I am a big fan of pop culture. I’m fascinated with the way that the American public latches onto certain fads or trends, then completely devours them before spitting them out like yesterday’s chewing gum and moves on to the next flavor du jour.
Back in the mid-to-late 1990’s there was this musical group called Hanson. They were three singing brothers from Tulsa, Okalahoma: Isacc, Taylor and Zac, aged 16, 13 and 11 respectively. You may remember a little song they had called, “MMMBop.” Unfair comparisons to groups like The Monkees and Jackson5 aside, the Hanson brothers played their own instruments (kind of) and wrote their own songs (sort of). Of course they had professional help. (Big-time professional help.)
I first saw the video for “MMMBop” in 1997 on a late-night MTV show called “120 Minutes” which usually previewed new and up-and-coming “alternative” artists, not boy-band pop groups. The song/video is ridiculously, infectiously catchy. The host even liked it a lot and opined that the song would be a big hit. He had no idea…
Of course, “MMMBop” was a monster hit for Hanson and launched their career. They were signed to Mercury Records. But in a strange twist of fate, Mercury got absorbed in a merger and ultimately dissolved. The boys found themselves on a record label called Island Def Jam. The management at Def Jam did not understand how to handle Hanson’s development.
The brothers ended up leaving the record label and striking out on their own. They stuck together, musically, and continued to put out a few well-reviewed if not well-received albums. But without major label promotion and the radio airplay it would have generated, they might as well have dropped off the face of the earth. Out with the old! Bands like ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys immediately stepped in and took Hanson's place. Out with the old (again)! Then the Jonas Brothers took their place.
Here we are in 2010. The brothers Hanson have just completed and released a new album called “Shout It Out” and they’re attempting the impossible: A comeback. But it's not that simple. Their former image carries with it a lot of baggage, a lot of it negative. I'm sure they look back on that "MMMBop" video and cringe. Nevertheless, they persevere. They’ve added a horn section for a more “rootsy,” Motown-ish sound. Question is: Should we care?
One song on the album, the first single and grammatically horrible, “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’” seems, at first listen to be a direct rip-off of Ray Charles’ “What I Say?” The keyboard riff throughout is identical. Taylor even uses the title of that Ray Charles song in his lyrics, among obvious references to other songs like “these arms of mine,” “respect,” and “tainted love.” I was really predisposed to dislike the song. But I listened to it a second time. Oooooh, big mistake. It is unbelievably catchy – and you know how I am about these things. It is also just as long as it needs to be, and not one second longer. DAMN YOU, HANSON!
Then I saw the video. Oh, God.
The Hanson brothers make no excuse for their love of the great movie, “The Blues Brothers.” They realized that there’s a scene in it that really fits with this “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’” song. It’s at a point where John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd and their band visit a music store owned and run by an old black musician played by Ray Charles. (Look, it’s not a documentary, okay?) Ray offers to let the band try out some instruments, and they launch into a rendition of “Twist It (Shake Your Tailfeathers).” The music spills out onto the street, causing people to break out into spontaneous (and choreographed) dance. It’s a wonderful part of the movie. Then again, pick one part of that movie that wasn't completely awesome!
Hanson decided to remake that scene. They recreated the set, then dressed up actors, musicians and dancers the way they were in the movie. They went to a lot of trouble to get it right.
Taylor Hanson in the remake
The end result is not just a shot-for-shot remake but a loving homage to a classic movie that many of us hold as one of our favorites of all time. They could have screwed-up big-time here. They didn't.
To appreciate the Hanson video, you have to know the original. Here it is.
For Hanson’s version, Ray’s Music Exchange was changed to “Tay’s.” On the updated mural painted on the outside of the building is a huge picture of Ray Charles. Nice. Before you watch it, pay close attention to the first few seconds of the video before the music even starts. It’s simply amazing and hilarious. Watch for:
• Taylor’s wide-collar, polyester shirt just like the one Ray Charles wore
• The bass player in the green shirt on the left with the pipe in his mouth (details, details!)
• Isaac on the right in a dual role dressed up as a dead-ringer for famous guitarist Steve Cropper
• Isaac-as-Aykroyd ripping the piece of gaffer tape off the organ just like Aykroyd did
• Zac picking up the cowbell from the drummer (who is also Zac in a dual role)
• “Tambourine Guy” who unobtrusively slides into the shot at :20 seconds. Could it be?…Is it…yes, Weird Al Yankovic! Weird Al is the acknowledged master of the parody video. And he just flat steals this one.
You can see the effort the crew took in doing this. Shot with a relatively low-tech Canon video camera, the video has a strikingly different and unique look. I have to give Hanson credit. They took a classic movie and instead of just ripping it off and remaking the same song and scene, they went in a different direction yet at the same time paid “The Blues Brothers” a fittingly awesome tribute. I’m blown away.
It’s almost impossible…I challenge you!...to watch the video only once. The song is infectious enough by itself, but combined with the video it gets into your brain like crack. It’s just so damn fun to watch. It looks like everyone had a blast making it. The song has the potential to be this summer’s “Umbrella” or “Paparazzi.”
For me, the whole thing works on many levels. Isaac is 29 now, Taylor is 27, and Zac is 24. They're not kids anymore. I’m happy to see Hanson grown up, still together and still making arguably good music (your taste may vary, but I love this song). I'm happy to see Weird Al Yankovic getting the recognition he deserves.
Hanson's professional career has so far spanned thirteen years. After all, The Beatles only lasted ten years. But then, they weren’t actually brothers. And I'm not equating Hanson with The Beatles, only saying that as a band, The Beatles did not last all that long. They couldn't make that tough transition from teenage boys who played music together to adults doing the same.
Speaking of other bands…and brothers…and bands of brothers…I can just imagine the Jonas Brothers watching this video and going, “Holy shit. We’re so screwed. They’re back.”
Yep, as the computer kids would say these days, the JoBros just got pwned.