August 30, 2007

Memorable Moment in Music: Made-for-TV tunes

Something utterly important to today’s alchemy of popular music occured on September the 8th, 1965. That was the day when the classified ad ran in Variety Magazine to attract what would ultimately become the first musical group crafted specifically for a television audience, a ready-made pop phenomenon known as The Monkees.

The ad read, “seeking four insane boys, age 17-21 for acting roles in a new series.” Hundreds applied, and Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith and Davy Jones were selected to form a Beatles-lookalike group for a zany television show. The hits were penned by a team of tunesmiths who began churning out sugar-sweet three minute instant pop classics. Instantly blurring the lines of television and musical reality, the Monkees sold 5 million copies of their debut album, and burned up the charts. They would go on to sell more records in 1965 than the Beatles. In 1967, I think they sold more records than the Beatles and the Stones combined. You can bet that those holding their puppet strings were pleased.

Despite the confection, I will confess a certain weakness in my heart towards these television bands of yesteryear. I am only an average woman. I cannot resist the guiles of songs like…

Daydream Believer – The Monkees
(Westerberg covered it)

I Think I Love You – The Partridge Family
(Westerberg covered it too)

Sugar Sugar – The Archies
(not Westerberg, but Semisonic + Mary Lou Lord covered it)

And yes, I can sing along each words to all of those songs, a holdover from being 11 and fervently riding my bike to softball practice with my huge pastel Walkman and my parent-approved tunes. I had a tough time once junior high started.

So it’s all just fluff and bubblegum delight, and there’s a place for that in my life, but if we’re gonna be honest, that initial classified ad profoundly changed the face of music — and one could argue for the worse. Sometimes I look at the landscape of recent years and find the ideas of everything from Making The Band to The Spice Girls to the INXS replace-our-dead-singer-on-television contest to be a bit appalling. Sure, it’s a free market, but it’s also prostituting out music to the highest bidder based on looks and sparkle, and not necessarily the quality of the music. Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees.

[a debt is owed to the excellent Performing Songwriter magazine for their piece last year called “Bands On The Rerun.” This is part of the XPN Memorable Moments In Music series.]

December 19, 2006

Yabba dabba doo

Joe Barbera, half of the famous animation duo Hanna-Barbera, died yesterday at the age of 95 from natural causes at his home in California. Just the name Hanna-Barbera makes me smile, and remember how it would always flash across the screen at the beginning of the best cartoons from the Saturday mornings of my youth.

Alongside recollections of watching questionable shows like The Gummy Bears or Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers (I can still sing the songs for both, wanna hear it? Didn’t think so), as well as better ones like He-Man and The Smurfs, I spent lots of weekend mornings with The Jetsons and The Flintstones. The duo also created Yogi Bear and Scooby-Doo.

Their strengths melded perfectly, critic Leonard Maltin wrote in his book Of Mice And Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons. Barbera brought the comic gags and skilled drawing, while Hanna brought warmth and a keen sense of timing.

Hanna, who died in 2001, once said he was never a good artist, but that Barbera could “capture mood and expression in a quick sketch better than anyone I’ve ever known.”

Yay for the both of them, for all the joy the’ve added into countless kids’ artificially-sweetened-cereal fueled Saturday mornings.

Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah (Means I Love You)
[from The Jetsons] – Violent Femmes

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? – Matthew Sweet

Open Up Your Heart And Let The Sunshine In
[from The Flintstones] – Frente!

(I just remembered that I totally had the original version of this song on vinyl record)


Sugar, Sugar [from The Archie Show]
Mary Lou Lord & Semisonic

The Tra-La-La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)
[from The Banana Splits] – Liz Phair & Material Issue

[Parts of this post are lifted from the AP article, and the songs are from the excellent mid-’90s snapshot of nostalgia Saturday Morning Cartoons’ Greatest Hits, which has more great tracks from the likes of The Ramones, Sublime, Reverend Horton Heat, and Juliana Hatfield/Tanya Donelly]

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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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