Idiot Control Now: MST3K Movie Musical Moments

Best Brains Inc., the eponymous minds behind Mystery Science Theater 3000, had a fabulous creative team that came up with many hilarious song parodies and musical tributes over the course of the series' 10 year run. But that's not our topic today. Instead, we're going behind the scenes to find out about some fan-favorite musical interludes that were inexplicably included in the deliciously bad films featured on MST3K – the whos, the whys, and the where-are-they-nows.

The Band That Played "California Lady"

Track of the Moon Beast was a 1976 horror movie filmed on location in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As with most films of this ilk, the musical interlude (an outdoor concert scene) had little to do with the overall plot; it was added both as padding and an attempt to attract music fans that might otherwise not pay to see a sci-fi film. The Fish-Lipped Guy Robin Gibb look-alike crooning "California Lady" is Albuquerque native Frank Larrabee, who also wrote the song.

Larrabee was and remains a bit of a renaissance man. A gifted athlete, he was all-conference in baseball and basketball and attended the University of Albuquerque on a basketball scholarship. He was also a talented singer/songwriter and a familiar face on the local music scene, which is why the Moon Beast producers called on him for the all-important concert footage. Larrabee eventually focused on business (he owns a construction company in New Mexico) and his love of horses (he and his wife raise Appaloosas and he has previously served as president of the Appaloosa Horse club). Nevertheless, even after he "officially" retired from the music business, he still dusted off his guitar now and then... From 1976 to 1990 he hosted a "concert in the park" on Father's Day in Corrales, New Mexico, to raise money for the local library. If you're ever in the neighborhood, you can visit the Frank Larrabee Wing of the Corrales Public Library (it's just past the periodicals room).

Yipe Stripes!

There's a serial killer on the loose in 1964's Teen-Age Strangler, but that doesn't mean the local kids are too morose to enjoy a quick dance break at Marty's Malt Shop. Luckily, Mary and Jack, the Huntington Astronauts, are in the house to work the crown into a frenzy of fruggin' via their latest hit single "Yipe Stripes."

"Mary" was actually Kathy Haddad (credited as "Stacey Smith"), a Huntington, West Virginia, native who was home on summer break from New York's American Academy of Dramatic Arts when she answered the casting call. Auditions were held at the Frederick Hotel and Haddad was so excited when she landed the role that she didn't really consider the context – an actual film credit is an impressive resume bullet point for a student majoring in theater. Haddad now works as a substitute teacher in Cabell County and occasionally gets recognized by B-movie fans thanks to Teenage Strangler being available for check-out at almost every West Virginia public library. Screenwriter Clark Davis composed "Yipe Stripes" in one evening and later stated that he'd been inspired by a chewing gum commercial. Take a look at said commercial and then decide whether "inspired" is too mild of a term:

"It Stinks!"

The Pod People was originally conceived as a straight-up alien invasion horror film. But while Los Nuevos Extraterrestres (the Spanish production's original title) was still being filmed, Steven Spielberg released a little film called E.T. that became a blockbuster hit. The money people behind Pod People demanded several script changes at the last minute ("add a cute kid and make the alien more adorable!") in order to make the movie more E.T.-ish, which partially accounts for the disjointed feel of this film. But it doesn't explain away the excruciating recording studio scene, inserted apparently to establish the fact that these young hip folks vacationing together were not only friends but also members of a totally awesome singing group. The song "Rugen los Motores" ("The Engines Roar," incorrectly listed on IMDb as "Hear the Engines Roll") was co-written by Librado Pastor and Santiago Pineda, who had worked together in a regionally successful Spanish pop group called Los Roberts in the late 1960s.

That's Pineda singing the phonetic English lyrics on the track that actor Ian Sera dispassionately lip-synchs to in the film. In 2003, rappers Danger Mouse and Jemini resurrected an old Los Roberts song called "Lovin' for the Night" and sampled it on their track "The Only One."

Zombie Stomp

Producer Del Tenney had a brainstorm in 1962 – beach movies and horror movies were all the rage, so combining the two would surely be boffo at the box office. Unlike most bikini-oriented films of that era, Tenney set The Horror of Party Beach not in sunny California, but on the east coast – Stamford, Connecticut, to be exact. While searching for local talent to provide some "surf" music for his soundtrack, he discovered the Del-Aires, a Patterson, New Jersey, quartet that had a solid following in the area and played regular gigs at the famous Peppermint Lounge. The Del-Aires never recorded an actual soundtrack album for Party Beach but they did release a few songs from the film as singles on Coral Records and did a mini-tour of drive-in theaters to promote both the movie and their records.

On the night of August 25, 1963, the Del-Aires were just wrapping up a very raucous set at the Angel Lounge in Lodi, New Jersey, when two police officers arrived at the club to investigate a noise complaint. Unfortunately, two career criminals – Thomas Trantino and Frank Falco – happened to be at the club celebrating a successful heist they'd pulled earlier that day. Sgt. Peter Voto entered the bar first while his partner waited in the patrol car; he was immediately ambushed by the pair and ordered to remove his clothes. A few minutes later, Voto's partner Gary Tedesco – an unarmed probationary officer – came inside to see why Voto hadn't returned; he was likewise taken hostage and ordered to strip. Trantino and Falco then shot the helpless kneeling police officers in the head, killing them both. Falco was shot by police a few days later while resisting arrest and Trantino gave himself up. The Del-Aires disbanded shortly afterward due to "creative differences."

Watch Out for Snakes!

Arch Hall Sr. always dreamed of being in show business and sort of patterned himself after Ozzie Nelson – he was determined to not only direct and produce but to also star in pictures along with the rest of his family. Unfortunately, Arch Sr. never made it to prime time TV like Ozzie, and his son Arch Jr. never attained the teen idol status of Ricky Nelson. Arch Sr. formed his own movie studio, Fairway Productions, and churned out a string of B-movies that usually appeared second on the bill of drive-in double features. Arch Jr. really was a talented singer and musician (he'd formed a band in high school with pal Alan O'Day, who went on to hit number one on his own in 1977 with "Undercover Angel"), but his father's films weren't necessarily the best showcase for his abilities. Case in point: In Eegah!, young Arch takes a break from hunting for a monster in the desert and bursts into song (complete with backing vocals) to serenade his girlfriend, Roxy. But the tune he sings is about a girl named Valerie. Even worse, earlier in the film he croons a poolside ballad to another former love of his life named Vickie. Roxy must have been one tolerant girlfriend.

Despite the best efforts of dad, Arch Jr.'s film/music career never really took off, so Junior eventually concentrated on his other passion, flying. He earned his pilot's license in 1965 and hired on as a co-pilot with the Flying Tigers courier service in 1967. He was piloting DC-10s for Federal Express when he retired in 2003.


Film noir fans will probably be shocked to find out that the hepcat rock and roller clad in high-waisted pants and extra-snug polo shirts who starred in Daddy-O was famous offscreen for playing the un-coolest of musical instruments – the accordion. Dick Contino won first place in 1946 on the Youth Opportunity Talent Show by playing "Lady of Spain" on the squeezebox. His sleek black pompadour and onstage gyrations soon garnered a large fan following (and a record contract); by 1950 he was sporting a diamond pinky ring and earning $4,000 per week at the tender age of 20. His musical career came to a screeching halt in 1951 when Uncle Sam came a-callin' and he failed to report for military service. He spent six months in federal prison as a result and was inducted into the Army immediately upon his release. Nevertheless, the "draft dodger" label hung heavily over his head and big band fans weren't very forgiving. Shunned by concert promoters, Contino turned to Hollywood, where the "bad boy" label was actually a plus. Even though he'd forever refer to Daddy-O as a "Z-movie," the film did help to rejuvenate his career. It kept his name on lobby posters and in gossip columns and gave him a swooning fan-girl following that stuck with him when he eventually returned to the Lawrence Welk circuit.

Previous Installments of TV-Holic...

11 Famous Actors and the Big TV Roles They Turned Down
6 Secrets From the Brady Vault
6 Unusual TV Deaths
Happy 50th Anniversary, Twilight Zone!
6 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets From Cheers
5 Minor TV Characters Who Hijacked the Show


Samir Hussein, Getty Images
One of Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' Gloves Can Be Yours (For the Right Price)
Samir Hussein, Getty Images
Samir Hussein, Getty Images

Three things usually come to mind when people recall Michael Jackson's stratospheric fame in the 1980s: His music videos were events unto themselves; he toted around a chimp named Bubbles (who once bit Quincy Jones's daughter Rashida); and Jackson was often seen wearing a single white sequined glove.

There's no official count on how many gloves Jackson owned and wore during his career, but one performance-used mitt is now up for sale via GWS Auctions and their Legends of Hollywood & Music Auction. Used by Jackson during his 1997 HIStory tour, the Swarovski crystal-covered glove is unique in that Jackson had it made for his left hand, as he wanted to keep the wedding ring—courtesy of his marriage to nurse Debbie Rowe—visible on his right. (Though wedding rings are traditionally worn on the left hand, Jackson was known to wear his on the right.)

A white glove worn by Michael Jackson during his 1997 HIStory tour
GWS Auctions

According to Jackson associate John Kehe, Jackson allegedly got the idea for the glove in 1980, when he was touring a production company and saw a film editor at a control panel wearing a white cotton glove. Jackson himself wrote in his autobiography, Moonwalk, that he had been wearing a single glove since the 1970s. Either way, it was Jackson's performance of "Billie Jean" during a television appearance for Motown's 25th anniversary in May 1983 that cemented the accessory in the eyes of the public. That particular glove sold for $350,000 in 2009.

The HIStory glove will be up for auction March 24; pre-bids currently have it in excess of $5000. The Legends of Music and Hollywood Auction is also set to feature a prescription pill bottle once owned by Frank Sinatra and a hairbrush used by Marilyn Monroe.

Getty Images
The Stories Behind 10 Johnny Cash Songs
Getty Images
Getty Images

Johnny Cash, who was born on this day in 1932, once wrote, “I love songs about horses, railroads, land, judgment day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak and love. And Mother And God."

That sums the Cash discography up pretty well. He covers at least 20 of those themes in the 10 songs below. Here are the backstories behind some of the Man in Black's most famous songs—and maybe a little insight into why he loved those topics so much.


In the song, Cash explains that he always wears black to performances and public appearances because of social injustices, “just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back.” It’s a great story, but it’s not 100 percent true. In 2002, he told Larry King that black was his signature color simply because he felt most comfortable in it, although he preferred light blue in summer. “You walk into my clothes closet. It’s dark in there,” he said.

Rolling Stone wrote that the inky wardrobe was also helpful when it came to hiding dirt and dust in the early touring days.


Cash didn’t always wear black. In the video above, he’s dressed in bright yellow, accessorized with a powder blue cape.

Sound a little off-brand? It was. In the early ‘80s, Cash felt that Columbia, his record label, was ignoring him and failing to promote his music properly. He decided to record a song so awful that it would force Columbia to cut his contract early. The plan worked, but it came at a price. “He was kind of mocking and dismantling his own legacy,” daughter Rosanne later said. Here’s a sampling of the lyrics, in case the video is too painful to watch: “I put your brain in a chicken last Monday, he’s singing your songs and making lots of money, and I’ve got him signed to a 10-year recording contract.”


Written in just 20 minutes, Cash’s (arguably) greatest hit  was intended as a reminder to himself to stay faithful to his first wife, Vivian, while he was on the road opening for Elvis in the mid-1950s. "It was kind of a prodding to myself to 'Play it straight, Johnny,'" he once said. According to other interviews, that wasn’t the song’s only meaning: He also meant it as an oath to God. Although Sam Phillips from Sun Records said that he wasn’t interested in gospel songs, Johnny was able to sneak “I Walk the Line” past him with the story about being true to his wife.


In 1969, Johnny and June threw a party at their house in Hendersonville. As you might imagine, it was a veritable who’s-who of music: Bob Dylan, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson, and Shel Silverstein. Everyone debuted a new song at the party—Dylan sang “Lay Lady Lay,” Nash did “Marrakkesh Express,” Kristofferson played “Me and Bobby McGee,” and Mitchell sang “Both Sides Now.” Silverstein, who was a songwriter in addition to an author of children’s books, debuted “A Boy Named Sue.”

When the party was over, June encouraged Johnny to take the lyrics to “Sue” on the plane the next day. They were headed to California to record the famous live At San Quentin album. Johnny wasn’t sure he could learn the lyrics fast enough, but he did—and the inmates went crazy for it. They weren’t the only ones: "A Boy Named Sue" quickly shot to the top of the charts. And not just the country charts—it held the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks.

The song was originally inspired by a male friend of Silverstein’s with a somewhat feminine name—Jean Shepherd, the author of A Christmas Story.


The story behind this one depends on who you believe. The Carter-Cash family has always maintained that June and guitar player Merle Kilgore co-wrote the song about June falling in love with Johnny despite being worried about his drug and alcohol problem.

But according to Johnny’s first wife, Vivian, June had nothing to do with “Ring of Fire.” “The truth is, Johnny wrote that song, while pilled up and drunk, about a certain private female body part,” Vivian wrote in her autobiography. She claims he gave June credit for writing the song because he thought she needed the money.

Either way, June’s sister Anita originally recorded the song. After Johnny had a dream that he was singing it with mariachi horns, he recorded it that way. 


“Ring of Fire” isn’t the only time Johnny had a dream that inspired a song. In his later years, Cash had a dream that he walked into Buckingham Palace and encountered Queen Elizabeth just sitting on the floor. When she saw him, the Queen said, “Johnny Cash, you’re like a thorn tree in a whirlwind!” Two or three years later, Cash remembered the dream, decided that the reference must be a biblical one, and wrote what he called “my song of the apocalypse”—“The Man Comes Around.”


This one is another early song inspired by Vivian. From the summer of 1951 through the summer of 1954, Cash was deployed in Germany with the Air Force. At the end of three years, he turned down the option to re-enlist, feeling homesick for his girl and his home. On the journey back from Germany, he penned “Hey Porter” about the excitement and relief he felt to finally be coming home.


After seeing Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison, Cash was inspired to write a song about it. Too bad that song already existed as “Crescent City Blues,” written by Gordon Jenkins.

Jenkins sued for copyright infringement in 1969 and received $75,000. Cash later admitted that he heard the song when he was in the Air Force, but borrowing the tune and some of the lyrics was subconscious; he never meant to rip Jenkins off. Oh, but the famous “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die” line—that was all Johnny.

9. "CRY! CRY! CRY!"

After Cash returned home from the Air Force and signed with Sun Records, he gave Sam Phillips “Hey Porter.” Phillips asked for a ballad for the B-side, so Cash went home and quickly wrote “Cry! Cry! Cry!” literally overnight. It became his first big hit—not bad for an afterthought.


Though “Get Rhythm” eventually became the B-side for “I Walk the Line,” Cash originally wrote it for Elvis. It might have been recorded by Presley, but when he went to RCA, Sam Phillips refused to let him take “Get Rhythm” with him.


More from mental floss studios