Crooner remembered for 'Monster Mash'

Bobby “Boris” Pickett, whose dead-on Boris Karloff impression propelled the Halloween anthem “Monster Mash” to the top of the charts while cementing his place as one of pop music’s most enduring one-hit wonders died of leukemia April 25 in Los Angeles. He was 69.

Pickett’s multimillion selling single hit the charts three separate times: when it debuted in 1962, again in August 1970, and for a third time in May 1973. The resurrections were appropriate for a song where Pickett gravely intoned the forever-stuck-in-your-head chorus: “He did the monster mash. … It was a graveyard smash.”

The novelty hit’s fans included Bob Dylan, who sang Pickett’s praises before playing the single on his XM Satellite Radio program last October. “Our next artist is considered a one-hit wonder, but his one hit comes back year after year,” Dylan noted before mentioning that “Monster Mash” reached No. 1 on Oct. 20, 1962.

Pickett’s Karloff impression was forged in Somerville, Mass., where 9-year-old Bobby watched horror films in a theater managed by his father. When Pickett launched a Hollywood nightclub act in 1959, it inevitably featured his Karloff impersonation.

Pickett also did the voice when performing with his band the Cordials, particularly during the spoken part of the ’50s hit by the Diamonds, “Little Darling.” Bandmate Lenny Capizzi convinced Pickett they needed to do a song featuring his impression of the horror impresario, and “Monster Mash” was born — “written in about a half-hour,” said radio host Dr. Demento.

The song was recorded in another two hours, featuring a then-unknown piano player named Leon Russell and a backing band christened The Crypt-Kickers. It was rejected by four major labels before Gary Paxton, lead singer on the Hollywood Argyles’ hit “Alley Oop,” released “Monster Mash” on his own.

The instant smash became a Halloween perennial — a sort-of Christmas carol for the pumpkin and ghoul set. In a 1996 interview with People magazine, Pickett said he never grew tired of his biggest hit: “When I hear it, I hear a cash register ringing.”

While Pickett never again recreated the success of “Monster Mash,” he continued performing through his final gig in November 2006. He remained in demand for Halloween performances, including a memorable 1973 show where his bus broke down outside Frankenstein, Mo.

Although considered a one-hit wonder, Pickett actually cracked the charts on two other occasions: “Monster’s Holiday,” a Christmas follow-up to his Halloween hit, reached No. 30 in December 1962. And “Graduation Day” hit No. 80 in June 1963.

Pickett is survived by a daughter, a sister and two grandchildren.

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