The world is a wonderful place full of real music, but sometimes real music just doesn’t cut it. Sometimes you need the pure and totally uncut wonder that comes from the brief glimpse of a cartoon band. Maybe in a comic, maybe in an animated film, but a band that’s so larger than life, so powerful and absurd that they couldn’t possibly exist in the real world.
Okay, so maybe that’s a little hyperbolic. Maybe I just couldn’t figure out how to write an intro paragraph that justifies writing this much about cartoon bands. The moral of the story is that there are some excellent and ludicrous fictional bands out there, and some of the best are simply ink on paper. Let’s take a look at the ten best you can actually listen to, in no particular order.
The Hex Girls (Scooby-Doo)
The Hex Girls were first introduced in 1999’s direct to video Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost, a sequel of sorts to Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island. Like Zombie Island, The Witch’s Ghost continues the somewhat controversial trend of featuring real ghosts who go on to be banished by the lead signer and guitartist of the Hex Girls, Sally “Thorn” McKnight. In addition to Thorn, the band also includes the wonderfully named Dusk (drummer and backup singer) and Luna (keyboardist and backup singer).
The Hex Girls are notable for a handful of reasons in my memories, chiefly kinda looking like goth Powerpuff Girls, but more importantly they’re goth as hell and they save the day. I’d be shocked if a lot of young kids who would later grow up to be goths didn’t take at least some inspiration from The Hex Girls. The Hex Girls would later show up in 2003’s Scooby-Doo! and The Legend of The Vampire, which marked a return to the status quo of the real monsters being replaced by shady old white dudes, playing at the Vampire Rock Music Festival, which is an event I desperately wish was real so I could attend it.
Above you can watch the original version of “I’m A Hex Girl” which is probably their most notable song from their original appearances in the DTV series.
They’d also later go on to make an appearance in my all-time favorite Scooby show, Mystery Incorporated returning to play “I’m A Hex Girl” and be just a touch more goth. The Hex Girls could have easily faded into oblivion after their first DTV appearance, but they have something a lot of other fictional bands lack, and that’s staying power, baby.
Best Song: “I’m A Hex Girl”
Black Canary (Black Canary)
In 2015, DC started putting out one of the few superhero comics I’m still pulling every month, and that’s Brenden Fletcher (Batgirl) and Annie Wu’s Black Canary. Brilliantly recasting Dinah Lance (Black Canary) as the lead singer of an electropunk band, the comic is 50% rock and roll, 50% super-heroics and 100% fun. The comic is an action packed blend of ninjas, spies, and punk rock, the story moves pretty quick and features gorgeous artwork and a frantic energy that perfectly conveys the feel of the band. The band itself is composed of Dinah, and a backing group of enigmatic figures Lord Byron, Paloma, and the even more enigmatic Ditto. Each character has their own unique feel, look, and attitude, and the ensemble kicks as much ass as the art.
DC also made the interesting choice of setting up a Bandcamp for the band where you can check out producer Joseph Donovan and singer Michelle Bensimon (of Caveboy) putting out very real music as the fictional Black Canary band. While a newer entry into the world of fictional bands, the decision to put out a real EP for a comic band is a strong choice and the quality of the music gets them included on this list.
Best Song: Fish Out of Water
You can check out the first track on that EP, Fish Out of Water above.
Powerline (A Goofy Movie)
If you’ve seen 1995’s A Goofy Movie, I probably don’t need to explain Powerline’s inclusion on this list. Outside of the frankly emotionally devastating father son bonding / coming of age drama that the majority of the film is concerned with, Powerline is probably one of the most memorable parts of the film. On the last day of school, Goofy’s son Max decides he needs to shed the label of being a goof and come into his own, he and his friends PJ and Bobby hijack the auditorium and Max puts on an impromptu performance dressed as Powerline, who is apparently the coolest, most popular pop star in the Goof Troop universe.
It works and all the kids seem to love him now, but this performance spurs on the plot of the film and leads Goofy and Max to tear each other apart and eventually come together as they make their way across the country to go fishing at Lake Destiny in Idaho. Plans change as they learn to compromise and eventually the plan shifts to going to see Powerline in concert in L.A. They’re able to make it to the performance after quite a few hiccups, and the film comes to it’s climax at the concert, and Goofy and Max bond after accidentally getting roped into performing with him.
Powerline’s a cooler-than-cool blend of Michael Jackson and Prince and his electric stage show serving as a major plot point in a seminal 90s cartoon earns him a spot on this list.
Best Song: Eye to Eye
Dethklok is probably the most well developed cartoon band that has ever existed. I mean, they have four full blown albums AND an EP. Created by Brendon Small and Tommy Blacha, Dethklok has their own show, the afforementioned album, and they’ve even toured. In canon, Dethklok is composed of frontman Nathan Explosion, lead guitarist Skwisgaar Skwigelf, rhythm guitarist Toki Wartooth, Pickles the drummer, and William Murderface on bass. In reality the band is composed of Brendon Small on lead vocals, guitar, bass, and keyboard, with Gene Hoglan from Death, Testament, etc on drums.
Metalocalypse is a damn fine cartoon. Each character has their own character arc, catchphrases, and attitudes. Each episode is packed to the gills with blood, sex, comedy, death, and all things metal. And Dethklok the music isn’t just your average genre send up, the music is actually pretty excellent death metal. This combination of humor, character development, and way, way more music than just about any cartoon band out there earns Dethklok a spot on this list.
Best Song: I Ejaculate Fire
Josie and the Pussycats (Josie and the Pussycats)
Josie and The Pussycats started life as a series of comics put out by Archie Comics in the venerable year of 1963. The comic lived various lives as She’s Josie and Josie for a good 6 or 7 years before the Josie and The Pussycats story really begins, when Hanna-Barbera Productions decided they should try and replicate the formula laid down by another Archie Comics band cartoon, The Archies. Little known fact about The Archies is that not only was their cartoon getting great ratings, the fictional band depicted actually put out some music and their single “Sugar, Sugar” (yes, that Sugar, Sugar) was able to reach #1 on the Billboard music charts. Pretty crazy, right? You’d be even crazier not to try and get in on some of that action if you were in the industry, and Hanna-Barbera were no slouches with their effort. The project would indirectly lead to the creation of Scooby-Doo, but for our purposes we’ll stay focused on JATP.
The production company started piecing together a real life girl group to provide the voices and sing the songs, and the rest is history. An interesting side note is that the producer of the real life Josie and the Pussycats is responsible for the band’s fairly-progressive-for-1970s-cartoons makeup, as Hanna-Barbera were intending on recasting the band as an all white trio, but Danny Janssen put his foot down and refused to recast her. Eventually Hanna-Barbera relented and continued on with the comics version of the group made up of guitarist and lead singer Josie, smart (and black!) tambourine player Valerie, and “dumb blonde” drummer Melody. Josie and the Pussycats aired during the 1971-1972 season and was then retooled as the absolutely absurd Josie and The Pussycats In Space. The folks holding the rights to Josie were not ones to ignore a trend, which would continue in the early 2000s when there was an attempt to cash in on the success of the Spice Girls with a live action film that was pretty poorly received.
Despite the short run of their original series and the critical and box office failure of their live action incarnation, Josie and the Pussycats remain an influential fictional band, as well as a pop culture touchstone. Come on, like you don’t know the theme by heart.
Best Song: The theme song, which you can watch above.
The Misfits (Jem!)
The Misfits are a four piece girl group featured prominently in Jem and The Holograms. You might ask why The Holograms aren’t on this list. Well. The Misfits are the “bad girls”. The Misfits are “evil”. More importantly, The Misfits are way cooler than The Holograms. 1985’s Jem predates me by quite a bit, so unfortunately I don’t have first hand proof that everyone loved The Misfits more, but I mean, come on. They’re an evil girl group. That’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a late 80s cartoon.
My relationship with The Misfits is primarily based around Kelly Thompsons’ comic series that got started in 2015, and features some truly gorgeous art by Sophie Campbell. In both incarnations, The Misfits aren’t so much evil but simply more selfish and self-centered than The Holograms and more willing to go to absolutely insane extreme means to be the undisputed queens of girl group rock. The 2015 redesigns are more inline with what I want out of my evil girl groups, but I gotta say the originals have a pretty serious amount of charm and some damn catchy lyrics.
Being an evil girl group would probably be enough to get them a spot on the list, but The Misfits being so good at it definitely does.
Best Song: Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!
Mystik Spiral (Daria)
Mystik Spiral are terrible. That’s their charm. The band is somewhat prominently featured on Daria and is led and fronted by Trent Lane, Daria’s friend Jane’s brother. It is an alternative-rock grunge band of sorts that has been described in canon as “post-alterna-grunge” and is terrible. Just terrible. Everyone’s known someone in their lives that has a godawful band that they stick to anyway out of simple passion, and that’s Mystik Spiral to a tee.
What they lack in skill, songwriting ability, or stage presence they make up in being completely mismatched, nonsensical and being a completely over the top pastiche of terrible early 2000s grunge hangover music.
Best Song: Ow! My Face!
The Be-Sharps (The Simpsons)
The Be-Sharps is Homer Simpson’s barbershop quartet, originating in Season 5, Episode 1 of The Simpsons, appropriately titled “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet”. In one of the various versions of Homer’s life, we learn that Homer, Principal Skinner, Barney Gumble, and Apu Nahasapeemapetilon recorded a barbershop quartet album in 1985. Homer was inspired by the late 80s “Baby On Board” sign fad and wrote a song about it, forming the group and going on to play said song at the Statue of Liberty’s centennial in 1986, and eventually even won a Grammy Award for Outstanding Soul, Spoken Word, or Barbershop Album of the Year for their album Meet The Be Sharps.
The episode is definitely a ludicrous one, playing with the fluid chronology of the show and the ageless nature of the characters. Other versions of Homer’s pre The Simpsons past include him in various other musical groups, but The Be-Sharps Beatles parody makes this one stand out for me, as well as how much I legitimately enjoy their song Baby On Board. There are more than a handful of references to the Beatles, including the tearful rooftop performance, Abbey Road, Bigger Than Jesus, etc.
The humor and soul this episode has, as well as how catchy that fake song is earns them a spot on the list.
Best Song: Baby On Board
The Clash at Demonhead (Scott Pilgrim)
Taking their name from the very first NES game Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley ever played, The Clash at Demonhead is a Montreal based 3 piece band comprised of Scott’s ex Envy Adams, bassist Todd Ingram, and drummer Lynette Guycott. In addition to Envy being Scott’s ex, she’s also dating one of Ramona’s “Evil Exes”, the aforementioned Todd Ingram.
The band in the comics is a huge force in the Montreal music scene that serves as a backdrop for the series, and the band is unique in not having a guitarist. In the film adaptation of Scott Pilgrim, the music is provided by Metric, the lead singer of which (Emily Haines) serves as a very loose inspiration for Envy. Their performance in the film is of Metric’s Black Sheep, while Envy’s actress Brie Larson provides her own vocals. The band unfortunately broke up following Todd’s arrest at the hands of the Vegan Police, but The Clash at Demonhead are excellent villains, and their performance in the comics are electric and the performance in the film does an excellent job of carrying that feeling over so they’ve earned a slot on the list and in my heart.
Best Song: Black Sheep
The Beets (Doug)
The Beets are to my mind the ultimate cartoon band. Introduced early in the first season of Doug, the band is sort of a mash up of The Beatles and The Ramones. The English group is made up of front man and John Lennon pastiche Monroe Yoder, drummer Clyde “Chap” Lipman, keyboardist Wendy Nespah and enigmatic guitarist Flounder who vaguely resembled Peter Tork from The Monkees.
The band is featured prominently in many episodes as they’re Doug and Skeeters favorite band and had such hits as “Killer Tofu” and “I Need Mo’ Allowance”. Unfortunately there wasn’t ever a tie in album released, but you an actually find the songs I just listed on a recent Nickelodeon release called Songs From Bluffington, though you may need to pay a pretty penny to do so. The band had their own story arc over the show, and controversially they broke up once the show changed hands from Nickelodeon to Disney. This wasn’t the only complaint about the new show, as my primary one was his long sleeves, but it was a sticking point for many fans of the original show. In one of the final episodes of the show (“Doug’s Grand Band Plan” ), Doug manages to reunite the band in order to have them play the final school dance of the year. Unfortunately they immediately break up due to disagreements regarding a banana.
The Beets are practically the reason this list was created, so of course they get a spot on it.
Best Song: Killer Tofu
And there you have it, the 10 best cartoon bands of all time in this author’s humble opinion. What do you think? Was your favorite on the list? How wrong am I? Let me know down below in the comments section.