Friday, January 10, 2014
A Song's Story #4: Popcorn
I was watching The Millers the other night when they used the instrumental "Popcorn" as background music for a funny sequence. Being that it's such a contagiously quirky tune I hadn't heard in a while, I found myself looking it up today, starting with a search that included "Kraftwerk" and "80s." And that's when I discovered the shocking and somewhat embarrassing (for me) truth about this song...
"Popcorn" has nothing to do with Kraftwerk or the 1980s. It was composed and released by Gershon Kingsley...in 1969. It was one of the tracks on Kingsley's album, Music to Moog By, a collection of songs played on a Moog synthesizer. Kingsley himself has said that he came up with the main melody in 30 seconds. And the reason for naming it "Popcorn" apparently has nothing to do with the melody emulating popcorn kernels popping, but a studio engineer's observation that "pop" stood for pop music and "corn" for corny, or kitsch. Go figure.
Folks who were around in 1972 remember the appropriately named band Hot Butter taking on a cover of the song--which is the version heard in the The Millers, and which I incorrectly attributed to Kraftwerk. In fact, the song has been covered by everyone from Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass to Muse, but not Kraftwerk. I probably got that from someone mislabeling it on Napster back in the day!
Hot Butter's version was an international hit, reaching #1 on the music charts in Australia, Germany, France, Finland, Switzerland, Norway, and the Netherlands. It reached #9 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Since then the song has permeated pop culture and has been used in TV commercials, movies, video games (including Digger and Pengo), Dance Dance Revolution and more. Mr. Wick even played it on the harp on The Drew Carey Show. Listening to Kingsley's original Moog composition, you'd swear it was just recorded today.
And no matter what that studio engineer said, the song sure sounds like popcorn popping to me--and always gives me a serious craving for the crunchy snack!
Here's Kingsely's original version, followed by Hot Butter (with dancers!) and my personal favorite, The Muppets, covering the song: