Et Tu, Mike Brady?  Football’s Greatest Hit

At fourteen years of age, my partner Katrina relocated from Dublin to Melbourne.  It was difficult.  Finding herself in Diamond Creek, she experienced a full-blown culture shock exacerbated by incessant sunlight, the threat of reptiles and, of course, Mike Brady.  The first time Katrina heard ‘Up There Cazaly’, she’d no idea what a ‘cazaly’ was.  As best as she could tell, ‘Up There Cazaly’ was a uniquely Australian way of saying, if not ‘up your jumper’, then up somewhere else located a short distance away.  She didn’t know the half of it.

Some disputes are interminable.  They endure long past the point of common sense and exhaust everyone involved.  But whilst geo-political tugs of war get all the limelight, there are lesser-known rivalries that simmer way for decades almost without anyone noticing.  Then, without warning, some small shift sees all hell, if not break loose, then ruffle its feathers and puff out its chest.  I’m speaking of ‘Mike Brady Presents: The Songs of Football’s Greatest Sons’ by (somewhat unsurprisingly) Mike Brady.

Until recently, I had no quarrel with Mike Brady.  Instead, my conflict was with my brother, Cameron, and our dispute centered on ownership of the Mike’s classic album ‘Mike Brady Presents: The Songs of Football’s Greatest Sons’.  More than just a piece of vinyl with a collection of highly hummable but deeply specific tunes about football players, the album is the centerpiece of our shared childhood.  If I’m honest, it’s possibly the album we listened to most when we were growing up.

Our father brought it home from work.  He did that sometimes.  When you least expected it, he’d arrive with something amazing.  I can still remember the day he appeared with ‘The Smurf Song’ as a single.  We played it for hours.  I may have painted one of my brothers blue just to see what would happen.  It was a hugely transformative moment.  Indeed, I thought that was the greatest day of my life.  Until, that is, Mike Brady turned up.

If I’m being honest, I’d never heard of most of the players Mike decided to honour in song.  Kevin Murray, Keith Greg, Graeme ‘Polly’ Farmer and Peter Hudson were each sung about with great gusto and although I was unfamiliar with their work as footballers, Mike’s songs transformed them into grand mythical figures.  These were not men anymore but gods and heroes.  The songs had high-drama, tragedy and success against the odds.  The album made most operas seem as pedestrian as a trip down to the shops.  It was a triumph.

We played the record often.  At some point, my brother upped the ante, finding a microphone and plugging it in to the stereo, wailing along to ‘Flying High To Glory’ – a tune celebrating John Coleman – in a way that was so profoundly tuneless that our chickens stopped laying eggs for a time.

We loved the record as kids.  It’s fair to say that in the history of recorded music, there’s been no other like it.  Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is all well and good, but none of the songs mention Mr. Football, Teddy Whitten.  Granted, Led Zeppelin rocks like a three-legged chair but they never wrote a song called ‘Bobby Dazzler’ about South Melbourne’s three-time Brownlow medalist, Bob Skilton.  More’s the pity.

In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that an album about footballers peaked at a relatively modest forty-four on the charts, especially when ‘Baby Shark’ is the world’s most-watched YouTube video.  It makes no sense.  But as much fun as we had, we (eventually) grew up and put Mike Brady’s masterpiece quietly to one side.  There it might have remained, had Mike Brady himself not intervened.

The record belongs to my father but, for some time, my brother has been positioning himself as the rightful heir.  These manoeuvres can only be described as ‘Machiavellian’ in nature and make ‘Succession’ look like a veritable tea party by comparison.  For the most part, I have suffered this with good grace, until I received a message on my phone.  From Mike Brady.

It was a video.  In it, Mike addressed me directly, telling me that my brother, not I, should inherit his album and that I should come to terms with this reality.  I was incensed.  In a futile attempt to calm down, I immediately played ‘The Smurf Song’ at full volume but it was no use.  How dare he!  Mike Brady’s decision to interfere with the internal affairs of the broader McCullough family was nothing short of an outrage.  I’d half a mind to tell him to take his opinions and shove them fair up his Cazaly.

Cam, on the other hand, is cock-a-hoop.  He believes that enlisting Mike Brady to adjudicate our petty squabble is the ultimate power move.  He may be right.  But although he may one day have possession of ‘Mike Brady Presents: The Songs of Football’s Greatest Sons’, there’s one thing he doesn’t have – a turntable on which to play it.  I’ll only say that if it stops him from singing along, it’s for the best.  I’m sure Mike would agree with that much.

Baby Shark – A Journey Into Madness

Even now, I can’t tell you how I did it.  By the grace of God, I managed to exist for five decades on this planet without ever hearing ‘Baby Shark’ from start to finish.  Granted, I’d heard people complain about it, describing how it’d taken over and, ultimately, ruined their lives.  I couldn’t understand their anguish or even imagine a world as hellish as the one they described.  That has now changed.

When you’re in a car, there’s nowhere to go.  This is ironic, because the whole point of a car is to go somewhere unless, of course, you’re stuck in traffic or trying to park.  But, in truth, what I mean is that in a car there’s nowhere to which you can escape.  You’re stuck, listening to whatever ear-melting musical demon the person in control of the stereo sees fit to conjure up.

We’ve developed a tradition whereby I surrender my phone and everyone else takes turns adding their song of choice to the queue.  That way, you’re all guaranteed to hear a tune you like at least once every six songs.  It sounds simple, but it’s not.  Sometimes, there are delightful surprises.  Sometimes, however, things take a darker turn and someone selects something they know is truly and irredeemably evil.

When it began, I had no idea what was happening.  Ignorance is not just bliss, but a form of self-deception that lets you wallow in a false sense of security when, by rights, you ought to be exiting the vehicle and running with your hands in the air, screaming.  In retrospect, I wish someone had invented airbags for ears that could be programmed to deploy whenever it senses the opening bars of ‘Baby Shark’.

The video for the Pinkfong version of ‘Baby Shark’ is the most watched video on YouTube of all time with some twelve billion views.  It is, I feel, definitive evidence that the Internet is fundamentally broken and should be abolished.  Upon learning this, I was both impressed with myself at avoiding it for so long and vaguely disappointed at how colossally out of touch I am.

For those of you who’ve assumed ‘Baby Shark’ is a relatively recent assault on the senses, it’s origins stretch right back to the movie ‘Jaws’.  It’s believed that in response to the Steven Spielberg munch-a-thon ‘Jaws’, camp counselors invented an early version of the song ‘Baby Shark’.  At that time, the song was reasonably gruesome and involved sailors being devoured and going to heaven where, presumably, the inhabitants get to spend eternity in perpetual bliss, never having to hear ‘Baby Shark’ ever again.

But when ‘Jaws’ was released, the Internet was yet to be invented.  Which, once again, goes to prove what a dead-set genius Spielberg is in anticipating viral marketing decades ahead of time.  It’s debatable as to whether ‘Jaws’ would have been more or less terrifying had it featured the song ‘Baby Shark’ rather than the score by John Williams.

Had ‘Baby Shark’ remained a campfire tune used to frighten city kids whilst away from their parents, most of us would never have heard of it and, I dare say, the world would be a better place.  But some people weren’t content to allow cat videos to run the Internet and tried to intervene by rolling out various versions of ‘Baby Shark’.  There was a 2007 edition by an artist called ‘Alemuel’.  It’s in German and is so darkly horrifying that it’s enough to make you avoid water for the rest of your life. 

A guy from upstate New York did his take on ‘Baby Shark’ way back in 2011.  It sounds a lot like the current version but the accompanying video features a middle-aged dude called ‘Johnny Only’ instead of cute children and, as a result, is nowhere near being the most watched YouTube video of all time.  This is a complete travesty.

The Pinkfong version – which is now regarded as definitive – was released in 2015.  It has now been viewed more than twelve billion times.  Which, by any measure, is a lot.  Originally, I made the mistake of thinking ‘Pinkfong’ was a band, but according to Wikipedia it’s an ‘education brand’.  In other words, it’s a company.  Frankly, I’m not sure how I feel about corporate entities releasing songs, as it’s a role traditionally filled by musicians.  It’s not as though rock bands try and teach children to count.  Or, if they do, they rarely go beyond ‘one-two-three-four!’

It made me wonder – which video did ‘Baby Shark’ overtake when it was crowned the ‘most streamed video all time?’  I’m glad you asked.  It was ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi.  Despite racking up a respectable eight billion or so views, I’d never heard of it.  The video clip was okay, but Fonsi looked different than he used to when he lived in the room above the Cunningham’s garage.

When I hear ‘Baby Shark’, I am bewildered.  It’s as though everything I know about music is meaningless.  Worse still, I’ve started to feel sorry for sharks, generally.  Having gone so long without every being subjected to the aural atrocity that is ‘Baby Shark’, I can only hope that I can avoid it for another fifty years.  Here’s hoping.  Do do do do do do do.   

The Electric Nugget Defence – Art vs. Good Taste

Imagine this.  You’ve just gone through one of the most traumatic experiences of your adult life after finding an intruder in your living room.  After suffering the kind of full-tilt adrenalin surge you’d normally associate with skydiving or base-jumping; the type that leaves you numb, shaking and slightly disoriented, I managed to call the police.  They arrived quickly and were professional, polite and reassuring.  It was only as I sat down with the Senior Constable that I noticed the multiple paper cutouts of Donald Trump’s head spread out across my living room table.

I can explain.  But before I dive headlong into the specifics, I should provide something of a contextual overview.  Do you remember that your parents would insist you always wear clean underwear just in case you’re in a traffic accident?  It seems highly unlikely and, yet, you can’t be too careful.  The same goes for Donald Trump’s head.  He should always be packed away after use in the event you have to call the police unexpectedly at two o’clock in the morning. 

Having multiple portraits of the forty-sixth President littered across my dining room table like over-sized orange confetti is not my standard practice.  In this instance, there was a very specific reason as to why he was there.  I could beat around the George W. Bush but, instead, I’ll come right out and say it – I have a band.

It’s not just any band – it’s a musical ensemble that creates kids’ music.  The lynchpin of this musical powder keg is Liam.  He’s nine.  It’s his band.  He reminds me of this regularly whenever I start to get carried away.  Our band name – “The Electric Nuggets” – sums us up perfectly.  We’re the ultimate mix of high energy and fried snack foods.  Just like Nickelback.  Having ceded creative control to a nine-year-old boy, you can safely predict that certain themes will emerge in your songs. 

We’ll unleash our debut EP on an unsuspecting public in a couple of months.  So far, our tunes include ‘Spaghetti In My Hair’ and ‘Liam The Lego King’.  There’s one song we haven’t quite finished entitled ‘Men At Twerk’ that may turn out to be the greatest song ever written (we’ll see – it needs a bridge).  But the song that best defines us as a band and, possibly, as people is called ‘My Butt Cheeks’.

No one’s more surprised than I am.  When I first met Liam, he spent a lot of time either referring to, drawing, making fun of or seeking status updates on butt cheeks – both his own and those belonging to other people.  I found it confronting at first.  Then I kind of got used to it.  After a while, I was humming a tune to myself between meetings that gradually and inevitably evolved into a song. I then had to confess to Liam’s mother that I’d composed a tune entitled ‘My Butt Cheeks’. 

Conceptually, it’s quite simple.  Each verse includes a description of the aforementioned anatomical feature before the rejoinder ‘They’re my butt cheeks’ kicks in.  My current favourite is ‘When I get old they’re going to be antiques – they’re my butt cheeks’.  It is, of course, all done in the best possible taste.

Having written the song, we set about recording it.  Put simply, it was an absolute hoot.  There are slicing guitars and thundering drums, harmonies and slick bass lines, all in aid of a tune expressing a sentiment that’s all too rare since Sir Mixalot went into semi-retirement.  Having faithfully recorded our musical meisterwerk, our minds turned to promotion.  And, more specifically, to YouTube.

I’ve known about YouTube for some time but have only recently become aware of its near vice-like grip over anyone born in the present century.  As best I can tell, a lot of ‘YouTubers’ are unpleasant people who make fun of other people who made a not-very-good video.  A lot of it’s quite unpleasant.  But, so I was told, that’s how people experience music these days.  We’d need to make a film clip.

I had two ideas.  Firstly, we’d use pictures of things that resembled the human posterior but were, in fact, something else.  Fruit, a candle, trees and even and airship.  We’d intersperse those images with pictures of famous people.  The idea being that you’d see the face of a powerful person before a speech bubble appears with the words ‘They’re my butt cheeks’ written in capital letters.  But before shooting it, I had to see if the concept would work.  I needed to do a test run.

To aid my experiment, I printed off headshots of Donald Jehoshaphat Trump and Liam patiently cut them out.  We would test out our idea to see whether it was as hilariously awesome in practice as it was in theory.  I thought nothing of the fact that I now had multiple cutouts of a former President spread out across the table.  It’s not as though anyone would see them…

Nobody expects to be robbed.  And nobody expects to be caught with several cutouts of Donald Trump.  The police were incredibly polite but I felt the urge to explain.  ‘It’s for an art project!’ I blurted out.  Then I was silent.  The concept of ‘My Butt Cheeks’ is hard to explain to strangers in the best of circumstances, much less at two o’clock in the morning in the morning after a robbery.  I decided to let sleeping butt cheeks lie.  It’s for the best.  I’m sure Donald would agree.

Out Damn Spotify!

I love music.  I listen to it when I run, when I work and when I’m rambling around the house.  Even when I’m not plugged in, music runs through my head.  It’s to the point that when I sweat, crotchets and minims fall out of me.  But as much as I enjoy music, I hate being judged.  Which is why Spotify makes me feel so… uncomfortable.

Forget the fact that they pay the artist a rate so spectacularly miserly that even Scrooge would consider it ‘extreme’.  (Between 0.003 and 0.005 cents per stream.  Really.)  Or that it’s all based on algorithms that are designed to infiltrate your mind and steal your thoughts.  Those things may be disturbing and they keep me awake at night but, when all is said and done, it’s the end of year wrap that terrifies me.

It’s as insidious as it sounds.  Towards the end of the year, Spotify sends through a presentation that purports to sum up your entire year.  In short, it’s not so much a harmless Proustian remembrance of things past so much as it is a challenge to your very sense of self.  In short, I am not who my Spotify playlist says I am.

Because I use more than one service to listen to music, the results are inevitably and irretrievably skewed.  As a result, I discovered that I’m in the top five per cent of listeners of ‘The Dubliners’.  Worldwide.  This seems unlikely, even if I’m as fond of ‘Peggy Gordon’ as much as the next person.  But being in the top five per cent makes me sound like a dead-set fanatic.  That said, if it is true, then surely I should be awarded some kind of plaque.

My partner results were even worse.  According to Katrina’s end of year wrap, she’s in the top two percent of ‘Wiggles’ listeners.  That news should not be delivered by way of a short animated video but in person, preferably by a member of the band.  One morning you’d awake to the sound of the Big Red Car pulling up before Dorothy the Dinosaur rings the doorbell and hands you a muffin basket by way of congratulations.  Nice.

These results have left me feeling immensely self-conscious.  Every time I listen to a piece of music, I worry how it might impact my end of year results.  Granted, I might have listened to ‘Aga Do’ by Black Lace because somebody dared me to, but I certainly don’t want it on my permanent record.

Surely, the day cannot be far off when prospective employers consider not only your Linked In profile but your end of year Spotify wrap.  It would be beyond disappointing to miss out on a job because you’d listened to too much Juice Newton.  The world is awash with data that we can’t longer control but it’s not just that my every move is being monitored.  It’s that I’m being sabotaged that concerns me.

Last year, I wrote a song with my partner called ‘The Metal Song’.  It was for a theme night and was intended as a bit of fun.  We figured that there were lots of songs about silver and gold and very few songs about, say, praseodymium.  The verses listed all the silver and gold songs we could think of whilst the chorus celebrated ‘lesser known metals’.  But there was a sting in the tail.

At the very end, the song declares there’s one metal we won’t mention.  The metal in question is, of course, nickel; and the reason we wanted to avoid it is so as to put as much distance between ourselves and the band ‘Nickelback’ as possible.  The audience laughed and a lovely time was had by all.  I should have known better.

Having declared in public my deep-seeded distaste for Canada’s premier purveyors of mullet-rock, this information is now used against me on an almost-daily basis.  The young people in my life think there’s nothing funnier than to take my phone and line up as many Nickelback songs as possible. 

Nickelback have a song called ‘Photograph’ and it’s one of their biggest hits.  Did you know that there are at least thirty-seven different versions of ‘Photograph’ including remixes, unplugged versions and a spoken word rendition performed by Leonard Nimoy?  I certainly didn’t.  To listen to them all back to back is not so much a test of human endurance as it is outright torture.

Last Saturday, I started my car and within moments I was subjected to Nickelback’s ‘Rockstar’.  I immediately pulled the vehicle to the curb for health and safety reasons.  I now travel everywhere on foot as a precaution.

As disturbing as this is, I’m deeply worried that it’s going to wreak merry hell with my end of year Spotify list.  If I’m not careful, come December I’ll get the unwelcome news that I’m in the top 1% of Nickelback listeners with a working set of ears who resides outside Canada.  I’ll be ridiculed by people in passing cars.  That may, indeed, be how they remind me of the terrible situation I’m in.  I’m at a complete loss. 

To prevent this from happening, I’m now listening to ‘The Metal Song’ on Spotify continuously, both to block out Nickelback but also to earn myself 0.003 cents per stream.  Which is handy.  By the end of the year, I’ll have earned almost a nickel.  Which is a whole lot better than earning a Nickelback.