Special Introductory Note
If you don’t know the Wiggles, chances are your rug is free of rats. The Wiggles are a Sydney-based quartet who peddle CDs and videos for the under-10 set and recently passed Russell Crowe as the richest entertainers in Australia. On stage, they present themselves as Greg Page the lead singer, Jeff Fatt the keyboardist, Murray Cook the guitarist, and Anthony Field the fifth wheel, who just dances around most of the time. But looking at the credits leads me to believe that Anthony is actually the main songwriter, Murray plays bass, and they farm out the drums and guitar to studio musicians.
The Wiggles’ appeal for kids lies in their sing-along tunes and kid-friendly choreography, as well as the members’ unaffected stage personae. But since not many kids surf over to this site, I’ll review the Wiggles’ records for the adults who endure them alongside their children. And I’ll say this: they’re more than just bearable they’re usually pretty good! (Please note that this page only covers a few of the group’s many records.)
Although the band started in the early ‘90s in Australia, they didn’t break into the U.S. market until around 2000, so this is a collection (some re-recorded) of their earliest material. As with most bands, they didn’t hit upon their formula until a little later in their career, so Let’s Wiggle is a mixed bag. It has several traditional songs, like “The Gypsy Rover” and “Bound for South Australia” delivered with a spare backing, and some nursery-school songs for the kids to participate in, with actions and animal noises, like “Uncle Noah’s Ark” and “Here Comes a Bear.” These songs are a lot more fun for the kids than the adults.
But a few songs point the way to the Wiggles style that would conquer the world. “Get Ready to Wiggle” has a healthy twist beat, jumping horns and a thrilling arrangement that climaxes on the “whoos” in the chorus. “Rock-a-Bye Your Bear” has a set of surrealist instructions for the listener (sure, any child can follow them, but why?) and a lovely decrescendo set to “shh shh shh.”
The Wiggles also introduce the characters of Dorothy the Dinosaur and Henry the Octopus, each of whom gets his or her own song. I like Henry’s a little better, with a wistful accordion leading a sea chanty-style chorus, but Dorothy’s has a better beat for dancing.
As usual with debut albums, Let’s Wiggle shows some sparks of genius but puts a lot of questionable material into the mix as well. But Greg Page has a very appealing voice and there’s never anything that’s absolutely cringeworthy.
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Now the Wiggles are settling into their groove. As the title implies, a lot of the songs are about food (just like Shonen Knife), which occupies a large part of any child’s thoughts. But musically, the Wiggles are moving away from the guitar- or piano-only accompaniments and into a fuller pop sound (probably because of bigger budgets; in the video, you can see they have all bought the same brand of shirt for the first time.)
A stone classic is “Hot Potato” with incredibly odd lyrics and a very cool vocal arrangement (Anthony debuts his bass voice here, which comes in handy on “Crunchy Munchy Honey Cakes”, too). “Fruit Salad” has a dated synth arrangement (it sounds like it was recorded in 1983), but the chanted chorus is a solid hook, and the high backing vocals are a kick. Wags the Dog and Captain Feathersword the Friendly Pirate get introduced on this record, and “We’re Dancing with Wags the Dog” has an elaborate horn arrangement that adds a lot to the slightly dull melody, while “Captain Feathersword” has a lurching beat that’s a nice contrast to the songs around it. “D.O.R.O.T.H.Y.” is a relentless rock number with yet another killer hook.
A nice feature of this and following CDs is that the little spoken introductions to the songs are indexed separately from the music, so you can skip right to the first beat. The kids like to hear the Wiggles talking to them, but adults will get tired of it.
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Wiggly, Wiggly Christmas
As with most Christmas records, you wouldn’t want to play this all year long (but your kids probably will.) The Wiggles avoid getting overly saccharine, however, and stick with the pop arrangements they’ve done before. Some of the ballads are back down to just a guitar or piano, though.
It seems like they’re trying to hit all sorts of styles here: “Have a Very Merry Christmas” sounds like an outtake from Phil Spector’s Christmas album, while “Wiggly, Wiggly Christmas” is a jumped-up ska tune that introduces an annoying chorus of sped-up Anthonys that would also crop up on the next record. “Go Santa Go” has a hint of surf-music, while “Wags is Bouncing Around the Christmas Tree” is back to Wiggles-style bouncy pop.
They also cover a few beloved Christmas songs, and don’t do too much damage. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” lacks energy, but “Feliz Navidad” gets the right latin groove. “Silent Night” seems poorly sequenced between two uptempo numbers, but Greg delivers it with sincerity.
It’s nice that Jeff gets featured on two numbers, an instrumental “Ding Dong Merrily on High” and “Jeff’s Christmas Tune”, showing some nice organ chops.
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Wake Up, Jeff!
It should be mentioned that each of the Wiggles has a notable non-musical characteristic that helps the kids identify with them: Anthony loves to eat, Greg does magic tricks, and Jeff is a narcoleptic and the Wiggles are frequently inviting the audience to yell so he’ll wake up. So “Wake Up Jeff” is a great song to play if you’d like to have kids yelling in the car; despite that, it’s got a terrific tune and another swinging arrangement.
Other highlights are “Bing Bang Bong” with its pep rally feel, and “Romp Bomp a Stomp” which has a heavier beat than usual. Some of the nursery-school elements are back, with “The Name Game” and a version of “Froggy Went a-Courting” with wrong lyrics (either the Australian version or the Wiggles just made up their own.) But the Wiggles introduce some Celtic instrumentals, which are always delightful in small doses, and throw on “Havenu Shalom Alechem” to add to the exotic flair.
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As the Wiggles improbably successful career continued, their songwriting kept getting better. Fewer songs have generic melodies, and it’s getting easier to distinguish among the tunes as arrangements are getting more sophisticated.
”Toot Toot Chugga Chugga Big Red Car” kicks things off with a sort of galumphing rhythm, while “Look Both Ways” has an irregular meter in the lyrics that lends a bit of suspense to the progression. “Wah Hoo Hey, I’m Combing My Hair Today” combines a typically exuberant chorus with an almost pensive rapid-fire modal tune in the verse.
”Captain Feathersword Fell Asleep on His Pirate Ship” is another terrific number featuring a hook that goes “quack quack quack quack quack cockadoodle do”, and “Wags the Dog Like to Tango” is really a tango, complete with castanets. Lots of good fun all around.
”Zardo Zap” is an attempt to introduce yet another character (a space alien), but we haven’t heard of him since, although his song has a nice wide-ranging melody. And let me also commend “Food Food Food” with its anthemic chorus that few can resist joining in.
The lesser lights on this album are more like the usual filler on pop albums, and less of the nursery-school stuff, and the Celtic instrumentals make another appearance.
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Wiggly, Wiggly World
For this album, the Wiggles are reduced to co-stars, as a who’s who of Australian music legends duet. The undeniable highlight is Rolf Harris on “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport,” one of the classic novelty numbers of all time, but Tim Finn’s “Six Months in a Leaky Boat” is surprisingly un-Wigglified and more likely to appeal to the parents than the kids. Country singer Slim Dusty turns his “I Love to Have a Beer” into “I Love to Have Dance,” but the hoedown feel is still there, and Christine Anu brings a Torres Strait Island folk song called “Taba Naba” which has a moody yet entrancing feel. Kemahl’s lush baritone sounds almost ridiculous duetting with the silly Dorothy voice, but he has enough gravitas for the both of them.
The Wiggles originals are on par with the level they’ve been achieving lately. “In the Wiggles World” turned into their TV show’s theme song, and it has another propulsive horn chart, while “Here Come the Wiggles” gooses its melody with a bit of bar-rushing in the chorus. “In the Big Red Car We Like to Ride” has a classic pop arching melody, with a beautiful drawn out harmony vocal in the verses. But the best of all is “Another Cuppa”, with an elaborate three-part vocal arrangement (lead, descant, and background chant) and irresistible downward hook.
The guest stars make this more fun than the average Wiggles record for adults, but the Wiggles’ own work is just fine.
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Top of the Tots
While previous albums were “produced by the Wiggles,” this album was produced by Anthony Field, and he makes the most of his opportunity to put his personal touch on the sound. It is a lush, almost wall-of-sound style, with tons of guitars strumming and unnaturally (but pleasantly) EQ’d horns and vocals. This is by far their best sounding album, and has a lot of terrific songs as well.
It kicks off with my all time favorite Wiggles tune, “Bow Wow Wow.” It’s teeming with little hooks, counter-riffs, and that huge production. Had it been released in 1969, it would have been a #1 hit, I swear. It’s the bubblegummiest of the bubblegum.
Elsewhere, there’s a theme of songs about occupations, with “New York Firefighter” featuring a frantic guitar line in the verse, “The Bricklayers Song” a mild reggae vibe, “Picking Flowers” making a hook out of the word “horticulturalist,” and “Say Ahh at the Doctors” putting a propulsive bass line under call-and-response vocals.
The bubblegum sounds comes back on “Tick Tock” with another great vocal arrangement, while “Central Park New York” is a salsa number that allows you to sing along with “good day, squirrel.”
The album is all originals, and not a loser in the bunch. If it weren’t for the lyrics, I think it would be hard to distinguish this from your average indie pop record. It’s not necessarily the place to start with the Wiggles, but it’s definitely their most adult-friendly record.
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