I’ve chosen to analyse two very different versions of the Powerpuff Girls theme song to try and deconstruct the aesthetic choices that went into making each, as well as the musical characteristics that set these versions apart. The first version is the end theme of the show as performed by Bis. It's a cute, catchy song aimed at young girls, while the second version by Whiskey & Speed creates a contrast between the imagery originally associated with the song and the energy of a rock n' roll band performing the song.
The Powerpuff Girls
Song: Powerpuff Girls - Bis
Genre: Britpop, Indie, Pop Punk
Key - C
Bpm - 174
Time Signature - 4/4
Solo (Kind Of)
Chorus X 3
Manda Rin - Vocals, Keyboards
Sci FI Steven - Backing Vocals, Guitar, Synthesizer
Disco John - Backing Vocals, Guitar, Bass Guitar
Produced by Mark Mothersbaugh (Former Devo Vocalist)
And Bob Casale (Former Devo Guitarist)
The lyrics introduce each of the Powerpuff Girls individually and the group as a whole. Providing their mission statement to fight crime and save the world.
In the second verse, we are introduced to the villains of the show and the idea that the Powerpuff girls will "chase evil out of this town". This sets up a simple idea of what the show is about in a concise manner.
The Powerpuff girls is a pastiche of older style cartoons that borders on parody. It is aware of the tropes of the genre and while it exists within them it also pokes fun at them. The theme song sticks with this approach not taking itself to seriously and with a tongue planted firmly in the cheek. The song has a vintage style for the time that it came out, it sounds more like The Go Go’s than the Spice Girls. I think they tried to make it more timeless, rather than go with the flavour of the time. The overall vibe of the song is perfect for the target audience of primary school-aged girls.
The song starts with a group chant of Powerpuff and a quirky 80's synth line before kicking into full swing with drums, bass and guitars creating a funky, new wave vibe. The guitar and synth lines syncopate with the rhythm section while the vocal lines lock in with the beat. During this section, the guitars are panned slightly left and the synth is panned slightly right creating a different blend on each side. As it comes into the chorus there's a laser synth sound backed by the bass, playing an incline into the chorus. Then the beat shifts into a standard punk rock backbeat, distortion kicks in on the guitar with more down strummed power chords. The vocals are a catchy sing-along that forms the main hook of the song with the Female Vocals front and centre, the male vocals slightly right and some group harmonies panned slightly left.
The second verse is essentially the same as the first just with changes to the lyrics and the emphasis on them, then the chorus repeats before a really weird interlude at 1:11. The bass and drums kind of break down a bit but it stays at the same tempo and on the same chord progression. The solo itself sounds like random guitar noise run through a gate which is opening in a rhythmic fashion creating stabs of random noise this is very short and the whole song stops with "and we'll be" leading into the chorus which runs through twice just like the previous two chorus's and once more with added excitement on the drums and a little noisy guitar overdub bringing it to a climax and ending on the same little chant and synth riff as the start of the song.
The kick is sturdy with a good boost on the fundamental without too much presence, it is very consistent and punchy which leads me to believe they've used a reasonable amount of compression. The snare sounds like it's tuned quite tight and has a real pop too it while still sounding hollow for this reason I believe it's just a top mic because you cant really hear the snap that a bottom mic would capture. It sounds like they have just miked kick, snare and overheads as the high hats and cymbals do not sound close-miked and there is little to no toms in the song. The drums are not the feature of the song but they are the main driving force, So it makes sense to not make them to prominent while still being up in the mix enough to drive the song.
The bass sounds pretty natural and has a vintage quality to it. I'd say this is just slightly overdriven on the amp, miked up and treated with a bit of EQ to bring out the harmonics it is very well rounded sounding in the bottom end and also has a bit of presence in the higher mids, allowing you to hear the notes that are plucked and not just have the bass blend into the kick. The bass is up in the mix enough to hold the song together, but not enough to be the main focus, which is appropriate for the genre.
The guitar sound is quite thin and trashy, It’s overdriven but not too heavy. I feel as though a high pass filter has been used not just to let the bottom end breath, but to sit the guitar in the upper end of the frequency spectrum. During the verse, the notes are palm muted and blended with the synth but in the chorus, the strumming opens up with more overdrive added, which makes the chorus sound exciting and shifts the vibe from indie pop to pop punk. The guitar
In this song, the synth is like the icing on the cake, it’s not the main driving part of the song it just adds a little extra something. The synth sound plus the way the synth and guitar work together is very reminiscent of Devo, so I'm not surprised to learn that two of the members of Devo produced this track. On that note, the synth itself sounds like a vintage Roland polysynth possibly a Jupiter or a Juno. Using a vintage synth at the time this song came out was fitting for the DIY Indie style of the song and also the vintage feel of the cartoon itself.
The lead vocals sound like a reflection of the show itself, she is feminine but also kicks ass, much like the shows main characters. She keeps it cute, simple and easy for kids to sing along to and I think she is playing up to the childish nature of the whole thing really well. Vocals in theme songs are often more forward in the mix than they are in this, sort of sitting on top of the mix of the song. In this, they are upfront but still in the mix of the song I think this adds to the excitement of the whole thing. There is a pretty subtle use of reverb on the main vocals with more reverb on the harmonies and backing vocals to create depth. In this sort of music, Reverb is often used in a very subtle manner. If it’s really noticeable it's probably too much.
The band Bis had a very DIY approach and by this point, they had put out a whole bunch of raw sounding records. I feel as though the Powerpuff Girls theme is a culmination of the raw immediate approach of Bis, the zaniness of Devo and the aesthetics of classic cartoon themes. These things gel together really well, the mix is well balanced and it makes for quite a memorable little jingle.
Whiskey & Speed
Song: Powerpuff Girls - Whiskey & Speed
Genre: Punk, Grunge
Key - C
Bpm - 180
Time Signature - 4/4
Chorus X 1
Dayne - Vocals
Ben - Guitar
Loki - Bass
Mick - Drums
Produced by Matt Taylor and Whiskey & Speed
Mixed and Mastered by Mat Cutlas
The lyrical themes in the Whiskey & Speed cover take on a whole new meaning. They do not change the words but everything around them changes their meaning. Earlier on the Whiskey & Speed album The New Dumb Idea there’s a song called cartoons which is commenting on how cartoons have more moral fibre than the news or reality TV and in this context the cover of the Powerpuff Girls theme song is a juxtaposition, creating a space for you to reflect on the previous song's message. Since the Powerpuff Girls cartoon was aimed at young girls during the time the members of this band were growing up, covering it is also a further statement about gender stereotypes and may be suggesting that it's ok to be a boy and like girly things and it's ok to be an adult and still watch cartoons. In short, you can be anything you want to be.
This version is performed with lots of attitude and it has a loose live vibe to it. The production values are grungy while the feel is fun, tongue in cheek, almost pop-punk, until the break down which is bordering on death metal. Whiskey & Speed are a band that has been hard to pin down over the years because they don't really play one style of music. The overarching thing that ties it all together is their no holds barred approach to playing music.
First of all this version has a much fuller bottom end with a more prominent sounding kick and a much fuller bass sound. It opens with a simple backbeat and rather than playing the complex syncopated riff it is stripped back to just strumming the chords. There is no synth to add a little something as the song goes into the chorus and instead there is a pick scratch on the guitar. The song, for the most part, follows the same pattern as the original until we get to the breakdown where rather than play a solo the band slow down to 90 BPM and the singer growls the words form the chorus before they launch back up to 180 BPM for one last energetic chorus ending on an iconic "Powerpuff"
Mick - Drums
The drums are kept nice and simple much like the original with mostly a straight punk beat on the hi-hat, kick and snare with very minimal fills on the changes. The kick is really fat and almost blended with the bass creating more of a heartbeat than an "in your face" kick sound. I really like the snare sound, it's well tuned, not to tight, has a tough lower end while still having the presence to cut through the mix, but not too much. This suits the style of the band perfectly. The high hat adds a lot of energy to the song, especially when it kicks into the chorus. It sounds like he is holding his foot down on the high hat pedal in the verse and loosens it a bit in the chorus. It also sounds like the high hat is individually miked and positioned slightly to the left (drummers perspective). The little bit of a fill you hear suggests that the toms were individually miked because they have a closer sound. The overall sound of the drums is live and roomy and suggests they were recorded in a large wooden room rather than a smaller dead room. Overall the drum sound is big and live and appropriate to the genre.
Loki - Bass
The bass is really round and thick it sounds like there is a lot of the lower fundamentals boosted. There is a lot of depth which moves ever so slightly which makes me think there's a phase pedal with the depth cranked and then fuzz or overdrive after that, something like a boss OS-2 with the colour cranked up. I'm pretty sure this is an Orange Amp and it sounds like the bass is at 8-10, the mids are cut below 5 and the high's are up but not too much, say 6-7. The bass tone is a real wall of sound which is warm and fills out the lower end of the mix, it's just a touch overboard, like everything about this band.
Ben - Guitar
The guitars are much louder in this version which is more suitable for the genre and helps create a different vibe and energy. During the verse, the guitars are just behind the bass, But they rise to the front in the chorus. You can tell they've been double tracked with one take panned left and one panned right with that nice pick slide crawling up the left. In terms of tone, I assume the amp settings would look something like this... Bass 5, Mids 7, Treble 6 with the gain up over halfway, As there is a decent amount of mids in there. It sounds like a Marshall amp, and possibly one of the classic boss distortion pedals like the DS-1 or a Metal Zone. The tone is bitey and really gives the song some edge which is just what it needs for this sort of band.
Dayne - Vocals
Dayne's voice is clean with a lot of personality and humour in the verse before erupting into a harsher style in the chorus and a full-blown growl in the breakdown. You can hear the slightest bit of delay on his voice in the verse and then in the chorus, it's double-tracked which adds depth and character. EQ may have been used to filter his voice differently for different sections of the song and I feel that the vocals have also been slightly overdriven to add a bit of grit to the performance. The Breakdown section is quite intense with a longer delay and a longer tail on the reverb. This makes a lot of sense since the whole song has slowed down that the same delay and reverb settings wouldn't work as well. I think the Vocals are positioned really well in the mix, with the verse parts positioned nice and forward and then pulling back a bit as his performance gets more over the top. This would have been partly done with the use of compression But I feel as though they've really treated the vocals in each part of the song differently. Daynes Vocals are quite distinctive and have a lot of character which is the most important thing for this style of music.
Well, there you have it, two very different versions of a song with different aesthetics and production values. Both great versions in their own right and it just goes to show that you can add different meanings to an already existing piece of media depending on how you choose to present it, whether it's for a kids TV show or a raucous rock n' roll band.