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Monday, December 8, 2014

Mini Pops - s/t

Name: Mini Pops
Album: S/T
Year: 1982
Style: Novelty Children's Pop
Similar Bands: Kidz-Bop, Menudo, Chipmunks Punk, Weird Al Polkas, Shirley Temple
"One Word" Review: Creepily Uncomfortable
Based Out Of: London, UK
Label: K-Tel
 Mini-Pops - Cover & Record
 Mini-Pops - Back & Record
Mini-Pops (1982)

  1. Video Killed the Radio Star - 
  2. Medley (Japanese Boy, Morning Train [9 to 5], My Guy, My Boy Lollipop, Japanese Boy)
  3. Abba Medley (Gimme Gimme Gimme, Knowing Me, Knowing You, Super Trouper, Money, Money, Money, Mamma Mia, SOS, Waterloo, Dancing Queen)
  4. Disco Medley (DISCO, YMCA, In The Navy, Go West, Celebration, Happy Birthday, Una Paloma Blanca, Brown Girl in the Ring, Daddy Cool, Swinging On A Star, Loop De Loop)
  5. Birdie Song - /
  6. Stupid Cupid 
  7. Novelty Medley (Green Door, Turning Japanese, Baggy Trousers, Stop The Cavalry, You Drive Me Crazy, They's A Guy Works Down the Chip Shop)
  8. Rock N Roll Medley (Under the Moon of Love, When, This Ole House, Rip It Up, Hound Dog, Rock Around the Clock)
  9. Blondie Medley (Call Me, Sunday Girl, Denis Denis)
  10. I'm Gonna Knock On Your Door
  11. Can Can
Album Rating (1-10): 3.5

Members & Other Bands:
Joanna Wyatt - Vox
Martin Wyatt - Creator
Mike Mansfield - Executive Producer
Joanna Fisher - Vox
Zoe Hart - Vox

Unknown-ness: I had never heard of the Mini-Pops specifically, but one look at the cover, and you can guess to near accuracy what the record contains. A quick look at the track listing and you have sealed that hunch. It’s a bunch of kids singing pop songs that were popular of the time. The reason I bought this record was because of the kids dressed up, recreating the Madness album cover. I had to hear what was on this record. No doubt it will be silly and stupid, but there is also a young boy posing like Jack Green: an artist I had never heard of before I reviewed his albums on here months(years?) ago, so I am intrigued.

Album Review: So my typical procedure is that I listen to the album all the way through as I record it to CD. Then I take the CD and give a secondary live-review-listen and that becomes the proper album review. I never go back to edit what I’ve written (which is probably pretty obvious). But this time I’m going back over what I’ve written (at least for this pre-review introduction).

When I burned this album, I was shocked to find that it was VERY uncomfortable. Picture 5-12 year old children, singing songs that contain some very adult oriented lyrics. As I listened, I wondered who would possibly greenlit this, let alone dressed up the kids to look like the artists they are covering.  Not all of music’s fashions were meant for pre-teens (nightdresses?). Society still allows for creepy child beauty pageants, and there are still companies making these ‘Kids Sing The Hits’ records, so maybe I’m way off in my reaction. I had to do a little more research to find out more behind this album.

The album was, at first, just that: a record of kids (including the creator’s own daughter) singing popular songs in England. And to sell the record, it made sense for the kids to recreate the album covers and artists that were being covered. One single (Stupid Cupid) even reached number one in France, so there was definitely a market for this product. A couple of producers saw this, so they rearranged the format to create a TV series targeting children viewership. This album in review was the record that preceded the TV series.

The major flaw in the concept was that, while making a TV show aimed at children, they never stepped back to see how the parents and other adults would view pre-teens singing about adult themes and wearing adult make-up. Even though the kids found acting in and watching the show appealing and entertaining, many adults saw the production as uncomfortable, embarrassing, painful and just plain wrong. The production team went overboard in making the kids ‘fit the part’ of the artists. The choreography contained somewhat adult dance moves, the little girls were covered in layers of make-up (almost comically so) and they sang the songs with unedited lyrics involving relationships and making love.  Just as kids don’t understand many of the jokes in Looney Tunes, the kids didn’t know what they were singing. To them, it was just a harmless, good natured project. In a ‘where are they now’ documentary, many of the kids- now adults, agreed to the good natured sense of the project. But it is also completely understandable (by people outside of the project, at least), that this did not sit well with many viewers.

The show only lasted one season, as the new Head of Entertainment at channel 4 cancelled the plans for a second series. But the group continued to record albums without the TV series. In total with the original cast, there were 7 albums released from 82-88. Perhaps the brightest part of the Mini-Pop’s career was when they toured Canada after the album became the third best-selling album of all time behind Michael Jackson and Kenny Rogers in 1983. Their tour was received with a pop-star reception, and it went faultlessly, without the slightest protest from cautious or worried adults. There is still an incarnation of The Mini Pops going on covering today’s hit music via the same K-Tel record label, but this time, it is without the wardrobe or make up, let alone the TV series.

There won’t be much review; since we know most of these songs…I’ll just point out the weird lyrics sung by kids, or odd instrument choices…

“Video Killed the Radio Star,” musically, has a more toy piano style of execution. The vocals are still muted like through a megaphone, and the girls chorus in the back is much like the high chipmunk vocals but none of this is the children’s fault. This is one of the full songs. The erratic new wave keyboards are dulled down for this production, too. This song is kind of a set up for how the show killed the group: “Can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far” even though with the recording of this, they did not have the TV deal yet.
“Medley” (Japanese Boy, Morning Train [9 to 5], My Guy, My Boy Lollipop, Japanese Boy) starts with the stereotypical Japanese music sound, combined with disco effects. The incredibly shrill child vocals are more comical than any faux-Japanese vocals could have been. Here we have little girls saying how they miss their Japanese boy…then the next part of the song, 9 to 5, has the kids singing the non-adult lyrics, and the classic My Guy is cutesy, and works with the naivety and generalness of child vocals. But the really shrill, Shirley Temple-ish vocals for Lollipop are somewhat off putting. The song comes back around to Japanese boy, which has a nice melody, fun for the kids to sing, but the meaning teeters on the appropriate border.
“Abba Medley” (Gimme Gimme Gimme, Knowing Me, Knowing You, Super Trouper, Money, Money, Money, Mamma Mia, SOS, Waterloo, Dancing Queen) was, maybe not the best choice with lyrics like “Gimme gimme gimme a man after midnight.” but enjoying I’m Alan Partridge, I always enjoy any rendition of Knowing Me, Knowing You. But these changes in the medley songs are very fluid, even more so than the Weird Al Polkas. Perhaps the one really lyric that is more funny than unsettling is where the pre-teens sing how the dancing queen is ONLY 17. It might have been a little cuter to change the lyrics just a tad to fit the singers. It would have been more endearing, at least.
“Disco Medley” (DISCO, YMCA, In The Navy, Go West, Celebration, Happy Birthday, Una Paloma Blanca, Brown Girl in the Ring, Daddy Cool, Swinging On A Star, Loop De Loop) truly embraces the danceable funky bass and flute/drum melodies that the songs embrace, and I’m sure were fun for the kids to sing. YMCA has a much smoother production than the original song, but I’m sure that could be said about all the tracks. These songs in this medley don’t really hold any adult situations on the surface, since they are often played at Bar Mitzvahs and Wedding. There is a little break in the song after Happy Birthday, where the kids cheer like they’re at a party, and a ska-like melody change takes over leading into Una Paloma Blanca fades in without transition. And I’m not sure what Brown Girl In The Ring meant when it was written, but it sounds kind of racist (apparently is a traditional children’s song in West Indies). The song has since diverged from a Disco sound since Happy Birthday. Swinging on a Star really fits the children’s theme, as these are all definitely more children’s songs than pop songs. The song ends with a wave of children cheering into a fade out.
“Birdie Song” is an odd choice to throw on here to end side one, as it is just the Chicken Dance. No real lyrics, just a version of the song you might play at your child’s birthday party. This is the perfect indicator to where this record is targeting, children, and this song happens, perhaps by common request, to be on the record for parents as a tool to use at their kid’s party. And again, there was children cheering at the end.

“Stupid Cupid” was originally written by Howard Greenfield and Neil Sedaka for Connie Francis. This is the song that bumped Ebony & Ivory from the #1 spot in France in 1982. The vocals are too high and piercing for my taste, reminding me of Betty Boop or again, Shirley Temple. Scratch that, more like Elmyra from Tiny Toons. The song itself is catchy and recorded in a fun manner, but the lyrics again straddle that line of appropriate or just vague enough to be ok for a 5 year old to sing. Except the inflection of the vocals when she sings “The thing that bothers me is that I like it fine:” that’s just creepy.
“Novelty Medley” (Green Door, Turning Japanese, Baggy Trousers, Stop the Cavalry, You Drive Me Crazy, There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop) starts with the traditional pub rock song. The young boys vocals are a little off putting, but not horrible. Baggy Trousers is kinda great with the young kids with heavier British accents. It is followed up with the straightforward folky protest song with simple instrumentation, with a little bit of Christmas feeling. The Motown style of the next bit makes the song fun, but the vocals are pretty high. And there is a little lisp on the word Crazy. It ends with a faster paced, driving song that completes this as more of a new wave than novelty medley of songs.
“Rock N Roll Medley” (Under the Moon of Love, When, This Ole House, Rip It Up, Hound Dog, Rock Around the Clock) The first two sections around like they could be the same song, and again, both are very adult…at least teenage situations that these singers have a couple of years to understand. The last three are rock n roll oldies, which come off as embarrassing, but non-threatening…with the exception of the boy’s voice he’s trying to use as Elvis…that’s a little threateningly bad.
“Blondie Medley” (Call Me, Sunday Girl, Denis Denis) is something I would not have expected, especially on a British album like this. The harmony chorus of girls is actually pretty good, and it sounds a little auto-tuned at times, but it is a good result. I guess it’s ok for little girls to say I’m in love with you…it still feels a little weird, thinking that they’re singing with the same lyrical intentions as Debbie Harry.
“I'm Gonna Knock on Your Door,” originally an ISley Brothers release, again has suggestive lyrics like “Hey little girl, no time for sleep / let’s count kisses rather than counting sheep”
“Can Can” is exactly as it sounds…the lyric-less familiar line of dancing with flowing dresses and festive colors. This version takes an instrumental verse at a time played by everything from keyboards, to brass horns, to what sounds like a recorder. Not sure the exact purpose for the song on a kids record, unless some parties use it like the Chicken Dance. About the 1:40 mark, the chorus of kids come in with da-da-da’s to mimic the melody. And the whole song ends with canned cheers.

Stand Out Track: Novelty Medley

Links:
Wiki

Red Hot Much
Discogs
Whatever Happened To IMDB page
Mini Pop Kids (still making albums)
Rate Your Music
Red Mum

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