Saturday Morning Cartoons' Greatest Hits is a compilation album of various "alternative" musicians recording covers of songs derived from Saturday morning television programming from the 1960s and 1970s, with one entry from a 1990s cartoon. The title is a bit of a misnomer, since many classic Saturday morning shows and songs are excluded, and some of the shows here are actually Sid and Marty Krofft produced live action puppet shows, but as a whole, this album does a very good job of putting a new twist on the audio confectionary classics of youth.
This album was largely the brainchild of producer Ralph Sall, who gathered the artists and was the main motivational force behind the disc. The album was released on Bulletproof Records in 1995 and distributed by MCA. The disc totals sixty four minutes and thirty seven seconds in length and features exquisite liner notes.
The disc opener is The Tra La La Song (3:12), sometimes called One Banana, Two Banana, from The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, a show that ran from 1968 to 1970 and featured a mix of live action and animation; it's also notable for the costume design provided by Sid and Marty Krofft. The version of the song here is recorded as a collaboration between Liz Phair and Material Issue and comes off as one of the more straightforward covers on the album; Liz's droll delivery style clashes in a good way against the happy guitars.
Go Speed Racer Go (3:06) is next, from the classic anime series Speed Racer, which originally ran in the 1960s and was introduced to a modern audience in the 1990s by MTV and Cartoon Network. This version is performed by Sponge, who rework the song quite a bit, adding more than a heavy dose of hard rock to the somewhat pop-oriented original track.
Sugar Sugar (3:52), from The Archie Show, is covered here by a collaboration between Mary Lou Lord and Semisonic. Their cover is pretty straightforward, except for some slight lyrical alteration to make the song more gender neutral. The original song was recorded by the fictitious animated band The Archies from the television series, marking the first time that an animated band topped the charts, which their version did in 1969 in the series' heyday. This predates the Gorillaz by roughly thirty two years.
Probably the most famous Saturday morning cartoon of all time, Scooby Doo, Where Are You? (3:12), has its theme covered on this disc by Matthew Sweet. This is the original theme song from the original Scooby-Doo show, which ran from 1969 until the mid-1970s, and the cover is quite good, only significantly breaking down at the end into a guitar-fueled Scooby-Doo tribute jam session for the last minute or so of the track.
Josie and the Pussycats (2:15) has its theme covered here by a collaboration between Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donelly, who do what might be the most precise cover of a song on the disc. Their voices meld very well and result in a sound that is much like the original theme.
A very trippy cover follows, as Collective Soul does a version of the theme from the Sid and Marty Krofft live action puppet show The Bugaloos (3:17). Even hearing the outline of the show (flying magical bugs who have their own rock band!) and the time it was out (1970 to 1972) makes one realize that a trippy-style cover is appropriate, and Collective Soul carries it off quite well.
Underdog (3:54) (note: this is one of my favorite television series of all time) has its theme covered here by the Butthole Surfers, who fill the song with a manic frenzy that works with the theme of the show, which revolved around a bumbling crime fighting dog who stumbles into success time and time again, a theme which is often used in other series and even in another series with a theme covered on this disc.
Gigantor (4:12) was an import from Japan in the mid 1960s with some Americanized elements; the show is notable mostly for its look and feel rather than the music. The theme song on this disc is mutated by Helmet into a pretty good power surf rock style track, excellent considering the minimal material they had to work with.
The classic superhero cartoon show Spider-Man (2:05) has its theme covered on this disc by The Ramones. They do a very good job with the theme song from this classic crimefighting cartoon, adding just a slightly more rocking edge to the original.
Jonny Quest/Stop That Pigeon (3:10) is a medley of the theme song from Jonny Quest, a longtime action-adventure cartoon series, and Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines, a bizarre tale of a man and his dog as they chase a pigeon. This medley is recorded by the band Reverend Horton Heat, who bring a rough-edged fuel-stained swagger to the originals.
Open Up Your Heart and Let The Sunshine In (3:37) came from a classic episode of the classic cartoon The Flintstones in which Pebbles and Bamm Bamm sing this song together and capture the attention of "rock" producer Eppy Brainstone (a play on the name of the manager of The Beatles, Brian Epstein). The cover here is done by Frente!, who maintain the childlike appeal of the original.
Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah (Means I Love You) (3:21), on the other hand, is massively redone by Violent Femmes. It stems from the somewhat obscure original, which is a spacy anthem featured on one episode of The Jetsons where young Judy Jetson is enthralled by future rock star Jet Screamer. The Violent Femmes version is perhaps the worst song on the track, but the original is perhaps the worst song of the batch of originals as well, so it is fitting.
The theme from Fat Albert (3:44) is tackled by the band Dig in an unusual sound-effect filled fashion that still retains the fun of the track. The show itself is unusual, being the tale of minority kids in a ghetto situation translated into Saturday morning television, so perhaps this version is fitting.
Popeye the Sailor Man (3:03), from the series of the same name, is redone here by face to face in a hard rock fashion which is surprising at first, but comes to fit well with the song.
The album kicks into a run of several excellent tracks with Friends/Sigmund and the Seamonsters (4:21), a medley of two songs from the great Sid and Marty Krofft series Sigmund and the Seamonsters and both recorded originally by Johnny Whitaker. The two songs meld well together and are done with a frenetic energy by Tripping Daisy.
Goolie Get-Together (3:48) is the theme for one of the stranger cartoons in Saturday morning history (and that's saying a lot). It is essentially a cartoon mix of The Munsters and Laugh-In. Toadies cover the title song here in a pretty straight-up fashion, keeping the "party"-esque feel of the original.
The theme from kung-fu dog series Hong Kong Phooey (3:43) is next, performed by the band Sublime. It takes the somewhat oriental flavor of the original theme and adds a reggae-ish feel to it, making the song itself one of the most interesting on the disc. The way in which the song slowly breaks down over repetition also adds something; it makes the song not sound nearly as repetitious as it otherwise might.
The first and perhaps the most well known and the best of the Sid and Marty Krofft shows, H.R. Pufnstuf (3:17) has its theme recorded here by The Murmurs. They do a wonderful job of keeping the trippy magic of the original alive, making a cover that is at least an equal of the original.
The closer, Happy Happy Joy Joy (3:28), is a song from 1990s cartoon series Ren & Stimpy, which feels out of place on a disc full of nostalgia. Wax does a lively job with the already lively song, but one cannot help but feel this song is greatly out of place compared to the 1960s-1970s stuff on the rest of the disc. Perhaps a cover of the theme from Lidsville would be better here?
The disc itself is worth picking up for the nostalgic value alone; toss in the ability to hear songs from a wide variety of very good artists (this is a great selection of somewhat underground artists) and this disc becomes quite worthwhile. Also of interest is the Schoolhouse Rock cover compilation Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks and the alternative collection No Alternative; both should float your boat if this disc interested you.