Wednesday, May 21, 2014

TMFW 37 - Spuds MacKenzie('s Entourage) Inspired a #1 Hit

In the book of "weird things about the '80s," there would surely be a chapter marveling that a female dog disguised its gender to play a beer-loving, ostensibly non-canine fraternity member, and became a spokes-animal of worldwide celebrity.  I speak of course of Spuds MacKenzie, Bud Light's "Original Party Animal." 
Spuds first appeared in a Super Bowl ad in 1987, and was almost instantly a hit.  He (she? it?) went on to appear in a bevy of spots over the next 2 years.  Spuds did ads themed for the Olympics (winter and winter again, and summer and summer again), and generally was depicted as the life of the party and an irresistible object of ladies' affection.  In that second winter spot, for example, he plays goalie for the USA hockey team and is so good and attractive that he wins over a soviet woman from the dark side.   
Spuds lived in a mansion and travelled in style - in a Cadillac with steer horns, on a skateboard at the beach, and in a personalized yellow submarine and yacht  (in that one, he dances closely behind a blond woman in a conga line, as she breathlessly declares that 'Spuds gives motion to the ocean').  Spuds interviewed with Dick Clark, and "gave back to the community" by doing work for Jerry Lewis's MDA telethon, both times to wild applause.  Spuds merchandise was ubiquitous in bars and in promotional giveaways, to the point that, at the time of this writing, eBay features over 1,000 results for Spuds gear.
This excellent Mentral Floss writeup, which inspired today's post, features a number of quotes from Bill Solberg, who worked at the PR agency that ran the Spuds campaign and traveled with Spuds as his spokesperson.  The brilliance of the campaign was that Anheuser Busch never acknowledged that Spuds MacKenzie was a dog at all.  In fact, they insisted that he was NOT a dog.  As shown in the two interview clips above, the gag is carefully respected, especially in the Dick Clark clip.  He is called "Mr. MacKenzie," it is said (in a tongue-in-cheek refutation to the then-understood truth that Spuds was actually a female) that he is a "full out macho guy," and there's horror at the question by Clark whether Spuds understands that he is just a dog.  Clark is admonished for using the "d-word," and his handlers insist "He's not a dog! He's a party animal.  Number one!"  The crowd reacts with enthusiastic cheering.  It's all bizarre and amazing.
So where's the music fact here?  Well, it is born from Spuds's entourage, a group of models that were referred to as the "Spudettes."  The Spudettes made appearances with MacKenzie, for the jointly obvious reasons that a dog in costume can't do much for itself and that models and beer advertising have long been natural partners.  The Spudettes were very popular themselves, and each one of them fit the conventional model profile of tall and (very) skinny. 
The popularity of the Spudettes annoyed Amylia Dorsey-Rivas, a multiethnic woman who worked in modeling promotion in Seattle but who booked few jobs herself because of her callipygian body type.  Dorsey-Rivas' boyfriend at the time - a Seattle rapper born Anthony Ray - agreed with her, and felt like the Spudettes' standard of beauty was unfair to ethnic women who had more diverse body types.  So Ray - who went by the stage name Sir Mix-a-Lot - decided to record a song about it. 
Of course, that song was "Baby Got Back," which was released on Sir Mix-a-Lot's 1992 album Mack Daddy.  The song - an unabashed appreciation of shapely behinds that features the classic opening "I like big butts and I cannot lie" and the equally-classic line "my anaconda don't want none unless you got buns, hun" - reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in July 1992 and stayed there for 5 weeks.  It was the number 2 song overall in 1992, and it propelled Mack Daddy to a platinum certification.
"Baby Got Back" and its iconic video, which was briefly 'banned' by MTV, are now sufficiently classic that they were featured in an "oral history" last year on New York magazine's  It's a fun read.  And for more Mix-a-Lot goodness, this Onion A.V. Club interview spanning his broader career is very good.
BONUS FACT:  In an era and a city that were so closely associated with grunge, "Baby Got Back" has the surprising distinction of being the only number 1 song that came out of Seattle in the 1990s.  Neither Pearl Jam, nor Nirvana, nor Soundgarden ever reached the top; the closest they came was (strangely enough) Pearl Jam's cover of  "Last Kiss" in 1999.  That song reached number 2. 
The "number 1 song out of Seattle" distinction of "Baby Got Back" was preceded by Heart's "Alone" in 1987 and succeeded only last year by Macklemore's "Thrift Shop."  (NOTE: that last video is not safe for work.)
BONUS FACT 2:  As noted in the oral history link above, the famous "Oh. my. god, Becky. Look. at her. butt." intro to "Baby Got Back" was voiced by Amylia Dorsey-Rivas herself.  It was one of many voices that she did, and is a pretty convincing impression of a "suburban white girl."

1 comment:

  1. Well I'd rather have Baby Got Back than Last Kiss.
    Also bonus fact 3 - Former Cincinnati Reds ballplayer Chris Sabo went by the nickname 'Spuds' short for Spuds MacKenzie of course, due to his resemblance to him/her.