Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

The Pop Heard Round the World: Kingsley’s “Popcorn” and Its Many Versions

Share this:

popcorn mosaic

Say what you want about the song “Popcorn”, it’s an amazing pop culture artifact if only for its longevity and international success. The song was a hit literally around the world from Ireland to the Ukraine to Taiwan. Unfortunately for the composer, Gershon Kingley, most of bands covering the song, at home and abroad, never gave him a nickel in royalties. “Popcorn” was simply covered too much and crossed too many borders to keep track of!

It has historical significance since it was one of the first examples of a successful synth pop song. Kingsley wrote it in a whopping 30 seconds, and put it on an album Music To Moog By (1969), which easily could have gone unnoticed along with so many other “Music to (fill in the blank)” albums of its ilk..

Upon its release in 1972 by Hot Butter, literally hundreds of cover versions sprouted up around the globe. The song has been used in a variety of media: several films [see Shriek of the Mutilated (1974)], the Digger video game in 1983, a Pampers commercial in 2001, etc.

 

kingsley student

Kingley is in the front row (the guy with girl legs)

But before we have a look at the cornucopia of cover versions – What about the song’s composer?  Kingsly was born in Berlin but fled to Palestine (in an area that would later become Israel) with the rise of Naziism and worked on a kibbutz. He taught himself piano and came to America to attend Juliard. When he was declined, Kingsly instead graduated with a degree in music from the L.A. Conservatory of Music (shown above).

It wasn’t long before Kingsley hit it big on Broadway. He was directing and was making waves as a composer for the theater, particularly the Jewish productions. But the real history begins when Kingsley starts messing around with the moog and putting together some experimental sounds. The 1966 album The In Sound from Way Out contained the typical bachelor pad hi-fi space-age weirdness.

A press release from Vanguard Records:

It’s electronic sound of pop music from the future. A sample of the strange new pleasure of a world which belongs to the space age. A sample of the electronic “Au Go Go” that might be heard soon from the juke boxes at the interplanetary way stations where space ships make their rest stops.

 

Kingsley, the proud composer of a global phenomenom

Kingsley, the proud composer of a global phenomenon

After Popcorn (A.P.), Madison Avenue was chomping at the bit to get Kingsley’s sounds into their commercials. Soon, he was composing sounds for everybody from Coca-Cola to Hanes stockings to Aquanet. Riding high on the subsequent success of “Popcorn”, Kingsley then began to move away from the moog. He’d made space age pop accessible to the masses, and now was moving on to greener pastures in standard classical music.

Of interesting note to Flashbak readers: Kingsley composed the soundtrack for Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974) and the theme music for the game show Jokers Wild.  The Joker’s Wild theme music was replaced in 1974 by an Alan Thicke composition called “Joker’s Jive”. Yes, that’s right, we just connected the dots from a 1930’s Palestinian kibbutz to the dad on Growing Pains. You can thank me later.   On with the Popcorn covers:

 

The Hot Butter Version (1972)

Note that for versions of the song which have live performances (however awful they may be) I’ve included the video.  For where there is audio only versions on YouTube, I’ve included the link.

 Apollo 100’s Version (1972)

The Music Sweepers’ Version (1972)

Fausto Papetti’s Version (1972)

Anarchic System’s Version (1972)

The Fantastic Pikes’ Version (1972)

Los Pekenikes’ Version (Called “Palomitas de Maiz” = Popcorn) (1972)

Mr. K’s Version (1972)

Yvette Horner’s Version (1972) – be prepared for accordion dynamite

La Strana Società’s Version (1972)

The James Last Version (1974)

Jacques Perrot’s Version (1972)

 Byron Lee & the Dragoneers Version (1973) from the album Reggae Round the World (!)

Electric Coconut’s Version (1973)

Pedro and His Hammond Organ’s Version (1973)

Die Travellers’ Version (1973) – A German cover version – with lyrics!

Omar Khorshid’s Version (1974) – from the album Belly Dance with Omar Khorshid & His Magic Guitar Volume 3

Pattie Brooks’ Version (1977) – finally, a disco version

Charles Barlow and His Orchestra’s Version (1977) – a Samba version

Ricky King’s Version (1978) – a guitar version

Well, that was twenty versions, and we could probably go on all day.  However, this song has a way of eating at your sanity upon repeated listening.  So, we’ll end here to preserve the last shreds of mental health- but, trust me, there are many, many, more.

  • I still prefer Kingsley’s original from 1969 and that’s not me being old and curmudgeonly about cover versions. Kingsley’s has an ethereal quality to it and is quite multi-layered whereas Hot Butter’s and the rest stress the rhythmic tempo more. An honourable mention to the version used on the 80s arcade game “Pengo”.

  • Liz Cooper

    The spazzy Hot Butter dance video made my day! Thanks for posting it!

  • Gordon

    “Many, many more” – well I should say SO! The Muppets: Pöpcørn http://youtu.be/B7UmUX68KtE