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Disneyland Ex Machina

Melodyland: Disneyland in (mostly) Punk Rock


I have made a hobby of collecting Disneyland-themed pop songs. Many of them are in the pop-punk genre, the Park being an easy and familiar target for punk songwriting. Not surprisingly, many of those songs are just plain terrible — nearly every one of them a metaphor-heavy ode to anti-skateboarding laws, dropping acid, Ronald Reagan and the mind-numbing dullness of life in Orange County. (None of that stuff matters today. Ask any 15-year-old Orange County kid what the 1980s were all about, and he or she will point to the conception, and subsequent birth, of Vanessa Hudgens.)

Even the good punk bands that stormed the Magic Kingdom’s gates did so halfheartedly. They couldn’t even be bothered to hate the place. Half of those old-timers are probably at Disneyland right now, bouncing a tiara-clad daughter on their knee and hoping they don’t run into anyone they know.

Still, I collect the songs. The advent of music downloads has made it easy. Several of the songs on the following list were regular fixtures on pioneering alternative radio station KROQ, back in the days when radio still kind of mattered. Other tracks were easily obtained through iTunes for the standard 99-cents-per-DRM-file fee, though not all of them are worth that much.

Artist: Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Song: “Disneyland”
What iTunes should charge for this track, but doesn’t: 1 cent

This obscure b-side from the one-and-a-half hit wonders who made “Relax” and “Two Tribes” is something of a trifecta. It’s the worst song to bear Trevor Horn’s production stamp. It’s the worst song in Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s repertoire (as far as I know, anyway; I can only compare it to “Krisco Kisses“). And it’s the worst god-damned song about Disneyland in all creation, with the band tunelessly bellowing the chorus from Jimmy Dodd’s “Mickey Mouse Club March” over a confusion of bass bleats, reverb-heavy guitars and synthesizer flatulence. No, Frankie, you relax.

Artist: Five For Fighting
Song: “Disneyland”
What iTunes should charge: 10 cents

I have a strong bias in this instance: I believe the music of Five For Fighting to be irresolute wussy-crap. It’s a shame, too, because this is one of very few songs about Disneyland that actually seems to like the place. Singer-songwriter John Ondrasik (if that is his real name) paints Disneyland as a lover’s utopia, a place where “everybody’s got a little house (and) a bank account managed by Mickey Mouse/and all we fight about is the Lakers.”

The chorus goes, “It’s a nice day if you wake up in Disneyland.” It’s a fine sentiment and I agree with it, but I rarely make it to the chorus. Seriously, Five For Fighting’s music is the most awful kind of generic indie-pop pablum. And there’s not even five guys in the band. Just the one guy.

Artist: Guttermouth
Song: “Disneyland”
What iTunes should charge: 15 cents

Going to tread carefully here, because once I start listing anti-Disneyland songs by Orange County’s skate punk bands I’ll be stuck here for a month. I think every O.C. punk band has a song in which Disneyland is a metaphor for The Man, and some of those tunes — like Guttermouth’s — are even halfway worthwhile. Over a skittering, one-two-fuck-you punk rhythm, Guttermouth uses Disneyland to wring its hands over Manifest Destiny:

We’ll chop down the rain forest
and build another Disneyland
Who gives a hoot
about the lungs of the Earth?

I give a hoot, Guttermouth. Also for its lower intestine, and maybe its pancreas.

Artist: Alabama 3
Song: “Disneyland is Burning”
What iTunes should charge: 20 cents

A3’s best-known song, “Woke Up This Morning,” was used as the theme to “The Sopranos.” If you’re thinking that “Disneyland is Burning” drives the same stretch of the Jersey Turnpike, fuggedaboutit. This bluesy ballad is as bland as they come, and it has as much to do with Disneyland as “The Sopranos” does.

Artist: No Doubt
Song: “Tragic Kingdom”
What iTunes should charge: 45 cents

I like Gwen Stefani. You’re talking with someone who enjoyed his first No Doubt show — at Las Vegas’ Huntridge Theater in early 1995, shortly before the band broke big — and enjoyed subsequent shows as well, though not as much. (I identified with scrappy, punkish Gwen far more easily than I’m able to relate to the garment maker and towering hollaback girl she ultimately became.)

That said, when taken in the context of No Doubt’s catalog, this song is pretty awful. Considered to some to be the ne plus ultra of Disneyland-themed pop songs — hey, it even starts off with a Disneyland sound sample! — “Tragic Kingdom” illustrates perfectly what a lot of my old-school punk buddies hated in No Doubt: its cartoonish take on punk-ska, too-busy arrangements and Stefani’s occasional dips into shrill hysteria.

The metaphors are shopworn and tired (the “frozen Walt Disney” myth is revisited, and with far less humor than “Robot Chicken” accorded the subject), and the bit about “the parade that’s electrical … (taking) up a lot of juice” would mean a lot more coming from an artist whose touring apparatus probably consumes more crude oil in a night than the Main Street Electrical Parade burns in a month.

But it is Gwen Stefani. I like listening to Stefani as much I enjoy not listening to Stefani, which is why “Tragic Kingdom” gets a half-vote. Truth be told, I actually prefer the a capella version of the song, performed by the Johns Hopkins Octopodes.

Artist: Eyes
Song: “Disneyland”
What iTunes should charge: 55 cents

I first heard this song on Rodney Bigenheimer’s KROQ program, back when they still allowed Rodney on the air before midnight. Though I’m still fond of it, I have to admit that the song has not aged well. It’s yet another one-two-fuck-you punk number that ends with the Park — and Anaheim — in flames. You could pick up the basics the song in five minutes and learn play it better than the band itself in less than twenty. But it is one of the better punk numbers about Disneyland, and when the band wrote the song, the parts of Anaheim that surrounded the Park would indeed have looked better on fire.


Artist:
The Vandals
Song: “Pirate’s Life”
What iTunes should charge: 70 cents

The story is a familiar one. A young man takes seven hits of acid, goes to Disneyland and finds himself press-ganged into service with the Pirates of the Caribbean. The Vandals give the story a epic, romantic scope … naw, I’m kidding. It’s yet another scuzzy little punk number, but it’s pretty fun.

“Pirate’s Life” has an unexpectedly Gore Verbinski-esque twist at the end. The young man is imprisoned with the other bone-and-cup-bearing scalawags, trapped forever “’cause that damn dog’s got the key.” Poor punk-assed kid. To be a true cowboy was his fate.

Artist: The Dickies
Song: “Stukas Over Disneyland”
What iTunes should charge: 75 cents

Mastermouse gonna feel no fear
Mickey’s gonna lead us to the new frontier
Everybody wants to be the perfect Mouseketeer

Yes, the Dickies saw Disneyland as an adjunct of Nazi Germany. Eventually, with the help of Jiminy Cricket, the Park’s “liebestraum (is) extended to Huntington Beach.” Pucker up and blow! It’s a sick and twisted scenario, and I’d probably find “Stukas Over Disneyland” very upsetting indeed if the song, with its giddy Beach Boys-like vocals, weren’t so much damned fun to listen to.

Artist: Dada
Song: “Dizz Knee Land”
What iTunes should charge: 80 cents

This song is arguably the best-known of the songs on this list. Its status is questionable because, as you can see, the song isn’t really about Disneyland but “Dizz Knee Land,” which is a place where minor criminals, drunks and other assorted malefactors find safe asylum. I can’t find it using Google Maps.

Funny thing, though. When the song was first released in 1992, the bit about “flipping off President George” seemed dated, almost quaint; after all, the first George Bush presidency was all but over. Never in our wildest dreams did I imagine that we’d receive the gift of a second President George, and I’d take such pleasure in flipping him off.

Note: The version of the song that’s currently available on iTunes is a live cut that’s decidedly inferior to the original studio cut. Unacceptable. I’m flippin’ off President Jobs.

Artist: Sparks
Song: “Mickey Mouse”
What iTunes should charge: 99 cents

Life’s most satisfying truths are often its most bizarre and unlikely. Take this one: One of the best songs ever written about Disneyland came from two guys, Ron and Russell Mael, who I am fairly certain have never been there. It was on an album called “Angst in My Pants,” the cover of which features one of the Maels — Ron, the one with the Hitler-like mustache — in a bridal gown. Its chorus is the most insidious of earworms:

And my name is Mickey Mouse
To my right is Minnie Mouse
And we have a little place
in Disneyland, California

Disney should use this in their ads to snag sweater-clad emo kids. I’d gladly pay a buck for this song if I didn’t already own it.

That’s all I can think of off the top of my head. There must be hundreds more songs about the Park that I haven’t yet heard, and songs that haven’t yet been written yet by artists who owe Disneyland more than the occasional good time. Hear me, Kanye, Bjork and Sufjan: The gauntlet is thrown.

Comments

comments

2 Comments

  1. horribleharry69

    2008/04/04 at 4:28 PM

    Can anyone find a song that was about Ronald Reagan that has the haunted mansion theme incorporated into it. It was a punk /new wave song from the 80's.
    Might be an interesting find.
    Harry

  2. The great popsong by Blind Mr Jones is "Disneyworld" on Tattoine.
    Terrific!

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