For those either old enough to have experienced them the first time around, or have caught them on YouTube or retro cable networks, the (mostly) pre-MTV convention of turning television characters into pop bands is perhaps the most bizarre. Archie and the rest of Riverdale High had a band. Fat Albert and the Junkyard Gang had a band. The Brady Kids, Scooby Doo and those who cleaned up his poop, and Pebbles and Bam-Bamm had a band. Even the Hardy Boys (or half of the Hardy Boys, in Shaun Cassidy) had a band. The concept struggled into the 1980’s with TV’s Michael Knight, outside of his talking car, giving German pop hero David Hasselhoff a stage with which to launch his musical career in the states (which never caught on). This was severely undercut by the infusion of the music video into youth culture, and this awkward character device for the most part paced around the throw rug three times, laid down, and died — until the Disney Channel revived the practice.
Three particular examples survived better than the rest only because the group dynamic was the plot point for their whole endeavor. The Monkees started it. Yes it was originally a construction meant to capitalize on Beatlemania and the series mainly dealt with the band getting to gigs and from gigs, and generally being weird, but every now and then they were also called upon to solve mysteries. Regularly these were mysteries surrounding disappearing band members and/or equipment, but it placed them in the shoes of being faux detectives. It was this model that, one has to assume, other shows followed prompting the whole, “I’m in a detective agency…and a band” ethos.
The second example is The Partridge Family which had the benefit of having a real-life counterpart to fall back on for conceptual support (the show was extremely loosely based on the biography of the band The Cowsills). They were a family. They chose to be in a band. Like the show and music or not, reality had proven it possible and it didn’t seem as far-fetched as the third example, Josie & The Pussycats. Putting aside that it was an animated Saturday morning show based on the Archie Comics series, the threads that bind the show together are so dangerously thin that you just have to fill up your bowl with more Cap’n Crunch and go with it. Josie and her bandmates also are occasionally called in to solve mysteries, much like The Monkees. Their mysteries, however, would leave the average viewer who was older than 14 years or not recklessly high baffled by the law enforcement department that would ever deem them the appropriate investigative envoy. Imagine the legal ramifications of the plaintiffs who call, as witness, the investigators who also play in a band and wear something severely close to late-sixties Playboy Bunny costumes. And that hardly accounts for the many stretches of time when they were off on tour in outer space.
Yes. Josie & The Pussycats in Outer Space. It’s a real thing; look it up.
Why was this such a common occurrence? Music videos put pop stars into living rooms, but pop music was a major part of the pop culture world before that. Records still made money, and lots of it. Co-branding was starting to be seen for the mutual benefits of advertising the show to viewers, with the show advertising the new songs to pop fans go to the charts, and both bringing back recognition to the merchandise advertisers and sponsors. It was in a sense a scheme that helped sustain its constituent parts and, lastly, got eyeballs back on commercials for breakfast cereals. To make the connection go even deeper, a breakfast cereal offered a 45 rpm Josie & The Pussycats record as a premium (presumably with the saving of cereal box tops as the cost), while four different Archies records were affixed directly to the backs of cereal boxes, horrifying audiophiles — but come to think of it, I don’t think audiophiles were all that concerned with the aural quality of “Bang Shang A Lang.”
These pseudo TV bands had some successes, but mostly not. The Monkees acquitted themselves the best as Mickey Dolenz was a fine vocalist, Mike Nesmith a very good songwriter (once given that chance), and Davy Jones danced funny. The Archies had “Sugar Sugar.” The driving force behind sales was teen girls who had the visual connection to their heartthrobs reinforced by owning their music, so even though The Partridge Family actually made some half-decent pop, it was the pre-and-pubescent power of David Cassidy over teenage girls that truly spurred any chart success for them. That was about it. The Bradys had modest chart health with some particularly terrible tunes. Scooby Doo and the Mystery Machine Band padded out the run time of weak episodes when they weren’t teaming up with Jonathan Winters. Fat Albert and the Gang sang about not watching too much TV, getting some exercise, and being nice to your mom.
And the Banana Splits were a bad acid trip illustrated for young, impressionable children, but we’ll discuss that another time.
If you are itching for more fun with TV bands that aren’t, stop by Popdose colleague Jon Cummings’ post about Josie & The Pussycats and the movie’s soundtrack contributor, Kay Hanley (Letters To Cleo).
The Time To Love – Josie & The Pussycats