Bill Nye may have graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, but it wouldn't be too surprising if the Science Guy picked up a minor in parody songwriting along the way. For all but four episodes of his five-year stint on PBS, Nye capped off his show with a music video spoofing a pop song with an educational spin. With the 20th anniversary of his show (September 10) just in the rear-view mirror, here are 10 of fictional Not That Bad Records' greatest hits from the not-actually-real album "Soundtrack of Science."
1. Nyevana — "Smells Like Air Pressure"
For the show's 1993 pilot episode, Nye drew inspiration from the Seattle grunge rock scene, borrowing a page from the Kurt Cobain songbook to explain the properties of air pressure. "Smells Like Air Pressure" tips its metaphorical cap to the iconic "Smells Like Teen Spirit" music video, cheerleaders and all. Nyevana's shaggy blonde mane-sporting Cobain lookalike pumps the rock star's famously incoherent slurs with some serious educational clout — the chorus rambles with the lines, "Air has pressure, and it's moving / All around us, and it's grooving."
2. Bill Nye — "There's Science in Music"
Instead of employing a parody band to spoof The Rocky Horror Picture Show's "Time Warp," Nye flexed his own pipes in a musical number about sound waves titled, appropriately, "There's Science in Music." The Science Guy plays off Richard O'Brien's vocal delivery from the original "Time Warp," deadpanning the opening lines: "It's vibrations / Sonic sensations." And with a spot on the Dancing with the Stars roster for the show's 17th season, Nye proves he can cut a rug with some wobbly moves in the music video.
3. Sure Floats-a-Lot — "Bill's Got Boat"
An ode to the backside doesn't seem like spoofing material for a song about buoyancy, but while Sir Mix-a-Lot outed himself as a fan of female posteriors in his 1992 hit, Sure Floats-a-Lot gets "psyched" about learning how boats stay afloat in "Bill's Got Boat." The rap explains water displacement in a second-verse stanza that features some true hip-hop rhymesmithing: "Buoyancy's the name of this song / Don't even try to tell me I'm wrong / When something's placed in the water / It gets pushed down with this weight / Then gravity pulls / Science rules."
4. Momentisey — "The Faster You Push Me"
Nye's elastic sense of humor and off-the-wall personality don't exactly scream "let's parody Morrissey," but that didn't stop the Science Guy from riffing on the morose Smiths frontman's bleak "The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get" in an episode about momentum. Retitled "The Faster You Push Me" and shot entirely in black-and-white, and the show's Moz impersonator forces a British accent when he croons, "The faster you push me / The farther I get / You're adding velocity."
5. Steven Odd — "50 Fifty"
Having a song that teaches science students about probability through flipping coins be a "Loser" (alternative rocker Beck's 1993 hit) takeoff is a little oxymoronic—after all, there's only a 50 percent chance of being a loser when calling heads or tails in the air. But "50 Fifty" draws influence from Beck's laid-back flow and slide guitar instrumentation to inform viewers that "Probability depends on the circumstances / If I figure 'em out, then I'll know the chances."
6. Third Nye Blind — "Atoms in My Life"
Only Bill Nye could take a Third Eye Blind hit about battling a crystal meth addiction and reimagine it as a squeaky clean pop-rock romp about atoms and molecules. The Nye-ified educational revamp features lyrics like, "Those atoms are so tiny you never see them / Like hydrogen and carbon and oxygen," which are leaps and bounds more school-friendly than the original's not-so-oblique "The sky was gold, it was rose / I was taking sips of it through my nose."
7. Alice in Genes — "It's Called Genetics"
The band name spoof might be a little misguided (it riffs on Alice in Chains, though the song itself is a send-up of Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name"), but Nye's musical explanation of genetics proved the show wasn't afraid to bust out some hard rock guitar licks for the elementary school crowd. Though G-rated compared to Rage Against the Machine's notoriously F-bomb laced anthem, the song finds ways to pump lines like "DNA makes you what you are / The apple from the tree doesn't fall very far" full of pre-teen venom.
8. The Bent Wavelengths — "Light and Colour"
A homage to Rage Against the Machine wasn't Nye's only foray into scholastic thrash metal, nor was it the first: the music video for the show's 16th episode ("Light and Color") paid tribute to Megadeth's "Sweating Bullets." The very Britishly-spelled "Light and Colour" (Megadeth hails from Los Angeles, oddly enough) features shredding guitar riffs and a yowling chorus of "Light, color / Talking about the spectrum, brother," sung by a wig-doffing Dave Mustaine double.
9. J.A.C.— "Water Cycle Jump"
What better way to explain the water cycle and the process of precipitation than in a goofy homage to Kriss Kross? "Water Cycle Jump" packs in some Bill Nye background dancing and zingers like "Your brain is on vacation / If you don't know about precipitation" in its minute-and-a-half run time, but Kriss Kross purists can sleep easy knowing that the original's "wiggity wiggity wack" line is well preserved. In the context of the water cycle, J.A.C. explains that when condensation falls, it's "riggida riggida riggida rain."
10. Slow Moe — "All in Motion"
Five years and 19 Emmy Awards since spoofing Nirvana, Bill Nye closed out his 100-episode run on PBS with the series finale about motion, and in it, a parody of Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher" called "All in Motion." A feature-length music video (spanning three minutes and twenty seconds), the song jumps from an acoustic guitar ballad to a squealing guitar solo voiced over by Nye. The song isn't as racy as the Van Halen original, but it does have lyrics like, "The more the mass / The more force you need / The more inertia / The more force you need."