Saturday, July 31, 2010

Those Cats Were Fast As Lightning

Quick! Name the greatest songwriting team in the history of Rock and Roll. John Lennon and Paul McCartney? Elton John and Bernie Taupin? Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller? Mick Jagger and Keith Richards? No, no, no, and no. While talented, their skills pale in comparison to the musical greatness that was Biddu Appaiah and Carl Douglas, better known as the creative team behind the 1974 classic Kung Fu Fighting. Their recipe for a hit single? Take one part martial arts movie, add one part Disco beat and sprinkle liberally with politically incorrect Asian stereotype sound effects.

Everybody was Kung fu fighting
Inspired by the popular Kung Fu Craze of the early 70's, the song is a paean to the Chopsocky films of the time. Legend has it that the inspiration for the song came to Carl Douglas after he watched a kung fu movie and then attended a concert given by jazz great Oscar Peterson both while on pain killers. It makes sense, doesn't it?

Those cats were fast as lightning
The song was recorded in 10 minutes - literally. With only a few minutes of studio time left, Biddu was in need of a B Side for a record he was producing. Douglas came to the rescue with a set of lyrics he had written. Biddu came up with a melody and the rest is Pop Culture History.

In Fact it was a little bit frightening
Check out Carl Douglas decked out in Kung fu gear. Dude looks bad, doesn't he?

But they fought with expert timing
The time was right for this song. It made it to Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, the Billboard R&B Chart and the UK Singles Chart

There were funky china men from funky Chinatown
Listen for the "Oriental Riff" sprinkled throughout the song. The second best use of the riff in popular music (the best use, of course, is in the Vapor's 1980 hit Turning Japanese).

They were chopping them up, they were chopping them down
How can you not love a song that includes sound effects like Hoo! and Haa!

It's an ancient Chinese art and everybody knew their part
This song is so cool it should be made into a movie. Perhaps Don Cheadle or Jamie Foxx could play the part of Carl Douglas. Speaking of Douglas, after the popularity of the Kung Fu Fighting Single - Douglas released an LP titled Kung Fu Fighting and Other Great Love Songs. Am I wrong or does that seem to imply that Kung Fu Fighting is a love song (and a great one at that)?

From a feint into a slip, and a kicking from the hip
Here's something I hope you get a kick out of - the complete lyrics followed by a video of Carl Douglas performing the song live (including backups performing in kung fu uniforms). Please feel free to sing along at the top of your lungs (kung fu moves optional)

Everybody was kung fu fighting
Those cats were fast as lightning
In fact it was a little bit frightening
But they fought with expert timing

There were funky China men from funky Chinatown
They were chopping them up and they were chopping them down
It's an ancient Chinese art and everybody knew their part
From a feint into a slip, and a kicking from the hip

Everybody was kung fu fighting
Those cats were fast as lightning
In fact it was a little bit frightening
But they fought with expert timing

There was funky Billy Chin and little Sammy Chung
He said here comes the big boss, lets get it on
We took a bow and made a stand, started swaying with the hand
A sudden motion made me skip now we're into a brand knew trip

Everybody was kung fu fighting
Those cats were fast as lightning
In fact it was a little bit frightening
But they did it with expert timing

Everybody was kung fu fighting
Those cats were fast as lightning
In fact it was a little bit frightening
Make sure you have expert timing

Kung fu fighting
Hands and feet fast as lightning

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Right Here On Our Stage...

Italian Mice, Spanish Ventriloquists and Spinning Plates (a Typical Morning)

This morning as I was feeding my dogs and cat, I decided to entertain them by performing an abbreviated version of The Ed Sullivan Show. Why? It's obvious; nothing enhances your pet's dining experience than bad impressions of long dead performers. Don't look at me that way - tell me you've never impersonated a mouse with an Italian accent!

Anyway, I ran through the Sullivan Basics: Señor Wences the Spanish juggling ventriloquist ("S'awright? S'awright!"); Topo Gigio, the Italian Mouse ("Ohhh Eddie - Kiss me Goodnight"); that guy who spins the plates (well I didn't actually spin any plates - I just hummed the "Sabre Dance" theme music while pretending to spin plates). I concluded the program with my impression of the Man himself ("And now, right here on our stage...").

I'll admit reactions were mixed; Casey, the golden retriever, cocked his head and looked at me in that way that dogs do when they don't quite know what the fuck you're doing. Frank, the cat, ignored me until she got bored and coolly sauntered from the kitchen, without a single glance back. Bella, the Italian greyhound was too busy running around the kitchen like an over-caffeinated monkey on acid to pay attention. My wife also ignored me, probably because she's used to my insanity after almost 15 years together and has relegated my antics to so much background noise.

My performance this morning reminds me of a scene from the 1987 comedy Tin Men. Two aluminium siding salesmen (played by Danny DeVito and Bruno Kirby) in 1963 Baltimore are discussing Sullivan:

"You watch Ed Sullivan, right?"
"Which act do you like better - the guy that spins the plates, or do you like the guy with the hand puppets?"
"Señor Wences- the hand puppets. I love the guy!"
"He's better than the guy who spins the plates?"
"Course he's better! Plus, he's got no overhead: the man's got a hand and a box!"

And now, right here on our blog, Señor Wences...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wednesday Ramblings

James Bond and Hawaiian Shirts (but not James Bond in an Hawaiian Shirt)

Martini a la Bond

Here at the Museum of Pop Culture Wonders, the current cocktail of choice is a Vesper Martini, a refreshing concoction first described by author Ian Fleming in the pages of his 1953 novel Casino Royale. In his first appearance, 007 orders a dry maritini and then instructs the barman as follows:

"Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel."

Gordon's is Gordon's Gin (according to the UK distiller's website, only 12 people in the world know the recipe)

Vodka is, uh brand is specifed. Russian vodka was popular at the time, but would 007 order it at the height of the cold war?

Kina Lillet was a bitter white wine-based aperitif. The quinine content was reduced in the mid 80's and a sweeter version is now sold as Lillet Blanc.

I find it to be the perfect way to wind down at the end of the day. Be warned - it packs a wallop, but after all, that's the point - as Bond himself states:

"I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made."
Cheers, Commander Bond.

Everybody Loves Rayon

And now a subject near and dear to my heart.

Rayon (aka artificial silk) was invented by the DuPont Chemical Company in the mid 1920s. According to the DuPont website "It came to be used in the finest of fabrics and the choicest of garments..." Though not specifically named, they surely must be referring to that symbol of sartorial splendor, the Hawaiian Shirt.

Originating in Hawaii in the 1930's (hence the name), the brightly patterned short sleeved collared shirts grew in popularity over the next decade peaking in the 1950's (aloha from our 50th State!) I'm proud to say I own several. Sad to say, they're not vintage; I've seen shirts from the 30's -50's command prices ranging from $200-$500 and even higher!

By the way, the dapper gentleman pictured above is 50's Icon and Hawaiian Shirt wearer Arthur Godfrey, but you already knew that didn't you?

Monday, July 26, 2010

California Sun

The Ramones

Frankie Avalon with Surf Guitar legend Dick Dale

Sunday, July 25, 2010

D is for "Dean"

Dean Martin

Laid-back, ultra-cool singer, actor, TV personality, Roast Master to the Stars and coolest member of the Rat Pack. Sammy was the hippest, but Dean was definitely coolest. And Frank was just Frank.

Dean Koontz

Prolific author of over 80 suspense/thriller/sci-fi/horror/mstery novels. Don't let his subject matter fool you - anyone who likes golden retrievers can't be all bad.

Dean Stockwell

Award winning film and TV actor whose career has spanned over 60 years. His brief performance as Ben, the lip-synching drug dealer in Blue Velvet is one of the most memorable scenes in the movie (creepy, but memorable). Equally memorable was his role as the lovable womanizer Al Calavicci on Quantum Leap. As a public service, we bring you Dean seranading the late, great Dennis Hopper with Roy Orbison's In Dreams. Ahhh young love...

Dean Jones

Actor in countless Disney movies of the 1960's and 1970's, including such classics as That Darn Cat, Monkeys Go Home, and The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit (apparantly, not every Disney movie can be Snow White.)

Dean Cain

A Superman for the 1990's. I admit I'd occassionally watch Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Mmmmm Terri Hatcher.

Dean Jagger

Movie and TV character actor. Two of my of my favorite performances - as General Waverly in White Christmas and as a man with a very strange radio in The Twilight Zone episode Static.

James Dean

Iconic actor whose seething portrayal of teen angst in East of Eden and Rebel Without A Cause made him a star. He completed just one more film (the posthumously released Giant) before his death in a car accident at the age of 24.

Jerome "Dizzy" Dean

Hall of Fame Pitcher during the 1930's and early 40's. I'm not sure why he was nicknamed Dizzy, but his brother, Paul who also played for the Cardinals was nicknamed Daffy.

Jimmy Dean

Recently-deceased Country music singer, actor, TV personality and pork sausage purveyor. His body will spend eternity entombed in a nine-foot-tall piano-shaped mausoleum with the epitaph "Here lies one hell of a man". Mmmmm pork sausage.

John Dean

White House Counsel under Richard Nixon, key figure in the Watergate Scandal and convicted felon. 35 years later he's a political commentator (go figure).

Friday, July 23, 2010


On August 21st, Hawaii celebrates it's 51st Anniversary of Statehood. I'd like to dedicate today's blog to some of my favorite Hawaiian things (I probably should wait a month to post this, but patience isn't one of my strengths)...

Hawaiian Shirts aka Aloha Shirts
Originating in Hawaii in the 1930's, the popularity of these brightly patterned Rayon beauties grew over the next decade peaking in the 1950's. I'm proud to say I own more than a few (what can I say, I'm a retro kind of guy) and my collection continues to grow thanks to the help of my indulgent wife Kim, who scours vintage clothing stores and thrift shops for me. Sad to say, I don't own any of the real vintage ones; I've seen shirts from the 30's -50's command prices ranging from $200-$500 and even higher. That's Elvis wearing a Hawaiian Shirt and playing the Ukulele in his 1961 musical Blue Hawaii.

Speaking of ukuleles - this magical musical instrument is actually Portuguese in origin. Legend has it that three Portuguese cabinet makers from Madeira introduced to instrument to Hawaii in the late 1800's. The Hawaiian royal family was so taken with the instrument that it was soon incorporated into musical performances at royal gatherings. It's popularity spread and it was soon identified with Hawaiian Music. Pictured below are two 20th Century performers who were known for their ukulele strumming Arthur Godfrey (left) and Tiny Tim (right).

Ukulele Fun Fact: Because of the way fingers dance over the strings while strumming the instrument, Hawaiians named it Ukulele which means "dancing flea".

Magnum, PI
I have to admit that I like this classic detective show a lot. In fact the only downside to it is that it was made in the 1980's and one must put up with 80's Hair and Clothing (or is that part of it's charm?). One other thing - was there a rule that Tom Selleck had to appear in a pair of tight, ball-hugging short-shorts at least once every episode?

Magnum, PI Fun Fact:During it's first season, Magnum aired Thursday nights at 9:00 - a time slot once occupied by CBS's other Hawaiian based crime drama, Hawaii Five-0. Which brings us to our next entry...

Hawaii Five-0
"Book 'em Dano!" Long-running TV Crime Drama starring Jack Lord as Steve McGarret, the head of the fictional Hawaii State Police (the Five-0 comes from Hawaii's status as the 50th State - I didn't know that until today!). The highlight of the show has to be the kick-ass theme song; easily one of the top 5 TV theme songs of all time. Here, check it out for yourself.

Jack Lord Fun Fact #1 - he was the first actor to portray CIA Agent Felix Leiter (in the seminal Bond film Doctor No)

Jack Lord Fun Fact #2 - he was in the running for the role of Captain James Kirk on Star Trek, but reportedly his demands were unacceptable (he wanted a percentage of ownership in the series as well as a co-producer role). The part went to Bill Shatner and the rest is history).

The Brady Bunch Hawaiian Vacation
Greg surfing; Alice Hula-ing; Tiki curses; Don Ho and Vincent Price! What's not to love about this special three-part episode from season four?

My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii
Written in 1933 and first introduced at the Kona Canoe Races on July 4 of that year, this song became a novelty hit and has been recorded numerous times over the years. Here's a 1934 version performed by Freddie Rich and His Orchestra, featuring Vera Van and the Elton Boys (none of whom appear the least bit Hawaiian...)


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Random Catch Phrases

How sweet it is!

I'm a baaad boy!

.Missed it by that much.

Would you believe...?


Who loves ya, baby?

Start 'splaining!

Whatchoo talkin' 'bout?

Submitted for your approval...

Oh, the pain, the pain...


Good Evening.

Riddle me this...


The plane! The plane!

Yabba Dabba Doo!

Oh Rob!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Know Your Martins

Has this ever happened to you? You're at a cocktail party or standing around the office water cooler discussing the Protestant Reformation and you accidentally refer to Martin Luther as Martin Lawrence? Imagine the stigma of making such a social faux pas! Well friends, fear not; as a public service we present this handy illustrated reference guide for the Martin-challenged among you:

Dean Martin
Italian-American singer, actor and comedian best known for his partnership with Jerry Lewis, his membership in the Rat Pack (right) and his television variety show. His 1964 hit Everybody Loves Somebody knocked the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night out of the # 1 spot on Billboard Hot 100 singles chart

Dick Martin
Comedian and television director. With partner Dan Rowan, he hosted TV's ground breaking psychedelic comedy Laugh-In

Ross Martin
Actor best know for his role as Artemus Gordon in the 60's television show The Wild, Wild West. He's pictured right with series star Robert Conrad who's wearing pants that are waaay too tight.

Uncle Martin
Lovable title character of TV's My Favorite Martian.

Strother Martin
Movie and television character actor. Perhaps his most famous role is that of the Captain in Cool Hand Luke where he uttered the oft-quoted line "what we have here is failure to communicate."

Steve Martin
Comedian, actor, author, musician. Pictured during the "wild and crazy guy" phase of his career.

Quinn Martin
American television producer who holds an industry record by having at least one program in prime time for 21 years (from 1959 to 1980). His shows include The Untouchables, The Invaders, The Streets of San Francisco and Barnaby Jones

Saint Martin
Tropical Island in the northeast Caribbean.

Martin Scorsese
Academy Award-winning director, writer and producer. His awesome body of work includes Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Aviator and The Departed.

Martin Short
Award winning comedian and actor. Famous for his Ed Grimley character (pictured) and his appearances on SCTV and Saturday Night Live.

Martin Van Buren
Eight president of the United States. The first president to be born an American citizen (the previous seven were born before the American Revolution), he was also the only President who did not speak English as a first language (he grew up speaking Dutch) and the first President who wasn't of British ancestry. He was also born in Kinderhook, NY a mere stone's throw from my current place of residence. His nickname, Old Kinderhook (as opposed to Old Hickory) is a possible origin of OK. (just giving props to my peeps).

Martin Luther
German monk, theologian, church reformer and general spoil sport.

Matin Lawrence
American comedian, actor, director and producer.

Martin Prince
Nerdy (and possibly gay) classmate of Bart Simpson.

Coming soon - more Martiny Goodness!