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TheStreet Open House

Halloween Novelty Tunes Don't Wear Off

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- Fifty one years ago, a California nightclub singer from Somerville, Mass., did an impression of movie-monster actor Boris Karloff on stage while performing The Diamonds' "Little Darlin'." A bandmate suggested he use that voice through an entire song and the result spawned an entire holiday music industry.

Bobby "Boris" Pickett's single Monster Mash was released in August 1962 and hit No. 1 in the U.S. on Oct. 20 of that year, cementing its legacy as the go-to song of Halloween and trumpeting the inherent value of the novelty record. The Beach Boys, Vincent Price, Smashing Pumpkins and Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band have all covered it. Mike Tyson sang a rendition of it with Bobby Brown on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Misfits -- who turned Halloween into an entire punk catalog of songs like Skulls, Ghouls Night Out and Horror Business -- finally caved and performed a rendition of it in 1999.

It's an enduring legacy usually reserved for Christmas songs or other winter-based novelties -- Sleigh Ride, Let It Snow and Winter Wonderland come to mind -- but one that's only gained more relevance during the online music era. With apologies to Tracy Morgan's Werewolf Bar-Mitzvah from recently departed NBC (CMCSA) sitcom 30 Rock, a niche holiday single has far more legwork to do in a music industry where visual media plays a huge role in pushing the next big novelty hit.

In the wake of Monster Mash, just about everyone wanted a piece of the holiday action. Each Saturday before Halloween, DJ Rex Doane at Jersey City, N.J.-based WFMU reminds listeners and music scholars of this by sifting through his mausoleum of 45s and playing some long-forgotten holiday fare on the station's Fool's Paradise" show. The playlist for last year's installment was dotted with gems including The Fortunes' The Ghoul In School, Gene Moss' Surf Monster and Velvet Underground alum John Cale's Shock Hop. Thrown into the mix were a few tracks more recently released by Brooklyn-based independent and reissue label Norton Records. Co-owned by Cramps drummer and A-Bones singer Miriam Linna, Norton counts songs like T Valentine's The Vampire and The Del-Aires' Zombie Stomp among a library that includes work by Hasil Adkins, Link Wray, Gene Vincent and Rudy Ray Moore.

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