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Kids’ Show Rock Part Two: The Bugaloos (Those Psychedelic Pests!)

October 27, 2013

The Bugaloos were the invention of T.V producers Sid and Marty Krofft, who were responsible for more than a dozen live-action kids’ T.V shows over the course of the 1970’s, the best-remembered of which being Lidsville (1971), Land Of The Lost (1974), and H.R Pufnstuf (1969.) Maestros of puppetry, the Krofft brothers had got their start working as vaudeville puppeteers before joining the T.V business, and all of their shows featured a combination of dancers, puppets, elaborate costumes and sets, thistledown plots (made by taking every whimsical, magical idea they had and throwing them all together to see what stuck,) and of course, a whole lot of cheery, kid-friendly music. (Speaking of costumes, sets, and music, it was Sid and Marty Krofft who designed the sets and costumes for The Banana Splits Adventure Hour. Yes, it was the Kroffts who gave the world Fleagle, Bingo, Drooper and Snork.) The Bugaloos, which ran from September 1970 to September 1972 on NBC, was one of the Krofft’s first and less-remembered shows, but it was the one with the most (and poppiest, and best) music. The Bugaloos themselves were supposed to be talking bugs that sang and danced – their group name, I suspect, being a portmanteau of ‘bugs’ and ‘boogaloo.’ What the Insect Kingdom has to do with the Music Biz, I’m still not sure, but Sid and Marty Krofft, in their estimable style, did their best to prove there had to be a connection.

The plot of any given Bugaloos episode would involve the four main characters Joy (a butterfly vocalist played by Caroline Ellis), Courage (a ladybug drummer played by John Philpott), Harmony (bumblebee keyboardist, played by Wayne Laryea), and I.Q (a grasshopper guitarist, played by John McEndoe), as they had adventures, learned lessons, and made music in their enchanted woodland home, the Tranquility Forest. Though The Bugaloos was an American show; the four main actors were all British; they spoke with Cockney accents and used expressions like ‘Cor blimey!’ and ‘Stone the crows!’, which must have struck American kids as neat and exotic. Accompanying them was their bumbling sidekick, Sparky, who was supposed to be a firefly, and was played by showbiz trooper Billy Barty, wearing a head-to-toe woolly costume. Around and about the Bugaloos were such supporting characters as Nutty Bird (a bird-brained puppet who served as the Bugaloos’ messenger), Bluebell Flower (a giant-sized talking flower puppet) and The Grapevine (a bunch of puppet grapes, each one talking in a different voice.) The Bugaloos’ closest allies were Peter Platter (a kooky D.J who lived in Rock City, just outside Tranquility Forest), and Mike (Peter Platter’s smart-aleck talking microphone.) And then there was the villain of the show: the Bugaloos’ nemesis Benita Bizarre, an ancient irascible witch who lived in a giant jukebox. (The Kroffts had a thing for witches – their earlier show H.R Pufnstuf featured villains named Witch Hazel and Witchiepoo, and the full-length Pufnstuf movie included a supervillain who was just called Boss Witch.) Benita Bizarre (played by comedienne and lounge singer Martha Raye was just as loopy as the Bugaloos themselves (though she hated them,) and she was surrounded by an equally mad bunch of flunkies – anthropomorphic speakers named Tweeter and Woofer, and a giant rat named Funky Rat, who had a German accent and an S.S trooper uniform. Benita Bizarre and her henchmen were always trying to capture the Bugaloos, either to enslave them or to prevent them from making music – the motivation changed from episode to episode – and of course, the Bugaloos themselves always won out in the end.

But never mind all that. The plots, as mentioned above, are thistledown. It’s the music that matters, and the music is surprisingly complex and melodic – as Kim Cooper and David Smay put it, ‘…much better than they needed to be for a Saturday morning T.V show…’ (Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, 194.) The songs attributed to the Bugaloos (there was always at least one song per episode) were composed by Charles Fox, with lyrics written by Norman Gimbel. Gimbel and Fox were Hollywood hired hands, who had previously written and composed songs for H.R Pufnstuf, the Kroffts’ previous show, but they put their best effort into the music for The Bugaloos. They were aided in their efforts by the actors for the show themselves – Caroline Ellis, Wayne Laryea, John Philpott and John McEndoe all did their own singing, and were genuinely talented. Caroline Ellis was particularly good, with a hauntingly husky voice. On the song ‘Senses of our World’, Ellis’s cold singing contrasts so sharply with the chirpy positive-thinking lyrics that you wonder vaguely if she isn’t putting you on. Watch and listen here, and see for yourself. ‘Senses of our World’ is a standout track, but all of the songs recorded for the show are pretty great.

A Bugaloos record was released in 1970 for Capitol Records; it has since been reissued as a C.D. It’s rare and expensive – on Amazon, it costs about sixty dollars – but it’s well worth the price. So save up your shekels – you’ll be glad you did.

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