The members of Hanson are good Christian lads, but last week they officially started on a mission from God.
On Thursday, the fraternal trio debuted a video for its new single, “Thinking ’Bout Somethin’,” that pays loving tribute to the Ray Charles scene in one of Chicago’s landmark movies, “The Blues Brothers.”
The video — which re-creates the interior of Ray’s Music Exchange and features more than 300 people dancing in the street — was filmed not on location in Chicago but in Hanson’s hometown of Tulsa, Okla.
And, eldest brother Isaac Hanson is eager to impart, this is not tongue-in-cheek.
“We want people to know that we’re not making fun of this movie,” he said Friday during a telephone chat from Hanson HQ in Tulsa. “This is not a parody. This is not us using some iconic film as a way to make us look hip. You’ve gotta understand, we love this movie. This all comes from the fact that this movie made us want to dance.”
That makes sense given that even their first breakout hit “MMMBop” was steeped in the same ’60s pop grooves that have fueled each album in the 13 years since. In concert, they frequently cover Charles, the Spencer Davis Group and many chestnuts in between. Their first tour featured several songs from “The Blues Brothers.”
The idea for the video, Isaac explained, came almost on a whim early this year while trying to wrap production on the band’s new album, “Shout It Out,” due for release on June 8.
The brothers — guitarist Isaac, singer-pianist Taylor and drummer Zac — dithered about whether to add horns to the song “Thinking ’Bout Somethin’.” When they re-entered the studio to record two extra songs, they seized the opportunity to bring in a horn section, working with noted arranger Jerry Hey (Michael Jackson, Earth Wind & Fire). The horn players were booked for two songs and wound up playing for seven. And in the middle of this last-minute creative explosion, a crazy idea came to mind.
“The thing that kicked it over the edge was when Taylor came in and dialed up the ‘Blues Brothers’ scene on YouTube,” Isaac said. In the film, Charles performs the jumpy tune “Shake Your Tail Feather” while Jake and Elwood (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) dance. “He presses play on our song, then plays the video clip on mute. Everyone’s jaws dropped. It synced up almost perfectly. It totally worked. We looked at each other and said, ‘We have to do this.’ But we also thought, ‘We also have to make it our own.’”
The Ray Charles scene in “The Blues Brothers”
Kelly Kerr, the director of photography for the video, was one of those left with his jaw hanging. “We stood there watching the movie and hearing the song — it was pretty cool,” he said Friday. “The beats-per-minute were almost identical. And I thought, ‘We’re gonna replicate this. … We got real close to the movie but also took some liberties with it, as well. Then you throw in ‘Weird Al,’ and it takes it to another level.”
Indeed, that’s “Weird Al” Yankovic as the tambourine player. (Many moons ago, Yankovic filmed his now cult-classic movie “UHF” in Tulsa.)
So the crew set about getting things as close to the “Blues Brothers” scene as they could without making it shot-for-shot from the 1980 movie, Isaac said. They dressed similarly, not exact copies. They called in set designers to re-create the interior of Ray’s Music Exchange inside the Hanson rehearsal space in Tulsa.
Then they determined that Greenwood Avenue, a historic Tulsa street that was once one of America’s wealthiest African-American business centers, looked roughly like the similarly historic Chicago streets used in the film. They choreographed and filmed a dance sequence there on March 6, shutting down traffic so hundreds of extras and fan club members could shake their tail feathers for Kerr’s cameras.
“We wanted it to be identifiable, but not a cartoon, not a full-on spoof. This is a heartfelt homage,” Isaac said.
“I just hope that if John Landis or Dan Aykroyd see it, or the guys in that band, they’ll instantly be able to see how much we love what they created.”
Isaac said he and his brothers have never seen the original Chicago sites used in the making of “The Blues Brothers.” A developer announced plans in February to demolish the old Dixie Square Mall where a car chase was filmed for the movie.
The video for “Thinking ’Bout Somethin’” is now making the rounds online. The single itself becomes available April 27 via iTunes.