Bobby “Boris” Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers’ “Monster Mash” is the best Halloween song, no argument. I could even make the case that it’s a banger all year round (but that’s for another article). However, for as many times as I’ve sung along and busted moves to the “Monster Mash,” it never occurred to me to question the logic of these mashing monsters. What exactly is the monster mash? Apparently, something called the “Mashed Potato.”
“Monster Mash” is the first track on Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers’ 1962 album The Original Monster Mash. Pickett, with a Dracula-esque voice, narrates a monster dance party. I would say if you haven’t heard the “Monster Mash” before, you have probably been living six feet under –– but seeing as it was a “graveyard smash,” that’s no excuse.
Today’s kids –– when not monster-mashing –– can often be found making memes, lamenting Zoom calls and fighting to overthrow the capitalist elite. In 1962, apparently they were obsessed with the “Mashed Potato” dance craze. Somehow, between modern TikToks and ’60s whacky pop-culture tends, the idea that youth culture was once obsessed with something called the “Mashed Potato” is really not so strange.
The “Mashed Potato” finds its roots in Dee Dee Sharp’s 1962 hit “Mashed Potato Time.” An American teen idol, Sharp found fame on American Bandstand, a music and dance television program which ran on-air from 1952 to 1989 (think ’60s MTV). Sharp’s music style was a mix of R&B, blues and ’50s doo-wop. While I’m inclined to laugh at the idea of my parents’ generation rocking out to the “Mashed Potato,” Sharp’s hit is undeniably good. I’ll still make fun of my dad later, but between us, I understand how it all came together.
However, the “Mashed Potato” dance itself can be traced back even earlier to James Brown’s dance moves during his 1959 live performances. Brown was known for his killer moves on and off the stage, and while Sharp may have immortalized the dance in song, it was Brown’s electric personality and flair that started it all. Notably, Brown did write a 1960 song titled “(Do The) Mashed Potato,” in reference to the very dance move he created. However, the “Mashed Potato” craze itself arguably gained its notoriety through Sharp’s teen-idol fame in 1962.
The “Mashed Potato” dance, unsurprisingly, is incredibly varied. A recording of Dee Dee Sharp’s “Mashed Potato Time” presents a version of the dance with a bit of a hop and skip; another modern video attempting to break down the dance relates it more to 1920s Charleston, adding a side-kick for flair. James Brown’s version is extremely funky in an instructional video taught by the legend himself. The core of the move is the heel-toe action: Start off with your heels together and toes pointed outward and away from each other. Then, quickly point your toes together, heels out and away.
“Monster Mash” was written as a direct response to Sharp’s “Mashed Potato Time.” Just as Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers sing of their monster dance party, so too does Sharp mash together a story about the “Mashed Potato” dance. The songs echo each other: The underlying vocal calls of “ah-oo” in the “Monster Mash” also make up the backbone of “Mashed Potato Time.” Pickett’s “Monster Mash” functions as a parody of Sharp’s hit, poking good-natured fun at the pop-culture phenomenon of the “Mashed Potato.”
It is worth noting that The Original Monster Mash is a smash hit of spooky, Halloween fun. Pickett features an array of fun, imaginative voices modeled after our favorite monsters. The album makes no attempt to be serious; rather, Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers deliver an array of playful tunes that one can’t help but dance to. In between tracks, Dracula and Boris, Frankenstein and Igor make playful jibes, reminiscent of a live album. There’s no need to feel childish when Dr. Frankenstein and Igor are out on the dance floor, too.
Daily Arts Writer Madeleine Virginia Gannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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