracks and half “Monster Mash” inspired horror songs. The instrumentals were performed by Richie Podolor, a session guitarist responsible for songs by the Devons, the Renegages, the Hondells - if there’s a surf guitar on a song he was in the room.
Listen to Dracula's Deuce any time of the year
Usher may have put this album together to cash in on the horror craze of the ‘60s, but thanks to his collection of session players (including none other than Brian Wilson) and the total weirdness of the songs, it rises above what could have a been an anonymous collection of tunes to a must listen LP during the Halloween season.
The Beach Boys Keep The Halloween Spirit Alive
There was no final nail in the coffin of the horror dance music craze, it simply faded like the dance crazes before it. That doesn’t mean that artists haven’t continued to hold a flame for the genre throughout the years. If you prefer British Invasion sound-alikes there’s always “Frankenstein Meets the Beatles” by Jekyll & Hyde, but if you want to get funky you can get down to “Frankenstein Walk” by Gene Bowlegs Miller. However, true horror-heads will get a kick out of “My Solution” by Brian Wilson. Recorded in 1970 and never officially released, the track is a sprawling song about a mad scientist who kidnaps a “damsel” that he finds outside his castle. It’s super weird and hast to be heard to be believed. Even though the Beach Boys never played the track live, they were known to throw out of a cover of the "Monster Mash" from time to time, it seems that even in Southern California Halloween happens year round.