Sure, fans still get excited to hear “Right Here” and “It’s Been Awhile” at Staind shows. But the tune that really gets them going these days wasn’t written by the band and isn’t officially available anywhere — yet.
It’s “The Beetlejuice Song,” an inane ditty first performed on Howard Stern’s morning radio show by its namesake and regular guest, foul-mouthed “wack pack” superstar Beetlejuice. Composed by Stern song-parody writer Richard Christie, the tune in its original form featured the jolly dwarf busting out random lyrics like “This is beetle/ Is as bad as can/ He knows he’s the best/ He’s big and he’s strong/ And he knows he is badder/ And he knows what he gets/ He knows what he knows/ He knows what we have/ He knows what he gets/ It gets better.”
What inspired the lyrics? ” ’Cause I wanted to,” said a slightly belligerent Beet. “That’s why I did it. People are into it? Yeah.”
The Stern show is known for its musical parodies, from the equally catchy “Sulu Song,” which uses snatches of out-of-context quotes from former “Star Trek” star George Takei, to the many “Baba Booey” spoofs that goof on producer Gary Dell’abate.
But “The Beetlejuice Song” not only struck a chord with the show’s fans, it became an obsession for bands like Staind, Blues Traveler and Shinedown, who have all performed or recorded their own versions of the tune.
Staind are old friends of the Stern show, so when the band was arranging an appearance to promote its recent album, Chapter V, and the guys were asked if they’d record a version of the song, the answer was an immediate yes.
“If I’m home, the show’s on in my house every day,” said guitarist Mike Mushok. “They sent us a CD of the song, and I took Richard’s arrangement and wrote some different music to it to give it a different feel.” In the group’s hands, the somewhat exuberant anthem became a meditative, angsty dirge, tapping into the dwarf’s darker side.
The band only played the song two or three times before performing it live on Stern’s show, and, despite the glum acoustic take, Mushok hopes it’s a step toward debunking the band’s dour image. “Everyone looks at our band as this dark, brooding, depressed thing, and it’s just not what it is,” said Mushok. “I mean, to have Aaron [Lewis] sing the lines, ’This is Beetle, I’m as bad as can!’ As a song I didn’t think much of it, but to me it’s more about what Beetle is saying and how it doesn’t make much sense.”
Asked to critique the Staind cover, Beetle said, “They got their own version. That’s them.”
Mushok said in markets where Stern’s show is big, the band is getting a ton of requests for the song, which it usually plays a verse or two of to appease fans. Staind were so pleased with the results that they’re going to include the tune on a limited-edition version of Chapter V due out later this year along with a DVD documentary about the period leading up to the album’s release. And if you’re lucky, someday Mushok might bust out the crunching, heavy metal version he sketched out but never finished.
Just a few weeks after Staind did their thing, Stern’s people reached out to Blues Traveler when the band was coming in to promote its new album, Bastardos! But unlike Mushok, Blues Traveler guitarist Chan Kinchla, father of two, is not a frequent listener, so he was not familiar with the song.
“I’d never heard it, but we’re down to do anything with Howard, so we took an hour before the show and hashed out a few ideas,” Kinchla said of the group’s funky pop version. “We wanted to totally f— it up and not copy the song exactly.”
Since performing the song on the show, Kinchla said Blues Traveler have also been besieged with requests to play it during their shows, but the group has resisted — so far. “The chord progressions are pretty hip,” he said. “Someone knew what they were doing. I think Beetle could make this a full-time career. He should do an album, and we’ll be on the tribute album. I mean, the music’s not half bad, and his delivery is the genius of Beetle.” Richard Christie said he was not allowed to discuss the song without clearance from Stern’s agent, who did not return calls for comment.
Kinchla says that when Blues Traveler performed the song on Stern’s show they couldn’t tell if Beetle was excited about their version or not. “When you’re an artist like Beetle,” he said, “you can’t be expected to focus on what else is going on.”
Despite the fact that he was in the studio the day BT performed his autobiographical ditty, Beetle said he was unaware of it. “Blues Traveler version? Never heard it,” said Beetle. “I wish I would put out a record, but I don’t know about that.” With a second, more psychedelic song under his belt called “I Don’t Know,” which features guitar from Mountain’s Leslie West, though, Beetle is quickly building a catalog of tunes.
He’s recently jammed with the Smut Peddlers and performed with the rap duo Minlus & McCracken, and he said he listens to a lot of music. But, sadly, even though he is secure about his talent, he said he wasn’t sure about putting out a full-length album. “Money? Yeah I own it. I do all the singing I want,” he said. “If you would insist, yeah, I put out a record. I don’t care what they call it. Do I look like I care?”