Black Flag’s signature 1984 anthem “TV Party” is rock’s ultimate send-up of boob addiction, built around a chorus of all-too-familiar universal truth: “We’ve got nothin’ better to do/Than watch TV and have a couple of brews/Don’t talk about anything else/We don’t want to know/We’re dedicated to our favorite shows!”
Hilariously, “TV Party” ends with the set breaking and the band lamenting a very specific roster of mid-’80s programs that they’re doomed to miss. Among those gems: Fantasy Island, Diff’rent Strokes, CHiPs, Dallas, Dynasty and That’s Incredible!
Other hard rock and heavy metal bands have been more show-specific when composing tributes to televised entertainment. Here are our picks for the Top 10.
1. “Twilight Zone” – Rush (1976)
Rush pay tribute to TV’s crowning sci-fi achievement in “Twilight Zone,” a mesmerizing meditation on the immortal CBS series that appears on the band’s 1976 magnum opus, 2112. In fact, Rush were such fans of The Twilight Zone that they had already dedicated their 1975 album Caress of Steel to TZ creator Rod Serling.
Rush’s loving homage invokes Serling’s opening introduction to the show’s world of imagination, then conjures images from some specific episodes, including “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” (“A pleasant faced man steps up to greet you/He smiles and says he's pleased to meet you/Beneath his hat the strangeness lies/Take it off, he's got three eyes) and “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” (“Look up to see a giant boy/You've just become his brand new toy”). What a trip!
2. “The Prisoner” – Iron Maiden (1982)
“Who are you?”
“The new Number Two.”
“Who is Number One?”
“You are Number Six.”
“I am not a number! I am a free man!”
Iron Maiden’s epic song about the cult 1967 British sci-fi series The Prisoner begins, as each episode of the show itself did, with the dialogue cited above. It’s a set-up between Leo McKern as villainous Number Two and Patrick McGoohan, the Prisoner himself, insisting that he is much more than just his assigned numeric status in the program’s psychedelic dystopia known as The Village.
Bruce Dickinson voices Number One in the song, keeping pace with the music’s thrilling forward charge as he sings of liberating himself from the lava-lamp-strewn gilded cage of The Village: “Run, fight, to breathe, it's tough/Now you see me (haha!) now you don't/break the walls, I'm coming out/Not a prisoner I'm a free man/and my blood is my own now/Don't care, where the past was/I know where I'm going... out!”
3. “Perry Mason” – Ozzy Osbourne (1995)
Heroic defense attorney Perry Mason began his fictional existence in a series of mystery novels and short stories by Erle Stanley Gardner. As a character, Perry picked up even more steam on a daily old-time radio drama. Counselor Mason truly emerged as an all-time pop culture icon, though, when Raymund Burr threw his considerable heft into the role on TV from 1957 to 1966, and again in 26 TV-movies made between 1985 and 1993.
While the song is not literally about a court case, it’s Burr’s Perry Mason who comes to mind when Ozzy Osbourne sings of the need for a strong-handed hero to straighten out the vague but dangerous situation described in the lyrics: “Wake me when it's over, tell me it's all right/Just keep on talking baby, I've been doing this all night/How much did you give me?/Tell me it'll be all right/Who can we get on the case? We need Perry Mason, someone to put you in place/Calling Perry Mason again, again, again, again, again.”
4. “Dragula” – Rob Zombie (1998)
Inspired by Grandpa’s hybrid coffin-racecar on The Munsters, Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” is a hard-charging industrial turbo boogie that truly does sound like the Count’s nitro-burning casket-on-wheels looks.
“Dig through the ditches and burn through the witches,” roars Zombie on the chorus, “and slam in the back of my Dragula!” You go, King of the Undead!
5. “Black Lodge” – Anthrax (1993)
On David Lynch’s cult TV sensation Twin Peaks, the Black Lodge is an inter-dimensional space in which angels, demons, ghosts, and dreams seem to reside in various degrees of conflict and balance. It is a place about which the characters are warned that, if confronted with even a shadowy flicker of weakness, “will utterly annihilate your soul.”
Anthrax’s “Black Lodge” is a fittingly spooky and daunting evocation of the titular realm. It conveys the drive so many of the haunted, haunting residents of Twin Peaks felt toward the great void with lyrics such as: “I am a witness to your demise/I am the one who saw through the lies/Give me the one thing you can't give/Take me to the black lodge where you live.”
6. “Conehead” – Frank Zappa (1981)
As one of rock’s world-class wits and most savage satirists, Frank Zappa seemed a natural to host Saturday Night Live in 1978. Alas, the crackpot visionary composer didn’t seem to mesh with the cast (John Belushi being the one notable exception) and, except for Zappa’s live performance of “Dancin’ Fool,” the episode did not go down as one of the series’ classics.
Nonetheless, Zappa remained an SNL fan to the point that he crafted “Conehead” as a musical recounting of the show’s signature bit about the pointy-skulled aliens from the planet Remulak played by Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtain, Larraine Newman, and, sometimes, most awesomely, also by Garrett Morris. On the show he hosted, Zappa got to act alongside the characters.
Zappa’s song, from his classic You Are What You Is LP, rather intensely chronicles the sketch’s details, making references to the space family’s pleasure rings, beer-and-chips diet, and unconvincing claims that they hail from France. Zappa must have really identified with those cosmic adventurers (even if he’d pass on all that beer).
7. “Make It So” – The Dickies (1995)
L.A. speed-punk pioneers the Dickies fire off on warp speed with “Make It So,” their fun and furious tribute to Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Named for the favorite phrase of Commander Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), the lyrics to “Make It So” even cross-reference another TV classic by referring to TNG’s LeVar Burton as Kunta Kinte, the iconic runaway slave he portrayed on the landmark 1977 miniseries, Roots.
8. “Small Wonder” – The Vandals (1991)
The syndicated 1985-1989 sitcom Small Wonder detailed the adventures of a suburban nuclear family and Vicki, a robot child they kept as a servant. From its opening theme song, the show was a bizarre throwback to the 1950s that came off cornball to the point of being some kind of avant-garde meta-joke.
SoCal hardcore squad the Vandals splatter out some of the more complex implications of Vicki the robot girl on their thrash-basher “Small Wonder,” wailing: “Once again, when the sun is going down/She becomes a menace, a terror of the town!”
9. “Aloha, Steve and Danno” – Radio Birdman (1977)
Each week, the long-running sun-kissed cop show Hawaii Five-O wrapped up with Detective Captain Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) getting his man and advising his second-in-command Detective Daniel “Danno” Williams (James MacArthur): “Book ’em, Danno!”
Original Aussie punks Radio Birdman remake Hawaii Five-O’s iconic surf-rock theme song in “Aloha, Steve and Danno” by wrapping it up in their own monster-wave-riding salute to the show. It even goes so far as to declare: “Steve I gotta say thank you/for all you've done for me/The nights are dark and lonely/when you're not on TV!”
10. “I Wanna Be a Flintstone” – Screaming Blue Messiahs (1988)
London’s alt-rock under-bubblers the Screaming Blue Messiahs summed up their sound as “rockabilly from hell. Their lyrical subject matter certainly fixated on the sort of gloriously lowbrow American culture such a phrase suggests: fast cars, hot girls, cheap thrills, and TV cartoons.
The SBM’s closest thing to a hit stateside was “I Wanna Be a Flintstone,” a straight-up declaration for Fred, Barney, Dino, and the other residents of Bedrock. At the end, singer Bill Carter even gets to yell, “Wil-ma!”
BONUS: “Johnny Carson” – Beach Boys (1977)
On their fantastically weird The Beach Boys Love You album, head Beach Boy Brian Wilson illuminates any number of his myriad obsessions, and none is more brilliantly strange than the song named for his (and everyone’s) all-time favorite late-night television host.
Over a slowly percussive piano, the band brings suspense to their harmonies, intoning: “He sits behind his microphone/John-ny Car-son/He speaks in such a manly tone/John-ny Car-son.”
From there, the music picks up, and the gushes of admiration cascade over a crazy series of time changes and vocal trade-offs, the dizzying highlight of which is: “Don't (you) think (he's) such (a) natural guy/The (way) he's (kept) it (up) could make you cry.”
Finally, the Beach Boys lay it all bare by rhapsodizing into a fade-out: “Who’s a man that we admire?/Johnny Carson is a real live wire!”
BONUS BONUS: “General Hospi-Tale” – Afternoon Delights (1981)
The most popular programs on TV circa 1991 were the nighttime soap operas Dallas and Dynasty, but one particular daylight powerhouse kept right up with them in terms of dominating the national conversation: General Hospital.
Amidst the mania over a marriage between characters Luke (Anthony Geary) and Laura (Genie Francis), Boston-based studio singers the Afternoon Delights scored a minor hit with “General Hospi-Tale,” a discoed-up recounting of the show’s ever-so-scandalous storylines. The group delivered no follow-up song of note.