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Music

How Ween inspired 'SpongeBob SquarePants'

Ween are one of the ultimate cult bands. Fusing punk with drug-fuelled experimentation, the band was formed in 1984, in New Hope, Pennsylvania, by Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo, AKA Gene and Dean Ween. Although they’re known as one of the most distinctive alternative rock bands of all time, they are so much more than that. 

Over their long and meandering career, they’ve cultivated an eclectic back catalogue that’s seen their foray into country, prog, psychedelia, metal, R&B and more. In addition to their refusal to be pigeonholed, Ween are also famous for their unique sense of humour, and many of their best-loved tracks are imbued with a surreal, often gross-out form of stoner humour. 

That’s the brilliant thing about Ween, not only are they capable of delivering electrifying music, but they’re more than capable of giving you one hell of a time, each comedic line at a time. Reflecting the kind of humour that Ween made their own, their name is a portmanteau of wuss and penis, which Gene and Deen came up with whilst still in high school. Elsewhere, Dean Ween would later explain that their early music “was designed to be obnoxious”.

It wouldn’t all be in the name of comedy, though. As the ’90s progressed, the band continued to hit their artistic stride, developing with each album. Ostensibly, their masterpiece is 1997’s The Mollusk, a dynamic concept album concerned with a dark nautical theme. Fusing psychedelia, prog and sea shanties, it’s a must-listen for any who have not heard it. Notably, both Ween members love the record, with Dean viewing it as his “favourite” they’ve ever made, a feeling shared by Gene. 

The Mollusk was one of the highlights of 1997, and even though it has been incredibly influential on everyone from Kurt Vile to Eric Andre, its most significant impact on popular culture came in the form of an iconic TV show. Believe it or not, The Mollusk directly inspired Stephen Hillenburg’s SpongeBob SquarePants

Prior to creating SpongeBob, Hillenburg was a marine biologist and had been fascinated with the ocean since he was a child. Upon hearing Ween’s underwater concept album, he was galvanised. Shortly after The Mollusk was released, he contacted the band, and discussed the basic ideas for the show with them, as well as requesting a song to be made for the show. The song became ‘Loop de Loop’, an instruction on how to tie shoelaces that featured in the episode ‘Your Shoe’s Untied’. 

If you want an indicator of just how much The Mollusk influenced SpongeBob, you need to listen to the album’s standout track ‘Mutilated Lips’. The modulated voice that sings the chorus of, “Mutilated lips give a kiss on the wrist / Of the worm-like tips of tentacles expanding”, is so close to being SpongeBob’s that the first time you hear it, you’re shocked thinking that Ween had copied SpongeBob. However, it was the other way round. SpongeBob didn’t air until 1999.

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After Hillenburg tragically passed away in 2018 owing to his long battle with ALS, Dean Ween posted a heartfelt tribute to the SpongeBob creator in a Facebook post that thanked Hillenburg for the times they’d shared together and the legacy of the TV show. 

Of ‘Loop de Loop’, Dean Ween wrote: “I got a call a long time ago from a marine biologist that said he wanted to start a cartoon inspired by Ween’s album The Mollusk. His name was Steve Hillenburg and his idea was to create a Bugs Bunny type cartoon on the bottom of the ocean floor. Ween had been on tour for a long year and we ended up recording and writing the song in one night at Greg Frey’s studio. It was to teach kids how to tie their shoes, and we wrote it really fast and mailed it back on X-mas eve and for once, they said ‘don’t change anything about its, it’s perfect.'”

Ween concluded: “It remains one of our proudest legacies, and we went on to do a lot of work together with SpongeBob, and the show went on to be the best cartoon of 2 generations. So this is for you Steve. The show wasn’t even on the air at the time mind you.”

Perhaps the most memorable convergence of Ween and SpongeBob came in 2004’s The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. One of The Mollusk‘s other most memorable tracks, ‘Ocean Man’, is played at the end of the film as the credits roll, a perfect way to close the book on that chapter of the life of the sentient sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea. 

It’s a marvellous story and one that only helps to reinforce the brilliance of both Ween and SpongeBob SquarePants

Listen to ‘Mutilated Lips’ below.