I have a hard time explaining the 1980s to my daughter. Mostly because she's, you know, two years old.
Still, I imagine that even when she reaches an age where she's more willing to endure a conversation that doesn't involve strawberries and Dora the Explorer, I won't be able to convey the strangeness of the decade.
Consider one Laurence Tureaud, better known as Mr. T. The American icon turns 60 years old today. Could a man like this have risen to such success in any other decade? The Mohawked, gold chain-wearing T went from being a bouncer to a man so badass that Muhammad Ali was willing to pay him $3,000 a day to be his bodyguard.
From there he graduated to acting, wrestling, boxing, motivational speaking and many other careers. He's still going strong today, riding high on the reputation he built by simply being Mr. T.
Among his massive contributions to pop culture has been a significant impact on the world of music. He has been an inspiration, a performer, and an in-joke. This week's playlist pays tribute to Mr. T. May fools be pitied for many years to come.
Mr. T Theme Song: The world is full of bizarre Saturday-morning cartoon adaptations that aim to cash in on anything trending in the world. Much like Rambo and Hulk Hogan's Rock and Wrestling, Mr. T was a hastily put-together vehicle dead set on squeezing a few bucks from the youngest demographic.
However, in true Mr. T fashion, he threw himself into the series with gusto and sincerity. He voiced his own character and filmed introductions and epilogues for each of the 30 episodes.
I don't know what creative meetings led to the creation of a cartoon where Mr. T is a gymnastics coach who guides his teenage team through competitions while also solving mysteries, and frankly I don't care. This was awesome.
Mr. T Experience, "Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend": Birthed from the same fruitful neo-punk scene in late '80s California that gave the world Green Day, Rancid and NOFX, the Mr. T Experience was formed by Frank Portman in 1985. The name was obviously inspired by T, then firmly in the spotlight as a personality. Though Portman has in recent years chosen to focus more on his work as a novelist, the band has consistently recorded and toured for almost 30 years.
"Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend" comes from the band's 1993 album Our Bodies Our Selves, which was the first release following the departure of founding guitarist Jon Von Zelowitz, and would be the last album to include drummer Alex Laipeneiks, leaving Portman as the sole original member.
Busta Rhymes feat. P. Diddy & Pharrell, "Pass the Courvoisier Part II": In 2002 Busta Rhymes released an sweet rap tune about drinking that had an even sweeter music video. Mr. T makes an entrance by crashing through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man, and proceeds to serve drinks while celebrating with Rhymes, Diddy and Pharrell in an obvious nod to T's starting place as a bouncer in clubs.
There's a brief moment when Rhymes and T are jokingly comparing jewelry. T was famous for his collection of gold chains worth over $300,000. Three years after the release of this video, T stopped wearing the chains after helping clean up from Hurricane Katrina. He felt that such an ostentatious display in front of people who had lost everything was disrespectful.
Regurgitator, "Mr. T": Australia's Regurgitator is a band that has always been ahead of its time yet has still managed to collect a fair amount of platinum records. In 1997 they recorded Unit, full of '80s pop culture references such as "Mr. T" and startling experimental songwriting.
It remains a divisive album among fans, but was still a great commercial success despite its departure from the poppier sound of previous releases.
Mr. T, "Mr. T, Mr. T (He Was Made for Love)": Mr. T was big on works dedicated to teaching kids to stay in school, say no to drugs and of course to treat your mother right. Sure it was corny as all getout, but I have yet to hear any person hypothesize that all of T's efforts throughout his videos and albums weren't honest and heartfelt.
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That being said... this track from 1984's Mr. T's Commandments is completely baffling. T doesn't appear anywhere on it -- the vocals are taken by Tata Vega -- and rather than discouraging drug use or talking to strangers (like the rest of the album), it is an unabashed crush tune about T.
Why this appears on an EP specifically aimed at children is beyond me, but I guess it's not any weirder than finding out that Ice-T, who would launch his gangsta-rap career two years later with "6 in the Mornin'," handled production duties on more than half of the record.