Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
It shouldn’t work. The whole concept of 1995’s Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits reeks of cynical marketing ploy. It’s so easy to imagine a label executive bellowing, “I’ve got it! Today’s hottest alternative rock favorites covering cartoon themes from their youth! The adults will want to buy it just as much as the kids!” His colleagues cackle, rub their sweaty hands with glee, and get to work on making a Marvel comic version and a TV version hosted by Drew Barrymore.
So how come it works?
Well, never underestimate the power of nostalgia – both the listeners and the artists have deeply ingrained memories of running to the TV on Saturday morning, back when that was the only time they even showed cartoons, and those positive feelings run throughout the album. Every track sounds like it was a lot of fun to make, and executive producer Ralph Sall did a great job matching up TV theme to performer. Lastly, the songs were originally written to be short and catchy; most of the artists had to repeat the lyrics at least once to stretch the song out to song-length, but the catchiness only got stronger, as we shall see…
MP3: Matthew Sweet – Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?
Matthew Sweet had recorded a sheer blast of a cover of the Speed Racer theme as a B-side; Sponge had dibs on it for this album, though, so Sweet did the theme to Scooby-Doo instead. His loss is our gain; with Sweet’s usual warm vocals and a ripping solo from Television’s Richard Lloyd, the song becomes a power-pop gem that would sound great coming out of the eight-track tape player in the Mystery Machine.
MP3: Ramones – Spider-Man
The Ramones and Spider-Man have a lot in common – they both came from Queens, their troubles never ended, and they remain giants in their field to this day. The band was born to cover this theme, and from the opening “onetwothreefour,” they don’t disappoint. Ho hum, another barely-over-two-minutes Ramones classic.
MP3: Reverend Horton Heat – Jonny Quest/Stop the Pigeon
Reverend Horton Heat took on the most challenging track – as they point out in the liner notes, the song changes keys six times, and that’s before a second song is added. The psonic psychobillies pstepped up, roaring through all the stops and starts like motocross masters in a song that will leave you so breathless you won’t be able to imitate Muttley’s laugh.
MP3: Dig – Fat Albert Theme
Being a collection of ’90s alt-rock artists, Saturday Morning was bound to have some who’d make a beeline to the “Where Are They Now” file. One of these was Dig, who put out three middling albums in the ’90s and then either burned out or faded away. But before they did, they locked into the groove of the theme to Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and came up with a track that Mushmouth himself might describe as “aw-buh-suh-bum.”
MP3: Sublime – Hong Kong Phooey
Months away from their “What I Got” breakthrough – and the devastating death of frontman Brad Nowell – Sublime took the theme to Hong Kong Phooey and went off on what they call “a full dubwise version excursion.” It’s an excellent snapshot of the band before they were in the anguished position of finding success eluding them even as they achieved it.
Allmusic.com’s review of Saturday Morning begins, “If there ever was a concept that didn’t deserve to reach fruition…” Perhaps, but it brought a lot of joy to a lot of people, and its songs sound as catchy to the original listeners as they do to those listeners’ kids. It also paved the way for the Schoolhouse Rock tribute album – but of course, that’s another story.
The complete track listing:
Liz Phair With Material Issue – The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)
Sponge – Go Speed Racer Go
Mary Lou Lord With Semisonic – Sugar Sugar
Matthew Sweet – Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?
Juliana Hatfield And Tanya Donelly – Josie And The Pussycats
Collective Soul – The Bugaloos
Butthole Surfers – Underdog
Helmet – Gigantor
Ramones – Spider-Man
Reverend Horton Heat – Jonny Quest / Stop That Pigeon
Frente! – Open Up Your Heart And Let The Sun Shine In
Violent Femmes – Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah (Means I Love You)
Dig – Fat Albert Theme
Face To Face – I’m Popeye The Sailor Man
Tripping Daisy – Friends / Sigmund And The Seamonsters
Toadies – Goolie Get-Together
Sublime – Hong Kong Phooey
Murmurs – H. R. Pufnstuf
Wax – Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy
Amazon is selling out-of-print versions of Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits on CD, cassette, and VHS.