27 April 2007

Does this mean "The Transylvania Twist" will make a comeback?

Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, is dead. I could say more about him and the ratings system, but that would turn into a rant about how much I dislike the MPAA (see This Film Is Not Yet Rated if you want an enjoyable summary of what's wrong with the MPAA), and all this complaining would sound disrespectful to the deceased.

Instead, I'll talk about another recent death, one connected to the greatest holiday in the world. Robert George Pickett, a.k.a. Bobby "Boris" Pickett, died of leukemia on Wednesday. He was sixty-nine years old.

"Who the...?" you're asking. Ah, I have a very good answer. Bobby "Boris" Pickett was the voice the 1962 novelty tune "Monster Mash."

"Wait, wasn't that Boris Karloff?" you're asking.

No, it was Pickett doing a spot-on imitation of the sepulchral-voiced horror icon, and which turned the strange song into "a graveyard smash" and the perennial rock n' roll Halloween anthem. Not a Halloween goes by that Pickett's funereal urging "to do the Monster Mash" doesn't invade the radio airwaves and every single costume party across North America.

According to D.J. Dr. Demento, an expert in the weird world of novelty tunes, Pickett had a sense of humor about his single-hit status: "As he loved to say at oldies shows, 'And now I'm going to do a medley of my hit.'"

(In a related gag, Elvis used to say at some of his shows: "And now I'd like to perform one of my biggest records. Actually...they're all about the same size.")

Pickett performed with his band The Cordials at nightclubs where he perfected his Boris Karloff imitation. Pickett and Leonard Capizzi whipped up a song to exploit the Karloff voice "in about a half-hour," as Pickett remembers it, and recorded it during a couple of hours with a backing band dubbed "The Crypt Kickers" and piano by some guy named Leon Russell (well, nobody knew who he was then). Gary Paxton signed the single to his label, and the song turned into an instant hit, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard chart three times: 1962, 1970, and 1973.

Halloween, far and away my favorite holiday, would never be as fun as it is today without Mr. Bobby "Boris" Pickett's contribution to it. May he always mash.

And...does this mean "The Transylvania Twist" will make a comeback? Whatever happened to it?

I'd like to thank Mr. Maxwell DeMille for some of the information about Pickett's life, as well as the alert that he has passed through the great crypt-door.