A Graveyard Smash, Again

In August 1973, the Halloween perennial “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers made the Billboard Top 10. In the middle of freakin’ summer, over a decade after its original release. A reader recently asked precisely how this happened, so I decided to find out.

As it turns out, the off-the-wall summertime success of “Monster Mash” is owed indirectly to one of the great names in radio, and Station Zero for its revival was WOKY in Milwaukee. Skip Taylor was a DJ at WOKY between 1969 and 1976. In the spring of 1973, he took a cue from WOKY’s then-program director and “started to be a risk taker in my own right.” Taylor said, “As a joke, I started playing the ‘Monster Mash’ over and over. For some reason we started getting some local interest in the former hit of 1963 [sic]. From local interest it went national, sold a million copies, and WOKY was awarded a gold record.”

The program director who inspired Taylor was Bob Collins, who would spend 26 years at WGN in Chicago as one of the most successful radio personalities in the country. Although Collins approved of Taylor’s methods, he hated “Monster Mash,” and removed the gold award WOKY received from the station wall and gave it to Taylor. (Taylor told the story to Vicki Quade for her 2001 book I Remember Bob Collins, which is available at Google Books.)

There is circumstantial evidence that Taylor’s “Mash”-a-thon could have been inspired by the success of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” that spring, although “Frankenstein” didn’t make the Billboard Top 40 until mid-April, and “Monster Mash” was already cooking by then, especially after WOKY’s sister stations in the Bartell Radio Group started playing it. Bartell, a pioneering Top 40 chain, had stations in New York, San Diego, Miami, and St. Louis; “Monster Mash” first shows up at ARSA on a survey from KSLQ in St. Louis dated April 20, 1973.

London Records was paying attention. In the May 11, 1973, edition of Billboard, London placed an ad that said, “We’ve just reserviced a monster. A brand-new 10-year old monster.” The ad also quoted brief squibs about “Monster Mash” that had appeared in influential radio tip sheets including The Gavin Report and Friday Morning Quarterback. Once the record hit the air across the country, listeners blew out the phones requesting it, and the surge was on. It shows up on numerous surveys at ARSA beginning in June, and it was still riding high on some stations as late as September.

The oddball 1973 run of “Monster Mash” wasn’t the first time it had returned to the charts since its original run at Halloween 1962. It had sneaked onto the Hot 100 for a handful of weeks in the summer of 1970. And America wasn’t the only place where “Monster Mash” became a graveyard smash in 1973. The BBC had refused to play it in 1962, finding it too morbid for the sensibilities of the British listening public, but when it was rereleased after its new American success, radio airplay helped propel it to #3 in the UK.

Among the million-or-so people who put down their 95 cents for “Monster Mash” in the summer of 1973 was me. I didn’t think it was strange at the time—it was just another radio hit on WLS that I liked enough to buy. (A couple of others I bought that summer: “Uneasy Rider” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” both of which rode the charts alongside “Monster Mash.”) It was only in succeeding years, when I started wondering what had to happen for that song to hit at that time, that I realized how incredibly damn weird it was.

And how incredibly damn 70s it is.

6 responses

  1. Thanks so much for the history lesson. What a fluke. We brought back a few old songs to be new hits when I was at KZZP Phoenix in the 80s, most notably “Red Red Wine” by UB40 but this story is the craziest because of the holiday aspect. Happy Halloween, Jim!

  2. “Into The Night” by Benny Mardones is another song that charted twice, thanks in part to KZZP, in 1980 and 1989. Even though his lone hit charted twice, Mardones is still considered a “one-hit wonder.”

  3. I also bought this in 1973, and to this day it remains one of my top 100 songs. I performed it once at a Halloween night gig – it’s one of the few pop hits in my vocal range. It wasn’t until many years after 1973 that I learned that it was originally a hit on my day of birth – which probably explains a lot about me.

  4. KHJ went nuts for it in 1973 in Southern California. The reissued “Monster Mash” reached No. 2 the week of July 12. Oddly enough, the song at No. 1 was “One Tin Soldier” in its reissued run. It’s appropriate that the Carpenters’ “Yesterday Once More” was in the Top 10.

  5. Another excellent post. I always find it interesting to think about what makes a hit a hit, especially an unlikely one. I imagine that most of the time, the support of a major-market DJ is what makes the difference.

  6. […] reader asked why “Monster Mash” became a hit again in the summer of 1973, so I decided to find out. I wondered why any radio station would play the relentlessly awful Michael Buble cover of […]

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