songs you (probably) know: “Popcorn”, Gershon Kingsley

21 Jul

Don’t laugh.  This silly lookin’ fella invented electronic pop music, more or less.  That’s right: without this guy, there’s no Freezepop, no Epoxies, no La Bouche, no Right Said Fred, no “Funkytown”, no Kraftwerk, and the ’80s wouldn’t be remembered half as fondly.  So show him some respect.  It’s high time we got around to talking about “Popcorn.”

No, silly bean head, not that type of popcorn.  However, they used to show that exact same ad at the drive-in movie theater in Chelmsford until it closed in 1986.  I love how the fact that they throw whole sticks of butter into the vat is supposed to be a selling point.  Nowadays, my arteries just feel like they’re going to choke.

“Popcorn” is the very first techno/synthpop song ever, or at least the first one to be a hit.

Gershon Kingsley came here as a kid in 1938 from his native Germany when his parents were escaping the Nazis.  He taught himself the piano, later got into Moog synthesizers, and was actually probably the first person to ever play a Moog synthesizer live.  He released a record in the late ’60s called Songs To Moog By (I’d kill for a copy of it) which featured, among other things, “Popcorn.”  In 1972, a group called Hott Butter released their own version, and if you’ve ever heard it, you’ve probably heard their version.  But I like Gershon’s version better.

Yeah, it’s that song.  If you’ve ever played the game Pengo (the one where you’re the cute widdle penguin kicking cute widdle blocks of ice into adorable wee monsters, aww), you’ve heard it.  Some TV stations (like WPIX in New York) used to use it as their intro music to movie night.  It pops up every now and again, no pun intended.  But, seriously, how rad is that video?  That’s retro tech.  Steam-punk’s all well and good, but man, what would I give for an art movement that free-associated the sounds and images of the early computer age? Vacuum-punk, maybe.

Blue227 has provided us with a cute interpretation of the more popular version, which actually reached #9 in the charts in 1972.  Crazy, huh?  Like I said, it’s the first techno hit.

Oh, and remember how I told you the whole life story of Gershon Kingsley earlier?  I had a point there.  A lot of Kingsley’s electronic music has a sort of kleizmer/gypsy tone to it – upbeat, minor key, etc.  I’d say a good 80% of modern day electronic music – dance, teen pop, industrial, whatever – follows a similar tonal structure to the Eastern European music that influenced Mr. Kingsley.  (He composed a five-part Jewish prayer cycle on Moog synths once.  You can buy it on iTunes.)  Kraftwerk definitely listened to this guy, and, really, most of the stuff you kids call “music” these days, Kraftwerk did it first.  So there.

There’s been a million techno remixes of “Popcorn”, including one by the Crazy Frog (Hey, Remember 2002?), and there are a million video interpretations of the thing on the YouTubes, but this one’s my favorite, just cuz, well, it’s silly and the kids are obviously having fun.  CrazyMikala created this strangely compelling video of herself and her buddies dancing around in her room to “Popcorn,” a song written a good 30 years before they were born.   (Check out the bit around :30 with the umbrella, and then the bit around 1:33 with the hair).

And, in case you ever wanted to meet Mr. Kingsley, here he is playing a somber piano version of his classic tune last year at home.


6 responses to “songs you (probably) know: “Popcorn”, Gershon Kingsley

  1. Bill D.

    July 22, 2008 at 7:18 am

    I am so jealous of the toys and the tech kids have access to these days.

    Back in my day, I had to be satisfied with making radio shows on my boom box.

    Honestly, though, if they don’t all end up like would-be Real Worlders (like oh so many of the students where I work), this generation of kids could do some really amazingly cool things. I mean, just look at that video… they even goof around creatively!

  2. Bill D.

    July 22, 2008 at 7:20 am

    Incidentally, I did an attempt at fake grumpyoldman HTML tags surrounding the bit about the boom box that totally didn’t carry over to what posted. WordPress!!!

  3. geekusa

    July 22, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Turns out CrazyMikala makes educational viral videos for the CBC when she’s not pretending to be a well-dressed piggy.

  4. CrazyMikala

    October 24, 2008 at 2:16 am


    wow it’s amazing what i find when i look up my username on google.
    they made black and white kaleidoscope music videos back in the day, crraaazzzyyy..
    i love the video of the butter pouring into the cup of popcorn… Mmmmm yummy. but there isn’t enough.. i could eat a LARGE bag!


  5. More please

    October 20, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    What about Percolator?

  6. paxpax

    November 27, 2013 at 4:30 am

    also sang by a the national record label in communist times Romania


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