5
Jan 11

PARTNERS IN KRYME – “Turtle Power”

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#648, 28th July 1990

You can trace the Ninjafication of Western pop culture back to the 70s martial arts boom and then specifically to Shogun, a mass market “Horrid Histories” for Japan. All its Ronins and Samurai and whatnot caught on to some degree but pubescent boys took the Ninja particularly to heart. Here was a figure whose silence portended mystery and power, whose cold-blooded mastery of the night could strike fear into the powerful, who honed in secret deadly skills which the mundane world mocked at its peril. The Ninja was as potent an archetype to small boys in the 80s as the superhero had been in the 30s and 40s – no surprise the two concepts quickly met.

Frank Miller, a hot writer-artist at Marvel, was given perennial third-stringer Daredevil to retool around the time Shogun hit. His root-and-branch reinvention relied heavily on ninja chic – Daredevil continually grappled with his ninja adversaries The Hand and acquired a sexy ninja kinda-enemy-kinda-girlfriend. The series made Miller a superstar. Along the way the Ninja obsession proved infectious: Chris Claremont, Marvel’s hottest writer and the man who had reinvented their mutant superhero X-Men franchise, got the bug and suddenly Canuck brawler Wolverine was off learning the ways of Bushido and matching claw with throwing star. Mutants and ninjas, in comic form, were now entwined. Cue Turtles.

My friend Sam was into Miller, X-Men and Daredevil, and was savvy enough to pick up early issues of a black and white comic about mutant turtles which came off like a parody until you got into it and realised it was more a geeked-out homage, the work of kids too excited about the stuff they were taking the piss out of to do it effectively. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – four shelled nerds given ninja training by a rat, living in the sewers – the comic might as well have been called Teenage Teenage Teenage Teenagers. And it sold, and sold – even the fifth and sixth printings doubled in money. So other writers and artists started doing the same thing.

Some were enthusiastic, some just dollar-eyed. TMNT is that rarest of ideas, something strong enough to go viral twice. Initially it sparked a black and white comics boom (Sample Title: Pre-Teen Dirty Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos) – by the time the film took off the characters had already made their creators potloads of cash, and then the whole thing exploded again, culture-wide this time. And so here we are at Partners In Kryme, the record I’ve been avoiding discussing.

My fondness for the Turtles phenomenon – the first time I could ever say, even slightly, “I was there” when something went from cult to household name – doesn’t extend to any actual Turtles product. The comic got bogged down in self-important story arcs; the cartoon and film seemed dumber; the characters – look, the honest truth is I can’t tell them apart. And this single? There are interesting things about it, for sure. It’s the first Number One specifically aimed at kids and only kids for a very long time, which suggests something about the shrinking of the singles market at this point. And it’s a hip-hop record, which feels significant – an acknowledgement that rap was already the native pop tongue of 9 and 10 year olds.

But, bless it, for anyone else it’s not very good. The main problem is that the MC raps like an action figure: dynamic out of the box but ultimately lacking in articulation. His enthusiastic, lumbering, one-paced flow can’t carry a whole song: if “Turtle Power” had been a posse cut it might have worked a lot better. The bits I remember – “this lethally evil force”, “I was a witness get me a reporter”, “Tonto came pronto when there was danger” – are all in the first verse, before the song gets into a lengthy recap of the film. It’s energetic even if it’s not competent, but even its bouncy, plasticky synth jabs get exhausting well before the end.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    Lex on 6 Jan 2011 #

    @19 that Suzanne Vega essay is one of my favourite things on the internet. She’s a great storyteller in print as well as in song, it turns out! I love the sense of wonder at how this tiny germ of an idea, which she’d envisaged as something else entirely, had all these incredible consequences – it’s like she can’t quite believe it herself.

    I do wonder sometimes how a woman as wordy as S.Vega feels about her most memorable contribution to culture being “der-der-der-der-der-der-der-der”, though. “Tom’s Diner” would be a [10] from me, for sure.

    *pointedly ignores actual subject of thread*

  2. 32
    MikeMCSG on 6 Jan 2011 #

    I’ve no time for hip hop at all – as someone once sang “It says nothing to me about my life” – so I can’t tell a good record in that genre from a bad one. My reaction is always “Why can’t you learn an instrument or how to sing before making a record ?” So this is just one in a long line of number ones that just bemuse me.

    Very good point Tom on the native pop tongue of 9-10 year olds.
    I think that made me feel the wrong side of a generation gap even more than the subject matter.

  3. 33
    lockedintheattic on 6 Jan 2011 #

    @31 that’s why I love that essay so much (as well as her previous one about Luka) – her sense of wonder, but also the fact that she’s not precious about the reinterpretation, but fully embraced it (even if that was partly to help sell her latest album) and fully seems to revel in the consequences

  4. 34
    Lex on 6 Jan 2011 #

    The weird thing is I can so hear “Tom’s Diner” with a vaudeville piano arrangement. Totally think she should actually do that, surely she knows a few piano players now.

  5. 35
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 6 Jan 2011 #

    It just struck me that “says nothing to me about my life” is pretty relevant in child-related pop: most stuff you encounter when v small is a mystery — an exciting mystery if you’re keyed into kid-size in-built curiosity, a massive bore if you’re a self-involved parochial never-grew-up tantrum-pot like morrissey (i’m kidding! well kinda!) — but even mystery and curiosity can pall now and then… and then suddenly there’s a record all about [INSERT FAVOURITE BOOK/TOY HERE], which you DO know about, and you know you know about and grown-ups seem pleased you know about (because it means you’re “making progress” or some such): the TURTLES! they EAT PIZZA! This says something to be about my life!

    And round we go…

  6. 36
    punctum on 6 Jan 2011 #

    That was my story, except for “Turtle Power” substitute Trout Mask Replica: he’s a CARTOON CHARACTER! Well, he MUST be, he’s got a fish face! The music’s all wacky like Wacky Races! The Magic Band look like (and I actually, albeit briefly, thought that they WERE) the Banana Splits! He plays sax like I play the recorder! There’s a bit where he mucks about with the tape recorder like I was prone to do at that age! It said everything to me about life, and not necessarily mine alone.

  7. 37
    Seb Patrick on 6 Jan 2011 #

    I still know pretty much all the bloody lyrics to that bloody song.

    Weirdly, I don’t remember watching that many episodes of the cartoon – but I was into the film (it came out the week before my eighth birthday, so my birthday trip was to the cinema to see it), the action figures and DEFINITELY the trading cards. In our school all sorts of rules had to be put in place to stop people fighting over them. And the most prized card was one that showed Michaelangelo with his mask off, as it was LIKE THE ONLY TIME we ever saw such a thing.

    As far as the various products being a bit rubbish, though, oddly I remember ending up with some issues of the Archie comic (the one based on the cartoon that had little or nothing to do with the Mirage comic) some years down the line and it turning out not to be that bad. By that point it had diverged somewhat from its origins into all kinds of weirdness, and was actually kind of fun.

  8. 38
    The Lurker on 6 Jan 2011 #

    I remember seeing a TMNT role playing game on sale, about a year before the film came out, and being amused by it (not amused enough to buy it though).

    The crediting of Tom’s Diner has always rankled with me. Surely it should be Suzanne Vega – Tom’s Diner (DNA remix)? Given how little they actually did to the original, crediting it to “DNA feat Suzanne Vega” seems like crediting Strawberry Fields to “George Martin feat The Beatles”.

  9. 39
    weej on 6 Jan 2011 #

    Who were Partners In Kryme? It seems that they released one hit movie-tie in #1 single, one flop follow-up, then never did anything else.
    How did they get the job? The strangest part of it is that the song isn’t actually that bad.

  10. 40
    Mark G on 6 Jan 2011 #

    Whereas.. oh hang on that is bunnybait.

    Anyroad, you lot would no doubt remember “Tom’s Album”, a compilation of lots of covers/reinterpretations of the track, the original acapella and instrumental versions that was the original 7″ version (reviewed in NME as “Well, we won’t be anticipating the 12″ remix of THIS one then!!” lol), and reggae versions/cheesy europop/reimaginations of wartime new lyrics/etc.

    Also, there was an excellent (well, I liked it) 12″ re-remix of it as well….

  11. 41
    Steve Mannion on 6 Jan 2011 #

    #38 maybe but DNA remixed the track (and considering how sparse the original was they added a reasonable amount) which became popular and allowed Vega to make money and from it that she otherwise wouldn’t have as she probably wouldn’t have chosen to push it as a hit single herself. If she’d intended the song to be what it became I’m sure she would’ve got the primary credit but as it is everyone knows who she is and nobody really cares about DNA anyway.

  12. 42
    Lex on 6 Jan 2011 #

    She says in the essay why she wanted it credited like that – partly to make it clear it wasn’t her production, partly because she wasn’t sure her own fans would accept it. It sounds like she came out on top financially, given that they just paid DNA a flat fee!

  13. 43
    Mark G on 6 Jan 2011 #

    Whereas (ach, going for it) the “Professional Widow” one had the remixer totally absent from the credits, and the original artist the only one named on the record, even though she had nothing to do with it.

  14. 44
    flahr on 6 Jan 2011 #

    Briefly on subject of thread: as I was listening to it I thought “hey this really isn’t all that bad” but I have no will whatsoever to listen to it again. 4.

    More importantly re #23: anything which sounds “like the soundtrack to a Nintendo game” automatically gets 10/10 and thankfully for me we will reach at least one such song HURRAH

  15. 45
    LondonLee on 6 Jan 2011 #

    I’d much rather talk about Frank Miller’s Daredevil than this. Used to have all of them until I sold all me comics (got quite a tidy sum for them too)

  16. 46
    Erithian on 6 Jan 2011 #

    #19 et seq – thanks for the link to the Suzanne Vega essay. I bought her first album on the strength of a Whistle Test appearance in 1986, and what a talent. Still treasure the memory of being in Bunjies coffee shop just off Cambridge Circus when it had a folk club in the basement (in the old days unknowns such as Al Stewart and Paul Simon had played there) and an American tourist asked to do a floor spot and sang a perfect acapella version of Vega’s “The Queen and the Soldier”.

    When I was alone and newly arrived in London, Bunjies was a real haven of a Saturday night. I became part of the regular crowd listening to a duo called Les French and Jon Griffin playing Dylan, Incredible String Band and Little Feat covers. If anybody else on here has ever heard of them I’d be gobsmacked, but it’s a fond memory to warm a winter’s afternoon.

    As for the record supposedly under discussion, the less said the better. Long past the age of being influenced by children’s stuff, and nine years before becoming a dad myself, this did indeed say nothing to me except “what a horrible cash-in”.

    Number 1 when Iraq invaded Kuwait, if I’m not mistaken!

  17. 47
    pink champale on 6 Jan 2011 #

    @32/35 yeah, there’s not much of a line between “says nothing to me about my life” (nice line that it is) and “of course i don’t know what auschwitz is, i wasn’t even born”. having said that, the whole turtle thing did kind of pass me by. (er, if this is a fair comparison)

    some poor teenager won a national poetry competition in the 80s by submitting ‘the queen and the soldier’ as his own work before being rumbled by the express, iirc.

  18. 48
    MikeMCSG on 6 Jan 2011 #

    #47 A bit simplistic to imagine that mere exposure to other cultures prevents something like Auschwitz happening. It wasn’t like Hitler had never met a Jew before he invaded Poland.

  19. 49
    Steve Mannion on 6 Jan 2011 #

    “Says nothing to me about my life” tends to feel like a declaration of one’s own…let’s say narrow focus, or prioritsation of something in music which they might otherwise not require from literature or other art. It might imply an emphasis on lyricism and thematics over the actual sound of music and if so that is something I don’t relate to much. What the music/sound is saying (and how) is something I value foremost regardless of genre (and the supposed rules that genres are formed on or affected by). I think this is worth bearing in mind if you’re prejudiced towards or only ever negatively affected by an entire genre.

  20. 50
    MikeMCSG on 6 Jan 2011 #

    #49 It probably wasn’t the most appropriate quote to use actually – it’s hip hop’s general (I know it’s not total) disregard for melody and preponderance of street slang that I find such a barrier. There’s a sleevenote on a Linkin Park LP (the one before last I think) where they talk about whether or not to have “melodic singing” on a track which just seems perverse to me.

  21. 51
    pink champale on 6 Jan 2011 #

    #48 oh god, not at all saying that (or calling you a nazi!) just saying that “says nothing” it’s a bit like the terrible idea that seems to have taken root (and can be blamed on trendy educationalists/thatcher according to preference) that nothing is worth knowing unless it is directly related to your own experience – kids should read stuff that’s ‘relevant’ not stuff that’s good, i don’t need to know where brazil is because i’m never going to go there, etc. But yeah, this isn’t quite the same as not liking music that doesn’t move you.

  22. 52
    Kit on 8 Jan 2011 #

    #15/#16 – in the ’00s Craig McLachlan started playing in a front-room-of-a-pub free entry 80s cover band called… Mullet. They did a reunion gig a few weeks ago, the advert for which spruiked their wares as being tongue in cheek and ironic, which I’m not sure was ever clear in their original intent.

    #29 – surely Daredevil was by a long chalk the LEAST overly earnest Marvel comic of the time, given the dominance of Claremont’s influence, and the rest of the bullpen being populated with the likes of Bill Mantlo?

    Tom has it right that the ostensible parody was more enthusastic absorption (a pattern of influence that interestingly extends to the stream of Adjective Adjective Adjective Animals that followed), though re “bogged down in self-important story arcs” – I’d think of that more being Eastman & Laird’s rare returns to the title, especially the long (13-part?) run at the end of the original B&W series. By the time of the cartoon popularity and film explosion, they were instead letting the comic be an outburst of lunacy like Mark Martin doing massively time-twisty 20 Nude Dancers 20-esque kid stories, Rick Veitch doing three-parters and Big Daddy Roth homages, colour Corben one-offs, Michael Zulli getting to do ludicrously elaborately-rendered samurai tales (not least out of charity while Diamond were refusing to carry a thousand copies of his own comic)…

    oh, this record? Despite having fond memories of Hi Tek 3 feat Ya Kid K, I managed to never encounter this, and the lack of video link means I remain perhaps blissfully ignorant. That may have been my first aural exposure to Back To The Planet, though, which seems fair.

  23. 53
    Izzy on 8 Jan 2011 #

    Oh wow, that Back To The Planet record! Those vocals! The embarrassed production flourishes!

    I’d always given them the benefit of the doubt by assuming they had some other target in mind, but just weren’t skilled enough to paint out their metaphor properly. But no, they were actually enraged by the turtles all along.

    I wonder what they’re doing now?

  24. 54
    will on 8 Jan 2011 #

    Like everyone else, they’ve probably reformed.

    I quite enjoyed the whole turtle phenomenon myself. Now, as then, the idea of four crime-fighting pizza-obsessed mutant turtles named after renaissance painters has an endearing daftness to it.

  25. 55
    Jimmy the Swede on 8 Jan 2011 #

    I’m sorry but this lot were never the same again after the brilliance of “Happy Together”.

  26. 56
    glue_factory on 8 Jan 2011 #

    Re:54, I saw a poster for a Back To The Planet gig in the Hootenanny, Brixton last year. Price on the door, £2.

  27. 57
    Nixon on 9 Jan 2011 #

    Back when I was 17, this was my ex-girlfriend’s favourite record. She played it for me the first time I ever went up to her bedroom, presumably hoping it would set the mood (it didn’t). This was in 1997.

    This story doesn’t go anywhere, I just can’t ever listen to Turtle Power again.

  28. 58
    MBI on 11 Jan 2011 #

    @55 You didn’t like “Elenore”? Or “Ninja Rap”?

  29. 59
    anon on 14 Jan 2011 #

    In Back to the Planet’s defence, the original version of “Teenage Turtles” came out in 1991:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeGVgh3gYtA

    (although the clunky lyrics are unchanged)

  30. 60
    DanielW on 3 Feb 2011 #

    Detested the bloody turtles. Detested this. Utter dreck, even “Hanky Panky” would’ve been preferable to this.

    Never seen the film this is from and I don’t intend to.

  31. 61
    DanH on 28 Jan 2013 #

    My main memory of this, at 6 years old, was mentally calling these guys out for calling Raphael the leader when it was clearly Leonardo.
    :-)

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