Sunday, August 28, 2005

Sunday Synthpop Brunch: Baltimora you thoughtLike nearly all diabolical dancepop singles from Europe, "Tarzan Boy" is a tune that gets stuck in your head on infinite repeat as soon as you hear it, whether you like it or not. This singularly catchy/annoying quality created a worldwide sensation that not only charted in multiple territories, but also helped promote a couple of ultra-lame Hollywood movies, hawk mouthwash and even sell a gay-aimed energy drink. Not too shabby for a one-hit flash-in-the-pan, eh?

While most people watching the very cheaply-done "Tarzan Boy" video clip might have figured that Northern Ireland-born Jimmy McShane was in fact Baltimora, it turns out that McShane was actually a hired "face" lip-syncing the words: the actual singing (not to mention songwriting and production) was instead handled by noted Italo-disco figure Maurizio Bassi.

Sounding like some kind of weird fusion of A-Ha and The Tokens, Baltimora swept over Europe during the summer of 1985 before finding release stateside via EMI Records. The time it took for EMI to finally break "Tarzan Boy" in America resulted in the song earning a six month stay on the Hot 100, ultimately peaking at #13 in the early spring of 1986.

While "Tarzan Boy" might be an unapologetically vapid pop confection, it pales in silliness and sLiving In The Backgroundheer goofiness next to the similarly-styled (not to mention equally suggestive) "Woody Boogie," which was chosen as the follow-up single in Europe. While "Woody Boogie" somehow managed to make some waves overseas, the American market was instead serviced with Living In The Background's rather unmemorable title cut instead, which only managed a paltry 4 weeks on the Hot 100, peaking at #87 in April of 1986. A follow-up album, Key Key Karimba, was released a year later and managed to sell pretty well in Italy and nowhere else. Thus endeth Baltimora...until Hollywood intervened a few years later.

Considering how quintessentially 1980s the song sounded by that point, it's incredible that "Tarzan Boy" made a second run up the Hot 100 in the spring of 1993, climbing to back up to #51 thanks to its appearance in the movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. No such resurgence occured when the song appeared again in a movie a few years later: this time in the best-forgotten 1997 Chris Farley caper Beverly Hills Ninja.

Having successfully gone Hollywood, Baltimora took to Madison Avenue next as the seemingly deathless "Tarzan Boy" managed to make millions of impressions nationwide one more time thanks it its use in a popular Listerine commercial, which featured the song playing (sans lead vocals) while a sprightly, computer-animated bottle of green minty mouthwash swung around on vines in some colorful digital jungle. Awesome.

In a much lesser known product campaign, "Tarzan Boy" also became the "official theme song" for an energy drink called Gay Fuel. To the best of my understanding, Gay Fuel is roughly analogous to Red Bull, only with far more aphrodisiac properties (it is supposedly fortified with natural herbal stimulants and immune system boosters) and the concoction is colored pink instead of yellow. No, I am not making this shit up.

Hardly any information is available anywhere (at least in un-mauled English) as to what Maurizio Bassi has been up to since his studio creation briefly took over the world. It is known that Bassi has since worked with megastar Eros Ramazzotti and the Italian disco groups Silver Pozzoli and Passengers (no relation to the U2/Brian Eno project of the same name), but aside from these projects, his life and fortunes remain a mystery.

Sadly, this is not the case for Baltimora's "face": Jimmy McShane died of AIDS on March 28, 1995. He was 37 years old.

No comments: