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Flashdance, Snoopy, and Answering Machine Rap Music
I have been listening to a lot of classic American Top 40 lately. During a 1983 broadcast, Casey Kasem played the song Maniac from the movie, Flashdance. He also gave some fun facts about its origins that sound like they could be an urban legend.
The Origin of the song, Maniac
Maniac by Michael Sembello would reach number 1 on the Billboard charts on September 10, 1983. It would spend two weeks there and it would spur sales of the song. Helping make the soundtrack to Flashdance one of the top 10 best-selling movie soundtracks of all time.
The song appears twice in the film. Once towards the beginning and more famously in a scene where the main character of the film, Alex played by Jennifer Beals, works out in a montage.
When people like to drop trivia about Flashdance, they usually mention two things. The first is that Beal had a double during the dance scenes, which was kept a secret as to not spoil the illusion of the film. The double was Marine Jahan and she would also appear in the music video. Once you know this little nugget, it is very obvious why they filmed everything far away and in shadow during these sequences.
The other bit of trivia concerns the origins of the song, Maniac.
The Song, Maniac, was originally about a Maniac
This hit song about a “a steel town girl on a Saturday night” is catchy and works great in the film, but in its original form it about a different type of maniac, a killer.
I had heard this little bit of trivia before, but when Casey Kasem said it on his show, it made me wonder if it was actually true, so I did some searching.
According to Sembello, who wrote this with his songwriting partner Dennis Matkosky, the film was originally about a serial killer. They got the idea for the song after seeing the William Lustig serial killer film, Maniac (1980).
The story goes that when they were looking for songs for Flashdance, the serial killer version of Maniac was sent by mistake. The producers loved the song, but they needed Sembello to change the lyrics, which he happily did.
I cannot find a version of the song with any of the grisly lyrics, but Sembello said online that the chorus went something like:
He’s a maniac, maniac that’s for sure
He will kill your cat and nail him to the door
While I don’t think a song about a serial killer who really hates cats would be a huge hit, the idea is so bananas that I would love to hear the whole thing.
I tried finding a homemade version and struck out, but my searches around cats and Flashdance did yield an interesting result.
It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown
A lot of people went and saw Flashdance in the theater. Among them was Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. This led him to do a comic on November 29, 1983 where the punchline involves Snoopy labeling himself, Flashbeagle. Its a cute comic with a nice pop culture reference that would quickly be transformed into the animated TV special, It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown.
Premiering on April 16, 1984 the special is light on plot, but heavy on dance and song. Including an amazing number with Snoopy dancing to the title song, Flashbeagle. If this dancing looks familiar it is because they used footage of Marine Jahan and rotoscoped it. Which is a process that involves drawing the animation over live action pictures.
The song was written by Ed Bogas and sung by Desirée Goyette and Joey Scarbury.
Goyette is a talented musician who is probably best known for her work on Garfield and Friends. While working on the show, she not only co-wrote all the music during the first three seasons, but also contributed several voices including, Nermal.
Scarbury, who is also very talented, is most well-known for another song that did well on the Billboard charts.
Believe it or not, I’m walkin’ on air
On March 18, 1981, the TV show The Greatest American Hero premiered. It was about a high school teacher who finds a super hero suit that gives him special powers. Unfortunately he loses the instruction manual for the suit, so a lot of his heroics become comical as he struggles to master his newfound powers.
The show would run for three wonderful seasons and then continue to be shown in reruns. It was a success as a show and its theme song, which was sung by Scarbury and written by Mike Post and Stephen Geyer, would go onto hit number two (so close) on the Billboard Hot 100.
This song is in my personal top 10 for TV theme songs and inspired one of my favorite bits on the TV show, Seinfeld.
I must be out, or I’d pick up the phone
In the season 8, episode 15 of Seinfeld, titled, “The Susie,” we hear George’s answering machine message, which is a wonderful answering machine-quality parody of “Theme from The Greatest American Hero (Believe It or Not).”
The episode was written by David Mandel, who drew on real life for this bit of hilarity. Mandel states in the DVD audio commentary for “The Susie,” that he got the idea from a friend of a friend who did an answering message using the theme song to The Greatest American Hero.
I am sure many people will watch this nowadays and scratch their head at the effort George put into an answering machine message, but it wasn’t that long ago that pre-recorded novelty answering machine messages were all the rage.
Wait for the Beep
Probably the most storied of these novelty message tapes was sold on television under the name Crazy Calls. Created by Mitch & Ira Yuspeh, the original Crazy Calls and its sequels were a staple of clever answering machine owners. The commercials that sold it seemed to run non-stop, so people who didn’t even have answering machines probably remember them.
If you want to know which of the Crazy Calls is by far the best, I would point you to the Rap classic, “Wait for the Beep.”
Now if you excuse me, I need to go record an outgoing song for my voicemail, I was thinking something like,
I will call you back, call you back that’s for sure.
So leave your name, your number, and a little more.