Some bands are larger than life, while others just aren’t living at all. Take Gorillaz for instance, the virtual band dreamed up by Blur songwriter Damon Albarn and Tank Girl illustrator Jamie Hewlett that have dominated music culture for over 15 years.
But Murdoc, Noodle, 2-D, and Russel of Gorillaz are hardly the first cartoon group to take the world by storm, so with the release of Humanz, we’ve compiled a timeline of nearly 60 years of cartoon bands that came before and after Gorillaz.
Alvin and the Chipmunks (1958)
Debuting back in 1958 with the Christmas single “The Chipmunk Song,” Alvin and the boys were trailblazers as far as fictional musicians go. The comically high-pitched record was so unlike anything else at the time that it actually landed the Chipmunks multiple Grammy’s, a gig on The Ed Sullivan Show (as hand puppets), and later a string of terrible late 2000s films.
The Archies (1968)
The story goes that after The Monkees turned down producer Jeff Barry’s “Sugar, Sugar,” Barry gave the song to a group he could better control: the cartoon lads from the Archie comics. The Archie Show was born in 1968 and blew up thanks to the bubblegum pop hit, leading to a handful of cartoon acts including Josie and the Pussycats and Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kids to follow suit.
Jem and the Holograms (1985)
A decade after The Archie Show, Hasbro saw the success of early MTV and opted to create their own music-centric cartoon. In Jem, young label owner Jerrica Benton transformed into the bedazzled virtual pop star using a totally ‘80s holographic computer. If nothing else, Jem beat Hannah Montanna to the “double life” shtick by two whole decades.
The California Raisins (1986)
The result of an unconventional marketing campaign for raisins, this claymation R&B group became household names plastered on lunch boxes and pajamas. The Raisins even released four studio albums during the height of their popularity before quickly fizzling out of the public conscience by 1990.
The late ‘90s marked a virtual band revival with Prozzäk and Gorillaz debuting at almost the exact same time. Fronted by the ever-depressed Simon and muscled-out Milo, Prozzäk was Canada’s animated gift to pop music thanks to hits like “Strange Disease” and “www.nevergetoveryou.”
Sonic Underground (1999)
In a last ditch effort to maintain relevancy post-Sega Genesis, Sega greenlit Sonic Underground, a cyberpunk cartoon where Sonic the Hedgehog and his sibling bandmates battled evil robots using the power of rock. The show is considered utter trash by even devout Sonic fans, but at least it had a ripping glam rock opening.
Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad (2004)
This anime followed the Japanese high school band Beck (named after their dog, not the American musician) on their quest to make it big in America. Beck’s rap rock music was performed by real world J-rock band, Beat Crusaders, and made its way west in the late 2000s through Much Music.
Dethklok (Metalocalypse) (2006)
Adult Swim’s Metalocalypse was both a love letter and parody of death metal culture. Dethklok, the bruting animated stars of the show, released four real world albums between 2007 and 2013, including a 21 song rock opera titled The Doomstar Requiem.