The Freakin Wiggles: Australia’s Greatest Musical Export

AC/DC. INXS. Air Supply. Men at Work. Olivia Newton-John. Gotye. Keith Urban. Wolfmother. The Vines. VJ Brewski. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. All these popular artists and bands have two things in common: They are all from Australia. And, as far as my 2-year-old is concerned, none of them holds a candle to Australia’s super-enthusiastic kid’s music superstars, The Wiggles.

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Meet Anthony (blue), Greg (yellow), Murray (red), and Jeff (purple). Everywiggle ALWAYS wears the same color and type of shirt. This is something toddlers find heartening. Apparently, they also like it when the Wiggles stare unrelentingly into the camera, smiling, giggling, winking and actually BONDING with a schmaltz and zest which is, to this date, unsurpassed. At first it seems to an adult, well, cheesy. It actually makes you uncomfortable. It’s like they are staring into my soul. But after a while, you realize these guys are doing that because they have learned the young ones TOTALLY DIG IT! These Wiggles are sincere, regular (though talented) guys, educators/musicians who care a lot about kids, took a leap of faith with this project, and had huge success with it. This is not a corporate venture, at heart. It comes from the heart.

That’s not to understate the degree of their success. The international impact of the Wiggles is pretty impressive. I will not reiterate the bulk of their Wikipedia article here, but there are a lot of impressive Wiggly facts in it. Wiggles FTW!

Introducing The Wiggles! (L-R: Anthony, Greg, Murray, and Jeff)

Introducing The Original Wiggles! (L-R: Anthony, Greg, Murray, and Jeff)

I first heard a recording of these guys at a resort in the Dominican Republic. Each evening, an exhausted young woman, who had been washing dishes and serving us food all day, would put on a half-assed clown getup and dutifully tromp up on stage to listlessly do Wiggles dance routines with a motley collection of youngsters while their parents got drunk in the darkness beyond the footlights. Whatever that Wiggles record was, we knew it well. They would play the entire album each night, start to finish, and by the end of the week it is fair to say that we wanted a change of pace. Sometimes I wonder about that young woman. Is she still doing the dance routines nightly? Has she been promoted? Or did she somehow escape the island, on her way to Wiggle Bay?

These colorfully turtle-necked, overtly mugging musical legends are international superstars among the juicebox set. They have been at it for twenty years, entertaining generations of preschoolers with their own compositions, music videos, TV shows, records and at least one feature film. They write a lot of their own music, and are capable musicians.  I directly credit these songs with helping my twins (now 22 months) become better talkers and singers. It’s hard to believe, but I saw an almost instant effect once they started watching the program “Lights, Camera, Action, Wiggles!” on Sprout. The stuff these guys write is catchy as heck! The usual idea is to get kids up and moving around, dancing and doing “actions” to each song. The messages are usually pro-exercise, encourage eating well, or are just silly fun. They are repetitive, short and simple; kids can easily follow and predict. Like this classic, for example.

THE SAM YEARS

The most hated Wiggle?

The most hated Wiggle?

But the band wasn’t always composed of those four smiling goofballs alone. From 2006-2011, lead singer Greg Page was on a hiatus for health reasons, and so the Yellow Wiggle shirt was filled for 5 years by the cheeseball extraordinaire, Sam Moran.

Sam is a fine singer- he actually reminds me a bit of Paul Heaton, lead singer of The Housemartins. And he fits in pretty well with the group. But there is something about his whole manner that rubs some people the wrong way. Just watch how he stares into the camera, smiling and winking, almost giggling as he bonds with the toddler audience. Don’t you want to smack him? He’s a pretender to the throne! BRING BACK GREG! That sort of thing. Kids really didn’t mind all that much, I’d wager. Parents were rightfully annoyed though. Eventually, our man Greg returned for a final tour in 2012, giving the boys a reason to fire Sam and giving “Good Morning Australia” something to gossip about. You have got to feel sorry for Sam. Apparently the Aussie media was rife with rumors of his mistreatment. He was merely an employee of the Wiggles, they said. A temp. A scab. A sub. They fired him on his daughter’s birthday (The Wiggles deny this). Poor bastard! Well, he’s on to bigger and better things, his own new show, and The Wiggles wish him much luck. Even though Sam refuses to refute the rumors of mistreatment.

THE NEW WIGGLES

The Boys welcome the NEW Wiggles (here dressed in black)

The Boys welcome the NEW Wiggles (here dressed in black)

Three of the aging (but still unfailingly charming) Wiggles- Greg , Jeff and Murray- recently retired from their 2-decade long, grueling schedule of touring and performing. In 2013, we have entered a New Age of Wiggles. Only the perpetually young (though silver-haired) Anthony (Field) Wiggle remains, now flanked by the new the new Purple Wiggle Lachlan (Gillespie), the new Yellow Wiggle, Emma (Watkins), and our new Red Wiggle Simon (Pryce).NEW-wiggles2  I am actually very receptive to these “New Wiggles.” They feel legit in a way that Sam never did, and they seem to be genuinely having a blast. Maybe because they are already members of the team, having formerly toured with The Wiggles as backup performers. Sam, on the other hand, comes across an interloper, like he was hired from a temp agency or something. This is all highly speculative, but isn’t that what blogs are made of? Man- I gotta let up on this Sam stuff. Let it go. Anyway, the New Wiggs are working on their new stuff and it’s not quite out there yet, save a few videos. If you are really obsessed, you might notice that all three of the new Wiggles had ensemble roles in the live DVD of the Wiggles Goodbye Concert, titled “Celebration.” More on that in a moment.

It’s exciting news that there is a female Wiggle! My daughter is thrilled. “The Propeller” is pretty much on repeat at my house. Catch the cameo from Jeff.

And since blogs love lists, and I have no direction, I will wrap up this fascinating summary with a list and some video reviews. As if that makes sense. I am my own worst editor.

THINGS ABOUT THE WIGGLES THAT ARE COOL

1. Jeff. Jeff is always falling asleep. Always. That’s his thing. The kids yell WAKE UP JEFF! He then wakes up, surprised, never annoyed, but glad you woke him up! Jeff! Also, the “Where’s Jeff” segment has a great song and a great concept. So good it cannot be located on Youtube. CURSE YOU WIGGLES ENTERPRISES LTD! Instead, here’s a parody which casts Jeff as an on-the-nod junkie. Not for the kids.

2. They write and play the music. At least it seems that way. Many of the songs are written by one Wiggle or another, with Anthony’s brother and the Wiggles Manager (I think?) John Field also contributing a lot of material. Plus, a bunch of these guys are trained opera singers. Like Captain Feathersword, for example.

3. Captain Feathersword. This lovable pirate Wiggle Friend would never hurt anyone- hence the tickley “feathersword” instead of a sword of the metal, stabby variety. The Captain can’t spell, needs your help counting to 9, and never ever stops calling us “Me hearties.” He also plays bass and does fancy tricks, like juggling, unicycle-riding and what not, all while dishing out crazy, over-the-top pirate schtick. He predicts the weather with his weathersword. Paul Paddick – the actor who plays the Captain – is hilarious and truly committed to the role, going so far as to swim, dance, do everything in his full pirate regalia, including eyepatch, hat and all else. I love him. He does it with guts! UPBOAT!

4. Doing insane stuff. Like this psychedelic techno remix version with puppets and pitched-up vocals, for example. I am continually surprised by the number of different shows with different formats. And the crazy experiments, like this one. The uptight mom-reviewers on Amazon hate it. I love it.

5. Wags The Dog. Dorothy The Dinosaur. Henry The Octopus. Crazy looking, life-sized costume characters are the bomb. Anything reminiscent of Sid and Marty Croft is worth its weight in rosy tea.

6. They make kids exercise. Jump around. Teach them how to make healthy snacks. My kids are learning aerobic routines and repeating them daily, with no idea that they are ‘working’ out. HEALTH! Combined with FUN! Getting Strong! That’s what the Wiggles promote. Respect.

7. They have a TON of albums, movies and songs about complete nonsense. I guess that tends to happen over the course of 20 years performing for toddlers. The funny thing is, there are entire albums devoted to one small, bizarre concept. For example, there is an entire movie and album about Dorothy The Dinosaur meeting Santa Claus. And about 4 other Christmas albums. And another whole album of songs about Jeff Surfing. And another album, all about waking Jeff up. And another one about putting Jeff to sleep. It’s awesome.

A REVIEW OF FOUR WIGGLES VIDEOS

The are a metric ton of Wiggles videos. Hours of the stuff. We have four of them. Most of them have some sort of extra feature that’s worth seeing.  I review them here, so you can tell which ones are the most awesome.

The-Wiggles-Celebration-Tour

CELEBRATION!

This is the first video we got, and probably their most recent. It’s from a 2012 farewell concert video filmed in Dublin, Ireland. There is a circus theme, and we get Ringo The Ringmaster (Simon Pryce, our new Red Wiggle) presiding. All the Wiggly friends are in it, plus Emma and Lachlan in supporting “Wiggly Dancer” roles. There are also a couple of other Wiggly Dancers/acrobats/clowns, Lauren and Katerina. The show is a non-stop barrage of classic Wiggles tunes. My kids are fully addicted to this DVD. Many of the songs are performed completely live, and some are in a karaoke style, with the main music prerecorded and the lead vocals being sung live while the backup vocals are lip-synched. Big deal. Most people don’t care or notice about this stuff,  and you can’t blame the performers they are all jumping around like maniacs for more than an hour, and expecting them to also sing, do actions, and play instruments perfectly the whole time is a pretty tall order, and frankly unnecessary. Musically purist Wiggle fans are few and far between. But if they exist, they would be happy to observe that Murray shreds on his electric guitar pretty frequently and with some competence. The high point is a live performance of “Who Is Captain Feathersword?” with the whole song played live and the performers each challenging The Captain to repeat their song or trick, one after the other, while the Cap stands balanced 8 feet in the air. It’s pretty fun, funny and impressive to see what he can do. It’s also hard to find quality video of it online. Sorry.

We also get a couple New Wiggles videos, plus a look at The Wiggles from other countries (South America and Taiwan), in the special features. Worth looking at those!

gettingstrong

GETTING STRONG

This is where we get the true test of Sam’s quality. And you know what? He does a fine job! It turns out I had all these feelings of anger about Greg’s illness, and I turned them on poor Sam! Who knew! Sorry, Sam.

This 2012 release is from the Wiggle’s TV show “Wiggle and Learn.” The image and sound is bright and clean and high-resolution.  If you see descriptions on Amazon or elsewhere, do not be deceived. There was an error on the package, which lists it as only the “Getting Strong” episode, clocking in at 40 minutes with 14 songs. In actuality we get a second episode of Wiggle and Learn focussing on language and literacy, which is really very good as well. So its about an hour and a half of content. “Wiggle and Learn” is a selection of music videos, vignettes and instructional segments about reading and so forth, all performed in front of a green-screen with surreal, bright, vivid computer generated backdrops. I like this format, which a lot of Wiggles videos seem to follow- a variety show style, with a mixture of material to keep things interesting.  The group is at the peak of their powers and Sam does a darn good job, too. Well done Sammy!

yummy

YUMMY YUMMY

Yummy Yummy is one of those… unfortunate DVDs. Whoever put this together and authored this DVD made mistakes. It starts right away, no menu, just right into a 4:3 format. And this is no OLD release. It says 2011!! And the transfer is terrible; it’s like someone popped a dusty old tape into a thrift store Betamax and hooked it up to a DVD recorder.

The content is good, though. It’s also in a variety show style, with a healthy food and cooking theme. I am not sure the name of the original show, maybe “The Wiggles Show” or something. It’s awesome Greg stuff with a lot of classic tunes in the original TV release context. A hungover-looking Paul Hester,  for the Aussie bands Split Enz and Crowded House, makes an appearance as some sort of fruit-salad-making rock-n-roll chef.

wiggles hot po

HOT POTATOES: THE BEST OF THE WIGGLES

This seems to be the one everyone has, for good reason. It’s got pretty much every song on it, probably the original version, and a lot of cool covers and cameos. It’s arranged as a selection of music videos, an impressive one. Both Sam and Greg are on it, and it’s from a wide time frame- though it does not include and of the new Wiggles material with Emma, Lachlan and Simon. There are also a number of covers and cameos (Kylie Minogue as the honorary Pink Wiggle covering Toots and The Maytal’s ska classic “Monkey Man” comes immediately to mind, as does “Rockin’ Santa” with John Fogerty). The resolution of the video varies depending on the source, but the DVD is well produced, so it’s set up for widescreen TVs and so forth. They put colorful bars on the sides to compensate for 4:3 aspect ratio in the original vids, and it works pretty well. The only thing I miss in this video is the variety of the TV shows. It’s all music videos, with no “Anthony’s Workshop” and no “Where’s Jeff?” and no “Music with Murray.” Still, it clocks in at over 2 hours and has a lot of punch to it. Hit after hit. Not to be missed! Special features are worth seeing too- “Chat With The Wiggles Moms” is pretty interesting.

IN CLOSING

The Wiggles are good stuff. One day when you are cooking dinner, throw it on for the wee ones. They will thank you, and you might find yourself singing “Where’s Jeff” while at work in an adult context. Is he sleeping outside?

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