Talking with Joel Hodgson About Mystery Science Theater 3000's Iconic Music
Michael Kienitz Joel Hodgson
Our favorite cult comedy about robots in space riffing on cheesy movies recently celebrated its silver anniversary. That's right, it's been 25 years since Mystery Science Theater 3000 hit the airwaves, and recently, archivist label Shout Factory released the 29th volume of episodes from the cult-favorite show.
We spoke to creator and star Joel Hodgson about its classic music moments, from its iconic theme to the best Christmas song ever written about Road House.
RFT Music:Congratulations on 25 years of Mystery Science Theater 3000! It's been great how big of a part music has played on your show.
Joel Hodgson:There was a 25th anniversary event in Chicago, and there was a similar question about "How did you figure that you could drop in references that were really broad that they'd never expect to hear on TV?" The way I got to that was in the ether in the '70s. I remember George Harrison's song "Crackerbox Palace" which was a Top-40 song at the time, in that song he references Madeline Khan in Blazing Saddles when she goes "it's true! it's true!" He said that, and I thought, "Holy shit, George Harrison watched Mel Brooks movies!" That kind of was the motive.
Also, I got to talk to Frank Zappa before he died. I asked him, "What's it like to hear us reference your music?" And he goes, "It's very unsettling." I thought that was pretty funny.
The latest Shout DVD release of the show, the 25th Anniversary Collection, features the documentary called Return to Eden Prairie, which surprised me to find out Crow's name comes from a song reference, too.
Yeah, that's from Jim Carrol's Catholic Boy. It's a great New York kind of album that's perfectly timed right around 1978, my freshman year of college when music was reinventing itself. There's a song on there called "Crow", and I felt that that song was the embodiment of what I wanted this character to be. I also liked the idea of a robot having a Native American name. In the Midwest, where I'm from, there's a lot of Native Americans, and I had a best friend in college who had a friend named Tom Crow. And I thought that was so cool.
During the formative years, were there any other bits of musical inspiration that impacted the show?
Well, obviously "Satellite of Love" is from Lou Reed. And, I just thought the song had such a strange quality to it, so I really wanted to drop a reference to Lou Reed; he launched so many ships musically. Also, "Rocket Number 9," which was the motivated camera whenever you saw an establishing shot of the ship, was obviously a reference to Sun Ra.
The silhouettes also came from the Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album too, right?
Absolutely. Each song on that album has an illustration, so it's this old big double album with these lavish pencil drawings to kind of set the mood, kind of like Sgt. Pepper. There's this one illustration for a song called "I've Seen the Movie Too," with the silhouette of a man and woman touching each other while watching a movie, and I remember exactly where I was in high school when I first saw it. I was at my friend Mike Wilkenson's house, and we were working on the homecoming float. All these kids were there, and we were playing that album. I remember seeing that and saying, "You could green screen this and have people there saying stuff." I took a field trip to the local TV station and kind of understood how green screen works. It would probably be pretty easy, but nobody was giving out development deals to high school students in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in the '70s so I just kind of kept it in my pocket. I was in a position after being a comic on Letterman and Saturday Night Live to make a show, so that's what I pulled out.
Continue to page two.