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Bobby 'Boris' Pickett, RIP

I was just a little kid, and didn't know too much about rock'n'roll -- my older brother and sister were folkies who preferred the Kingston Trio to Elvis Presley. But I remember vividly the day in October 1962 when for some reason or other the TV in our living room in Wichita, Kansas, was tuned to an American Bandstand-style local show called Johnny's Record Hop. As the teenaged audience danced, the deejay played the coolest record I'd ever heard. It sounded like Boris Karloff rapping (yes! the invention of rap!) over an R&B dance beat, spinning off ghoulish puns in hollow zombie cadences. My 8-year-old brain practically melted. So, I guess, did a lot of others. The Monster Mash went to No. 1 that month, and it would make the Billboard charts twice more in the next 11 years.

Bobbyborispickett Bobby "Boris" Pickett (that's him to the left, performing at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland a few years ago) was a journeyman garage band player who would make only one other record that got any airplay -- Monster's Holiday, which charted that Christmas. (And was covered by Lon Chaney Jr. -- how many rock'n'roll stars can say that?) Pickett didn't care. Every time I saw him on TV over the years, usually on some Halloween special, he'd introduce himself by saying, "Now I'm going to do a medley of my hit." He never got tired of Monster Mash. "When I hear it," he once told People magazine, I hear a cash register ringing."

Pickett died of leukemia Wednesday night. Wherever he is, they're going to want hear Monster Mash. It's a graveyard smash.

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