15 Great Moments When Rock ’n’ Roll and TV Sitcoms Collided
From The Standells on The Munsters to The Doobie Brothers on What’s Happening!!, here are some memorable instances of rock and sitcoms colliding.
Rock ’n’ roll and the TV sitcom: star crossed lovers that were destined to get together, like Jeannie and Major Nelson, or Felix and Oscar and the Pigeon sisters, or Fred and Ethel Mertz, or Rerun and a cheeseburger. They were created for each other, both live and in front of a studio audience. Two series were based on that idea alone: The Partridge Family was inspired by a real family band, The Cowsills, and the zany Monkees were sort of what we all thought The Beatles were really like.
Here are fifteen other great examples of sitcoms and rock ‘n’ roll intersecting.
1. Gilligan’s Island, The Honeybees and The Mosquitoes (December 9, 1965)
Let’s start with the Gilligan’s Island episode where the three women form a band, The Honeybees. TV liked to name their fictional bands after insects—clearly The Beatles cast a long shadow in these shows’ writing rooms. In the episode, a famous band, The Mosquitoes, are trying to escape their fans. They go to a deserted island to get their heads straight, only to run into Gilligan and his friends.
A debate has raged for the last fifty-plus years: Who do you prefer, Mary Ann or Ginger? But it’s Mrs. Lovey Howell who really steals the show here. Rumors abound that Lovey was Andy Warhol’s first pick for The Velvet Underground, but when she wouldn’t leave the island he settled for Nico.
As for The Mosquitoes, they’re played by the folk band The Wellingtons, who sing the theme to Gilligan’s Island in its first season (and yes, theirs is the version where the Professor and Mary Ann are reduced to “the rest.”)
2. Batman, “The Batusi” (January 12, 1966)
Batman was one of the most irreverent and subversive shows ever on television; it was the very essence of rock ‘n’ roll. The Who, The Jam, The Flaming Lips, Iggy Pop, Melvins, and countless others have covered the show’s theme song. While Sammy Davis Jr. and Don Ho both made cameos on the show—and a whole episode was devoted to Catwoman stealing the voices of the English pop duo Chad & Jeremy (more on them in a moment)—it was Batman’s dancing that would become a national fad with moves he called “The Batusi,” providing the show’s most rock ‘n’ roll moment.
3. The Patty Duke Show, Chad & Jeremy (February 17, 1965)
What in the hell was going on with Chad & Jeremy in the mid-’60s? This appearance by the British duo was the band’s second national network TV look. They appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show exactly one week earlier. Eighteen months later they were on that episode of Batman where Catwoman stole their voices. Who did they know, and what did they know about them? Also, what on earth is up with Chad here? Was he the inspiration of John “Stumpy” Pepys, the tall blonde geek drummer from Spinal Tap who died in a bizarre gardening accident? Also, note at about the fifty-one second mark, the camera cuts to Chad’s right hand which is supposedly strumming his guitar, but he is clearly, visibly not playing.
4. F Troop, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (February 9, 1967)
The cast of F Troop performing “Mr. Tambourine Man” (earlier in the episode they did “Lemon Tree”) is a watershed moment for two reasons. First, both Bob Dylan and The Byrds would have been relegated to obscurity if this show hadn’t brought the song to the masses. And, as everyone knows, F Troop is historically accurate—it’s clear that Dylan himself could not have written this song, it has to be, at latest, a post-American Civil War song. Also, in this episode, Corporal Agarn leaves the army to manage a band called The Bedbugs (another insect band name!). The Bedbugs were played by a band called Factory who included Little Feat co-founders Lowell George and Richie Hayward.
5. I Dream of Jeannie, “Jeannie, the Hip Hippie” (October 17, 1967)
In this clip from I Dream of Jeannie, Jeannie lays down a solid beat and is able to handle tricky rhythmic changes with aplomb—without even having had a practice session—behind ’60s hitmakers Boyce and Hart. Boyce and Hart were to ’60s TV as Michael McDonald was to late-’70s/early-’80s easy listening, or what Slash was to all types of music in the ’80s and ’90s—suffice to say Boyce and Hart were ubiquitous without you knowing they were ubiquitous. Bonus points on this one for Phil Spector’s appearance in the clip.
6. Bewitched, “I’ll Blow You a Kiss in the Wind” (February 19, 1970)
Bewitched, like I Dream of Jeannie, was about a woman with supernatural powers persuaded to hide her abilities by the man she loved. In both shows, the lead actress would don a dark-haired wig and play the lead characters’ mischievous sister or cousin. These dark-haired relatives were freer and more fun than the main characters in their shows. In this clip, as in Jeannie, a Boyce and Hart song is again performed—this time by Samantha’s cousin Serena.
7. The Munsters, The Standells (March 18, 1965)
Do you have any idea how much money it costs to perform a Beatles song on television? Even if you were able to get clearance, it would easily run into six figures. But in 1965, apparently, it wasn’t so hard, as the LA band The Standells covered “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on The Munsters.
Before we leave The Munsters, check out Lily’s dream in which Herman dances with go-go dancers. In the episode, Herman becomes a singing sensation with a version of “Dem Bones,” and Lily is worried she’s losing him to his success.
8. The Addams Family, “The Lurch” (May 14, 1965)
As with Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, the premises of The Addams Family and The Munsters are nearly identical: a family of Halloween monsters moves into an ordinary middle class neighborhood and hijinks ensue. And like The Munsters, The Addams Family has an episode in which their most Frankenstein-esque character—in this case the family butler, Lurch—becomes a pop sensation. Rather than including a clip from this show, check out Ted Cassidy as Lurch showing off his dance moves on the American dance show Shindig!.
9. The Mothers-in-Law, The Seeds (April 28, 1968)
Yeah, I’d never heard of The Mothers-in-Law either, but come for legendary garage band The Seeds (as The Warts) performing their anthem “Pushin’ Too Hard,” and stay for the daughter-in-law (presumably) grooving out!
10. Sanford and Son, A Tribe Called Quest’s “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” (1990)
A little change of pace on this one. Sanford and Son had excellent musical appearances by The Three Degrees and Lena Horne, but the show was as much of an influence on music—hip-hop in particular—as it was a reflection of culture. The most shining example is A Tribe Called Quest’s “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo.” Q-Tip said the band had never been to El Segundo, and weren’t even sure that it really existed, but he liked the name from Fred Sanford’s many mentions of it on the show. Also check out Game of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage in the video!
11. The Odd Couple (February 14, 1975)
There’s nothing better in The Odd Couple than watching Felix being bummed out. Hee Haw co-host Roy Clark sends him to the bummer tent in this clip to the delight of Oscar (who plays a mean zipper jacket).
12. Happy Days, “Heartbreak Hotel” (January 27, 1976)
There are tons of music clips on Happy Days, but we’re going with Fonzie singing “Heartbreak Hotel”—chosen because of the appearance of Laverne and Shirley. But special shouts-out to Leather Tuscadero, played by rock star Suzi Quatro. And (yowza, yowza, yowza) the early Richie, Ralph Malph, and Potsie band—for a while that band was backed by drummer Sticks, who was played by John-Anthony Bailey. Bailey has one of the more interesting IMDb pages you will find. Almost ten years after his role in Happy Days, under the name Jack Baker he made the move from nostalgia-themed sitcoms to porn, appearing in numerous films including Rump Shaker 2, Girlz in the Hood 3, and Slut Safari.
13. The Brady Bunch, “Time to Change” (September 16, 1972)
Possibly the most famous clip on this list. It’s absolutely painful to watch, except for Cindy’s boss’ go-go boots, which are likely the main reason she’s seated while everyone else has to stand. The Brady Bunch can make you cringe, almost as if you’re watching home movies.
14. Quincy, “Punk Episode” (December 1, 1982)
OK, Quincy is not a sitcom, but this episode is comic gold. The ’80s answer to Reefer Madness, Quincy railed against punk rock in spectacularly misinformed fashion. The clip here is the gist of the episode condensed to under three minutes, but if you get the chance, watch the entire thing—you won’t be disappointed. The band Spoon even wrote a song called, “Quincy Punk Episode.”
15. What’s Happening!!, The Doobie Brothers (January 28, 1978)
Hey hey hey, the last entry here is also the undisputed zenith of American culture: the episode of What’s Happening!! where Rerun bootlegs The Doobie Brothers. It’s a two-parter, and the episode makes as much sense as What’s Happening!! itself. The series was based on a 1975 movie, Cooley High, which takes place in Chicago in 1965—yet What’s Happening!! took place in present-day Los Angeles.
So given this, it should come as no surprise that the episode revolves around The Doobie Brothers playing a concert at their high school alma mater, which happens to be in Watts. The appearance was the brainchild of the Doobies’ genius publicist at the time, David Gest, future ex-husband of Liza Minelli, who told the Doobies that if they appeared on the show it would help them break into the “urban market.”
And maybe it worked—maybe Patti LaBelle was familiar with the antics of Raj, Rerun, Duane, Dee, and Shirley and demanded that Doobie Michael McDonald be her partner on her Billboard number-one hit “On My Own.” As for the show itself, there is the near-Shakespearan line, “Which Doobie you be?” and a whole lot of Doobie songs, including, most remarkably, a jazz odyssey-ish instrumental complete with smoke machine and pounding of the gong. Man, I wish my high school was as cool as this. FL