September 5, 2007

Do it for the kids, yeah: The Shins, Biz Markie and a band you might remember called Polaris

I was recently reading about this new show on Nick Jr. called Yo Gabba Gabba (not to be confused with Yabba Dabba Doo, or Gabba Gabba Hey) that features all kinds of musical guests like The Aquabats (co-creators and regularly on the show as character voices), The Shins, Mark Mothersbaugh, Biz Markie (who teaches the kids how to beatbox, I love it), The Postmarks, Chad VanGaalen, Mark Kozelek and more.

This sounds like fun — the show just started a few weeks ago and The Shins have made their debut to the hip kid set with a life lesson song called “It’s OK, Try Again.” You can watch them perform it on the Nick Jr site and then learn to draw Wubbzy once you’re finished.

Or listen here -

It’s OK, Try Again (from Yo Gabba Gabba) – The Shins

This new show reminded me of an earlier incarnation of the “Really Good Music For A Kids Show” concept on Nickelodeon, the band Polaris from The Adventures of Pete & Pete in the mid-Nineties. I’ll have to cop to never seeing this show, as I was in high school when it came out (and we never had cable, just rabbit ears — I know!). But thanks to an old tip that I am just remembering, I am enjoying the crisp autumn feelings of the Polaris sound.

The show started with a band fronted by Mark Mulcahy rocking out on your average suburban front lawn:

I recognized Mulcahy’s name from the chapter dedicated to him in Nick Hornby’s Songbook/31 Songs book, about how his song “Hey Self Defeater” made it onto most of Hornby’s mix tapes for friends in one certain year. Mulcahy’s voice is moody and a bit warbly; I find it kinda like Westerberg-meets-Kozelek. It’s effervescent yet bittersweet indie-pop.

Hey, Self Defeater – Mark Mulcahy

The show also featured a gazillion other cool guest stars: Janeane Garafolo as the English teacher, Michael Stipe as the ice cream man, Juliana Hatfield as a lunchlady, Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes) as a substitute math teacher, Patty Hearst as a mysterious neighbor, and Luscious Jackson as the band that played the school dance. Only on TV, right?

So it was a show I’ve never seen but it sounds like I should have. Polaris was the house band, and they originally released a cassette tape in 1995 that you could get only by sending in UPCs from boxes of Frosted Mini-Wheats (oh how I loved those sugary days of kids cereal promotions).

The cassette is now ridiculously impossible to find, but luckily in 1999 Mezzotint Records released a full album from Polaris, including the songs on the original cassette plus 8 more. Here’s a selection, and if you’re feeling nostalgic, or just looking for some good tunes, the CD is for sale here.

[Cassette introduction, read by Older Pete]

“Hi, I’m Pete and the band you’re about to hear is Polaris. They’re three guys: Jersey, Muggy and Harris, who came out of nowhere, disappeared without a trace, and left behind music that’ll steer you clear of danger. So put on some unmatched socks, wipe the crud out of your eyeballs and give a warm welcome to Polaris.”

Hey Sandy (theme song) – Polaris
She Is Staggering – Polaris
Coronado II – Polaris

As Usual - Polaris (bonus song only on the CD, because I like it)

[Closing, read by Older Pete]
Thanks a lot for listening. Remember: everytime you pop in this tape, always point yourself in the direction of these three songs and I guarantee, you’ll never get lost.”

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  • Oh good heavens, I freaking love Polaris – well, the “Pete” soundtrack, at least. I still have that cassette tape laying around somewhere. I must, however, point out that you neglected to mention two of the show’s best guest stars – Steve Buscemi as Ellen’s dad and Iggy Pop as Nona’s dad. Ooh, and I just remembered the B-52s’ Kate Pierson as a random neighbor.

    Easily one of the best shows of the ’90s. And yet they’ve sadly refused to release the show’s third and final season on DVD. GRRRR. The world needs more Pete.

    Matthew — September 5, 2007 @ 12:37 pm

  • I used to absolutely LOVE Pete & Pete :) Even when I was older, I still found it cute!

    theEvilAngel — September 5, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

  • Speaking of kids shows. I was with my little sister watching some puppet show and in through the door walks Andrew Bird. I yelled ‘Andrew Bird!’ really loud in surprise. The show is called Jacks Big Music Show.
    Here’s a link to the video:

    It’s nice to see real musicians taking part in kids shows again. I haven’t seen much of that since sesame street.

    Plus, it piqued my parents interest in Mr. Bird.


    Nathan — September 5, 2007 @ 3:36 pm

  • Dude, one of the coolest things about having a kid (other than you know, actually *having* a kid) is some of the cool kids shows! I posted a clip on my blog this morning ’cause I was so stoked about Elijah Wood being on Yo Gabba Gabba (PuppetMaster Frodo!). And Andrew Bird on Jack’s? Yeah, that’s way cooler than Big Bird :)

    the occasional cig... — September 5, 2007 @ 6:17 pm

  • This post has weirdly perfect timing. I bought the Pete & Pete DVDs a couple months ago and have been watching them all summer. They still hold up as great TV, but in particular I’ve been obsessed with the theme song like never before. I literally was looking in the used music store last night for that Polaris CD to finally own this song… and sure enough, today you post it.

    Dude, you seriously rule. Thank you.

    Also, I’d like to second that Elijah Wood from Yo Gabba Gabba. Someone forwarded it to me a couple weeks ago and it’s hysterical.

    Brendan — September 5, 2007 @ 10:15 pm

  • It should be noted that Iggy’s character on the show was, in fact, named “Pop.”

    And that is just freaking cool.

    cd — September 6, 2007 @ 2:26 pm

  • “Pete and Pete” – can’t tell you how many of us in NY crewed on that show right after college. I vaguely remember holding a beach umbrella over Stipe between takes, right after having to bury a Buick in the sand.

    Pete’s town of “Wellville” was named after a song with a chorus that went “That’s my life, That’s my Wellville” and vaguely resembled Pulp’s “Babies”. Anyone know what that song was? (not a quiz, i was just hoping to find it)

    Anonymous — September 6, 2007 @ 3:05 pm

  • OK. Hey Gabba Gabba freaks me out. My daughter and wife were watching the show when I got home from work last week and as soon as I started watching it, I thought I was on drugs. Cool concept to have the Aquabats do a show, but it is freaky. Have you seen the clip of Elijah “Frodo” Wood doing his Puppet Master dance? I’m telling you, seriously crazy stuff that I’m not so sure I want my child watching.

    Eric — September 6, 2007 @ 7:07 pm

  • Yeah man. That “Puppet Master” bit is a bit freaky. Not in the good way. More in the Thriller-esque sense… and we all know how that ends.

    mel — September 7, 2007 @ 12:18 pm

  • Pete & Pete was one of the best shows on TV during its run. Set the standard for Scrubs, Arrested Development and The Office to come (quirky, off-kilter single camera shows). And let’s not forget Marshall Crenshaw (the meter man) and Syd Straw (the math teacher) who form a band with little Pete to help him remember his favorite song, which he only heard once, when he saw a garage band practicing… the band was played by none other than Polaris if i remember that episode correctly.

    Keith — September 7, 2007 @ 5:42 pm

  • Mulcahy was also in Miracle Legion way back in the 80s. Worth digging up if you like Polaris. Never get tired of “The Backyard”. Dig your blog.

    Paul — September 8, 2007 @ 10:33 pm

  • Thanks for the Polaris tracks… I am so picking up that CD. Pete and Pete was one of the best shows ever. I have the first season on DVD if you want to come over!

    Great blog.

    Blue Bag Horse — September 12, 2007 @ 8:35 am

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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