Long before The O.C., another TV show had a killer soundtrack.
Years before mother and daughter Gilmore discussed the Arcade Fire or Orange County teens scored Modest Mouse tickets, there was Pete. And Pete. And their adventures, set to a soundtrack of wist-ful indie pop that matched the show's constant quirkiness.
The Adventures of Pete & Pete debuted on Nickelodeon in 1993, after evolving Simpsons-like from a series of one-minute spots and holiday specials. The first season is finally available on DVD, and it's a fresh reintroduction to the show's odd yet familiar characters.
Of the two redheaded Wrigley brothers with the same name, Big Pete narrates the show with a teenager's breathless exaggeration. Little Pete, in his red-checkered hunter's cap, is a quiet schemer. Dad dubs himself "King of the Road," while Mom has a metal plate in her head that picks up radio signals.
But the most memorable thing about Pete & Pete might be the rock band playing in the Wrigleys' front lawn. It's Polaris, formerly known as Miracle Legion, kicking out their fey, jaunting "Hey Sandy" during the opening credits. A music station on the DVD features six Polaris songs, which can also be found on the show's 1999 soundtrack CD.
Music is everywhere on the show. In one episode Little Pete starts a band just to recreate a song stuck in his head. Tunes by Yo La Tengo and the Magnetic Fields were worked in alongside cameos from Michael Stipe, the B-52's Kate Pierson, Juliana Hatfield and, in a role that lasted two seasons, Iggy Pop.
St. Louis law school student Mike Appelstein fell into an enviable position back in 1993, when he got to make music suggestions for the show via that charming relic, the mixtape.
Then a VH1 employee living in New York City, Appelstein was introduced to Pete creators Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi through his roommate, who worked at Nickelodeon. Appelstein's indie cred came from his widely adored zines Writer's Block and Caught in Flux. "[McRobb] said he was looking for music that was poppy but kind of bittersweet," says Appelstein. "I made a couple of tapes for two seasons, so it was really only a year or so. But how cool was it to turn on Pete & Pete and hear a Fat Tulips song?"
Thanks to Appelstein, we also hear Velocity Girl, Racecar, the Apples in Stereo and bands from the New Zealand label Flying Nun. On the DVD commentary McRobb and Viscardi explain how they wanted more obscure bands after balking at the price tag of a Pixies song. They also reveal that the show's fictional town of Wellsville was named after a song by the Embarrassment.
"It's not unusual to hear the Shins in a McDonald's commercial now," says Appelstein. "But it really wasn't anything you'd expect back then."
Appelstein's favorite Pete & Pete episode is the one in which Luscious Jackson play at the school dance, though he can't take credit for arranging that.
"Will was on top of things," says Appelstein. "He was a big Velocity Girl fan. And I saw him at a Tall Dwarfs show. So he knew that stuff. Apparently now Big Pete is a big indie rock fan too. People see him at shows."
The Adventures of Pete & Pete: Season One, $26.99
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