The tunesmiths of Tin Pan Alley had an expression way back when: “the old grey whistle test”. If you played your song to the grey-clad doorman and he liked it, you had a hit on your hands. The people behind the long-running BBC music show of that name were proper musos—with all the baggage that entails—and the rather opaque title was exactly the kind of reference they’d appreciate. Whistle Test (or OGWT) may have disappeared from British screens in 1987 as a new wave of young pretenders took to the stage, but its lasting place in pop culture has been explored by a new BBC Radio 2 series. Each programme devotes a full hour to a year of the show’s history, featuring archive audio and new performances from relevant acts.
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Ten different station IDs were created for MTV, but it was the fuzzy progression of power chords used for the station launch that became its iconic signature. Guitarist Ray Foote was on the road in North Carolina with his band, Control Group, when he was booked for his first commercial session. A classmate from Bennington College, Jonathon Elias, was given the task to write several musical cues for the new Warner Brothers channel along with his partner at the time, John Peterson. Elias had always liked the way Foote played guitar, so he invited him to the New York City recording session at RPM studios on 12th Street in Greenwich Village. Foote remembers walking into the professional studio in awe of all the latest equipment and hip vibe. He brought along his Vulcan guitar with a Marshall head, earning $200 for the day (which lasted well into the night).
“Nobody had any idea how big it was going to be,” says Foote, reflecting on the day. “It was just a little gig.” The first time he saw the moon man footage was on television with everyone else. Foote is the co-founder of Big Foote Music + Sound in New York City, specializing in branded music for all media. The Vulcan guitar still hangs on the wall of his Union Square studios.
Kelly McGillis signed with Paramount Studios in the mid-80s to make two features films. The first, “Witness,” was a huge hit and earned her a Golden Globe nomination. The actress had some specific ideas about what she wanted to do in the second movie but the Paramount brass had already decided: It would be about a group of young test pilots.
It wasn’t exactly the film McGillis would have picked for herself, but “Top Gun” went on to become the biggest box office draw of 1986 , taking in more than $176 million. From its driving Kenny Loggins tune “Danger Zone” to the catch phrase “I feel the need, the need for for speed,” “Top Gun” became a hit and remains as high-flying as ever.
PopMatters’ Kerrie Mills recently reviewed Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?, a book by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont that looks at the food, TV shows, toys, and other pop cultural milestones that kids grew up with from the 1960’s to 1992.
It sounds like a great idea, but why did they stop at 1992? A brand new generation has sprung up since then, with an emerging sense of nostalgia. Look at the success of Toy Story 3, the New Kids on the Block/Backstreet Boys tour, or Nickelodeon’s heavily hyped decision to add reruns of ‘90s series like All That and Clarissa Explains It All to their late-night schedule.
It’s enough to make you wonder what future generations will look back on wistfully, and how this will influence Hollywood and/or manufactures to make a profit out of it. So here’s a look at a few things that have only recently disappeared from the spotlight, and their cultural impact.
“Drums please.” And with that begins DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s massive hit, “Summertime” from their album Homebase. It’s hard to fathom that the tune was released 20 years ago, but it hit the airwaves in May of 1991 and the video debuted in July of that year. Built on a sample of Kool & The Gang’s “Summer Madness”, the song is an ode to all things related to those hot summer months including carefree relaxing, ridiculously skimpy clothing, fun-filled cookouts and competitive games of basketball at the park (with added female spectators!).
The video opens with Will and Jeff up to their usual, playful antics that made them so lovable as Will and Jazz on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air before cutting to the duo seemingly coasting through the city on a platform with refreshing drinks in hand, taking in the sights. Throughout the clip, we see many of the aforementioned elements of summer (in slow motion!) along with kids running around playing, people dancing in Soul Train lines, open fire hydrants and pretty girls cruising down the street at “two miles per hour, so everybody sees you”.
While Will and Jeff have gone their separate ways, with Will being an international movie star and Jeff becoming a worldwide ambassador for hip-hop, “Summertime” may very well be their crowning achievement. Many others have tried to carve out their own hip-hop summer anthem, but “Summertime” remains the champion and likely will continue to be the quintessential summer jam for many years to come.
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