Blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, today we are reviewing the Top Ten Cartoon Bands in History. Not the best bands in cartoons, like that amazing South Park episode that guest starred Radiohead, or that Uncle Grandpa episode with the Melvins. And not the best cartoon videos by bands, like Right Now by Korn, Junior Senior’s underrated classic Move Your Feet, or even the obscure greatness of Blind Myself’s Lost in Time. No, we are clearly citing the Best Cartoon Bands in History.
10. Alvin and the Chipmunks (1958-1972)
Let’s be crystal clear about this. I’m talking about Dave Seville’s Chipmunks, not the 00’s version of the Chipmunks. Even though I like Jason Lee, those new Chipmunks are an abomination.
And when I say David Seville’s Chipmunks, what I’m really saying is Ross Bagdasarian’s Chipmunks. Ross Badgasarian wrote novelty songs, but due to the climate of the 50’s, Armenian immigrant Badgasarian chose the stage name of David Seville to release his tunes under. The first Chipmunks song was 1958’s Witch Doctor which shot straight up to #1. His follow up Chipmunks song, The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late), won 2 Grammys in 1959. The voice of David Seville and all of the Chipmunks was that of Bagdasarian’s. The success of these two novelty songs led to a comic book and The Alvin Show in 1961, which is universally beloved.
Despite the series being cancelled in 1962, Dave Seville and the Chipmunks continued to release albums. Their last, The Chipmunks Go to the Movies, was released in 1969. Sadly Ross Bagdasarian Sr. died of a massive heart attack in January of 1972 and in a way the Chipmunks died with him. In 1979, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. resurrected the Chipmunks but, let’s put it this way: Have you ever seen the movie Pet Cemetery?
9. Gröûp X (1999-2000)
I am so ashamed. I shouldn’t like Gröûp X, but they fall into the so bad, they’re good category. Releasing 2 albums, 40 oz. Slushie (1999) and Stepping on the Crowtche owf Your Americain Presidaint (2000), I didn’t even know they existed in real life until researching this article. I thought they were strickly a cartoon band due to their half dozen Flash Animation Videos on the Albino Black Sheep site.
Joyfully and subversively anti-PC, let’s just ignore their live shows and go back to the notion they’re animated fun.
8. Space Ghost, Brak, and Zorak (Cartoon Planet Band) (1996-2000)
Sounding like the grumpy old man that I am, I often bitch about Adult Swim broadcasting every single idea Seth McFarlane ever had over and over and over again, but can’t find time for 15 minutes of Space Ghost. With over 100 episodes between 1994 and 2008, Space Ghost regaled adults (with Middle School senses of humor) with his absurd adventures and quirky interviews. Alongside his musical director/space prisoner Zorak and sidekick/captured nemesis Brak, the 3 cartoon icons released 3 albums between 1996 and 1998. Modern Music for Swinging Superheroes, Space Ghost’s Musical Bar-B-Que, and Space Ghost’s Surf and Turf. Don’t forget Brak’s standalone Brak Presents the Brak Album Starring Brak in 2000. Some songs are awesome and some songs are…well, different.
At the end of 2000, Adult Swim viewers were treated with the time honored sitcom tradition of the spinoff. The Brak Show was 28 episodes of cartoon lunacy over the next 3 years following Brak and Zorak’s home life. Even though the Space Ghost crew pops up once in a great while on Adult Swim today, their days of releasing music seems to be over.
7. Animated band from Mary Poppins–" Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (1964)
Live action performers Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews sing and interact with a cartoon band in Disney’s 1964 movie Mary Poppins, breaking barriers between live action and animation that were rarely fully explored until 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
[Which reminds me of a great trivia question: When was the only time Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse were on the Movie Screen together? Answer: In Who Framed Roger Rabbit?]
The song Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was written by the Sherman Brothers, the most prolific Soundtrack writing team in Hollywood history, and is included on this list because this song is rated as #36 in the American Film Institutes’ listing of the greatest 100 songs in American Cinema.
Now you can nitpick and say “well When You Wish upon a Star by Jiminy Crickett and Snow White’s Someday My Prince Will Come were both cartoon songs higher on the list,” and you would be right, but neither one relied on a band and both singles were both singer driven.
[Besides, I hate those 2 songs.]
6. The Beatles – (1968)
I know you think it’s a cop out, but have you watched Yellow Submarine? Briefly, in 1968, the Beatles assumed cartoon form. Yeah, I know, it’s a stretch, but who knows, maybe it’s true, they weren’t touring anymore….
Seriously though, in 1967 the Beatles were the kings of the world but still owed United Artists another movie. Apparently their thought process was, “how can we do another movie, without actually doing the work of being in another movie? Let’s see, how about a cartoon?” If you think I’m stretching it, Yellow Submarine, the movie, was released in 1968. With only 4 new songs, and about a dozen previously recorded songs in the film, all the Beatles were too busy to record their own parts. John Clive played John, Geoff Hughes voiced Paul, Peter Batten was an uncredited George and Paul Angelis was Ringo. The movie was based off of Yellow Submarine, the song, from 1966, which, depending on your sourcing, was just childish gibberish or a vast social commentary on the trappings of fame. Either way, Yellow Submarine, the album, was then released in 1969 and had Yellow Submarine, the song, as the lead track, followed by the 4 new songs, and then the re-release of All You Need is Love. Side 2 was even a bigger let down, no Beatles songs, only George Martin’s orchestrated score.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, even the Beatles, in cartoon form, with only 4 hastily written, contract-fulfilling songs, are a better band than your favorite band.
My favorite cartoon band didn’t quite make the list. From the awesomely awesome cartoon series Futurama, here are the denizens of Robot Hell for my enjoyment, with an assist from the Beastie Boys. (Since this is my Blog.)
5. DVDA (South Park) (1996-present)
DVDA is basically Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s musical vehicle for the show that they created. Not only that they created, but still write for and lend voices to now 20 years on. With nearly 3 dozen songs in their discography, DVDA’s live performances have been very rare. Even songs on South Park not credited to DVDA are often still the work of Trey Parker and Matt Stone. [There are a few exceptions for DVDA’s discography, but they also have a few songs on other Parker & Stone vehicles such as BASEketball and Orgasmo.]
Favorite DVDA song? Probably What Would Brian Boitano Do? Pt. II. from the 1999 movie South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut. Even though Parker and Stone created the song What Would Brian Boitano Do? Pt. I, they are listed in the credits as Stan, Kyle, and Cartman. (And it's this version displayed above.)
4. Josie and the Pussycats (1970-1973)
Again, the 70’s version, not the characterless 2001 movie that lost (at least) $25 million. (And who greenlit that for $40 million???)
The original Josie and the Pussycats premiered in 1970 with the greatest theme song in the history of animation. The first couple of episodes were cartoon gold with catchy singles, but the hijinx of Josie and her band soon became repetitious and strikingly similar to the adventures of Scooby Doo. In 1972, Hanna-Barbera tried to re-invigorate the franchise by sending the band into space and introducing Bleep, their space-pet. It only took Hanna-Barbera two years to take a promising premise of an all-girls pop band with memorable songs and zany adventures and run it straight into the ground.
For the record, there was a real life group of Pussycats, one of which was Cheryl Ladd, that released a real life Josie and the Pussycats album with 6 singles in 1970. And there’s also the Josie and the Pussycats comic book that was the inspiration for the original show started in Archie comics in 1963.
3. The Citizens of Halloween Town (1993)
Specifically “This is Halloween,” but the whole movie Nighmare Before Christmas album, really. This is Halloween was written, composed, produced, and partially performed by the multi-talented Danny Elfman of Oingo Boingo fame. The stop action cartoon plays like an animated musical of which Elfman is the driving force. Tim Burton brought an original feel to the Nightmare Before Christmas movie and created a timeless gem for the young and the young at heart.
So iconic was the Nightmare Before Christmas Soundtrack that Disney, yes Disney, released a 15 Year Anniversary disc called Nightmare Revisited in 2008 featuring such un-Disney-ish bands such as Marilyn Manson, Korn, Rise Against, and the All-American Rejects covering the original album.
For those who don’t consider Nightmare Before Christmas a cartoon, here is the description, straight from Wiki: “an American stop motion animated dark fantasy musical comedy film.” Apparently the Chinese are now translating movie reviews into English.
2. Dethklok (2006-2013?)
In real life, Dethklok is the brainchild of Brandon Small’s imagination, but in the cartoon universe, Dethklok (Nathan Explosion, Toki Wartooth, William Murderface, Skwisgaar Skwigelf, and Pickles) are the greatest, and most popular, metal band in the history of the world.
Metalocalypse, the Adult Swim animated TV series, debuted in 2006 and followed the (mis)adventures of Dethklok in what can best be described as musicians in an alternate reality. Even without the music, the series stands out due to the brutally violent cartooning style and its razor sharp wit. Dethklok, the fictional band, released 4 albums to accompany the series and despite not selling well by pop standards, the four albums became cult music classics.
Dethalbum III, for example, debuted at #10 on the album charts in 2012 as one of the highest charting Death Metal Albums of all time. The last episode of Metalocalypse was in 2013 and coincided with their last release The Doomsday Requiem. Adult Swim declined picking up Season 5, but Brandon Small is coy about the future of the series and the band. Dethklok does occasionally tour with Brandon Small as the lead singer, but in this litigious society he may need to change the name of the band to Brandon Small performing the works of Dethklok since I assume Adult Swim holds the rights to the series.
1. Gorillaz (1998-present)
Gorillaz were born as a collaboration between Damon Albarn, famous as the lead singer of the British band Blur and Jamie Hewlett, whose claim to fame was creating the comic book Tank Girl. In describing the dynamics of the band, it’s almost like a multi-media extravaganza. Albarn is the musician behind the scenes who syncs his vision with Hewlett, who then illustrates the fictional band of 2D, Murdoc, Russel, and Noodle and then it’s off to the recording studio. But it’s much more than that, Gorillaz tour. How can a cartoon band tour? Well, if you’re Damon Albarn, you get 6 or 7 of your friends together, including Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from the Clash, dim the lights, and play the songs live while the Cartoon Band plays above you.
For a virtual band, Gorillaz have been quite prolific, 4 albums including scoring #1 albums and #1 singles on the charts in the UK. Even their Video album Demon Days Live went gold in 2006. There’s even a band Backstory that reads like a comic book for hardcore Gorillaz fans.
Damon Albarn reports the “band” is in seclusion working on a super secret project due in 2017.
Note: Due to Copyright issues, not all video versions are the ones from my mind's eye.