In 1960, dance crazes were rampant, spawned no doubt by the success of the Twist. James Brown was already doing a dance called the mashed potatoes while he performed songs in his live shows, and he wanted to record an instrumental he could just dance to.
James had recorded another instrumental that hadn’t sold well, so his record label told him no instrumentals. James packed up his band and snuck out to another recording studio and recorded (Do The) Mashed Potatoes. James hid the record from his record label by having the band listed using his drummer’s name: Nat Kendricks & the Swans. They also covered up his voice by dubbing the voice of a local disc jockey (Carlton “King” Coleman) over the vocals. Credit for writing the song went to Dessie Rozier.
The record only reached #84 on the Hot 100 in 1960 but reached the top ten on the R&B chart.
The dance was going strong in 1962 and Dee Dee Sharp recorded It’s Mashed Potato Time and her single reached #2 on the Hot 100. The Gazzarri Dancers showed us how to do the dance when Dee Dee appeared on Hollywood A Go Go. She kept her dance cred growing by singing Slow Twistin’ with Chubby Checker and reached #3. Her next single was an obvious follow-up to her first hit that year, and Give Me Gravy On My Mashed Potatoes reached #9. A few months later that year we got another song, The Monster Mash, which owes a debt to Dee Dee’s gravy. Dee Dee moved on to do the Bird with a few songs in 1963.
The original James Brown recording “inspired” the production of another record: Hot Pastrami by the Dartells. Lead singer Doug Phillips took credit for writing the song, although his main contribution appears to be adding pastrami to the menu: the record still begins with mashed potatoes, and the instrumental backing sound almost identical to (Do The) Mashed Potatoes. The group’s single reached #11 on the Hot 100 in 1963.
Later in 1963, Joey Dee and the Starlighters covered the Dartells. The song was re-titled yet again, this time as Hot Pastrami And Mashed Potatoes. At least their version of the song correctly credited Rozier (James Brown) rather than Phillips as the songwriter. The single reached #36 and turned out to be the group’s last Top Forty single. Several of the members left the Starlighters and found success when they formed the Young Rascals.