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Oct. 28, 2021

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: "Ain't it Kitschy?" Ep. 1 - Halloween Novelty Songs (Patreon Preview)

What does that mishmash of an episode title mean? Well, gentle listeners, this week in honor of the approaching All Hallow's Eve we are taking a short break to prepare our intense final episode of our "Salem Witch Trials" series and dropping in a...

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What does that mishmash of an episode title mean? Well, gentle listeners, this week in honor of the approaching All Hallow's Eve we are taking a short break to prepare our intense final episode of our "Salem Witch Trials" series and dropping in a preview of some content we have going on over at Patreon!

We just launched a currently Patreon-exclusive new mini-series, "Ain't it Kitschy?", where we will be diving into everything, well, kitschy - kitschy being defined as things considered to be gaudy, vulgar, or sometimes in bad taste, but we define as things that are, well, pleasantly dorky and sometimes vintage or excessively sentimental. Think that painting of dogs playing poker, Velvet Elvises, or in this first episode's case, novelty songs. Halloween novelty songs, to be exact.

In honor of the most wonderful time of the year, HALLOWEEN!!, Carrie will be taking us through the history and oddity of two Halloween songs that range from obscure to ubiquitous: "Batman, Wolfman, Frankenstein, or Dracula" by The Diamonds, and "The Monster Mash" by Bobby 'Boris' Pickett & the Crypt Kicker Five.

Join us for a little ghoultide merriment, and a whole lot of Carrie waxing poetic about doo-wop music! Thanks for allowing us this mini-break to prep our upcoming wedding reception, we hope you enjoy the episode (and join us over at Patreon!!), and we'll see you next week for the conclusion of the Salem Witch Trials: the executions.

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Our first episode of Ain’t it Kitschy will center around 2 of our favorite Halloween novelty songs: the utterly ridiculous “Batman, Wolfman, Frankenstein, or Dracula” by The Diamonds, and the absolute classic “Monster Mash” by Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett and the Crypt Kicker Five.

First, “Batman, Wolfman”, etc. Sean, this is a song you hadn’t heard before I came Thriller-dancing into your life.

The Diamonds were a Canadian vocal quartet originally made up of Dave Somerville, Ted Kowalski, Phil Levitt, and Bill Reed. The group had an astounding 16 Billboard hits between the mid-50s and early 60s. Their first would be a cover of the famous “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, which would reach #12 on the charts. But it’s the b-side to their 1959 single, “Walkin the Stroll”, with the improbable name of “Batman, Wolfman, Frankenstein, or Dracula”. 

This song isn’t as instantly recognizable in the Halloween oeuvre as a Monster Mash or a Thriller, but hell, it should be. It tells the story of a hot-n-bothered guy who loves taking his girl to the movies, but she will ONLY get horny if they go to horror movies. Yes, really. Here are some lyrics:

“It takes the Batman, Wolfman, Frankenstein or Dracula
To put her in the mood for love
It takes the Cat Girl, Dog Boy, Creature from the Black Lagoon
To make her feel like making love.”

You may be wondering, Carrie, where does Batman, the Dark Knight, Gotham’s Prince, fit into this? Well, even though the character of Batman had been introduced decades earlier in issue 27 of Detective Comics in March 1939, this song decided to skip right over that existing character and make it all very confusing by including a “Bat Man” on a list of strange horror creatures, which along with the classic Frankenstein and Dracula also included a Cat Girl and Dog Boy, which seem less horrifying and more just tragic. 

There’s not a lot available online as to the background of this strange little ditty, or why The Diamonds decided to record it. But I’m really glad they did. We all needed a song about a girl who gets horny for horror.

Apparently it’s probably a reasonable get to buy the rights for a movie, because the 2020 Netflix film The Kissing Booth 2, Booth Harder, included the track as a diegetic song being performed at a frankly awesome-looking Halloween party attended by the main character, played by Joey King. Here they seem to be going for a Hocus Pocus “I Put a Spell on You” situation, and based on the Youtube comments, singer Taylor Zakhar Perez awoke many of the young folks watching the movie with his performance in a similar way that I was when I first saw Hot Skeleton Guy crooning away at a bucktoothed Bette Midler. 

Next, our star - The Monster Mash!

Bobby Pickett was living in Massachusetts fronting a local band called The Cordials when he and bandmate Leonard Capizzi wrote the “Monster Mash” in 1962. Interestingly enough they wrote the song to try and capitalize on the trend of dance crazy songs at the time, like “The Twist” and the Mashed Potato, from the song “Mashed Potato Time” (and of course its follow up, “Gravy for my Mashed Potatoes”). Pickett was apparently known for his impression of Frankenstein actor Boris Karloff, and figured the song would be a great place to use it. He had improvised a Karloff monologue during a cover the Cordials did one night of the song “Little Darlin” by The Diamonds, and apparently the audience loved it, so Picket and Capizzi thought they should keep it going.

It seems the Cordials weren’t used for the song, because it was recorded by Pickett and Capizzi with a session band - called the Crypt-Kickers - including pianist Leon Russell and drummer Mel Taylor. Backing vocalists included Darlene Love, who later ended up being a protege of Phil Spector. It was written in less than an hour and recorded in a single afternoon. The Monster Mash became a song ABOUT a dance craze but where the dance itself is never spelled out, unlike in a lot of other dance trend songs at the time. However, there was an actual dance to go along with the Monster Mash, it was just basically a variation on the Mashed Potato where the footwork was the same but Frankenstein-like monster gestures were made with the arms and hands.

Released as the debut single by Bobby Boris Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, the Monster Mash topped the North American Billboard chart right in time for Halloween 1962. You’d think the song was all harmless fun but after it debuted in the UK in the autumn of ‘62 the BBC actually banned it from the airwaves, calling it “too morbid” for the radio. This ban was only lifted in 1973 when the song entered the charts again that year, peaking at number 3. But that wasn’t the only time the Monster Mash hit the UK charts again. It hit number 60 on the British charts in November, 2008.

Picket had a minor hit with the Christmas follow-up “Monster’s Holiday” in December 1962, which peaked at number 30 on the Billboard chart. The b-side to this single, by the way, was “Monster Motion”, which was basically a rehash of the original with a dash of the Locomotion...and still finds a place on my Halloween playlist, of course. This was followed by further monster-themed singles like Me and My Mummy, Blood Bank Blues, Werewolf Watusi, and the Monster Swim.

In 1974 the original Monster Mash was somewhat remixed by Buck Owens, and that one too re-entered the North American Billboard chart at number 6. It came back again at #25 in 2012, and hit the 20s during most years between 2005 and 2017 on the Digital Song Sales chart.

The 80s brought the world the rap and hip hop craze, and with that we were exposed to the Monster Rap, a sequel to the Mash where the mad scientist is trying to teach his dancing monster to talk, but only succeeds in getting him to rap. Somehow, this one didn’t chart. Yet another followup, the Monster Slash, was released in 2004 with lyrics changed to critique George W Bush’s environmental policies. Imagine the song Pickett would come up with today?

The Monster Mash inspired an actual musical movie, Monster Mash, released in 1995 and starring Bobby Pickett himself. You might not believe this, but it was written and directed by the co-writers of Toy Story, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow, and co-starred Candace Cameron of Full House and Hallmark movie fame. The movie sounds like a bit of a ripoff of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where a teenage couple on their way home from a Halloween party experience car trouble and have to take refuge at, well, the Frankenstein place. I desperately want to see it.

The Monster Mash has appeared everywhere, especially around Halloween, and in pop culture from The Simpsons to covers by the Misfits and the Beach Boys. There’s even a running joke on the Monster Mash on one of our favorite podcasts, Comedy Bang Bang, where each year comedian Nick Wiger will show up in character as a cowriter of the song named Leo Karpatze - probably meant to sound like Leonard Cappizi - and sing what he calls the original lyrics to the Monster Mash, which of course are laced with profanities and the like. It’s the best.

As Steve Greenberg wrote for Billboard, “I can’t think of another example in pop culture of a parody so outliving and outshining its inspirations that people no longer even remember it was ever intended as a parody.” Though we lost Mr Bobby Boris Pickett to cancer in 2010, his spirit - and a bunch of monsters - lives on.