Friday, January 13, 2006

1001 Greatest Pop Songs Of All Time - #12 - The Tra La La Song by The Banana Splits/Liz Phair

Claire: In the late 1960s, a rather tedious cabal of the usual dull subjects (you know: Bob facking Dylan, The (UGH) Band, future readers of Mojo Magazine, Toby Cresswell) would sit around writing in their logs about the latest threat to their livelihood, bubblegum music. It seemed as though the idea that you could simply make a cartoon, or invent a band, and get the animated characters to sing a fabulous pop song was "not poetry, man" and so, they would tediously wail and threaten to punish us all by hanging up their guitars and burning their logs.

Frankly, the world would have been a better place if they had.

I could try and explain "The Banana Splits" show from the late 1960s, if I had any understanding of what was going on. The only episodes I ever saw seemed to consist of one of them being ABOUT to slip on a roller skate, and cymbals crashing as hilarity was about to ensue. The best I can gather is Fleagle (a beagle), Bingo (a gorilla), Drooper, (a nominal lion, so I'm told) and Snorky (an elephant, and all played by men in giant, odd costumes) were in a band, like the Monkees, and would have fantastic adventures in their house, and then show an episode of Squiddly Diddly. Amazingly though, the music created for this TV show was 300 times at least more enjoyable, magical, fun and enchanting than anything the sodding Band created, but hey, you don't see THAT fact listed too often do you? (In fact if I had an MP3 of late 1960s homoerotic classic "I enjoy being a boy" I'd put that on this list too)

The Tra La La Song (the title song to the Banana Splits show), of course, is dumb. Now, when I say it's dumb, I don't mean it's STUPID, please make that distinction. Stupid Pop is things like Crazy Frog, Cartoons or Ugly by the Sugababes - inane novelty, horrible tunes, no thought. Dumb in this list is sometimes a good thing - by dumb, I simply mean this song has no other intention than to be enjoyable, fun, loud, proud and make you smile. Clear? Writing a great, dumb pop song without straying to stupid is a massively fine line. This song is one of the most demented, dumb pop thrashes of all time: it only goes 2 and a half minutes, the most incisive lyric is "flipping like a pancake/bobbing like a cork", and it's the high watermark of the late 60s bubblegum pop explosion. Later in life, it was covered by (her again) Liz Phair, who sounded like she was having a whale of a time, as anyone does when they get to play with this song. It's structurally perfect, timeless, and you can sing it no matter what your vocal range. But lets also say, there's some pretty serious musical craft in this song - they've thrown the kitchen sink at it, got everyone in on the instruments, and made a joyous racket.

You could say The Banana Splits - they mean it, man...

Alyson: This was my favourite childhood song. I learned the words within 15 seconds, and still know them off by heart. I couldn't truthfully believe anyone in the whole world could hate this song - in fact, I consider it something of a test for my friends - anyone who hates The Tra La La song isn't likely to be having much fun at OUR soirees.

It is brilliantly LOUD, and Claire is right, the show itself really was mad - not for nothing are the Banana Splits mentioned on the cover of the immortal book "Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth", as pop pioneers, but whisper it, there's a slight punk element to the Banana Splits. I don't think anyone has ever really sounded like this, and it overwhelms whatever session musician they got in to sing it "as" Bingo or Fleagle. By the end, they sound rather exhausted by the whole thing. I think each time I listen to this wonderful song, I find new things, like the subtly placed triangle or the backing singers going mad in the background. It's an absolute bubblegum pop classic, of the highest possible order.

As for Lizs version, it was the first, early sign she had a latent pop star in her - unlike the original, Liz sounds in control of the song, and plainly sounds like she's about to start cackling. Was a seed planted that day? Who knows, only Liz...but this is JUST the kind of song we need now...although in this tedious gangsta rap/whey faced Blunt clone era, it'd probably chart at #40...sigh...


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