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Nelvana Entertainment and the Rock & Roll Road to Hell

Posted 1 week, 2 days ago by Penguin Pete

Strap on your helmet so you don't make a mess when we blow your mind, because we're about to show you that there's a continuous karass in pop culture history that connects Woodstock, Star Wars, Heavy Metal, the Beatles, and the Care Bears.

We begin with Nelvana studios in Toronto, Ontario, and a forgotten animated Halloween TV special from 1978, name of The Devil and Daniel Mouse:

In it, a pair of folk-singing mice despair of ever reaching fame and fortune, but the female of the duo slips into a Faustian bargain with B.L. Zebubb, an infernal record producer who isn't supposed to remind you of Don Kirshner more than a lot. Said mouse becomes "Funky Jan" and achieves '70s rock success in a hilarious montage of '70s parody, while abandoning her former partner, before the slimy Zebubb comes back to collect her soul. Former stage-mate Daniel holds a trial to contest her contract which they win through the groovy power of folk rock. The songs are by none other than the face of Woodstock himself, John Sebastian, AKA founder of the Lovin' Spoonfuls.

But Star Wars fans right now are experiencing a rippling disturbance in the Force, as if the animation was vaguely familiar but they can't quite place it. Does this entry at Wookieepedia help? That's right, George Lucas was a fan of Nelvana and tapped them to produce the animated segment of The Star Wars Holiday Special, we already covered it here.

Now for the Heavy Metal angle: Nelvana had a shot at producing one of the animated segments for the 1981 film, but declined this opportunity, probably because they sensed what a disaster it would become. Instead they set out to do something that could even be considered to be a far superior effort, 1983's Rock & Rule:

Rock & Rule is nothing less than a retread of The Devil and Daniel Mouse. This time a sinister aging rock star (who isn't supposed to remind you of Steven Tyler more than a lot) forcibly recruits a nobody performer with a magic voice to summon a demon, and her old crew comes to bail her out. But this time Nelvana went big: their round-up of talent now included Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, Cheap Trick, and Earth Wind & Fire.

In this film, you can definitely see some influence from what Heavy Metal became, but with a far more coherent production and story line. Albeit, a story that's out of its mind. One in which a friggin' demon is summoned from a laser-light-show pentagram through the arrangements of a villain whose theme song is voiced by Lou Reed. Plus all of these cute little references, like the characters being just a touch of homage to Ralph Bakshi and when Angel and the demon meet for the first time, we get just a glimpse of a Fay Wray and King Kong angle. Yeah, just look at this movie: This is what Heavy Metal could have been!

But Rock & Rule was a financial disaster; Nelvana, a studio which got its start filming with a camera tripod over a toilet using phone books to stack up animation cels to simulate zooms, spent $8 million dollars producing Rock & Rule and it literally opened and closed overnight.

What bailed out the studio? Classic '80s Saturday morning cartoons, that's what. Starting from a gig producing the first season of Inspector Gadget, they went on to produce Herself the Elf, Strawberry Shortcake, and the whole Care Bears franchise. Their previous association with George Lucas even got them a spot on the Star Wars animated spin-offs, Droids and Ewoks.

Nelvana went on to even greater fame and fortune which still continues today, so, perhaps, in a narrative that parallels their early stories of performers who learned a Very Important Lesson about signing contracts presented by shape-shifting dudes with their heads on fire, they have earned their redemption. But let's linger on a bit more about the studio's early days.

Nelvana was founded by animator Clive A. Smith, whose previous by-line included working on none other than Yellow Submarine and the Beatles animated TV series. What, you didn't know that existed? Well, here's an episode:

...and now you know a secret!

Do Music Awards Shows Even Matter Anymore?

Posted 3 weeks, 1 day ago by Penguin Pete

So the big blog buzz today is what happened at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards. But here in Internet-land, we thought we'd start right out looking at the irony of that situation:

Who listens to this stuff?

This is MTV we're talking about, a channel that hasn't shown an actual music video in about a decade. MTV is a reality TV channel. MTV handing out video music awards now makes as much sense as the Home Shopping Network handing out Nobel Prizes.

Top video winner: Miley Cyruss and her Wrecking Ball video. Wait a minute, isn't that the same wrecking ball we were all mercilessly mocking for the past year? The Internet fairly ruptured itself with memes parodying Miley.

Why do we have to line up and clap for her now?

In fact, you can't help but notice a huge disconnect between the artists honored at MTV and the groups people actually listen to. On the whole winner's list, not one of them shows up in our current trending artists list here at Lyric Interpretations. Of our trending artists list, only Taylor Swift shows up on the page about MTV at all; she performed, but was not honored.

What do people actually listen to?

Now, speaking as a parent of teenagers, I get to be pretty plugged in to what young people are listening to. Which is why I'm increasingly alarmed year after year to find them refusing to move on to their generation and clinging to mine instead.

Hot Topic. We may make fun of it, but kids still shop there in droves. There's a Hot Topic at your local mall, bet your fur. Stroll on in and take a gander at the T-shirts; Ramones, AC/DC, KISS, System of a Down, Sublime, Nirvana, Green Day, Avenged Sevenfold, Slipknot, Fall-Out Boy, Foo Fighters...

Wait, sixteen-year-olds are now more into Kurt Cobain than they are modern top-40 radio? Because Kurt Cobain has been dead since before they were born. When a dead guy from 20 years back can connect with the kids of today more than a real live person right now, that's telling you how out of touch the whole top-40 and award scene is.

Go to school with your teenager and note the T-shirts the kids actually buy. Heck, even older than Hot Topic's demographic, there's Bob Marley, Guns 'n' Roses, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Iron Maiden, Red Hot Chili Peppers...

And if we shift our focus outside the mall with kids raiding grandpa's album shelf, we'll find older generations listening to the same thing. And then after that, we turn to the Internet.

What do people pretend to listen to?

There is another class of music popular with a lot of people but either too obscure to find on a T-shirt that wasn't custom-printed, or just too niche to be appreciated by more than a select group. Now we're in heady college intellectual territory, with Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa (peace be upon the name of the prophet), Pulp, Cake, Neutral Milk Hotel, Television, Talking Heads, They Might Be Giants, Destroy All Monsters. You might dismiss some of these as "geek music," but don't look now, but we're all geeks. Internet culture is actually more relevant than radio now, I'd say.

And then there's the hipster factor. That's where you find Doors, Beatles, Velvet Underground, Parliament, Radiohead, Fugazi, Primus, Weezer, Dr. Dre... all on the same playlist. People who pick their music based on what will be good for them more than what they actually can rock out to. Don't get us wrong, we love all this stuff too! The ultimate irony of hipster culture is that it will have good taste, even if it's defiant taste, and what they think is popular will eventually be shared alike with non-hipsters.

Beyond that, we reach the gateway of Internet infinity. There are thousands and thousands of bands out there, with thousands of fans, and you've never heard of them. Neither have we, and we're a music website. Indy / arthouse / alternative artists, some of them going no farther than to record in their garage and mix in the bedroom on a laptop, now have more of a following than Frank Sinatra had in his day. This is because the Internet is a world-wide audience. You can have twice a Sinatra worth of fans, and still be obscure, unknown, and broke.

So who are these people who actually like top-40 music?

Oh, don't get us wrong. There's still fans out there for Eminem and Kanye West. But by and large, when queried about Kanye, most people will respond "Yes, I've heard of him." Not "Yeah, I have all his albums, he rocks!" Just "Kanye, oh, that jerk that married Kim Kardashian." We all know who these people are, but most of them aren't the same names on your iPod playlist. Most of them are merely famous for being famous.

The fact is, TMZ and Perez Hilton and the whole MTV world, lives in its own record industry bubble. That bubble is almost a secret underground society all its own. Rihanna, a great artist who's sold a lot of records and swept a lot of Grammys. And barely peeks into the bottom rungs of Grooveshark's popular playlist.

Who's on top of Grooveshark? Currently Maroon 5, Sla, Nico and Vinz, One Republic, and American Authors. I'll tell you this much, more people listened to music on Grooveshark this year than listened to music on MTV.

Good luck making sense of that.

Return of the Unique One-Hit Wonder Stories

Posted on 16/8/14 by Penguin Pete

Continued from part three, here's another dive into music's mythic pool of one-hitters with a story to tell. And when we say "one-hit wonder" we mean as far as the Billboard US Hot-100 chart is concerned. We also ponder the reason why the parties behind these hits never ascended the Billboard again, because they're fascinating, and they're like popcorn. You can't just read one of these. Where would our ad revenue be if you did that?

Junk Food Junkie - Larry Groce #9 1976

Reason: America lost its taste for microbiotic lentil puree.

It was the Jimmy Carter '70s, and the Baby Boomers aged into Yuppies and began to notice for the first time that they were finally getting older. This caused panic in the generation that thought they were immortal. Suddenly there was a flurry of interest in healthy living, to clean up after all of that unbridled hedonism of the '60s. Boomers desperately turned to anything they thought would help slow the black hand of impending death - God, Elvis, astral projection, jogging, and of course sunflower-seed tofu wraps. Health food stores became a huge fad, popping up all over like alfalfa sprouts in a rainstorm. Larry Groce was parodying this trend with the bicentennial hit, but never made the top charts again. He doesn't care; he's too busy hosting Mountain Stage to bother with such trivial matters as the Billboard Hot-100.

The Middle - Jimmy Eat World #5 2002

Reason: The Hot-100 hates alternative power-pop.

Jimmy Eat World has continued to release albums, tour, and routinely blow away the US Alternative chart on Billboard. Their most recent Alt Top-40 was "I Will Steal You Back" from the album Damage, dropped just months ago. So don't hassle them with this Hot-100 business, because if the Hot-100 doesn't include Jimmy Eat World, it's the chart's loss, not theirs. In the meantime we will always have our Sears' catalog underwear section parties. But just to say we said it, another reason that Jimmy Eat World might not be showing in mainstream is because the mainstream has a hard time telling them from Weezer.

Whoomp! (There It Is) - Tag Team #2 1993

Reason: That's all that was there.

"Whoomp!" is the penultimate one-hit wonder song, by a band which might as well have had "one-hit wonder" branded on their forehead. Tag Team was a Miami hip-hop group comprised of Cecil Glenn, Steve Gibson, and exactly one idea. After 1993 and the way the song penetrated sporting events with a vengeance, they tried various false starts and eventually released "Here it is, Bam!" in 1994, which charted #75 on the R&B. They also tried an Addams' Family remix, and released a Disney remix called "Whoomp! There it went," also in 1994. That was Tag Team throwing up their hands and admitting defeat right there. Their fourteen and a half minutes were up, and it was back to the gator farm.

Epic - Faith No More #9 1990

Reason: Americans hate being told they can't have something.

Faith No More had thriving chart success in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, all the way through the '90s. But this song alone caught on in the US, as the MTV generation briefly became fascinated by the flipping fish and exploding piano. This would make sense if they were from, say, Australia, but they hailed from San Francisco, which says weird things about their appeal. Add to this that a huge chuck of the US rock scene seemed to be infatuated with Faith No More; Nirvana, Metallica, Alice In Chains, and Guns 'n Roses all cited them as influences, while Cory Taylor of Slipknot flat out declares that seeing Faith No More at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards changed his life. With such a Velvet-Underground-level of influence on mainstream American rock, and having plinked the charts in the US Alt category at least, you'd think Faith No More could themselves crack the Hot-100 chart a second time? Nope! We'll have to chalk this one up to flying saucers. Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown!

I Touch Myself - Divinyls #4 1991

Reason: Americans washed their hands of the group.

Is this song about what I think it is? It is??? Eeeeewwww! In the stuffy Puritan US, coming out of the straight-jacket Conservative '80s, it's a rift in the space time continuum that this song made the charts at all. Heck, the only reason it wasn't banned by a Moral Majority mob led by Jack Thompson must be that they were all still too busy in court with 2 Live Crew. As it is, once the rebellion was put down, the Divinyls were never shown in the US again. However, there is that small peak of the concept that women are allowed to acknowledge their own sexuality. It has now been introduced into the stateside mind, a spark of independence that may yet see contraceptives freely available through corporate health care before the end of the century, give or take a couple more civil wars. Various celebrities have paid tribute or cover to the song, including Pink, Ben Folds Five, Weird Al Yankovic, and Eve 6. A few women may keep it on their playlists, right on their Kindle alongside 50 Shades of Gray, which they can enjoy under their burquas in relative peace as long as they don't talk about it. The sisterhood may rise again, yet.

Five Albums No-One Thought Would See The Light Of Day

Posted on 25/7/14 by Jon O'Brien

Five years after kick-starting the whole 80s synth-pop revival with their self-titled debut, La Roux finally announced their long-awaited comeback this month with their new album, Trouble In Paradise. Their absence from the music scene may appear lengthy, but compared to some procrastinating artists, the British duo have been positively prolific. Here's a look at five albums whose gestation periods tested the patience of even their most ardent fans, and whether their respective waits were ultimately worth it.

Kate Bush -- Aerial

After shunning the limelight for twelve years to raise her family, Kate Bush emerged from her self-imposed cocoon in 2005 with Aerial, an ambitious double album of folk, new age, classical and rock, which far from tainting her legacy, only helped to strengthen it. Featuring tracks dedicated to her son ("King Of The Mountain") and her late mother ("A Coral Room"), the follow-up to 1993's The Red Shoes is arguably Bush's most personal and relatable record to date. But "Pi," a medieval-sounding affair in which she reels off the number in the title to its 138th-decimal place, and "Mrs. Bartolozzi," a stately piano ballad featuring a repeated refrain of 'washing machine,' not to mention the appearance of Rolf Harris and his trademark didgeridoo on the second disc's 42-minute musical poem, proved she remained as brilliantly idiosyncratic as ever.

Guns N' Roses -- Chinese Democracy

Guns N' Roses sixth album, Chinese Democracy, arguably needed to be the greatest rock album ever made if it was to justify the fifteen-year wait, cast of thousands and reported cost of $13 million. And while the much-delayed follow-up to 1993's The Spaghetti Incident wasn't a total catastrophe, it still confirmed that Axl Rose, unsurprisingly the only member to survive the band's revolving door policy during the album's troublesome recording period, had forgotten what made the Sunset Strip icons so great in the first place. While 1991's Use Your Illusion sold five million copies in the US alone, Chinese Democracy struggled to pass that tally worldwide.

My Bloody Valentine -- m b v

Shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine virtually revolutionised indie-rock on 1988's Isn't Anything and 1991's Loveless with their heavily distorted wall of sound. So few could have blamed perfectionist frontman Kevin Shields for feeling the pressure to do the same on their third album. However, even the band's most understanding fans had started to lose faith that their near-mythical third album would ever see the light of day until the Irish outfit released m b v unannounced in early 2013. In the end, its nine challenging and completely disorientating tracks offered little concession to any musical developments that had occurred during the 22-year-gap. But while it didn't reinvent the wheel in the same manner as its predecessor, its madness still sounded out of this world.

David Bowie -- The Next Day

David Bowie's 24th-studio album is perhaps more likely to be remembered for the manner in which it was announced rather than its actual content, having arrived without any fanfare whatsoever ten years after 2003's Reality, at a time when most presumed that he'd retired for good. The Next Day isn't as ground-breaking as his seminal 70s work, but home to the likes of "Where Are We Now," a beautifully fragile reflection on The Berlin Years and "I'd Rather Be High," an impassioned slice of psychedelic folk about a Second World War soldier, it's arguably his best since. Reigniting everyone's love for the former Ziggy Stardust, The Next Day not only landed him his first UK number one since 1993's Black Tie White Noise but it also gave him the highest-charting US album of his entire career.

Eagles -- Long Road Out Of Eden

Released 28 years after The Long Run, Eagles' 2007 comeback, Long Road Out Of Eden, is arguably the daddy when it comes to gaps between albums. Take away the references to the Bush administration and their seventh studio effort, which took six years to record, could easily have arrived in the same year as 1979 predecessor The Long Run. However, fans didn't appear to mind the West Coast veterans' lack of progression, nor the slight hypocrisy of releasing an album which attacks corporate greed exclusively through Walmart, giving Henley, Frey and co. their fourth consecutive number one. -

Beatles Songs About Real Places - What You Didn't Know

Posted on 10/7/14 by Penguin Pete

Here at the Lyric Interpretations Utility Muffin Research Kitchen (does everybody get that reference?), we're contractually obligated to plonk out a blog post about The Beatles once in a blue. So this time: The intrigue, the mystery, the forgotten lore and arcane knowledge behind five Beatles songs about real places.

Back in the U.S.S.R.

The Beatles were at their sunny best when they were taking the piss, and this song is McCartney taking the piss out of the global political climate of 1968. British Prime Minister Harold Wilson had just launched a campaign called "I'm backing Britain," which is Ministry-of-Truth double-speak for "everybody should work extra hours for free." Then there was the whole Cold War thing going on at the time. Musically it's several kinds of piss-take, being a musical parody of the Beach Boys in their doo-wop era, "Georgia" referring to the Soviet Republic but also to Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia on my Mind," while the title is a tribute to Chuck Berry's "Back in the USA." How's that for music-geek Easter eggs?

Blue Jay Way

The place of this song is a street in Hollywood, California, where George Harrison was waiting on a friend, Derek Taylor, to show up. Said friend was late, so Harrison just got bored and wandered about the house, which was rented, so he wasn't familiar with it. So he just stumbled upon a Hammond organ there and plonked out this song, because you can do that when you're George Harrison. Some mornings he would just get up and yawn and a song would fall out.

Octopus's Garden

The place is Sardinia, Italy. To be more specific, the place is a boat that happened to belong to Peter Sellers. Ringo Starr was on this boat, and it came time to order lunch, and Ringo, being the pragmatic sort, ordered fish. Turned out the chef was a couple of bubbles left of level that day, because Ringo ended up with squid, which he gamely tried to chew but pronounced to be a bit rubbery. the crew then joked with him, since it was his first time eating tentacle, that octopuses (NOT octopi!) mill about the ocean floor collecting seashells and building gardens out of them. Being Ringo, he just had to make a song about it, and nobody has had any idea ever since.

Penny Lane

Penny Lane is a very real place in Liverpool, England. So real, in fact, that the local law enforcement had a problem with feverish fans stealing the street signs off the place. They gave up and painted the name of the street on the sides of brick walls along the street, which themselves proved far too difficult to steal - yes, even for feverish Beatles fans. It's not like you can't buy a sign in a local gift shop. Most of the landmarks from the area are gone now, but the "shelter in the middle of the round-about" is still there, and was briefly the location of a Beatles-themed restaurant. Please don't anybody steal that.

Strawberry Fields Forever

Like "Penny Lane" is Paul McCartney's nostalgia trip, this is John Lennon's. Strawberry Fields was an orphanage near his childhood home, and he was familiar with it from the little band they would organize to play in the park next door; young John would beseech his aunt to take him to see the band every year, and this might have even been his first inspiration for music. The lyrics are typical deep Lennon riddles, so "no one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low" means that it was at this time and place that John noticed he wasn't like other kids and concluded that he must be either a genius or a fool, while "living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see" is talking about how your memories of your childhood home never match up to the present when you revisit the place as an adult. What a beautiful, deep soul.

Beatles fans, we await your further enlightenment in the comments section below...

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