…It’s a ‘70s pop/soul classic whose subject is the antithesis of your average superhero: a “short fat guy” with some amazing skills of his own.
Anyone who’s already been blown away by the Marvel Comics epic production Avengers: Infinity War knows the important role that the fictional superhero team the Guardians of the Galaxy play in trying to prevent the evil Thanos, the Avengers’ most powerful enemy yet, from attaining the gauntlet of six infinity stones, which would make his power to control the universe insurmountable.
And if you’ve seen either of the two pure Guardians of the Galaxy films (from 2014 and 2017), then you’re familiar with the Guardians’ leader Peter Quill (played by actor Chris Pratt), whose alter-ego is Star-Lord, the half-human, half-celestial being who was kidnapped from Earth at a young age and raised to his adulthood by aliens.
You also know, as the back story goes, that Quill’s only connection to Earth and the home and mother he once knew is a collection of cassette mix-tapes of pop songs from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s given to the hero by his mom before she died in the 1980s. Invariably, he plays these old songs on a trusty old Sony Walkman (yeah, some 30 years later it still works) as a reminder of his past.
Typically a song from one of those cassette tapes usually marks his team’s entrance in the films and, in the case of the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies, entire soundtracks were made of the old-school tunes played on Quill’s ancient listening device.
Quill/Star-Lord plays only one song in the current Avengers flick, though, as the Guardians make their initial screen appearance. Given the rapid pace of the movie’s story line and the multitude of other characters around which the plot is built and with whom the Guardians had to share screen time, it’s no surprise that only one tune made the cut.
What is surprising is which one made it.
For this movie, the producers chose “The Rubberband Man,” a fun old 1976 hit tune by the legendary Detroit-based band The Spinners, to introduce the Guardians.
“The Rubberband Man” is a bouncy dance-pop smash whose premise was built around a man who was an entertainer of some sort, although it was never clear whether he was a dancer or a musician, judging either by the “sounds this cat put down” or the ability to “stretch a (rubber) band between his toes,” as the lyrics went. One thing was certain, he was “guaranteed to blow your mind so high you won’t come down,” according to the song’s opening verse.
The tune was written by a couple of legendary R&B songwriters Thom Bell and the late Linda Creed who, along with famed label-owner/record producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, created the historic Philly Soul sound. It was a unique, sophisticated soul sound rife with lush swirling strings, punctuating horn blasts, soft-danceable drum patterns, classic harmonic vocals and irresistibly catchy melodies, all of which were combined to distinguish their classic tunes from those of the other artists and producers of their day.
Under the publishing arm of Mighty Three Music during the 1970s and ‘80s, writers/producers Bell, Gamble and Huff either independently or collectively crafted dozens of classic gold and platinum records for the likes of the O’Jays, Stylistics, Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, The Jones Girls, Patti LaBelle, the Jacksons, MFSB and the Spinners.
In this case, as legend has it, Bell had written the upbeat “Rubberband Man” to cheer up his young son who was depressed about his weight at the time. Originally called “The Fat Man,” Bell changed it to “The Rubberband Man” to make it less offensive (although it still contained that line about a “short fat guy”).
And though “The Rubberband Man” was clearly a Bell production and the Spinners were then recording for the Atlantic Records label, it was Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International label’s house band MFSB – famous for their Soul Train theme song, “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” – who performed all the music for the memorable track.
“The Rubberband Man” was a huge smash right out of the box for the Spinners who’d already mined several gold singles and albums over the previous four years thanks to their affiliation with Bell. It was the group’s last of six No. 1 singles on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (then called Hot Soul Singles) and was a runner-up hit on the Hot 100 pop list as well (second only to Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night” for three weeks in December of 1976).
It was also the last hit song by the Spinners in its classic early-to-mid-1970s lineup and the last to feature legendary singer Philippé “Soul” Wynne on lead vocals. Buoyed in its full 7:22 length by a memorable five-minute-plus vamp in which Wynne alternately sang the chorus and ad-libbed the bridge as only he could do it, the song ultimately became his signature tune, which was ironic considering it was essentially his swan song with the band he’d helped propel to superstar status.
Wynne left The Spinners after one more album following the success of “The Rubberband Man” and pursued a solo career that included a brief stint with George Clinton’s band Funkadelic on their 1979 No. 1 soul smash “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” in which Wynne’s trademark ad-libbing was prominently featured. Sadly, Wynne died in 1984 after collapsing on stage during a nightclub performance in Oakland. He was just 43.
Few songs get to be the sole, non-scored tune in a blockbuster superhero movie the magnitude of those in the Avengers franchise. Certainly “The Rubberband Man” has never enjoyed as high-profile a plug as it received by its inclusion in this year’s Avengers: Infinity War – at least not since it initially scaled the American charts back in late 1976 and early ‘77.
Its new 2018 exposure recently led to a surge in song streams and downloads and a brief stint on Billboard’s R&B Digital Sales and R&B/Hip-Hop Digital Sales charts, where it ranked No. 8 and No. 20, respectively.
That’s not bad for a 42-year-old disco song about a short fat guy stretching a rubber band between his toes.
As the Avengers movie is on track to become possibly the highest-grossing film of all-time (it’s already fifth with over $1.6B in gross ticket sales), one could certainly do worse than the fate that has befallen “The Rubberband Man,” a fun old tune that reflects some very good musical taste by one of the film’s pivotal characters (who, btw, does some pretty impressive lip-syncing of Wynne’s ad-libbed parts in that Guardians’ introductory scene).
Judging by favorable audience reactions during early screenings of the film, people have really enjoyed that scene as a whole new generation of moviegoers are exposed to some great music by a legendary soul group in the process.
Now if only Wynne and the other deceased members of the Spinners’ classic ‘70s lineup were around to enjoy the “Rubberband Man’s” resurrection as well, I’m sure they’d be thrilled.
If you haven’t seen it already, then “hey y’all prepare yourself for The Rubberband Man” and the best song placement in a Marvel Comics film yet!
(Note: Harvey Fambrough is the only surviving original member of the Spinners.)