Monday, April 8, 2013

Annette's Got The Hits

Annette Funicello passed away today at the age of 70, reportedly from complications brought on by the Multiple Sclerosis she has battled since the late 1980's.  It's easy to pigeonhole Annette Funicello as the wholesome teen starlet from a simpler time, and certainly she was that, but even more she was a pop culture phenomenon.  She was the first bona-fide child star of the TV era, as the 12-year-old who outshone even Cubby on the original Mickey Mouse Club in the 1950's; hers is he image that comes first to mind when swinging '60s beach parties are imagined, celebrated, or lampooned; I first knew of her as the kind-of-cool TV mom who made Skippy peanut butter sandwiches for all the neighborhood kids in those 1970s commercials. She was the model that corporate entertainment still tries to emulate when concocting each next teen idol: she sang, she danced, she acted, she did TV and she did movies, only she did it all without being a prefab creation.  She had a natural ease in front of the camera and real talent.

It may surprise you to learn that my record collection includes two Annette Funicello albums (!), both from 1964. Annette On Campus is a definite oddity, in which she leads two separate singing groups, The Wellingtons and The All American Chorus, cheerleader-style through a collection of the era's college fight songs; Annette at Bikini Beach is a fun romp through a number of (appropriately enough) beach-y tunes, including the excellent semi-title track "Bikini Beach" and a personal all-time favorite "The Monkey's Uncle," on which she joins forces with The Beach Boys in an absolutely irresistible hook-laden pop confection (bubblegum music for the pre-bubblegum era?).  Sure it's true that I do not own these unironically, but part of Annette's charm was that she always seemed to understand just how corny the material she was regularly handed to perform was, even in her most earnest moments.   

In the early 1980s, before they doubled the d and replaced the c with a k, California punks Red Cross penned a tribute of sorts to the ultimate girl-next-door.  In honor of Ms. Funicello's passing, I offer their surf-punk homage, as well as "The Monkey's Uncle."  I think you'll find by listening to them back-to-back, though they were created in different generations, in the pantheon of teenage goofy fun they are surprisingly not too far apart!

R.I.P. Annette.

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