In last Thursday’s issue of Tedium, we discussed our favorite cover versions of that spooky Halloween classic, “The Monster Mash.” In 1962, popular horror host John Zacherle put out his own version of the song (it was #2 on our list) that was just as good as the original. Later in his life, he teamed up with Bobby “Boris” Pickett to perform the song together. They both went in character—Bobby with his lab coat and fake spider, Zacherle eschewing his traditional undertaker garb for a skeleton suit—and by the look of things, had a great time performing together.
The juxtaposition of the two vastly different characters demonstrates a sense of community surrounding the song that can only happen with a true classic. It’s also pure fun—something conspicuously absent in mainstream music for the most part (it does exist, but it can be elusive).
Performing together and covering the song isn’t the only connection to Halloween music that Zacherle holds, however—he was doing Halloween music before it was cool (“Dinner with Drac” predates “Monster Mash” by at least 4 years). And his “Monster Mash” launched its own LP. Only this LP was vastly different from Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s, both in pacing and tone. While both are fun albums in their own right, Zacherle’s holds a broader appeal.
The album kicks off with “The Monster Mash.” Zacherle’s version is a bit faster and only has male backing vocals, but he does a decent Karloff impression in his own right. The Karloff impression shows up in a few other places on the record, but on the overall, Zacherle plays it straight, singing in character as Roland and Zacherley the Cool Ghoul (the letter “Y” makes his name easier to pronounce, apparently).
The album continues with joyous, goofy and eccentric performances of twisted tunes and scary melodies. Each year, I make it a tradition to listen to this LP, along with my normal diet of The Dr. Demento Show, The Misfits, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark and Oingo Boingo. It’s become an important part of the week leading up to Halloween, infusing a spirit of camaraderie and macabre into the holiday.
Zacherle’s album is a sheer delight and truly puts one in the Halloween party spirit. The songs are upbeat and hilarious, without the same surf rock gimmick that affected other albums of the time (I’m looking at you Mr. Gasser & the Weirdos!). Some of them are cover/parody songs with a movie monster theme. The lyrics aren’t entirely kid’s stuff, either. In Zacherle’s version of “The Limbo Rock,” for example, part of the object of the game is to “tear your partner limb from limb.” Zacherle’s cover of “Wolverton Mountain” is almost a straight read of the song...up until he gets to the part where, as a ghoul haunting the mount. “Gravy (with cyanide)” is a poisonous good time.
His version of “Let’s Twist Again?” It’s about mummies, of course! The “Bristol Stomp” becomes “Pistol Stomp.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. There’s an original dance called “The Weird Watusi” that could have been a dance hit, if it had banal lyrics, that is. Likewise with another dance song, “The Bat.” Then, there’s a version of the Zacherle classic “Dinner with Drac” included. The song is about a man who goes to dinner with Dracula, only to discover something alarming—he’s not just a guest, but the main course!
The version of “Dinner with Drac” is a bit different than the single version that—per Mark Voger’s Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze In America, 1957-1972—hit number six on the Billboard charts in 1958 (the book contains an interview with Zacherle that’s full of interesting facts and insights into his career).
The record moves quickly, running under an hour. It feels timeless and dated at the same time, but is more than a mere novelty—it’s a Halloween institution. The album and the irreverent follow-up Scary Tales is available on CD these days and wherever you may stream your music. Personally, I enjoyed Zacherle’s LP more than Pickett’s, but both of them have a place on my turntable in October.
Zacherle was still doing his act until his passing at the age of 98 in 2016 and has left an enduring legacy behind him. For me, Halloween means revisiting his work and the work of countless other entertainers for fun and nostalgia.