Review : John Zacherle - Monster Mash / Scary Tales
PopmattersHow’s this for weird? In 1958, John Zacherle, a 40-year-old World War II veteran and TV horror movie host, went to the Philadelphia studio of Cameo Parkway to record a spoken-word piece of gruesome limericks. Cameo Parkway producer/guitarist Dave Appell laid down a two-chord backing track with the label’s house band. Dan Dailey punctuated the limericks with thick sax solos. At some point Zacherle’s friend Dick Clark stopped by to check on the song’s progress. (He’d later ask Zacherle to tame the song down for American Bandstand.) In the spring, “Dinner With Drac Part 1” hit #6 on the Billboard pop chart, despite lyrics about swimming in blood and eating mummy veins. Why you never hear this song on oldies radio is beyond me.
Four years later, Zacherle released a record called Monster Mash. After kicking off with a cover of Bobby Pickett’s title tune, the album proceeds to pillage much of Cameo Parkway’s catalog. Zacherle parodies the Orlons (“Weird Watusi”), the Dovells (“Pistol Stomp”), Dee Dee Sharp (“Gravy (With Some Cyanide)”), and the label’s superstar, Chubby Checker (“Limb From Limbo Rock”). Though the label let Zacherle record over the original songs’ instrumental tracks, he dropped most of their backing vocals to carve out space for his monologues. Because those backing vocals had supplied most of the songs’ harmonies, their absence gives Zacherle’s parodies a sparse, recorded-in-the-basement vibe. And since Zacherle’s lyrics wallow in body parts and dismemberment, the whole effect is creepier than expected. “Let’s Twist Again (Mummy Time is Here)” starts off sounding chipper and cute, until you realize it’s about twisting body parts off mummies and “producing mummy juice” for some deranged purpose. It’s like hearing someone air his sickest obsessions despite himself. These “songs” anticipate such far-flung acts as Rob Zombie, the Flesh Eaters, and ranting Memphis weirdo Ross Johnson.
Monster Mash comes packaged together with Scary Tales and the short-lived single “Igor”, another limerick song. (Irene dies her hair green “with the juice from [her] spleen!”) Equally delightful, though in very different ways, are recently reissued two-fers from Sharp and the Dovells, who churned out a panoply of dance-pop in the early ‘60s. Indeed, all four of these albums—Sharp’s It’s Mashed Potato Time and Do the Bird, the Dovells’ For Your Hully Gully Party and You Can’t Sit Down—are named after dances or unacceptable substitutes for dancing. Hully Gully is almost a concept album about its titular dance step. Other steps propagandized here include the Jitterbug, the New Continental, and (of course) the Twist. In fact, Checker is the spiritual hero of Mashed Potato: Sharp duets with him on a remade “Slow Twistin’” and commemorates his creation in the blasphemous “A Hundred Pounds of Clay”....full text
John Zacherle begins with a pretty straight-forward cover of "Monster Mash," the song made famous by Bobby "Boris" Pickett. If anyone can pull off a decent cover of this song, it's John Zacherle, and he does it in earnest - he's not making fun of the tune at all.
"Hurry Bury Baby"
"Hurry Bury Baby" is a parody of "Hully Gully Baby" by The Dovells (from an album which, not coincidentally, is also being released by Collectors' Choice Music). Like that song, this one takes place in Miami with a girl named Sammy. John laughs as he tells his tale of romance troubles: "I held her tight - too tight/I squeezed and I squeezed some more/Till she didn't breathe no more/I had to hurry bury baby."
This song is hilarious and twisted, a perfect combination for Halloween (or for any other holiday if you want to make it interesting)....full text
AllmusicA veteran of small repertory companies in Philadelphia, in 1958 actor John Zacherle grabbed an undertaker’s coat from a prop room somewhere and auditioned for a gig as a late-night horror movie host at WCAU-TV, turning the spot into his calling card, re-imagining what a horror movie host could do by designing a laboratory set full of purposely cheap props and inhabited by wacky, ghoulish sidekicks and characters. After moving on to repeat the same sort of format at New York’s WABC-TV, Zacherle started a side enterprise by recording Halloween-themed songs and parodies for Philadelphia’s Cameo/Parkway label, including “Dinner with Drac, Pt. 1,” which became a novelty Top 20 hit in 1962. Having access to the Cameo/Parkway, ahem, vaults meant Zacherle voiced (he really recited more than he sang) his skewed, goofy, and often impossibly juvenile lyrics over some pretty cool backing tracks, complete with wailing saxes and reverbed guitars and sporting spirited support vocals from the likes of the Orlons, the Dreamlovers, and the Cameos. Yeah, Zacherle was definitely a one-trick pony, but that one trick was so deliberately dumb that one can’t help but grin at it. This set combines his 1962 LP Monster Mash with 1963’s Scary Tales, and the result is one big hayride into a world where everything is comic book ghoul, with Zacherle punning along and acting pretty much like he just wandered in from the street -- the whole routine is oddly endearing somehow. “Dinner with Drac” is here, along with the horn-driven R&B of “Popeye (The Gravedigger),” and several other tracks of like ilk, but the real delights are Zacherle's fractured takes of various Mother Goose rhymes that close this set -- he takes each rhyme and drives it straight to the graveyard with an easy, eerie charm. It makes for some pretty demented children’s music....full text
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