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.”

February 2, 2006

Hookin’ up words and phrases and clauses

I am so ridiculously excited about this post. If you are roughly in my age bracket, or if you are younger and have *exceptionally* cool tastes, then you know what I am talkin’ about when I say, “I’m just a bill. Yes, I’m only a bill. And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill….”

Schoolhouse Rock! was instrumental in my academic formation, and contributed extensively to my mad verbal skills today. As their website says so eloquently; “Every Saturday morning between 1973 and 1985, a classroom of imagination defying enormity was assembled on ABC, run by a small cadre of renegade Madison Avenue ad men. Class sessions were short but intense – squeezed between episodes of Scooby Doo and LaffOlympics, and Underoos met the dress code. No one assigned homework, no one slapped your knuckles with a yardstick, no one beat you up for your milk money. The institution of learning was called Schoolhouse Rock, and if you can recite the Preamble of the Constitution by rote and know the function of a conjunction, you probably attended faithfully.”

Don’t you feel smarter just remembering all this stuff? Three times six is … eighteen! School House Rock was great at breaking down complex issues into easily understood (and damn catchy) rhymes. In 1996 a bunch of their songs were re-done by good people so now you can rock a little as you learn (from the CD Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks). Please enjoy these as much as I do. And all good English majors should remember:
“I get my thing in action (Verb!)
To be, to sing, to feel, to live (Verb!)”


Conjunction Junction – Better Than Ezra

Three Is A Magic Number – Blind Melon

I’m Just A Bill – Deluxx Folk Implosion

No More Kings – Pavement

My Hero, Zero – The Lemonheads

The Energy Blues – Biz Markie

Verb: That’s What Happening – Moby

Also, today is my sister’s birthday – my childhood companion on the couch in our jammies, watching and learning all this stuff, filing away all the tunes into our encyclopedic musical memories. Happy birthday, big sis! Love you!

Subscribe to this tasty feed.
I tweet things. It's amazing.

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.

View all Interviews → View all Shows I've Seen →