Bret McKenzie is famous for being one-half of the fictional New Zealand mock-pop band Flight of the Conchords (F.O.T.C.). Flight of the Conchords was also a sitcom aired on HBO and set in New York City, starring two hapless musicians on a quest to break America.
Many people don't know that the TV duo began life as a real rock band, You're The Man, featuring Taika Waititi (who went on to break Hollywood and marry Rita Ora). After this, the pair became cult heroes on a BBC comedy sketch show, Flight of the Conchords. From here, HBO picked them up, and the rest is history.
An Unassuming Pop Star
Between 2007 and 2009, Bret and wingman and perfect foil Jermaine Clement treated audiences to one of the funniest comedy shows ever written. The pair and their charming-yet-useless manager, Murray, embark on a mission to take America by storm one awful song at a time. They drop several tracks per episode based on the theme of the story.
By the second series, the list of famous actor cameos grows longer. Appearances from the likes of Kristin Wiig, Aziz Ansari, and Jim Gaffigan only make the series' cult following bigger. The cameo that nobody noticed was Taika Waititi. The now-famous director cut his teeth on the show, directing several episodes and bringing the Kiwi cringe comedy genre to the world.
In 2012, Bret McKenzie won an Oscar for his work on the Muppets movie with Jason Segel, while Jermaine Clement went on to more acting success. Last month, McKenzie released his first non-comedy album, Songs Without Jokes.
Flight of the Conchords will always remain a revered piece of high-geek couture because of Bret McKenzie's songwriting. Here is a list of Bret McKenzie's greatest songs.
“Man or Muppet” (2011)
“Man or Muppet” is the theme song on The Muppets (2011) soundtrack and features a performance from protagonist Jason Segel alongside his Muppet counterpart, Walter, voiced by Peter Linz. There are two other backing vocals — Jim Parsons, who plays Walter's human reflection and Bill Barretta sings as Segel's Muppet reflection.
As confusing as that sounds, the song is straightforward, with McKenzie citing influences from '80s power balladeers such as Harry Nilsson and Eric Carmen. “Man or Muppet” would easily fit into a Conchords episode with a few word changes, which is why McKenzie had the opportunity. Of course, being part of such a fabled franchise would be big shoes to fill for McKenzie. However, his brand of wholesome geek perfectly matches the ethos of the song and the film's audience.
When “Man or Muppet” won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2012, weirdly, it only had one rival in the same category: “Real in Rio” from the movie Rio. But, unfortunately, due to a technicality in which they could not divide the other 37 songs through their ratings, only two songs scoring clearly above this average were in contention.
For anybody lucky enough to be debuting the Conchords, this is the first song they will encounter and the band's first official music video shoot in the show. Premise: Robots took over in the '90s, leaving behind a happier planet after eliminating the human race (“We used poison gases, and we put them on their asses.”) in the distant future — well, the year 2000.
Gone are words such as yes, replaced by affirmative (“Unless in a more colloquial situation with robo-friends.”); the only dance move allowed is ‘the robot.' The appeal is in the high-brow lyricism of the funniest musical duo ever to come from Down Under. “Robots” is a great starting point for any aspiring Conchords fan.
“Inner City Pressure”
In episode two, we find the band struggling with paying the New York utility prices. Then, they suddenly burst into “Inner City Pressure.” This song is more than an homage to the British electro-pop classic “West End Girls” by the Pet Shop Boys.
The song's montage is a hilarious pastiche of many British '80s bands: the grainy footage of urban decay, graffiti, and monochrome skies are all there as the duo walks the streets of New York with long faces. “Inner City Pressure” gives lyrical genius such as: “You want to sit down but you sold you chair, so … you just stand there,” and Bret is on point with his finest Neil Tennant impersonation.
“The Most Beautiful Girl in This Room”
Jermaine takes the lead on this romantic lo-fi '90s R&B number as he catches the eye of a beautiful girl across the room at a house party. The funniest thing about this song is the aside about Dave, the party's host (“Dave, you legend.”) in the middle of an extended metaphor describing the most beautiful girl in the room — not the world, mind!
Stand-out lyrics this time include “You're so beautiful, you could be a part-time model — but you'd probably have to keep your normal job,” or “You're so beautiful, you could be an air hostess in the '60s.”
With wingman Bret echoing the key refrains, Jermaine makes his advances on the girl before they escape for a kebab. Phrases like “I can't believe I am sharing a kebab with the most beautiful girl I have ever seen … with a kebab” are side-splitting.
“Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros”
Flight of the Conchords covers every musical genre on the list. Episode three sees the duo come face-to-face in mortal street combat — a freestyle battle. They unleash their street alter-egos in the form of “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros”, a hip-hop anthem with unrivaled rhyming flow.
Bret takes the opening stanza with lines such as: “I'm the mother flippin' Rhymenocerous,” and “I'm not just wild: I'm trained, domesticated — I was raised by a rapper and a rhino that dated.”
One must remember that Jermaine Clement is Bret's equal in this band. An awkward, silent beat follows his opening line: “They call me the Hiphopopotamus; my lyrics are bottomless.”
Think early '90s West Coast hip-hop meets the nerdiest college bedroom musician, and “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros” is the perfect entry for any new fan wishing to experience these musical mavericks.
“Here for You”
“Here For You” is from Bret McKenzie's new ‘serious' record, Songs Without Jokes, and his first venture away from comedy. As one might imagine, it is difficult to separate McKenzie from his comedy alter-ego — a fact not helped by the tongue-in-cheek antics of his first video, “If You Wanna Go”.
However, McKenzie's talents are clear once you get to this track on the album. An anthemic number with rich production, it oozes warm atmospheric power-ballad Americana — a far cry from songs about rogue androids and baguettes.
The echoes of mid-'80s Dire Straits, Springsteen and even a dash of Arcade Fire bring his credentials as a songsmith into full light. Bret McKenzie successfully crossed the void into mainstream pop and silenced any doubts his critics had.
Also known as “Bowie's in Space”, this track appears in episode six of the first season, an episode where Bret feels persecuted about his size. However, he dreams of meeting his idol, David Bowie, another pint-sized musician.
He is then visited by Jermaine dressed as Bowie, who floats in from space and takes Bret on an odyssey through all of David Bowie's manifestations throughout the years. The result is a medley that celebrates tracks such as “Life on Mars”, “Let's Dance”, and “Space Oddity,” among others.
David Bowie must have been proud when he saw this fitting tribute. Both Conchords sing the song in Bowie's distinctive English accent.
“Foux du Fafa”
One of the greatest reasons to watch F.O.T.C. is their ability to make generic music interesting. For example, “Foux du Fafa” translates as ‘crazy about Fafa' and is possibly about Jermaine's love interest, Felicia. More likely, it is gibberish.
In any case, Jermaine's insatiable libido persuades Bret to join him at a bakery so he can try and impress a girl and her friend with his French skills. Unfortunately, sentences such as “I would like a baguette,” followed by “Here is my passport,” fail to impress.
With Bret as his wingman, the pair suddenly morph into cardigan-clad French romantics and take their dates on a bicycle tour through the streets. With more hilarious one-liners and a soundscape of uber-generic French gypsy jazz guitar, it is hard to keep a straight face for this one.
“I'm Not Crying”
The first episode casts an irresistible hook to reel in any new fan, and with three songs on this list, there is no surprise why. The familiar trope of I'm not crying; you're crying, is the main gist of this song.
Romance — and bromance — are familiar themes in the series. The same love interest, a cute girl named Sally they met at Dave's party, leaves scars on Jermaine and Bret (See: “The Most Beautiful Girl in This Room”).
The result is a reflective, Hammond organ-led slow dance of regret laden with excuses for why each one is not crying — though they are, indeed, crying. Bret sings, “If I'm crying, it's not because of you; it's because a friend of mine — that you don't know — is dying.”
“Too Many D**ks on the Dancefloor”
In episode 5 of the second season, Bret and Jermaine go to a nightclub at the behest of their hapless manager, Murray. He asks their friend Dave to persuade them into the club because Murray wants to listen to ‘dancing' music.
When they arrive, they find a nightmare scenario when they conclude that there are too many d**ks on the dancefloor and launch into a modern dance number. The track is high-octane: all vocoders and high compression, with the video featuring men in a reluctant conga line, the singers waxing on how it sucks when only guys show up to a club.
The track features on the Conchords' album released the following year, I Told You I Was Freaky. It received positive acclaim from the press, with some critics calling it the best song on the album.
“The Prince of Parties”
This song is a psychedelic dream sequence from another episode with Taiki Waititi at the helm. With manager Murray pushing the boys to drink beer after a gig to improve their image, Bret and Jermaine end up at a party with two fans where they drop acid. After Murray finds out later they took acid, he approves of their rock star theatrics.
Bret sings: I'm the pretty prince of parties; You're a tasty piece of pastry; You're so lighty-flighty flakey; I go where the party takes me.”
“The Prince of Parties” sees Bret and his wingman frolicking through a super-8 montage in a forest. It pays tribute to Ravi Shankar and Technicolor-era Beatles and encapsulates everything good about the Conchords.
In episode 2 of the second season, the band falls on hard times after Bret buys a cup for $2.79, so they no longer have to share the same cup. The resulting disaster is that their phone bill is exactly $2.79 short, forcing them to raise funds another way.
Jermaine suggests that they become gigolos, based on the premise of Pretty Woman not being degrading. As ever with the Conchords, we know a song can't be far behind when such a question comes.
“Sugalumps” is a play on “My Humps” by the Black-Eyed Peas, with fuzzy synth and popping beats. The video is outrageously fun: Bret on a rotating table singing the key line, “All these ladies checking out my sugar lumps”, is both cringeworthy and hilarious.
When listening to any F.O.T.C. songs, the listener must enjoy the music as part of an integration with the episode. If not, they will not fully understand the song's context. In this case, it is important to understand the background of “Mermaids” before listening.
Even more crucial is that you meet Murray, the band's useless manager who seems to live in the past. His decision to put the boys on a warm-up tour before a big gig in Central Park leads to him giving them pocket money — which they waste on leather suits before trying to woo an all-girl water polo team they meet at the hotel.
The resultant song is “Mermaids”, a jolly paean to aquatic love, with hints of Randy Newman and even Michael Bublé. The stand-out lyric: “Do you have mermaid parties under the sea? At these mermaid parties do you smoke seaweed?”
“If You're Into It”
In one of the first season's best episodes, Jermaine and Bret (as ever) are both pursuing the same girl, Coco. With Bret trying his hardest to go steady with their latest conquest, Jermaine tags along on every date.
Before long, Bret blows Jermaine off, and Jermaine surmises that Coco is another Yoko Ono. She will bring the band down if they aren't careful. Bret attempts to impress Coco with a song written especially for her. However, Jermaine has other ideas.
“You and him; him and you; if that's what you want to do,” sings Jermaine as he muscles in on Bret midway through his serenade. “Him hanging round, around you; you're hanging round — yeah, you're there, too.”
Writing lyrics just for the sake of rhyming is Conchords: 101.
“Albi The Racist Dragon”
One of the best things about the F.O.T.C. show is the Kiwi cultural references. In season one, episode seven, Murray receives a tape of New Zealand TV shows from his mom, the first of which is a real-life Kiwi show, A Dog's Show. Most viewers might consider this a mock show, considering it is about sheepdog trials — but not in an ironic way.
The joke is clear in the title of the following: Albi The Racist Dragon, which is a children's song. Sang and narrated in the style of a children's after-school show from the '80s, Albi is a dragon crying tears (that turn into jelly beans) who is banished to a cave for being racist.
When a ‘badly burnt Albanian boy' finds him, he tells Albi it's not because of his racism that they don't like him, “That made Albi cry a single tear, which turned into a jellybean all colors of the rainbow! And suddenly, he wasn't racist anymore.”
“Too Many Mutha' Uckas”
In hindsight, the seventh installment of the first season is a stellar episode. Directed by Taika Waititi and featuring Aziz Ansari as a fruit vendor who hates New Zealanders, this episode treats us to another classic.
“Too Many Mutha' Uckas” is an electronic funk track that plays on the theme of racism, littered with profanities about fruit. The catch is that they censor every F-bomb, making most of Bret's verse sound like an inaudible shopping list.
But it works: “I want an (inaudible) granny Smith; (inaudible) avocado'; (inaudible) mango,” raps Bret, as 90 percent of the verse is cut. The chorus, “Too many mutha' uckers, ‘ucking with my s**t,” is the only pertinent phrase.
Nevertheless, this remains one of the funniest tracks from the series!
“We're Both in Love With a Sexy Lady”
Another episode that yields three F.O.T.C. crackers is “Love is a Weapon of Choice”, from season two. The set-up makes this episode memorable, but the songs are all the Conchords at their best.
When the boys go for a jog in Central Park, Kristin Wiig makes a hilarious cameo as a woman searching for her epileptic dog. Then, Bret and Jermain get into a duet reminiscent of McCartney and Jackson's “The Girl is Mine,” set to '90s swing. Think Color Me Badd meets Jodeci, and you are halfway there.
The genius of this song is the gormless romanticism of the duo. They are both singing a love song but unwillingly about the girl they just met: “I was going for a jog, then she lost a dog,” says Bret. “I was running in the area, and she lost a terrier,” replies Jermaine.
Wanting to impress, they return to Wiig with several dogs, but she informs them none are hers.
This song is part of the previous episode and sees Bret and Jermaine inspired to help epileptic dogs after meeting Kristen Wiig. With the music channeling Paul McCartney's “Let it Be;” the band performs a charity song for an Epileptic Dog fundraising event.
The lyrics alone are enough to make the listener howl.
“Somewhere, there's a golden retriever that's having a seizure,” sings Bret. “Somewhere, there's a pup seizing up and there's a labrador, who's shaking on the floor.”
Surprisingly, this is a very touching moment. That is until the band launches into the remix version with strobe lights. Then, unfortunately, a room full of epileptic dogs goes berserk.
“Business Time” is another love song for Sally (remember, the girl they both met at Dave's party?), who seem to get all the best Conchords songs. This is a familiar theme in Conchords-land: the boys fighting over the same love interest, then singing of their teenage fantasies with her.
“Business Time” does not disappoint. With verses made of epithets such as: “Then we're in the bathroom, brushing our teeth. That's all part of the foreplay. I love foreplay … then you sort out the recycling. That isn't part of the foreplay process but it is still very important.”
As ever, the music is varied, and this track finds its influences in '70s funk ensembles such as Kool and the Gang or Parliament Funk. Bret MacKenzie's ability to skip genres and write songs like this, coupled with Jermaine's cringeworthy sidekick foil, is gut-achingly good.
“A Gender Reversal Reversal”
To many Conchordistas' delight, the Kiwi entertainers returned in 2018 with a feature-length live performance: Live in London. The set consists of crowd-pleasing favorites and several new numbers.
One of these is “A Gender Reversal Reversal”, which was born out of a need — explain the guys — to fight the male domination within the band. Bret always played the woman's part in past songs if required, so Jermaine assumes the female role this time.
In any case, they haven't lost their sense of immaturity. Although full of innuendo and euphemism, the lyrics are too obscene to print here! Regardless, Live in London is well worth two hours of anybody's time.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
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