My first draft of this post was started on October 26, in hopes of rushing through the next 5 entries in time for Halloween. Obviously, I missed that deadline. But the reason I wanted to write about “Monster Mash” on or by Halloween wasn’t just so I’d have a cute tie-in. There’s an inherent difference in how you hear a holiday song during its corresponding holiday versus the rest of the year. No matter how much I love A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, I’m not about to listen to it in any month not called “December.” (Well, maybe Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans’ take on “The Bells of St. Mary’s” – it’s not explicitly Christmas-themed, and it is all kinds of soulful.) Listening to Christmas music, even good Christmas music, when it’s not Christmas just feels wrong. Maybe the excitement and festivity surrounding the holiday make the music sound better. I can certainly tolerate some not so great songs during that time of year, either because of tradition or nostalgia. So it felt like it would only be fair to write about “Monster Mash” in its own milieu. To examine the song apart from Halloween – much less, during the winter holiday season, which already has more than its fair share of novelty tracks – would be judging it against a harsher standard than perhaps it deserves. Then again, the entire M.O. behind this blog is to judge these songs outside of their historical context to determine whether (I think) they’re actually any good by modern standards.
Unfortunately, the “Monster Mash” does take a bit of a hit apart from Halloween. It does have a few points to recommend it: a convincing pop arrangement (i.e., it actually works as a pop song, not just a parody of a pop song); Pickett’s spot-on imitations of Karloff and Lugosi; and the fact that it’s the only Halloween song to be successful in any commercial sense. This last point is perhaps the most important. Otherwise, how to explain the annual persistence of a Halloween record that is a) dated in its cultural references (have you ever danced the mashed potato? I haven’t, at least not intentionally) and b) not all scary? In fact, it’s anti-scary. It turns monsters into Peppermint Loungers. Then again, this genial, all-ages version of Halloween is exactly what has made “Monster Mash” an enduring tradition – and a song that’s difficult to hate. We only hear it a few days out of the year, in situations where we’re probably already having fun. Frankly, given the depths that Christmas pop regularly plumbs, we should be grateful to have our universal tune for Halloween be something that’s listenable, or at least not actively obnoxious. 5
Hit #1 on October 20, 1962; total of 2 weeks at #1
79 of 976 #1’s reviewed; 8.09% through the Hot 100