The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been many things, but almost always, they have been blatantly, cheerfully, crassly commercial. Which means that they have been used, again and again, to try and create a cheery pop hit out of nothing more than children associating a song with reptiles and sprinkling the word turtle liberally throughout the lyrics. So how did they fare, commercially and artistically?
Turtle Jam by Psychedelic Dust featuring Loose Bruce
Psychedelic Dust and the questionably named Loose Bruce appear to have taken advantage of the fact that nobody was paying attention at this point, as long as the word “turtle” was in the song, and put ’90s pop rap, stereotypical Asian music cues, the hook from Jungle Boogie, vocoders, and a whole host of pop culture shout-outs in a blender to pop out an exceptionally strange song. Find us another song ostensibly aimed at children that references Wilson Pickett, Frankie Lymon, Kojak, and Baretta. They even throw in a riff on OPP at one point.
So they’re at the top just for sheer ballsiness. The song isn’t good, but it’s also the only one I made it all the way through on the first try.
Shell Shock by Gym Class Heroes
I’m not putting this one second due to technical reasons. It’s probably actually the most focused and polished song out of any on this list, actually. The main problem is that Gym Class Heroes inadvertently created the hip-hop song the Bond movies never asked for. Seriously, the guitar progression, the song’s key, the use of strings, all of it is straight out of the John Barry playbook, if John Barry were writing hip-hop. I don’t know if that’s a compliment, but hey, it’s good enough for second place.
T.U.R.T.L.E. Power by Partners In Kryme
This is, by far, the most successful Turtles song, reaching #13 in the US, and #1 in the UK. Then again, this was a #1 hit in the UK, too. British taste kind of went into the crapper after the Beatles.
It is perhaps telling that Partners In Kryme never released an actual album, and their only other relevant contribution to music history is a song on the soundtrack to that seminal ’90s classic Cool As Ice. Honestly, the most damning thing I can say about this track is that I probably listened to the soundtrack a thousand times as a kid, and I really thought 9.95 by Spunkadelic was the theme song to the movie.
On a related note, who the hell names their band “Spunkadelic?”
Ninja Rap by Vanilla Ice
Amazingly, this did not chart, despite everybody who was between five and nine in 1991 knowing it backwards and forwards. It doesn’t appear to have actually been released as a single, although it does have the honor of inspiring a rather… dedicated fan page.
Anyway, this is, if anything, even blander, right down to the wheezily annoying beat. Mostly this song exists to be the subject of hilarious mac n’ cheese ads and to be overanalyzed by graduate students in papers like “Ninjas Vs. Gangstas: Cultural Appropriation and Racial Coding In Late Twentieth Century Popular Music.” I personally guarantee there’s some doctoral candidate writing that as we speak. But that said, and as bad as this is, there’s one Turtles song that’s so, so much worse.
Shell Shocked by Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa, and Ty Dolla $ign and featuring Kill The Noise & Madsonik
Yeah, we’re with Vanilla Ice on this one, sadly. Burnsy summed it up pretty well when he said the song should have been titled “Paycheck.” Not that I expected the lyrics to be brilliant, but those are even more lazy than any other song on this list, and we’re talking about shameless manufactured pop here. There’s a real ceiling to the quality here that five guys should be able to hit and instead they bust out the backhoe and start digging to find it.
And they did. Congratulations to those involved; they have finally found a nadir for manufactured pop “product” lower than Vanilla Ice. Bravo. Now stop it!