A couple of weeks back, I got an excited call from Ken Plume. Ken, y’see, is the fellow who is - among his many other duties here at Quick Stop - responsible for overseeing The Fred Hembeck Show (as well as keeping my daughter supplied with Billy Joel mp3s…). And beyond that, it seems he also conducts in-depth interviews - a truly multi-faceted individual!
Well, the news he had for me that evening concerned just WHO he had been happily chatting over the phone lines earlier that week - none other than Tom Kenny!
While Tom Kenny may not be a household name in YOUR household, he sure is in mine! Tom, in case you didn’t know, is the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, and people, THAT’S a name I KNOW you’re all familiar with!
But Ken wasn’t just alerting me to his latest celebrity conversation because he knew me to be a major SpongeBob fan. Oh no - he was calling to report that, besides delving into the making of the recently released SpongeBob CD, The Best Day Ever, he and Tom had even spent a few minutes discussing (of all things) ME!
The thing is, though, I sorta figured maybe my name just came up briefly, y’know, as the call wound down? I never actually expected it to turn up in the published piece! But last week, when Ken finally posted the interview on-line at Quick Stop (you can read it by going here), much to my surprise, there I am, all over the fourth page of the discussion!
Allow me to reprise a few pertinent excerpts of what the oh-so-kind Mr. Kenny had to say about yers truly…
Even as a kid, a younger teenager, I always liked his Dateline @#$% and stuff that he did. I love that stuff. I thought it was so great. Then when The SpongeBob Movie came out and they put out the soundtrack, they needed a couple extra filler tracks and Andy and I had just begun work on what would become the Best Day Ever album, but Hillenburg heard our songs, they needed a couple of songs to pad out the soundtrack album, and he said how about “Best Day Ever” and Patrick’s “Under My Rock.” So they kind of cherry picked those songs and put them on the movie soundtrack. And then “Best Day Ever” wound up on the closing credits of The SpongeBob Movie. Which was never intended. They were kind of works-in-progress at the time, but they just needed filler for the soundtrack album. Hembeck, on his column - and somebody steered me to it - just raved about those two songs. Just said, “Wow, these are great,” and he’s a Beach Boys freak, and he said, “I pulled over the car and I looked at the CD booklet. And I’m like, ‘Who is responsible for these songs? Why is this so perfect?’ And I saw Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob, wrote the songs, and Andy Paley who’s done Brian Wilson’s best post-Beach Boys work,” and it was just amazing to read somebody that connected all the dots in a way that nobody ever had. Nobody at Nickelodeon gave a shit. Nobody at Paramount gave a crap about those two songs, or probably never even listened to them. And Hembeck just got everything and really listened and connected the dots and knew what we were trying to pay homage to.
He was the first and only person who gave a shit about our two songs on that. Everybody talked about The Flaming Lips and Wilco, and no reviewers even mentioned our songs when they’d review the album and then…
Then Hembeck did a review that only talked about our songs, and again it was like that Earth-2, Comic-Con universe where it’s like, “Great!” And he was so perceptive about where we were stealing our shit from, that it was great. But so positive.
I’ve been wanting to call him for two years. I’ve been wanting to e-mail him or write him a letter or something for two years because he was the first person who was enthusiastic about what we were doing. It was one of the things that got our mental ball rolling for, “Wow, maybe it’d be cool to do a whole album of this shit.”
His review to me means more than USA Today.
Well, as you could probably imagine, I was totally floored by the above comments! Especially the part where Tom credits MY review of his work on the movie soundtrack CD as at least some small impetus for his latest musical endeavor!
I know I said it earlier, but I truly believe it bears repeating: Wow!
Hey, it may not be quite the same as inspiring the likes of Revolver, Born To Run, Dark Side of the Moon or Get Away From Me, but friends, I’ll gladly take it! (And just as an aside, I must confess that, in the course of their chat, Ken gives me far too much credit in relation to my knowledge of musical minutia. The truth is, beyond the likes of James Burton, Carol Kaye, and Hal Blaine, I really don’t know my sixties era session players by name as the overly-enthusiastic Mr. Plume implied! Sorry - though I CAN name pretty much all of Jack Kirby’s inkers, and that’s gotta count for SOMETHING, right?…)
Anyway, full review of the new CD to follow (sans the annoying USA Today pie chart, of course…), but first I thought, as a public service to the cyber-shy Tom K, I’d offer up a trio of entries from the back pages of my unorganized “Fred Sez” blog, all dealing with (no surprise here, Einstein) his lemon-hued absorbent alter ego. Another time for the Kirby embellishers, okay?…
First up, we hearken way, way back to March 19th, 2003, when I first attempted to explain to a largely disinterested world the origin of my ongoing fixation with the yella fella…
It’s a SpongeBob SquarePants world - we all just live in it! You, me, and Jim Starlin alike!
That’s right - I’ve linked the names of Stephen Hillenburg’s lovable nautical Nick sensation with that of comics legendary leveler of multiverses. Why? Well, it all goes back several years now…
I’ve mentioned Julie from time to time. My kid. Like any other kid, she watches her share of TV - though being a pretty active one, usually only as a last resort. But when she does plop down in front of the tube, odds are that the dial is switched to Nickelodeon. Over the years, she’s tuned into just about every program they’ve aired, including all the cartoons - CatDog, The Wild Thornberrys, As Told By Ginger, The Angry Beavers, Hey Arnold!, Rocket Power, and, of course, the always popular Rugrats. None of ‘em ever did a thing for me. Of course, I generally didn’t sit down and actually watch a full episode all the way through with Julie - y’see, having her attention focused on the tube usually gave me a rare couple of minutes to myself!! Especially when she was younger, she kept me hopping, so I took my breaks when and where I could get them. Usually, I was located nearby, so I HEARD more than my share of the aforementioned animated series, and frankly, I was never felt motivated to investigate any of them much further. I relished my downtime instead. Ah, the peace and the partial quiet…
Then one day Julie came up to me and said Nickelodeon had a brand new cartoon, one I just HAD to see!! I was skeptical, but just to keep the conversation moving along, I casually asked, only half caring, what the name of this new masterpiece was.
“SpongeBob SquarePants“, she said.
…? What? WHAT was that? Well, she repeated the name, a name that combined four separate words in a configuration that, given all the time in the world to consider, I NEVER would’ve expected to hear in the same phrase!! Needless, to say, she now had my full attention. I was so stunned by what I’d heard, I initially accused Julie of making it all up (if only…), but once I was assured by a quick glimpse at the program listings in the TV Guide that this SpongeBob SquarePants did indeed exist, it was just a matter of time, waiting for the next scheduled broadcast to begin. My curiosity had been piqued.
All this time later, I’m not sure what I expected from my first exposure, but I certainly didn’t expect to be so totally entranced, I can guarantee you that!! I do recall that upon seeing the little guy for the first time, I pegged him as a rip-off of one of Robert Crumb’s Snoids, a notion I’ve never been totally able to shake (in fact, there’s an actual episode - the one in which our star vainly attempts to write an essay - that offers a knowing wink at this accusation. Crossing the screen to get a pencil, SnoidBob looks directly at the viewer, smiles, and carries himself to his destination in an exaggerated “Keep On Truckin’” fashion!!)
Getting past that initial impression, I found myself continuously surprised by what I saw. Frankly, I’d never cared for the other animated Nick fare largely because of the generally unattractive designs utilized for the characters. It limited my enjoyment. But here in Bikini Bottom, all the denizens seemed to posses the fluidity of classic cartoon characters - and the animators weren’t at all shy about putting their malleability to good use in the pursuit of surrealistic silliness!! The stories, over time, came to remind me of the simple, direct sitcoms of my youth: The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy and most especially, the antics of those two classic comedy teams, Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello. A small plot point would quietly unfold, and then slowly be elaborated upon exponentially, the laughs amassing as the situation increases sky high in absurdity!! And all done without the sort of rude or mean-spirited gags all too typical of today’s entertainment! Wow! In this day and age - who’da thought it possible?
And then there was that voice! Do they dole out Emmys to voice actors?? If they do, Tom Kenny should get a passel! His expressive yet distinctive tones run the gamut of emotions, inducing a smile with each and every one!! As do the talented folks who portray Patrick, Mr. Krab - purveyor of the Krabby Pattie - Sandy, and, omigosh, Squidward!!! Culture lovers, I have to admit it - I was won over, and I was won over big-time!!
Remember how I said this was a couple of years back? How the show had just hit the airwaves? Well, I felt as if I’d discovered buried treasure, and I wanted to share my find with all my friends and colleagues! Towards that end, I started proselytizing the virtues of SpongeBob at the ongoing volleyball game I gamely participate in. Confronted with the absorbent actor’s jaw-dropping nomenclature, most of my buddies thought I was making up the ridiculous name (and to reiterate my earlier comment, I wish…), so to prove my veracity, I had to go home, tape an episode, put the tape on pause, and quickly whip up a black and white sketch of the squeezable star to bring with me the following week to appease all my doubters!! Whew!! Can you imagine? A time when the image of SpongeBob wasn’t all-pervasive in our culture? When, if you wanted a picture of Senor SquarePants, you had no alternative but to draw it yourself?!? Man, were those ever the dark days…
I brought along the picture to our next gathering. Having previously played up this new character as perhaps the greatest breakthrough in animation since Winsor McCay embarked on a traveling show with Gertie the Dinosaur, it didn’t do very much for my credibility. Frankly, the group began to look at me funny. Okay, I mean, even MORE so than usual. I think they thought I was nuts. They’d never heard of this character, and if not for me, I’m sure they figured, they probably never ever would have. So, I just shut up and played the game…
A little bit of time passes in our tableau. Several of the more adventurous amongst the regulars deign to dial over to Nickelodeon to see what all my fuss was about. The initial results were underwhelming. Consequently, I’m receiving more odd looks than usual. Then, a rift breaks out between factions of cartoon connoisseurs - a friend I really thought might like SpongeBob didn’t. Found it not at all to his tastes, I was made to understand. He instead much preferred the Cartoon Network’s Power Puff Girls, a series I, as it turns out, have never managed to work up very much enthusiasm for. This led to a very peculiar - some might say “pathetic” - sight: two grown men heatedly debating the merits of SpongeBob SquarePants versus the Power Puff Girls!?! Truthfully - are there ANY winners in THAT argument?!?…
And then, the breakthrough. One fine game day, Jocular Jim Starlin - yes, the man who killed Captain Marvel, re-invented Warlock, and gave the comics world it’s first bald super-heroine, the folically challenged Moondragon - came up to me with a piece of paper he’d clipped out of the latest edition of Newsweek. It was from their Newsmakers page, and it heralded the arrival of a new star, my old friend SpongeBob SquarePants. Jim smiled as he handed it to me, and while I don’t recall exactly what he might’ve said, I’d like to believe this was his way of showing me that he didn’t consider me nearly as crazy as he once might have!! Or if he did, here was legitimate proof that I wasn’t alone in my madness!! It was a moment of great satisfaction, and that little clipping would henceforth spend the next several years taped to the front of our refrigerator, coming down only when time and errant squibs of Tropicana orange juice demanded it’s removal. (…but no, Jim never became an acolyte. I’m gonna argue with the man who decimated Jason Todd?? I may be crazy, but I ain’t NUTS!?!…)
Now he’s EVERYWHERE!! No, not Starlin - SpongeBob!! And for once, I can proudly say I didn’t follow a trend - fact is, I may well have STARTED it!! Um, well, okay, sure - AFTER Julie told me about it, of course, but heck - she’s got her own section here at the site; if she wants to grab credit, let her do it over there!! Meanwhile, let me pleasantly revel in my prescience. The biggest cartoon sensation since The Simpsons, and I knew it before anybody!! (…Is it time to use the word “pathetic” again?…) All kidding aside, I’m happy for the folks behind the scenes, and both my daughter and I continue to enjoy the undersea antics of the submerged superstar and his friends!! (Which, at this point in her young and potentially rebellious development, is an increasingly rare instance of the two of us digging the same thing! Thank you, SpongeBob, for giving me a welcome conduit to my growing child!!…)
Y’know, we spent a week at the Jersey shore last summer, and up and down the boardwalk, all one could see hanging from the multitude of gaming booths was a veritable sea of stuffed SpongeBobs, with a few Spider-Mans thrown in mostly to break up the monotony! (…Didn’t spy any Power Puff Girls merchandise, I might well point out! Hah!…) In addition to all the toys, band-aids, party goods, and even food bearing our boy’s likeness, word is, the hottest new variation on America’s most popular doll is the SpongeBob SquarePants Barbie!! (No, she’s not square and absorbent, merely wearing a dress festooned with the yellow fellow’s image, accompanied by her very own SpongeBob throw toy!! Can a Squidward Ken be all that far off?…)
And howabout the show-stopping guest-shot Mr. Pants made on last weeks “X-Presidents” entry over at Saturday Night Live?? For those who missed it, X-president Reagan proposed the manufacture of propaganda cartoons not unlike the anti-Japanese ones Bugs Bunny starred in back during WWII to help sway positive public opinion towards engaging Iraq in armed conflict. To that end, he brings out Spongy - voiced and most likely animated by all his regular crew - who, true to character, balks at his new role, protesting that their depiction of Arabs is, well, racist! (It was. That was part of the joke…) Immediately put under lock and key by the no-nonsense Ronnie, a rescue is attempted by… The Power Puff Girls? Hm. Things don’t go all that well for our cartoon friends, but in the end, it makes for a sharp and satisfying piece of political satire!! Again, who woulda thought??
Can you believe I’ve written all this because, at the outset, I merely wanted to alert the comics fans in the audience to a publication they may not be aware of - but well should be?? Haunt the newsstands, Silver Agers, because you don’t want to miss the third in what appears to be one of Nick Mag’s semi-annual SpongeBob SquarePants Specials!!
Chock full of cutting-edge comics creators - Roger Langridge, Sam Henderson, Mark Marek, and James Kolchalka, amongst others - the REAL treat comes when you get to the three page “Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy” adventure. You might recall this pair as SpongeBob and Patrick’s favorite heroes, and were drawn in outfits EXACTLY like Aquaman and Aqualad’s, save for a starfish covering Mermaid Man’s nose, a few shells on his chest, and a hat and domino mask for his younger partner!! Well, for this thrilling installment, the fine folks at Nick have lured the Great Ramona Fradon out of retirement to contribute the artwork - and lemme tell ya, it looks just as good as the stuff DC Comics recently issued in their premiere Aquaman Archives Volume One!! I know I’ve been a little…harsh on the Sea King over the years, but even I can appreciate the sentimental if slightly skewed reunion taking place betwixt creator and character!! Heck, even my Power Puff Pal bought a copy!! I wholeheartedly advise the rest of you to run out and do so as well!
Or look for a copy on eBay, I guess…
Fast forward with me now to November 21st, 2004, and my reaction to the spongy one’s big screen debut…
Yeah, yeah, I know - The Incredibles.
Don’t worry, I’ll get around to seeing what’s shaping up to be the best reviewed animated film EVER eventually, honest. But in the meantime, I’m here to report that yesterday I transported a contingent of rabid fans - in whose number I proudly count myself - to a matinee showing of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, and I’m happy to say, NO ONE was disappointed.
Long time readers of “Fred Sez” might recall me recounting the tale of being turned on to the Nick Toon in its virtual infancy by my daughter Julie, and immediately falling under the spell of the energetic, good-natured silliness that’s at the heart of its now broad appeal. Understand that this was SO early on that, in order to explain to my friends at our weekly volleyball game what I was ranting about, I needed to actually tape an episode, freeze frame just the right pose, and then draw a copy of what was up on the screen myself, all merely in order to show the uninitiated just WHAT a SpongeBob SquarePants was!!
Stop and consider that notion for a moment: there was once indeed a time when you literally could not find a visual image of the little guy anywhere, save for the earliest, intermittent broadcasts of his nascent program!
And NOW, well…
Now he’s everywhere, including the big screen. Oh, there’s been a certain amount of backlash due to his overwhelming presence on the current cultural landscape - I’ve heard more than one parent bemoan his very existence, much the way the ever pervasive Barney got slammed similarly a decade earlier. I contend that these folks either haven’t actually sat down and absorbed (if you’ll excuse the pun - or even if you won’t…) an episode, or they’re likely the kind of people who automatically turn their noses up at most anything that could be conceived to be of a childish nature. But perhaps this movie will finally convince enough of those unbelievers - the film appears to be getting generally good, if not Incredibles reviews - of the character’s innate worthiness, see?
Lynn and I took Julie and two of her pals (all aged fourteen, for those of you keeping score at home) to see the Saturday afternoon showing (we would’ve gone opening night, save for a conflict the girls had with a dance). Me and the missus went in and got our seats while the kids waited out in the lobby for another buddy to join them, and by the time she showed, the only good seats left were the ones directly behind us. This allowed me the unique ability to gauge their reaction to the movie. But first we all had to sit through something new, or at least something I’d never encountered before: a loosely connected series of commercials for upcoming DVDs, video games, TV shows on NBC, the Sci Fi Channel, and the Cartoon Network, a creepy car ad that sprung the long-dead Steve McQueen on us unexpectedly, and of course, plugs for the lobby’s candy and soda, all under the umbrella title of “The Twenty” (which was either it’s length in minutes, the number of ads it inflicted upon us, or most likely, both…)
Then, finally, the lights went down and we STILL had to sit through the requisite half-dozen trailers of future presentations (the concept for the upcoming live action Fat Albert movie looked mighty peculiar - and it was hard to tell if that was a good thing or a bad thing. But it was definitely an ODD thing…) The main event hadn’t even started yet, and already I was worn out from all the visual stimuli that we’d been bombarded with. Was this going to affect my potential enjoyment of our little yellow friend’s cinematic debut, I fretted?
I needn’t have worried. Commencing with a cleverly off-kilter opening live-action sequence set on a pirate ship, once the laughs started, they never truly stopped! While the plot was little more than your standard quest chestnut - SpongeBob and pal Patrick must find King Neptune’s missing crown in order to save the life of the unfairly condemned Mr. Krabs - it served as the perfect template for any number of hilarious set pieces.
(One favorite: while attempting to retrieve the key to their hijacked Patty Wagon - long story - in a bar full of thugs, the pair inadvertently break the dive’s one cardinal rule, allowing a bubble to float out of the soap dispenser in the washroom. The head hard case proceeds to line up everybody in the bar, and begins playing the “Goofy Goober” theme song on a turntable, knowing full well that no “babies” - as he likes to call them - can resist joining in for long, and once they do, he’ll have his bubble blowing culprits dead to rights! Well, just watching the animated agony of our two stars as they try mightily to resist the siren song of the Goofy Goobers had me laughing uproariously! Silly, yes - but exquisitely executed as well….)
Patrick, in fact, has some of the funniest moments in the entire film. As someone who makes SpongeBob look like a prime candidate for the Bikini Bottom chapter of Mensa, his dumber than thou reactions to most any mundane situation can easily evoke a guffaw. Watch for his deliciously ridiculous encounter with Neptune’s daughter, as he finds himself immediately and totally smitten with the young mermaid. Believe me, love never looked so stupid. And in a moment towards the end of the film that had children and adults in the audience alike howling, our pink pal receives an… unexpected wardrobe modification, one I won’t otherwise spoil for you.
When the end credits began to roll, I heard Julie’s friend Lisa say, over and over again, almost in a reverential tone, “That was the BEST movie I’ve ever seen…” I’m not willing to go QUITE that far - in fact, I’d even be willing to admit that, sight unseen, The Incredibles is probably a better piece of cinema - but this was anything but a quickly churned out, simply elongated episode of a kid’s cartoon show. Thanks to the efforts of creator Stephen Hillenburg and all the talented writers, animators, and voice artists - with Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke leading the pack in their roles of SpongeBob and Patrick - The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie should spawn an entire series of wildly inventive and gloriously fun-filled sequels!!
So, I guess my advice to you is simple: go see it!
And maybe - just maybe - I’ll get the whole group together again to take in a showing of The Incredibles sometime real soon, okay?…
Eventually I did see it, and y’know, maybe it was just a case of having to wade through the overwhelming amount of praise heaped upon it, somehow making me involuntarily react contrary to the masses, but I wasn’t as impressed by The Incredibles as the vast majority seemed to be. However, I’m here to praise SpongeBob, not bury The Incredibles, so let’s put aside THAT controversy and complete our visit to the past with the toon’s tune review from November 28th, 2004 that caught the eye of music-minded Tom Kenny in the first place…
There’s probably nothing more delightful - or satisfying - than when two of my many seemingly disparate obsessions unexpectedly collide and combine to make for one near transcendent - if oft times silly - sensation.
Just such a magical moment occurred earlier this week, shortly after I eagerly purchased a copy of the brightly colored CD you see below.
By now, you’re all at least peripherally aware of my allegiance to friend SpongeBob, of whose big screen debut I raved about not long ago. And you might recall the glowing review I gave Brian Wilson’s SMiLE last month. Well, no, this soundtrack collection ISN’T the next SMiLE, but it does include any number of gems in its 15 selections. Fine, fresh tracks from the likes of The Shins, The Flaming Lips, Wilco, Avril Lavigne, and (gulp) Motorhead are judiciously mixed in with cuts either utilizing dialog clips from the cartoon, or the actual voice artists themselves, singing happily in character. And, gang, THAT’S where the fun begins!…
We initially listened to this CD while driving over to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving dinner, and I was immediately taken by “The Best Day Ever” (sung by Tom Kenny as SpongeBob), and “Under My Rock” (performed by Bill Fagerbakke as Patrick). The two tunes - aside from the unavoidably goofy vocals - sounded exactly like something piping out of a hand-held transistor radio, circa 1965/1966!! The SpongeBob solo was especially reminiscent of the “Help Me Rhonda”/ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” era Beach Boys, replete with echoes of Boss Boy Brian’s trademark Spector-like wall of sound, exotic percussion included. Throw in a few hints of the organ flourish from the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer”, wed them to some gloriously sunny lyrics, sung with undeniable enthusiasm by the faux sponge, and you have yourself a perfect piece of pastiche, one whose enjoyment upon repeated listenings admittedly hinges on your own personal tolerance of Kenny’s high-pitched (yet tuneful) voice characterization. Me, I could just listen to him all day, but I’ve been told that not EVERYONE feels the same way. Huh - hard to figure…
Patrick’s “Under My Rock” is far broader lyrically, and not nearly as ambitious musically. Still, an authentic British blues rock feel is nicely achieved with the aid of some harmonica and a concise guitar rave-up. Why, you might even think this number was the Yardbirds, the Animals, maybe even the Stones themselves - if it weren’t for THAT voice. While Brian Wilson could himself conceivably croon “The Best Day Ever”, there’s NO way Mick - or anyone else for that matter - could attempt a go at “Under My Rock”, since the words are laser specific to Patrick (who, for those not in the know, is a starfish who lives under a rock and has nearly the same I.Q. as one). Fagerbakke talk-sings the comedic couplets as the back-up band blisters in the background, easily eliciting laughter and furious toe-tapping simultaneously.
Midway to our holiday destination, I couldn’t help but wonder: just WHERE’D these things come from anyway? So, to satisfy my curiosity once and for all, I asked Julie to hand me the CD case from the back seat so that I could check out the credits in the little booklet that came with it.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that both tunes were the work of the freshly-minted songwriting team of Tom Kenny and Andy Paley, with the latter responsible for the production on this pair of retro tracks. Paley, you see, is a long-time music biz veteran and is perhaps most celebrated for his collaborations with - uh huh - Brian Wilson on two of the ex-Beach Boy’s highly regarded solo albums (one of which was never officially released, but that’s a whole ‘nother story…). No wonder these two cuts so precisely - and lovingly - aped an era. Paley - who’s also worked with acts ranging from NRBQ to Madonna - invested each piece of fresh nostalgia with his considerable expertise - and while that doesn’t make Music From The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and More the next SMiLE, it should make it of at least passing interest to those of you out there who thrive on the sounds of deliciously replicated sixties era surf pop - even when it IS sung by a squeaky voiced cartoon character!!
(This isn’t the first time the SpongeBob braintrust has wandered off into such celebrated waters, by the way. A memorable first season cartoon episode featured a brilliant, non-Paley Beach Boy send-up called “I Ripped My Pants” (..don’t ask…). From its ersatz “Be True To Your School” melody right on down to its tell-tale reverbed tambourine intro that spot-on duplicates the wistful opening to the unforgettable “Caroline, No”, its long been evident to this viewer that the folks who mastermind Bikini Bottom’s inhabitants have a deep and heartfelt appreciation for the music of their land-based surfing counterparts.)
(One warning, though: the CD also features “The Goofy Goober Song”, the very number whose key plot-turning sequence in the film I spotlighted in my recent review. Just as the thugs challenged their terrified listeners not to sing along with the tune’s inane melody - snatches of the very self-same dialog are in fact included on the CD track - you’ll most certainly find yourself unable to resist, and you’ll soon be helplessly wandering about your house, musically muttering, “I’m a Goofy Goober” under your breath, over and over. Hey, there’s no shame in it, folks - it happens to even the, ahem, strongest of us…)
Okay, folks - that brings our little swim down memory lane up to shore and to a close. Now it’s time to take a closer look at some NEW product - namely, the Best Day Ever CD.
Simply put, it more than delivers on the promise the title tune and “Under My Rock” hinted at when those pair of tracks snuck their way onto the movie soundtrack a few years back. Clocking in at little over fifty minutes, the aural experience is structured to ape the broadcast of a sixties Top Forty DJ, as disc-master Al Bacore (Jerry “The Geator” Blavat) introduces tunes from each member of the water-logged cast - The High Seas, don’tcha know - with the lion’s share of the mirthful melodies crooned by SpongeBob himself. In between each number, jingles, weather forecasts, ads, contests, and other AM radio staples are satirized in short and snappy comedy bits.
This tact recalls The Who Sell Out, which dropped mock-British radio ads in between the long-player’s hard rocking numbers. Funny thing was, when I was younger I always avoided buying that particular album for that very specific reason! I just figured it’d become tedious after two or three spins, and contented myself instead with my copies of Tommy, Live at Leeds, and Who’s Next. It wasn’t until the LP was re-released on CD - in expanded form, natch - in the mid-nineties that I decided to take a chance and pick it up.
The result? It sparked a massive revival in my interest in the group, an appreciation that hasn’t dimmed in the intervening years, and now The Who Sell Out ranks right up there with the other three aforementioned Who classics. If anything, The Best Day Ever takes its conceit even further than the Who did way back when, and even without the aid of funny voices supplied by Keith Moon, I can attest to the fact that the humor stands up well to repeated listenings. As you might suspect, it’s filled with a boatload of marine based puns, character-derived comedy, and just plain inspired silliness. Without blowing any punchlines, I’d point to the “Caller Number Five” interlude, as well as the disclaimer on the Krusty Krab Radio Spot, as my favorite laff-getters - and I’ll even shamefacedly admit that it took me half a dozen listens to appreciate DJ Al’s intro to Patrick’s “Under My Rock” as a bolder (boulder - get it?) new direction for the starfish! Who knows (which might make a fine title for your NEXT recording, Pete…) - maybe there are STILL some gags I haven’t gotten yet! Something to keep bringing me back, no doubt…
That, and the songs, of course!
Each and every one a collaboration of Tom Kenny and producer Andy Paley, the numbers generally succeed at serving twin mistresses: cleverly amusing lyrics specific to each character, simultaneously wedded to tuneful music echoing a warmly recalled but bygone era, expertly performed by an ace group of musicians (of which, as I admitted earlier, I was only familiar with a few - sorry, Ken…).
When the microphone is turned over to such non-crooner’s as Squidward (Roger Bumpass) for “Superior” and to Mr. Krabs’ (Clancy Brown) “Fishin For Money”, Tom and Andy wisely approach their numbers much the way a Broadway composer might knowing he had to cobble together a showpiece for a vocally-challenged thespian. While probably as far away from the sunny charm of the title track as anything on the disc, I challenge you NOT to soon begin muttering the title chorus of Mr. Krab’s show stopper to yourself after a mere couple of spins! And on a similar note, Sandy’s (Carolyn Lawrence) “Who Wants To Race Me” is a fast and furious country and western ditty, delivered with the girl squirrel’s nasally down home Texan charm, all the while ably aided by Jeremy Wakefield’s snappy steel guitar!
You’d think Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) might fall in this selfsame category, but somehow his bark-singing the commanding couplets to “You Will Obey!” mirror the best of the aggressive rockin’ blues vocalists of the past, all the while barreling along over a killer “96 Tears”-like organ riff! Okay Plankton, whatever you say - I WILL obey!
“Barnacles” is a particularly catchy number that utilizes the varied personalities of the entire, rich cast, as each member contributes a personally-tailored stanza extolling the virtues of the title word, which for the folks of Bikini Bottom, is “the way we say what they we say we can’t say” - got that?. Provided a little South of the Border, Jay and the Americans-like flavor by the tasteful accordion fills of Flaco Jimenez, this is the one you’ll most want your little ones singing! Because, believe me, I’ve heard the alternative, and it AIN’T pretty! (Guess this track is the Bizarro World version of “The Fish Cheer”, huh?…)
SpongeBob, being the big star here, naturally takes the lead on “Barnacles”, then again shares the spotlight with the rest of the gang on the finale, “Bikini Bottom/Rock Bottom”. He trades lines with Patrick on both “Ridin’ the Hook” and “Doin’ the Krabby Patty”, and then solos on “Employee of the Month”, “My Tighty Whiteys”, and “Where’s Gary?”, as well as gloriously setting the tone with the title track.
Oh, and there’s one OTHER undersea denizen I’ve neglected to mention this far: honorary Bikini Bottomer - and Beach Boy founder - Brian Wilson!
On the rare occasion you find the name of as legendary a musical luminary as Brian Wilson listed in the production credits of a CD, you just might as likely have to strain your ears to the breaking point in hopes of actually HEARING their contribution, buried way deep in the mix as it usually is.
That’s not the case here, not by a long shot!
While stopping short of stepping up to the mic for any lead vocals, two tracks in particular - “Doin the Krabby Patty” and “My Tighty Whiteys” - glisten with Wilson’s gorgeously layered back-up harmonies. The former number effortlessly conjures up the sense of good-time fun found in The Beach Boys early up-tempo surfing hits, while the latter ballad - save for its decidedly off kilter lyrical content - would otherwise musically sound perfectly at home on Pet Sounds (or at least Friends…)! And even on songs where Wilson clearly isn’t on hand, well, even THEY just drip with his inspiration - there’s a short musical interlude towards the end of the CD’s finale, “Bikini Bottom/Rock Bottom”, that sounds, with its ukulele flourish, like it was lifted directly from a Smiley Smile out-take - and believe me, friends, that’s a GOOD thing! Hey, I sincerely doubt any theremin players ever attended recording sessions for any “Barney” discs, dig?..
I could go on - hey, isn’t that a little of Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang” I’m hearing on “Employee of the Month”? - but I won’t. Suffice it to say, this CD works on so many levels, and I’m thinking, if you’re a SpongeBob fan, or someone who just appreciates classic Top Forty radio AND music of a certain era , or maybe someone who flat out worships Brian Wilson, or even just loves a skillfully concocted novelty record (me, I’m all four!), then you, sir or madam, NEED to buy this record!
(And lemme tell ya, just the very notion of a Phil Spector-like collection of original Christmas carols crooned by SpongeBob and the High Seas is almost enough to make my head explode in sheer delight! Santa Hillenburg, I sure know what I want for Christmas, even if has to be NEXT Christmas!…) .
So, Tom - there’s your review! Great job - and that goes for Andy, the entire cast, and all the musicians, too - Brian most definitely included!
But as you might also recall, you told Ken - it’s on the record; just take a peek up above - you fully intended to ring me up and, y’know - heh - say nice things to me! Remember? Ken even called first to give me a head’s up regarding your intentions - I guess he wanted to prepare me. I promised Ken to be on my best behavior and try my level best to call you “Tom” and NOT “SpongeBob”, and that I wouldn’t badger you to use THAT voice for our entire conversation.
Unless, of course, you wanted to!…
Well, as of yet, I have as yet to hear from the multi-talented Tom, but there’s probably any number of good reasons for that. Mr. K does, after all, cop to being shy about calling up perfect strangers during the course of his conversation with Ken (though I’d never claim to be perfect…), so perhaps that’s the source of his reluctance.
Or maybe Ken passed along certain nuggets of information he subsequently garnered from me during that pre-call alert he gave me. Such as my semi-exhaustive collection of SpongeBob ephemera:
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie DVD
Four seasons of SpongeBob on DVD.
Four SpongeBob music CDs
Three Nickelodeon SpongeBob magazines
A SpongeBob puzzle book
A SpongeBob jigsaw puzzle
A SpongeBob metal trash can
A SpongeBob Bulletin Board
A Talking SpongeBob Cookie Jar
A SpongeBob kitchen magnet
A SpongeBob Uno card game
A Plankton watch
Plastic figures with the recorded voices of SpongeBob, Patrick, and Squidward included within
A SpongeBob bobbling statue
A SpongeBob cushy toy
Several years worth of SpongeBob calendars
A SpongeBob embroidery sew on
A SpongeBob sticker
A SpongeBob pinata (broken)
Paper SpongeBob birthday cups and plates
Various SpongeBob Holiday cards
SpongeBob Cheese snacks
SpongeBob Krabby Patty candies
An electric SpongeBob toothbrush
A SpongeBob soap dish
A SpongeBob pillow case
Two SpongeBob blankets
…And somewhere around this point during our discussion, Ken interrupted my seemingly endless litany of product with a question that had suddenly become very, very important to him to:
“Fred, ” he asked incredulously, “you - you don’t own any SpongeBob UNDERWEAR, do you?”
“Well…”, I began to stammer…
The pregnant pause gave me away.
“NO!”, he exclaimed, beginning to laugh uproariously! “You DON’T?”
“Um, yeah - I DO. Two pairs, in fact, Boxers, though - NOT thongs. But you gotta understand - a lot of the stuff I’ve ticked off, including the undies, were given to me over the past several years as either Christmas or birthday gifts. My family knows how much I like SpongeBob, so for them, it was just an easy out when present purchasing time rolled around again. Just load up on SpongeBob goodies, of which there is, like, no limit, y’know? Honest!…”
“Suuure”, Ken replied, obviously not fully convinced.
I don’t know how to quash his doubts, but if nothing else, Tom, this should convince YOU of my unwavering devotion to that cute li’l fellow you so ably help bring to life.
Look - just like everyone else, you’ve heard of Cheesecake, right? Uh huh. Of course.
Beefcake - you’re familiar with that too, righto? You betcha by golly YOW!!.
Okay, but I sure hope you’re sitting down cuz it’s time for me to introduce the NEXT doughy delight - :
I suppose Tom’s NEVER gonna call now, is he?…
Visit Hembeck.com - that is, if your eyes haven’t already been burned completely out of their sockets….
-Copyright 2006 Fred Hembeck
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