Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Gilligan's Island and Led Zeppelin

It is a circuitous route, but there is a link between the 1960s sitcom Gilligan’s Island and the British heavy-metal behemoth Led Zeppelin.

The connecting points are American singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon and Led Zep guitarist Jimmy Page via Gilligan’s Island actress Dawn Wells.

Let’s start with the Gilligan’s Island end of the link. The CBS comedy show ran for three seasons, starting in 1964 and ending in 1967. The show centers around the antics of seven people stranded on an island after their excursion boat, the SS Minnow, runs aground. I will confess to watching this show as a kid. This was a time when television lived down to Newton Minnow’s “vast-wasteland” decree. Gilligan’s Island joined other such intellectually stimulating programs as Green Acres, Petticoat Junction and The Beverly Hillbillies, all on CBS.

In a Gilligan’s Island episode that aired in the second season, titled Don’t Bug The Mosquitoes, the castaways are visited by a four-man pop group called The Mosquitoes (an obvious spoof of The Beatles). Members of this fictitious moptop quartet are named Bingo, Bongo, Bango and Irving, a play on John, Paul, George and Ringo. I vaguely remember this episode because of the connection to The Beatles.

The Mosquitoes were portrayed by a real group called The Wellingtons. They were regulars on the Shindig TV show and were responsible for singing several television theme songs, including the Gilligan’s Island theme song and “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” on Disney. They also toured with Stevie Wonder and The Supremes.

While on the island, The Mosquitoes perform a concert for the castaways. Watch the clip here.

In an homage to the girl groups of the 1960s such as the Supremes, The Shangri-Las and The Ronettes, the three women stranded on the island -- Mary Ann, Ginger and Mrs. Howell -- put together a trio called The Honeybees and perform their own song, “You Need Us.” You can watch their performance here.

The three Honeybees hip shake their way through the song, each taking a turn on lead vocals. Mary Ann’s portion of the song was actually sung by Jackie DeShannon. Actresses Natalie Schafer and Tina Louise do their own singing. For the record, I was all in on Team Mary Ann. That cornfed, country-girl, total-innocence allure fired up my young hormones. Sadly, Dawn Wells, the actress who portrayed Mary Ann, died recently of Covid-19 complications. Decades later, watching Mary Ann wiggle those hips is still a stimulant to my old-man libido.

DeShannon, born in 1941, had a long career as a singer-songwriter and actress. She wrote one of the songs that appeared on The Byrds album Mr. Tambourine Man. Her hits included “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” and “What The World Needs Now Is Love.” DeShannon supported The Beatles during their 1964 American tour.

Traveling to England in 1965, DeShannon formed a brief songwriting and romantic partnership with Jimmy Page, creating "Dream Boy" and "Don't Turn Your Back on Me." Page at the time was a session guitarist who later catapulted to the heights of rock glory with The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin.

DeShannon and Page

The song “Tangerine” on Led Zeppelin III is reportedly inspired by Page’s breakup with DeShannon, which occurred around the time of the Don’t Bug The Mosquitoes episode.

“Tangerine, Tangerine, living reflection from a dream
I was her love, she was my queen, and now a thousand years between.”

There is at least one other connection between Gilligan’s Island and Led Zeppelin -- a mashup of the TV show’s theme-song lyrics and the melody to Led Zep’s most famous song, “Stairway To Heaven.”

So, Gilligan’s Island may have been dumb, but it did rock -- OK, maybe only just a little bit.

One cast member left: At age 86, Tina Louise, who played sultry actress Ginger Grant, is the only Gilligan’s Island cast member still alive. She will be 87 on Feb. 11. She declined to appear in any of the three Gilligan’s Island television movies, claiming the TV series had ruined her career. She released one music album, 1957’s It’s Time For Tina.

Stairway to a gold mine:
Guitar god Jimmy Page is probably best known for his work on Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven," consistently near or at the top of all lists of greatest rock songs. In 1991, the 20th anniversary of the original release of the song, U.S. radio sources estimated that the song had seen 2,874,000 radio plays. Selling an average of 15,000 copies yearly, for a total in excess of a million copies, it is also the greatest-selling piece of sheet music in rock history.

Grammy Song Of The Year: Among her many accomplishments, DeShannon won a Grammy award for Song of the Year as co-author of “Bette Davis Eyes," which became a worldwide No. 1 single for Kim Carnes, in 1981.

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