Exclusive Features
Anniversaries, Cover Stories, Editorials,
Interviews, Lists, and Comprehensive Rankings

Audio Archaeology: The Music of The Adventures of Pete & Pete

on October 19, 2011, 12:01am

Sometimes, nostalgia turns out to be a very good thing. A long time ago, The Adventures of Pete & Pete was a totally awesome show. And after watching it again just this afternoon, it turns out it’s still totally awesome and a lot deeper in the musically awesome department than we realized at age eight (and we’re not just talking the theme music).

When discussing the music of Pete & Pete, it all starts with Polaris. The wonderfully ’90s theme song “Hey Sandy” was penned by Mark Mulcahy, originally the frontman for Miracle Legion (a group compared to R.E.M., even as they opened for Bjork’s Sugarcubes). But when Nickelodeon needed a house band for their grungy new show about brotherly love, Mulcahy brought together Polaris, and the rest is history. The title track still pops into many a twentysomething or thirtysomething’s head and gets stuck for days, despite the indecipherability of one line. While Mulcahy has been forthcoming with almost every lyric, the third line (after “Hey smilin’ strange, you’re looking happily deranged”) has never been revealed. Theories abound, but the happy medium we’ve found is to just mumble out some nonsense.

Polaris also appeared in the classic episode “A Hard Day’s Pete”, in which Danny Tamborelli’s Little Pete happens across a song that instantly ingrains itself as his all-time favorite, Polaris’s “Summerbaby”. But in the pre-SoundHound/Google era, Little Pete has no idea what the song is and goes on a quest to find it (those were some difficult days, kids). He broadcasts his own cover over his pirate radio station, WART– pretty hip moves for a grungy little dude. Fans these days can grab Polaris’s Music From The Adventures of Pete & Pete and get that song, the title theme, and 10 other familiar tracks that should keep the nostalgia going for a while.

But the musical guest stars certainly don’t end there. Iggy Pop may be the most readily featured musician of the bunch, playing Nona’s dad, James “Pop” Mecklenberg. The punk rock wild man kept his flowing locks but played the occasionally overbearing, over-protective dad, a knowingly ironic move from a knowingly ironic decade. In “A Hard Day’s Pete”, Little Pete’s backing band featured singer/songwriter Marshall Crenshaw as electricity meter reader “Lightning” Mel Ratner. Former Sonic Youth drummer (and Ferris Bueller valet/thrill seeker) Richard Edson plays a lovelorn janitor, Violent Femmes frontman Gordon Gano portrays a broken substitute math teacher, and Blondie’s Debbie Harry turns out to be one of Pete’s neighbors.

Big Pete’s many crushes include singer/songwriter Juliana Hatfield as a surprisingly young lunch lady, while the utterly urban New York Dolls frontman David Johansen is a park ranger in the Pete & Pete bizarro world. Similarly twisted, rap bad boy LL Cool J turns up as a middle school teacher, while kooky B-52s vocalist Kate Pierson is a lonely suburbanite. Plus, the booking of Luscious Jackson as the band for the school dance made all of us jealous that our middle schools got Wacky Dave, DJ Extraordinaire. But in perhaps the top bill, R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe plays Mr. Tastee’s competition, Captain Scrummy, purveyor of the ick-tastic Sludgecicle.

The background music proved to be just as star-studded. Beyond Polaris, the heavy inclusion of Stephin Merritt’s work (with Magnetic Fields, The Gothic Archies, and The 6ths) makes for some pretty beautifully moody ’90s moments. The Apples in Stereo, the Drop Nineteens, and Poi Dog Pondering all contribute their own magnificent gleeful, jammy eccentricities, while Chug and Racecar amp things up. To this day, very few TV shows (aimed at kids or otherwise) have displayed this level of musical mastery.

To help you revisit some of these tunes, we put together a special playlist for you via Spotify.

Check Out: Krebstar Mixtape 2000