Home Read Features Area Resident’s Stylus Counsel | Catchphrase Jukebox

Area Resident’s Stylus Counsel | Catchphrase Jukebox

Track 91 | Where's The Beef? With Fonzie & The Sweathogs. So take off, eh? Ayyyy!

Fame is fleeting, so make the most of your “15 minutes” — even if they aren’t exactly yours. Once upon a time — in my salad days — It Girls and It Boys usually wound up making a damn record to capitalize on their fleeting popularity. We’ll take a look at some of those. The fun part is, unlike most people on records, it didn’t matter at all if it was music you were famous for. A record album was a very good way to make hay while the sun shines. This wasn’t about making music, let alone art. This was about making money.

Lately I’ve been watching the HBO series Barry, which features Henry Winkler portraying a cringey, aging acting teacher. Every time he’s on the screen my GenX brain shouts “It’s Fonzie!” Sometimes, so do I.

Now there’s a dude who made the most of that 15 minutes. Winkler turned his “Ayyyyy” catchphrase into a decade of employment as Arthur Fonzarelli on Happy Days. I was one of the thousands who wound up with a copy of the 1976 album Fonzie Favorites — a compilation album featuring a cover of the Happy Days theme, a pile of 1950s songs, one “impressionist theme” as well as a terrible novelty song about Fonzie and a fake mashup one called The Fonzarelli Slide.

It’s completely insane and it appears Winkler had absolutely no involvement at all. My Canadian copy — on Jukebox International records — folds into a portrait, similar to the way those cardboard school photo frames used to work.

It’s kind of interesting to note the U.K. version of this album — on Warwick Records — had an entirely different tracklist. Both versions have the insane “impressionist theme.” I can’t properly express just how hilariously bad it is. Perhaps history’s greatest example of “ah, screw it the kids don’t care” ever.

Impressionist in this case doesn’t refer to a style of painting, it refers to somebody doing an impression of Fonzie. Poorly. The “theme” part of the title refers to the fact that this track is just a repeated snippet of the Happy Days theme.

How in the hell did this come to be? Who knows, but for fun let’s picture this fictional scene playing out…

Setting: A small, smoky office where a cheap, consumer-grade reel-to-reel is propped up on a filing cabinet next to a half-empty case of bock ale and an assortment of greasy takeout boxes. Two sweaty opportunists — marginally legit businessmen — have proudly push-pinned some paperwork on the nearby corkboard which states they have permission to use Fonzie’s likeness and the ability to reference Happy Days. Into the room walks delivery man Paul with more takeout.

One of the men, who is sitting at a desk strewn with papers and audio cables, addresses the familiar delivery man: “Hey, Paulie you ever watch that Fonzie?” Putting what appears to be Chinese food down on the seat of an empty chair, Paul replies: “That guy with the leather jacket? Sure thing, boss.” The seated man hands one of the pieces of paper off the desk to Paul. “OK, hey I want you to read these lines into that there microphone. Try to do your best Fonzie voice.”

“Ohhh, I don’t know. What’s this even for?” asks Paul. “Ah, don’t you worry about that,” the man says, now standing. He puts his hand on Paul’s shoulder, holding him in an arm’s length gaze. “Just be the Fonzie for 30 seconds and we’ll give you a nice tip.”

That never happened. But this sure did:

There’s more. I mentioned The Fonzarelli Slide. OK, listen up. You ever heard of that other hit show at the time: Welcome Back, Kotter? It was about an inner-city school teacher who had a group of “Sweathogs” in his class. One of them was John Travolta.

Right, well, The Fonzarelli Slide is an imagined dialogue taking place when Fonzie has a run-in with the Sweathogs. Never mind that Happy Days takes place in the 1950s and Kotter in the 1970s. Screw it, who cares? There’s money to be made.

Here’s the idea: On top of generic boogie music, we hear the fake Fonz ride his electric knife-sounding motorcycle into the “annual school dance.” Horshack, one of the Sweathogs, suspects Fonzie is aiming to become the new leader of their group. Remember this is the 1970s, so Fonzie is 40. That’s not weird at all. The kids’ll never notice. They’ll also never notice it’s the same person doing the voices for all five people portrayed.

This is, as they say, fucked:

I have a few other bizarre albums in my collection revolving around the temporary but incredible fame of a catchphrase character. There’s the 1979 Guy Lafleur album which features the Montreal Canadiens star giving hockey tips overtop of Quebecois disco music. There’s ANOTHER Fonzie-inspired album called Fonzie Fonzie He’s Our Man by The Heyettes.

And, of course, the 1981 Great White North album which sought to capitalize on the popularity of Bob & Doug McKenzie. The characters were introduced on the legendary and influential Canadian comedy show SCTV, portrayed by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas respectively.

The album features bits and TWO songs — a version of The 12 Days of Christmas as well as Take Off, featuring guest vocals from Geddy Lee of Rush. It won the Juno for Comedy Album of the Year in 1982. The soundtrack of their film Strange Brew won in 1984. Fellow SCTV writer/performer Joe Flaherty‘s character Count Floyd also put out an album, though nowhere near as popular.

How about Max Headroom? Remember him? Max Headroom was a U.K. television character created to present music videos — he was supposedly the world’s first computer-generated host. In actual fact, he was portrayed by Canadian actor Matt Frewer in prosthetic makeup and a fibreglass suit. Max put out a Christmas song and appeared on the Art Of Noise single Paranoimia. It’s this kind of thinking which led to the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special.

I’m gonna end with the natural progression from hamburger commercial to hit single. In the mid-’80s, the Wendy’s chain ended up with a popular catchphrase: “Where’s The Beef?” I used to have a T-shirt, but I admit I forgot about the spinoff song featuring Coyote McCloud (?) and the actual 83-year-old woman from the commercials, Clara Peller.

Double cheese.

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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.