I first learned of Denver’s preeminent music retailer, Wax Trax, on tour in the mid-90s. We pulled into town and, while HICKEY went across the street to print fake postage stamps at Kinko’s, I popped into this record store to try and sell some merch and also to avoid committing federal crimes. To my delight I learned that Wax Trax always buys – not merely consigns – touring band’s merch. I’m sure some of our records are still there today, round little orphans resigned to the only home they’ll ever know.
I could have taken the cash that day and bought a half of a gas station sandwich but I think we can all agree that store credit was the way to go, especially when you consider that I walked out with the 3-volume set of “Television’s Greatest Hits” and the 2-volume set of “Celebrities Behaving Badly.”
While irrelevant to today’s proceedings, the celebrity compilation is worth mentioning if only for its importance to 90’s musicology. Inside the sleeves of that collection lay a cavalcade of pop icons distilled down to their drunken, indignant, and/or entitled selves.
Hey, they’re just like us!
Among the collected recordings was Casey Kasem going apeshit (“I want a goddamned concerted effort to come out of a record that isn’t a fucking up-tempo record every time I do a goddamned DEATH dedication!”), and perhaps the most notorious studio meltdown ever captured, The Troggs trying to create a follow-up to Wild Thing (“You’ve got to put a little bit of fucking fairy dust over the bastard!”). The compilation was, to quote “John Wayne Drunk Graduation Speech” (Disc 1, Track 1), “ri-goddamn-diculous.” Ergo, the recordings provided countless bands with endless fodder to sample, and those samples went in, and in between, songs on who-knows-how-many records back when pressing plants didn’t care about copyright infringement and libel and whatnot.
But back to our regularly scheduled program – the TV theme collection provided just as much entertainment as the celebrity lameness by including over 200 songs from the 50s to the 80s, 200 songs that I knew nearly every single word to.
While this knowledge is devoid of any real world value I would like to defend my copious childhood TV viewing by sharing some of the more useful things that it has taught me:
* Neptune is the Roman’s King of the Sea (from Diff’rent Strokes super creepy “Bicycle Man” episode)
* Greece has many islands (Balki Bartokomous emigrated from one, an albeit fictitious one, in Perfect Strangers)
* CPR (from The Office where Dwight cuts off and wears the face of a first aid manikin a la Buffalo Bill)
So TV’s been good to me.
The TV comp also served as an amazing guide for learning to play things outside my wheelhouse… in other words, styles not present on Slayer’s South of Heaven or Descendents’ Milo Goes To College. The groove in the Barney Miller theme is unstoppable, the choir backing Facts of Life is transcendent, the hook in What’s Happening is visceral, and next time you and I are at a karaoke bar I’ll do either role from the Growing Pains‘ theme with absolute sincerity. I came to realize that my love of 30-second songs easily predated the first time I heard the Dead Kennedy’s “I Like Short Songs.”
Back when my dad was arguing the merits of listening to an entire record instead of just the hits, I was narrowing my focus on trying to approximate Leon Redbone’s voice from the Mr. Belvedere intro and understanding how they made that bass sound in the opening bar of Night Court. Thanks to Flea and Les Claypool the world would soon learn that it was the thumb that made that sound. Probably also safe to say that my disinterest in repeating the same riff more than twice in a song also appears to be a clear cut result of my incessant ingesting of these ADHD-friendly 30-second melodic masterpieces.
While the influence of those TV theme songs has spanned my musical history sometimes it’s fun to just drink straight from the tap…
Download audio here.
[Baron Vaughn has a great bit about tv theme song artists (Watch here).]
If eight of me at once is too much then hopefully the following single-person performance will be more palatable. Like “Pretty Pathetic” last month, here is another song with no chorus. It is by the English new wave band, Squeeze, who are crafty storytellers with two wily singers whose combined efforts are even greater than the sum of their already formidable parts. They can also fit more hooks into their tonal tackle box than all of Pudgemont County’s alimony ponies (would you agree, Rigs Of Dad?)!
Since Anthrax did a slower version of Joe Jackson’s power pop classic “Got The Time,” I think they should further mine the genre by doing a cover of Squeeze’s “Misadventure.” Anyone else think that could be awesome?
I can imagine SPAZZ cringing at their shirt being worn by a guy with an acoustic guitar but to bring this whole column full circle, Chris Dodge introduced me to Longmont Potion Castle, a deep-cut prank-calls record collection that could only be found at… Wax Trax.
Anyway, here’s Wonderwall:
Download audio here.