It’s a “ghoul of a time” these days as we prepare our costumes and homes for another Halloween night of trick-or-treaters. What songs come to mind as you prepare your Halloween party playlist? “Werewolves of London”, “Thriller”, “Witchy Woman”, “Spooky”, “Superstition”? Whatever your idea of Halloween music is, chances are that one of the first songs that will appear on your playlist is the 1962 classic “Monster Mash” written by Bobby Pickett. Pickett was an aspiring actor who decided to capitalize on the the mashed potato dance craze and the growing cultural fascination with horror films. Bobby was performing as a singer to make money and would often imitate other actors and characters during his performances. It was Pickett’s impersonation of "Frankenstein" star Boris Karloff that inspired him to write an original song in the voice of Karloff. The rest, as they say, is history.
So why has this silly little hit song from over 50 years ago endured in our cultural landscape for so long? Perhaps it’s the way Pickett managed to balance the creepy and kitsch in his songwriting. By tapping into two cultural crazes: the mashed potato dance step and the renaissance of B grade horror flicks, Pickett was able to easily get radio air play with his song and take advantage of its “hit” status, especially since it was released in October just in time for Halloween.
So how do holidays and special occasions affect your songwriting? Have you ever thought about writing a song about a season or a holiday? Many artists are releasing Christmas albums these days. Have you thought about doing something similar? Or, if you have shows around Christmas, Halloween, New Year’s Day, etc., consider learning some of these old classics and adding them to your set list. Or even write a song of your own!
Staying relevant and connecting with the audience is an important aspect of performing. As songwriters, we have to try to write to as broad an audience as possible so that our words are relatable to more people than just us. By using holidays such as Halloween as inspiration to write, we might just be surprised by what we come up with. All of us have stories and emotions about major holidays...why not tap into that and use it in your songwriting? You may just write the next “Monster Mash!”