The popularity of rock music owes a lot to television. In the early days of the rock n’ roll industry television was the only way most kids were able to see future musical icons and while the new form of music was considered taboo by parents, preachers and decency groups, bringing it onto television broke down the boundaries that allowed the world to accept and embrace rock music. I mean, if Ozzie and Harriet’s kid Ricky was playing it, it couldn’t be all that bad, right? Throughout the 1960’s shows like Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town, American Bandstand, Shin-Dig and Hullabaloo brought the biggest musical acts in the world into people’s living room each week. These programs gave way to the variety shows of the 1970’s where acts like Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie and The Captain and Tennille invited performers to come onto their shows to not only sing but perform comedy skits. However, everything changed in 1981 when MTV was launched. Considered a crazy idea at the time, and passed off as a fad, MTV changed the way that audiences watched music, and it revolutionized the music industry forever. By airing back to back music videos for twenty four hours, seven days a week, MTV popularized the hybrid of film and music, forcing bands to create videos out of necessity and not merely as side projects. However, MTV’s influence over the music industry wasn’t always positive. Suddenly it possible for people to have music careers based on their good looks and not their individual talents. You no longer needed a good song to have a hit. All you needed was a good video. Video did kill the radio star.
However, while variety shows and musical showcases became obsolete as a result of MTV, fictional bands still continued to pop up in sit-coms, kid’s shows and other surprising places. A legacy was born by groups such as The Monkees, The Partridge Family and The Bugaloos and, for better or worse, this trend did not dissolve under MTV’s might. In fact, as MTV moved away from airing videos in the 1990’s, the popularity, not to mention the quality, of the fake bands began to increase making the grey boundaries between reality and fiction even more intangible today then ever. So come with me as we take a trek through the 1980’s and 90’s and into the 21st Century as we take another look at the best, the worst and the weirdest musical acts that came from our favorite TV shows in:
CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PRESENTS
TV TUNES: MADE FOR TV BANDS THAT ROCKED OUR TELEVISION SETS
PART TWO: 1980 TO 2008
Just as I did with Part One of our look at the history of fake TV bands, I stuck to a number of different parameters in order to pick and choose between hundreds of fake bands that have popped up on the pop culture journey. First, all the bands had to be fictional or made for TV. Artists who just took their existing musical career and played themselves, even if in made up situations, would be exempt. As a result Will Smith is not included for his sit-com The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air nor will one of my favorite TV programs, Flight of the Conchords. However, S Club 7 will be included because although they played themselves, they were brought together to create a made for TV band. Next, either a regular cast member, or a reoccurring cast member of a TV program had to be a member of the band. Third, the group must perform in front of an audience. Plenty of TV programs have musical numbers, but it was important that the groups actually perform in front of an audience instead of just doing a musical number for the sake of the TV audience. This cancelled out a great shows like Fame and Rags to Riches, and a not so great show like Cop Rock. Fourthly I chose to stick to episodic television, which means I won’t be including sketch comedy. Finally I have also not included any animated bands in this article and they will be represented in Part Three of this series. So you ready to start rockin’ and rollin’ with your favorite TV friends? Get ready to be transported the 1980’s where the bangs were only bigger then the shoulder pads! I’m just going to warn you though. The 1980’s were full of some questionable moments in fake band history. Just sayin’.
Joanie and Chachi (Joanie Loves Chachi) Scene: An empty Italian restaurant. A lone man sits solemnly plunking away at a player piano. The man? Scott Baio. Suddenly he begins to sing:
“Something magic in the way you hold me in your eyes.”
Suddenly, out of the darkness, we see he is not alone. The figure of Erin Moran appears out of nowhere adding her voice to the melody:
“No one warned me love just takes you by surprise.”
Staring intently at each other the two allow their voices to meld into one another:
“I don’t know what’s come over me; you’ve got me hypnotized when you…..lookatme!”
Some may call it assisted suicide but I truly believe the opening theme sequence to Joanie Loves Chachi is TV magic! I mean to this day the opening theme is far more memorable then the premise of the notorious failed Happy Days spin-off. For those few who remember, or even cared, what many people forget is that the entire premise of Joanie Loves Chachi was that Joanie and Chachi move always from Milwaukee and, more or less, start their own pop band in Chicago!
In 1982 Happy Days creator and head honcho Gary Marshall decided that it was time for teen lovebirds Joanie and Chachi to strike it on their own. Devising a subplot in the previous season of Happy Days that saw series favorite Al Delvecchio marry Chachi’s mother Louise, Marshall had Chachi move with Al and Louise to Chicago where they opened an Italian restaurant in which the majority of the series’ action would take place. Marshall then sent Joanie off to college in order to create a reason for her also to be in Chicago as well. Finally, he had them form a band. In actually, Joanie and Chachi were performing together in Happy Days , but by creating a band for the couple would help flesh out the cast by adding Chachi’s socially retarded cousins Mario and Annette on guitar and bass, a spaced out drummer named Bingo on drums and Chachi’s kooky Uncle Rico as the band’s manager, who’s business scruples made Cornel Tom Parker look like Mother Teresa. Each episode dealt with Joanie and Chachi’s trials and tribulation as they’d break up and make up as they went from gig to gig, which also meant that Joanie and Chachi would perform a song each episode.
However Joanie and Chachi’s musical career had a lot more problems other then the usual sub-plots revolving around jealousy that put their relationship in peril each and every week. First of all was the fact that, just like Joanie’s brother Richie’s band, the band never had a name. Second was the fact that nobody was quite sure what year it was supposed to be. You see, if Happy Days was set in the early to mid 1950s when the show began, by the time Joanie Loves Chachi hit the airwaves the year would have had to have been around 1961 or 1962. In 1962 singers such as Brenda Lee, Gene Vincent, Neal Sadaka, Bobby Rydell and Bobby Vinton ruled the charts. However, Joanie and Chachi sounded far more like the Captain and Tennille and the Carpenters. Ahead of their time? Possibly, but it was more that the producers just decided to throw away the historical accuracy of the era. However the biggest set back that the band faced was the fact that Scott Baio couldn’t carry a tune to save his life. Seriously! Viewers were reminded that each and every week the moment Baio opened his mouth to sing the opening theme! Yet that didn’t stop Scott Baio from releasing two LPs during his career – a self titled LP in 1981 and “The Boys Are Out Tonight” in 1983.
Anyhow, Joanie may have loved Chachi, but the TV audience didn’t love the show. The series wrapped up after sixteen lack luster episodes and Joanie and Chachi eventually found themselves back in Milwaukee for the final season of Happy Days and, thankfully, without their band. From there on in they left the singing to Potsie.
The Afrodisiacs (Diff’rent Strokes) The history of TV bands have had it’s share of questionable quality and ear sores, but there has never been anything more off-tune then the Afrodisiacs featuring the sounds of Diff’rent Stokes stars Todd “Willis” Bridges, Dana “Kimberly” Plato….and Janet Jackson? That’s right! In fact, if it wasn’t for Janet Jackson this musical mistake would never have had happened.
You see, long before Janet Jackson stepped into a recording studio (at least for any other reason then to watch her brothers sing) she actually hit the pop culture radar as an actress when she was discovered by TV legend Norman Lear and joined the cast of Good Times as “jump the shark” kid Penny Woods. After Good Times ended she was in another short lived sit-com called A Different Kind of Family, and then found herself in another Lear series, Diff’rent Strokes playing Willis’ girlfriend Charlene between 1980 and 1984. Janet would have been happy just pursuing a career in acting, but tyrannical father Joe Jackson pushed her to record an album In 1982 her first self titled album was released and in an attempt to promote the album it was decided that Janet would sing on an episode of Diff’rent Strokes. Great idea….right? Well it might have been if they had only allowed Janet Jackson to sing. Instead the episode had not only one, but four musical performances spotlighting the questionable vocal talents of the three teen stars.
The story tells of Willis and his pals forming their own soul group called the Afrodisiacs. Gotta admit. It’s a pretty clever name. Housed in a padded performance space the guys work hard on creating a groove that would melt butter. But could Willis groove? Well he had all the moves. There is no denying that Todd Bridges could dance. Since the beginning of the series the writers were looking for reasons to get Willis to dance. However Lou Rawls Willis was not. Yet everybody acts like he’s a decent singer because…well…that’s what the script said they had to do. Anyhow, it was decided that a second singer was needed for the band, because obviously the Afrodisiacs planned on ditching Willis the first moment they could, so Willis got the band to audition his girlfriend Charlene. How convenient!
This gave Janet Jackson a chance to sing a song from her new album. However, a wrench was thrown into Willis’ plans when Arnold had white step sister Kimberly sing a number with the Afrodisiacs after Willis and Charlene had left. Kimberly grabs the microphone and croaks out a pretty little ditty while staring into space with wide gloss overed eyes, making you wonder if she got into Carrie Fisher’s stash just prior to filming. But can a white girl sing soul? According to the Afrodisiacs she could and in a totally unrealistic plot twist, decided that Dana Plato was a better singer then Janet Jackson! Yup. I’m serious. Dana Plato is better then Janet Jackson. You have to suspend a lot of disbelief here. Obviously tempers flared which almost broke up the band. Yet in the end everybody made up and the three singers came together and found perfect harmony performing “Ebony and Ivory” at the end of the show. How bad was it? Well, after hearing it Stevie Wonder wished that he was deaf instead of blind, Paul McCartney wished he was the dead Beatle and Janet’s brother Michael went insane trying to figure out if he was ebony or ivory. You can actually see Janet Jackson physically wince while performing the number. It’s just that bad.
At the end Mr. Drummond predicts that the Afrodisiacs are going to be a big success, but history tells another story. Todd Bridges, thankfully, never sang on Diffr’nt Strokes again, Dana Plato became the poster child for Hollywood child stars gone bad and Janet Jackson left the show to, well, become one of the biggest recording artists of the 90’s. Well Mr. Drummond was right about one of them. But did her musical exposure on Diff’rent Strokes help Janet Jackson’s recording career. Well, despite having a successful recording career later on, Janet’s debut album was a giant flop. Coincidence? You be the judge.
KIDS Incorporated (KIDS Incorporated) The day that my kids come to me and say “Dad, what were the 1980’s like” I’m going to show them a first season episode of the popular long running musical kids program KIDS Incorporated. Perhaps it’s not what the 1980’s really were like, but as a kid growing up in the 1980s it pretty much jives with my recollection.
Created for syndication by Thomas Lynch and Gary Biller in 1983, KIDS Incorporated was the house band for a kids hang out called The P*LACE, consisting of band leader Mickey, diva Gloria, sisters Renee and Stacey and a token black kid who simply went by the moniker “The Kid.” Each week the group sang the hottest top forty rock songs, covering artists like Madonna, Bruce Springstein, Devo, the Cure and other 80’s icons, as they dealt with love, life and stardom in what was really a fun little kids show. Plots were kept to a minimal due to the fact that the kids performed up to five songs per episode, but they made due with what they had. There was romantic tension between Gloria and Mickey, rivalry between Renee and Stacey and The Kid could break dance.
However, while ratings were favorable for the show, trouble was brewing behind the scenes. When the producers decided to introduce more fantasy based concepts like leprechauns and ghosts show star Jerry “Mickey” Sherell left the show stating that he was expecting the show to be a more mature and realistic look at life. Yeah Jerry. If this was realistic just where was KIDS Incorporated’s parents and how was that band being financed? It was rumored, however, that he and costar Martika, who played Gloria, had a rivalry and he was unhappy that she was getting more solos then he was. The producers wrote Mickey out of the show and the band hired new lead male Ryan. However due to slipping ratings, blamed on faulty syndication schedules, KIDS Incorporated was slated to be cancelled. That is when the unexpected happened.
Learning of KIDS Incorporated’s pending doom, Walt Disney productions picked the series up and bought the actors, sets, concepts and even the previous episodes and turned it into an early Disney Channel program. I mean, if Disney can find a way to buy and exploit kid’s talents, they’ll do it! With Disney backing the show KIDS Incorporated became an even bigger success with a better and more stable time slot and slightly better production values. However, as the kids continued to grow older Disney began to “Menudo” them by replacing the older kids with younger replacements. The next casualty would be Gloria who would be written out in 1987. However, as a result of being able to “Menudo” the kids, KIDS Incorporated managed to stay on the air until 1994 – an astonishing nine seasons! Mind you, by 1994 none of the original kids were involved.
Yet for some there were life after KIDS Incorporated and some of the KIDS Incorporated kids did go onto much bigger things. The first breakout star was Martika, who played Gloria, who had a huge hit a year after leaving the show with the one hit wonder “Toy Soldiers.” Jennifer Love Hewitt also began her acting career as a later addition to the KIDS Incorporated cast and, of course, would later go onto much bigger things.
Unfortunately, as a result of publishing rights to all of the songs performed by KIDS Incorporated, we’ll probably never see the series on DVD, but thankfully clips of the show are available on YouTube so that we can relive the 1980’s, and preserve what the 80’s really looked like for future generations.
Sexy Lingerie (The Facts of Life) Everybody loved those girls from Eastland Academy when they first appeared in 1979 but by 1985 Blair, Natalie, Tootie and Jo, the girls of The Facts of Life, had pretty much jumped the shark. They had opened a novelty shop, adopted a “jump the shark” kid, and even added a sexy carpenter played by none other then future Hollywood mega star George Clooney to their little sit-com family. Could they jump any higher? Oh believe me ye of little faith. They could. Would you believe that The Facts of Life girls would become a singing group with the unlikely moniker Sexy Lingerie? It’s totally true. However, thankfully Sexy Lingerie would only appear once, and only as back up singers to 80’s pop star El Debarge! The man himself! Remember El Debarge? Barely? Well this “classic” episode of The Facts of Life may refresh your memory..
When “jump the shark” kid Andy enters the girls without their knowledge into a contest to be back up singers for El Debarge (the man himself) by writing an essay in fluorescent lipstick on the back of a Debarge album and having it delivered to Teen Scene Magazine’s office by an exotic dancer (wow…that kid had some serious disposable income burning a hole in his pocket) the girls laugh off the idea. However, when the essay gets them into the finals they have a change of heart and record an impromptu version of “My Boyfriend’s Back” featuring Blair on lead vocals. Thankfully the producers of The Facts of Life realized the limitations of the girls musical talents and kept their musical performance down to a record thirteen seconds (trust me, I timed it). I mean, the girls could carry a tune but they were hardly the Partridge Family. Hell…they weren’t even the Brady Six! However, despite being only mediocre, their demo got the girls into the finals where they were flown all the way to New York City to compete for the grand prize audience with, the man himself, El DeBarge..
Completion proves to be minimal except for a Detroit group of cliqued “bad girls” calling themselves Commotion who, in typical 80’s fashion, quickly establish themselves as the chief rivals by trading insults and nasty banter. Nailing the interview portion of the contest the girls and Commotion find themselves battling head to head for the final honor. Unfortunately, Tootie downs a can of root beer before going into the recording studio and belches through the final recording putting Commotion into the lead. However, upon arriving, the man himself, El Debarge recognizes Commotion, revealing them to be a professional group, which disqualifies them from the contest, meaning that Sexy Lingerie wins! Well…did you really think they were going to lose? The end of this episode was predictable in the first few minutes. With a flash of his pearly grin El Debarge coos “It looks like its me and you Sexy Lingerie” and the episode ends with El Debarge and The Facts of Life girls singing Debarge’s not so classic pop single “You Wear it Well.” Fade to credits. The Facts of Life girls returned to Eastland while El Debarge faded into one hit wonder obscurity.
Sexy Lingerie never returned, but that didn’t stop The Facts of Life girls from singing again, nor was El Debarge the only singing star to cross the girls’ path. Two years later, in an episode featuring former teen idols Bobby Rydell and Fabian, the girls performed a little doo-wop number called “Hot Rod Lover” which, although flat and lifeless, was far longer and better then their performance as Sexy Lingerie. Another 80s one hit wonder also showed up at Eastland – Stacey “Two of Hearts” Q who would steal George Clooney away as her road manager. Tootie even had a run in with Jermaine Jackson who taught her that fame wasn’t all it was cracked out to be. But thankfully, despite their flirtation with music, The Facts of Life girls didn’t make many attempts at singing, which is probably why we remember the show so fondly today.
The New Monkees (The New Monkees) Ah the 1980s. So full of bad ideas. New Coke, Scrappy Doo, the E.T. Atari game. However, one of the forgotten bad ideas of the 1980s is The New Monkees. That’s right! Remember them? Probably not because their time on our TV was so brief that everybody involved is ashamed to admit that it ever happened.
In 1986, as a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the classic sit-com and the worlds most popular TV fake band, The Monkees, MTV honored them as the god fathers of the rock video by airing a twenty four hour Monkees marathon which not only introduced a brand new generation to the psychedelic antics of Mike Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones but created new found interest in the group. Suddenly the Monkees were all the rage again, prompting Peter, Davy and Mickey to reunite and go back on tour, make a new album and even appear in teen magazines again decades after their days as teen idols (Mike Nesmith, having made billions after inheriting his mother’s liquid paper company, opted not to get involved).
In order to capitalize on the rebirth of Monkeemania Colombia Television and Coca Cola decided to create a brand new Monkees show. However, instead of hiring the original Monkees to reprise their roles in the new program, they hired original Monkees creators Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider to hold auditions as they did decades earlier. But this time they weren’t going to have any of that hoopla about the Monkees not playing their own instruments. This time they were going to hire not by charisma, charm or acting ability but by musical talent. Five thousand hopeful musicians turned out for their chance to become the New Monkees but only four were chosen – Jared Chancler (the new Mike), Dino Kovas (the new Mickey), Marty Ross (the new Peter) and Larry Saltis (the new Davy). The show itself was also retooled. Instead of being an episodic program like the original, The New Monkees would be an MTV inspired sketch comedy show full of regular features, quick cuts and music videos.
As for their music, while the original Monkees had great song writers such as Boyce and Hart, Neil Diamond and Carol King writing timeless pop songs that would become some of the most beloved music of our time, the New Monkees adopted both a sound and look that sounded more like Mister Mister or A-Ha. A self titled album and a single called “What I Want” was released in conjunction with the series. Remember the song? Of course you don’t. Nobody bought it.
The New Monkees was slated to last twenty two episodes. It only lasted thirteen. Critics dismissed it and fans were still clamoring for the original Monkees. In fact, Monkees reruns were getting higher ratings on MTV then The New Monkees were getting in first run, and the Monkees Greatest Hits album was selling more units then the New Monkees debut album! Even the original Monkees themselves were outraged by the new program. In an interview Davy Jones said that if there was to be a New Monkees that the old Monkees should have been involved in picking their predecessors while Mickey Dolenz said to TV Guide that the New Monkees “tarnished the original concept and divided the fan market.” However, in an odd footnote, Mike Nesmith’s son Jason Nesmith auditioned for the program, but despite his family connection, didn’t make the cut. Obviously he should have worn a wool hat.
So, after thirteen ill fated episode The New Monkees came to a bitter end, being nothing but a curiosity of the weird and wacky 1980’s. However, everybody has their fans and in 2007 Dino, Marty, Jared and Larry reunited with fans in Los Angeles to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The New Monkees debut. So where are the New Monkees today? Well Dino Kovas left the New Monkees and went to film school, and currently works in special effects; Jared Chandler joined the military and currently works in Hollywood as a military technical advisor and a stuntman; Marty Ross works on TV and film scores; and Larry kept rockin’ and rollin’ when not working at his own vegetarian restaurant. The moral of this story? Lightening doesn’t strike twice, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.