When you’re a kid getting pulled back and forth during a messy divorce, there are certain songs that will continue to haunt you.
Ronnie Hammond’s soulful vocals punctuated an era of my life that was defined by heartache, fights, and a distinct lack of sleep (not by choice, unfortunately). My parents divorced in 1997, just as I was emerging from the hell-on-earth that was middle school and into a completely new environment with new friends and challenges.
ARS is probably my dad’s favorite band, and he drowned himself in those lyrics more times that I’m comfortable remembering. “Angel”, in particular, was his theme song for the divorce–wondering what happened to make everything go so wrong. In hindsight, I could tell the story from an objective position, but I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s hard to remember those times, both in a good and in a bad way, but the music is always there. The music tells the story so I don’t have to.
There are some songs that–by their very nature–make you smile. There are some songs that conjure happy memories. This one does both.
The Banana Splits Show theme (aka “The Tra La La Song”), besides all the happy memories of summers long passed, is another one of those simple songs that through its bright melody and hum-able lyrics just exudes the kind of emotions that remind me of childhood innocence and seemingly endless playtime.
The Banana Splits were born of that late-60s, Sid & Marty Kroft school of children’s entertainment that defined the late Baby Boomers and early GenXers’ childhoods through reruns on syndicated television. My dad remembers watching it as a kid, and I was first exposed to it during a New Years Eve marathon on TBS in the late 80s or (very) early 90s. The Kroft-designed sets and costumes were odd and certainly outdated by my sensibilities, but I really got into the Hanna-Barbera cartoon shorts that made up the bulk of the show. The Arabian Nights and The Three Musketeers stories fit in well with my fandom of adventure series like Johnny Quest, The Pirates of Dark Water, and DuckTales, and the Danger Island serial was one of the very few live-action programs I had interest in at the time. (Live action, to me, was “adult” television–boring programs like “the news” or As The World Turns.)
Liz Phair and Material Issue deliver a brilliant cover of the old theme, adding some depth and a little bit of edginess to the clean-cut, inoffensive instrumentation and cheery elementary sing-along vocals of the original. Dig it deep!
We here at Angst Productions do not endorse or advocate for the use of any mind-altering substances in any way whatsoever. Except maybe caffeine–the “clean crack”!
I suppose that nothing goes together quite like nerds and caffeine. I came up in the era before “energy drinks” were so prolific and the chosen nectar hawked by every douchebag “extreme” bro. Back in those halcyon days, we had to get our fix the old-fashioned way: either a cuppa coffee, “high caffeine” sodas like Surge or Jolt, or–and only for the most desperate of times–by popping a couple No-Doze between classes like so many Jessie Spanos.
It’s that miracle little molecule that inhibits adenosine reception and staves off the drowsiness so that we can better manage to do important things like writing HTML for our Angelfire sites or playing Command & Conquer until dawn! Of course, the O.G. nerd rockers extraordinaire, They Might Be Giants, would have a song catering to their own admitted addiction to the stuff.
Some of my contemporaries lost themselves in alcohol, acid, ecstasy, or even that dreaded marijuana, but we tended to stray more “functional addict”: preferring to get our high from the things we built or the games we played. It helped us stay sharp at the expense of a raging headache if we ever missed a hit, but that was the trade-off for getting through the latter half of the “extreme decade” with grades and body more-or-less intact.
By the way, for the uninitiated, that episode of Futurama where Fry drinks 100 coffees and everything gets all weird and slow-mo for him? That portrayal is fairly accurate–except with more heart palpitations and diuresis.
Black coffee’s not enough for me; I need a better friend.
I did have a fairly cliched track chosen for this one, but as I started to write this piece, I drastically changed my mind.
In reality, you could probably pick any track by Daft Punk, but I’ve always liked this remix (as well as the original). What’s not to love about driving with this one? There’s a good beat, zippy flourishes, and it’s about The Grid and how information can be abstracted into vehicles on freeways. Man, oh, man, that when the full orchestra hits…!
Forgive the seemingly cliched response, but–like everything else–there’s a story behind it.
It was the winter of 2001. I was a freshman at the University of Georgia living off-campus because of the lack of dormitory housing available. As such, I didn’t have the robust social circle that my contemporaries enjoyed as part of that “freshman experience”.
My friend Jessica–a high school buddy who shared my appreciation for B-movies and the waning swing music craze that had previously gripped the youngest of Generation X and the oldest of Generation Y–was one of only a few regular faces in my considerably small social circle [As an aside: “Millennial” was not really in the popular vernacular until we were in our mid-late-20s, so we never considered ourselves as such. If you are familiar to my writing, you will know that I tend to take issue with the popular definition of this term and its implications]. As it turned out, she had discovered that one of the clubs downtown ran a swing night in their upstairs dance hall on Tuesdays. Naturally, being such an awesome friend, she invited me along (she even picked me up from my apartment as I had no car)!
Tasty World was a fixture of Athens nightlife during the 90s and 2000s. It was the scrappy upstart to older, established venues like the 40-Watt Club or Georgia Theatre, but there was a charm in its hardwood floors and wobbly tables. It was brightly lit, unassuming, and located above a fantastic restaurant so it was easy to grab a bite of food during an event. The hall had great sound, too! Our DJ (I want to say his name was “Buzz”) was a great guy, and even offered to waive my cover when he found out that I walked from across town on the nights when Jessica was unable to pick me up. He also spun an eclectic mix of classic swing, new swing like Squirrel Nut Zippers and Brian Setzer, as well as some tracks that one would not normally associate with swing dancing like LL Cool J’s “Goin’ Back To Cali” or Kenny Loggins’s “Footloose”.
I mean, it suppose it seems obvious when you listen to it, but to an 18-year-old with limited experience with the greater art world, the realization was revolutionary: Music could transcend genres. Dance could transcend styles. Mashups and remixes were just becoming a “thing”, and I had just found the wellspring. This was my favorite song to dance to; it had the right tempo, the right beat, and a great little breakdown for a flip, floor slide, or some other ridiculous flourish that my dance partners and I always tried to pull off–mostly unsuccessfully.
Tasty World has since closed, and Athens simply isn’t the quirky indie-scene college town that it used to be, but I’ll never forget those cold nights walking from Riverbend Parkway to downtown to get in a few hours of Lindy hop during that strange transition from adolescence to adulthood.
It’s, by far, the worst video on MTV, but the track is amazing.
Who doesn’t love Tron? Of course, I would say Journey’s “Separate Ways” is probably more associated with that scene in Tron Legacy where young Sam Flynn turns the power on at his dad’s old arcade, accelerating the whole place to life with the pounding cadence of Neal Schon and Steve Smith’s famous riff. Of course, the track served as the opening theme of Disney California Adventure Park’s “ElecTRONica” night parties as well. This cut from 1983’s Frontiers still conjures images of cage-dancing programs, neon martinis, and 25-cent arcade games as well as warm summer nights on empty freeways with the top down and the stereo blaring.
What on earth was the director of this video thinking? A keyboard awkwardly placed on a corrugated wall? Let’s just splice in footage from old video games and the Tron movies….
Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of the pain and hardship of the past to really appreciate our present and future. Also, Tom Jones is a little bit of a guilty pleasure, but I do so enjoy his music–probably more than a sane person should.
My first introduction to TJ was his cameo in the film Mars Attacks! where he and a handful of lounge lizards were attempting to escape the exaggerated onslaught of alien invaders bent on the destruction of humanity. Of course, I had no clue who this guy was or why it was funny that he should be in the film, but that extremely catchy tune playing over the end titles was the cherry on the sundae for one of the oddest little films that I love to watch from time to time.
That’s probably not relevant to the story, but it’s okay. Let’s fast-forward slightly to my early 20s.
The Ex (of course, she wasn’t The Ex yet) and I were at her parents’ house doing a bit of laundry, as was our custom at the time to spend a day with her mom and little sister visiting while we ran about a month’s worth of dirty clothes. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ran on the television playing in the background, and I think you can imagine what came up.
I was still working at Borders (Borders still existed), so the next day I started flipping through the music section on my break and I grabbed a copy of Tom Jones: Reloaded, a greatest hits compilation featuring some classic tunes and a few collaborations with some contemporary artists. The album got a lot of heavy rotation in my driving collection as The Ex and I both enjoyed the boisterous sound of Jones’s belting baritone (to say that she enjoyed it was notable itself as she wasn’t a “music person” like me). We spent many, many hours driving across the north metro area listening to the album–often on repeat!
“What’s New Pussycat” kinda became our de facto theme song, and evolved into a sort of call-and-response variation of “I love you”:
“What’s new, Pussycat?” I would ask.
“Woah, woah woah!” She would sing back and grin.
To say that the song still brings up bittersweet emotions is an understatement. Those were the good days, the happy days before life as we knew it started to fall apart. We were happy-go-lucky kids very deeply in love and trying to find our way in the world, but optimism and mutual support can only hold a couple together for so long. Sadly, it all came crashing to a halt in June of 2008–the beginning of the Dark Times. I didn’t listen to Tom Jones for years after all hell broke loose that summer, and that song still takes me back to the mid-2000s and driving all over Cobb County in that old Windstar or my Nissan Sentra (Betty I) and I look back on those nights fondly even though I know how the film ended.
I say that I’d rather forget her, but she did make an indelible impact on my life. I think that I’d rather like to forget what happened and pretend that she just disappeared after 2007–like she faded away. Instead, I remind myself of the good that came after. My life is far more interesting, more robust, and more fulfilling than it would have been with her. There are people that are married and children that are born that may not have existed otherwise. I have valuable friendships that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I would not have the opportunities that I have today, leading the lifestyle that I do, nor would The Barbie and I be together if it weren’t for the Dark Times.
We all have our trials to go through. It’s the hero’s journey.
Every time I hear this deep cut by Sublime, it brings me back to summers and weekends, cruising around Cobb County, Georgia in a 1996 Ford Windstar with the best mates an oddball kind like me could hope for! The album, Saturday Morning, Cartoons’ Greatest Hits, and this track in particular, served as the soundtrack to many an ill-advised jaunt around the greater metro Atlanta area. Adventures that led to destinations like Funcoland for old video games (we were retro gamers when the N64 was still new), to Peachtree Industrial for new airsoft guns, or even the occasional detour to Crescent City Beignets for an afternoon of caffeine, muffalettas, fried dough, and enough powered sugar to kill a small animal.
I first discovered this track while watching the MCA Records-produced TV special on Cartoon Network’s Mr. Spimm’s Cartoon Theatre (this was during the early days of Cartoon Network, before classics such as Dexter’s Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls even existed), and I thought it was the coolest thing to see theme songs to shows that I loved performed by contemporary artists that I was enthralled with! I mean, Sublime, Helmet, Wax, Reverend Horton Heat–what’s not to love about that? Sadly, this was also the days before the widespread adoption of the Internet, so there was really no way to find a copy of this video at any of my local outlets.
Sometime in the late 90s, I happened across the soundtrack on CD at Disc-Go-Round (RIP), tucked in the back corner of the shop among copies of Titanic and The Bodyguard that no one seemed to want anymore. Of course, I let out an audible shriek and plunked the $17.95+tax onto the counter before gleefully running out the door to listen to my newest treasure in the Sony Walkman that I had stashed in the center console of the minivan (routed into the stereo by way of a cassette adapter, naturally). From that day forth, the merry band of misfits known as Angst Haben had a new freak flag to fly, compliments of that 3rd-wave ska band out of Long Beach and the first black superhero on television (who also happened to be a dog).
It’s certainly not the best Hammer track, but I love this video. In fact, I love how the whole video is James Brown and MC Hammer throwing shade (and maybe a few fireballs) at Michael Jackson.
MC Hammer (or just “Hammer”, by this point) was a staple of my childhood. Of course, the same could probably be said of everyone in the “Xennial” micro-generation. I distinctly remember speeding around the outer ring at Sparkles roller rink jamming to this track and throwing up the little hand signals. I can probably still handle those moves, too!
We’re going to start this new blogging challenge off strong with a brilliant piece from the progressive rock movement of the late 1970s!
No matter how “blue” I might get, this cut from Electric Light Orchestra never fails to pick up my mood. I had almost forgotten about it until watching a particularly odd episode of Doctor Who that centered around a young man and his friends attempting to track down the eponymous hero. The soundtrack to the episode featured Jeff Lynne’s musical endeavours quite prominently, even weaving “Mr. Blue Sky” into the narrative.
It’s a strange little episode, but the eternally happy notes of the tune have locked themselves firmly into my brain’s musical pantheon–a hero among songs–much like the rest of the entries in this series.
Adventitious Geekery and other distractions created or curated by Matthew "Atari" Eargle