Hive Five: A Brief History of Influential Cartoon Rock

Photo: GAB Archive/Redferns

Anyone who thought Gorillaz‘ bizarro blend of cartoon rap was a disposable fad will be swiftly rebuked this week, as the group releases a compilation celebrating a decade of singles. Though Gorillaz are arguably history’s most credible animated musical endeavor, they certainly aren’t the first 2-D band to leave a mark on pop music’s timeline. So, to commemorate 10 years of Gorillaz goodness, let’s look at the legacies of five tunes by toons that preceded them.

1. The Archies, “Sugar, Sugar”

This song is the vanguard of cartoon rock. What started out as a cheesy tune by a fictional band tied to a Saturday morning cartoon quickly became one of the definitive hits of the Bubblegum era. Topping the charts for four weeks in 1969, “Sugar Sugar” is such an indelible classic that most millennials aren’t even aware it came from a cartoon. Perhaps the kids will be saying the same about Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.” in 40 years… [Watch here.]

2. Josie and the Pussycats, “Josie and the Pussycats”

Hanna-Barbera tried to duplicate the success of the Archies in 1970 with this female spinoff, to mixed reception. The show followed the group as they cruised around solving mysteries using the power of music, in a van that strangely resembled the Scooby Doo crew’s Mystery Machine, with a dude in an ascot who strangely resembled Fred Jones. Josie and the Pussycats were prolific, but nowhere near as musically influential as their Archies counterparts. Still, the all-female band surely proved to a generation of girls that they, too, could rock out. The show spawned a 2001 live-action movie, and we can probably thank (or blame) them for the Pussycat Dolls. [Watch here.]

3. The Beets, “Killer Tofu”

Before the Beets appeared on Doug, cartoon bands were largely an extension of an animated show’s merchandising arm, a new way to sell lunchboxes. But the Beets took the cartoon band idea and made it smart, using a parody of the Beatles to comment on the music industry and celebrity. While their personas were send-ups of the Fab Four, musically the Beets only managed to churn out generic – but catchy – rock that spoke to pre-teens. Hence, a cappella renditions of “Killer Tofu,” their ode to eating healthfully while avoiding that “strange bean curd,” could be heard in countless grade school hallways in the early ’90s. [Watch here.]

4. Jem, “Truly Outrageous”

Remember that thing we said about merchandising and selling more toys? Jem was that concept perfected. Whereas the Archies aimed to penetrate popular culture — or at least chart – and the Beets strove for satire, Jem was merely a superficial means to capitalize on current pop trends (namely, the rise of MTV). So Jem and the Holograms made music that didn’t influence, but rather that reflected the musical flairs of the leggings and synthesizers era. As a result, her theme song sounds no worse than any number of  forgettable 80′s pop songs. The show also introduced the idea of band feuds into the cartoon world, so maybe for their next chapter, Gorillaz could take a page out of Jem’s book and face off with an arch rival. Still, Jem’s legacy lives on and earns cool points, because she was voiced by Luna/Dean & Britta bassist, Britta Phillips. [Watch here.]

5. Mystik Spiral, “Icebox Woman”

Following in the footsteps of the Beets, the band from Daria was a tongue-in-cheek depiction of the brooding, exasperated rocker of the mid-’90s, those malcontents who were anti-corporate but only because a corporation had yet to sign them. Mystik Spiral so deftly parodied and laid bare the hypocrisies of the “anti-establishment” band working its ass off to be heard by the establishment, that the depiction is just as applicable to current groups like Odd Future as it was to the ’90s grunge bands originally in its cross hairs. [Watch here.]

 

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