2018 was a year that cried out for a simple, effervescent throwback tune we could use to forget our present troubles. No one could have guessed we’d find it in a movie that was all about the successful eradication of 50 percent of humanity.
But that’s exactly what happened this May when Avengers: Infinity War topped the movie charts, and sent a 42-year-old track bouncing up the music charts in its wake. With Infinity War newly available on Netflix as of last week, we’re just a-movin’ and a-groovin’ to it all over again.
The track, of course, is “Rubberband Man” by the Detroit Spinners (full name, please, lest you confuse them with a contemporary British folk group). It’s in the movie for less than 30 seconds, but leaves a hell of an impression — partly because its 1970s bass-twanging intro perfectly announces the Guardians of the Galaxy, but mostly because Chris Pratt so utterly throws himself into TikTok-like lip syncing.
Some 1.2 million music streamers clicked on the song in the week of Infinity War‘s release, a 700 percent rise on the previous week. At the same time, even without it being on the movie’s official soundtrack, enough people bought “Rubberband” to send it bouncing back onto the Billboard R&B sales charts.
And what a throwback it is, in every sense. Right from the opening line’s inclusion of two objects we rarely use any more — “hand me down my walking cane, hand me down my hat” — the lyrics hearken back to another time, a pre-internet age when we were more easily and joyously amused.
“Rubberband” could not be written today. No one just walks out the door to “catch the latest styles” without heading to Ticketmaster, cursing the “convenience” fee, and obsessively researching the venue on Yelp. No one unironically says a show is “guaranteed to blow your mind.” We’re that much harder to please these days.
The whole song, a word-of-mouth description of a stage act, would be reduced to a tweet and preempted by a viral video on YouTube. Who gets this excited about a guy stretching a rubber band between his toes and his nose, in an age when we can easily see snowboarders causing avalanches and dogs riding ponies, every day?
Perhaps you too became obsessed with this earworm of a late-era Motown hit this year. Perhaps you also searched and all-too-easily discovered the band’s peerless performance on The Midnight Special in 1976, in which singer Philippé Wynne single-handedly justifies the existence of mutton chops and flared pants.
Going further down the rabbit hole, passing by the ill-advised Electric Six cover version from 2010, you may have also discovered this gem: Lynda Carter, the original on-screen Wonder Woman, performed this version of “Rubberband Man” on The Muppet Show in 1980. (Your move, Gal Gadot.)
And so, improbably, singing “Rubberband Man” turns out to be one of the very few things that has united superheroes from the Marvel and DC Comics universes. If only it could unite the fractious tribes that follow them.
In a world torn apart this year by fights between fandoms — musical, movie, and political fandoms included — it was also clear what kind of thing we need to connect us so that society stretches but doesn’t break. More rubberbands, man.