Exploring the Pop Culture Impact of Jaws In the 1970s

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During the summer of 1975, the blockbuster as we know it was born with the release of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. The film’s intense story — based on Peter Benchley’s best-seller about a Great White causing mayhem in a beach community — and the incredible lead performances from leads Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss (not to mention a certain mechanical shark named Bruce) struck a chord with audiences across the globe, ushering in a wave of Jaws-mania that returns annually at this time of year.

But you already knew all of this, didn’t you? What you may not have realized is just how far-reaching the impact of the film was upon pop culture. Sure, there was the merchandising and the three theatrical sequels, each of diminishing quality, but even removing these things from the equation the simple fact remains that the original Jaws ranks right alongside of Star Warsin terms of telling a captivating story that engaged the public’s imagination during an otherwise bleak era in which something that was pure entertainment could provide everyone with common ground and offer a brief respite from troubled times.

With that in mind, we’d look to present this overview of the ways both large and small that Jaws made a cultural impact in those days before George Lucas went and changed the game yet again. Sure, it made over $470,000,000 and won three Academy Awards, but did you realize that the flick inspired multiple disco records? And joke books? And TV sketches? And questionable merchandise? Probably not, so this is where your pals at Den of Geek come in, with this examination of the myriad ways in which Jaws got everyone into a pop culture frenzy in the late ’70s. One from which we, fortunately, will never recover.

The Jaws novel by Peter Benchley

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Originally published by Doubleday in 1974, the book differs from its cinematic counterpart somewhat in that the characters are portrayed much more sympathetically on screen. Still, the original work remains a compelling read all these years later, and is highly recommended to anyone who only has seen Spielberg’s take on the source material.

related article: How Jaws went from bestseller to blockbuster!

Saturday Night Live‘s “Land Shark” sketches

With Saturday Night Live debuting the same year as Jaws, it was something of a given that the then-new topical satire series would get around to spoofing the shark sensation during its inaugural season. No embeddable video is available, but you can watch the very first “Land Shark” sketch (taken from an episode hosted by Candice Bergen) here. Over the years, the Land Shark has popped up ten more times, most recently played by Bobby Moynihan, doing his best Chevy Chase impersonation. It just goes to prove that comedy is a, um, biting business.

The Carol Burnett Show‘s “Jowls” Parody

Also from 1975, is this hilarious sketch from The Carol Burnett Show that features, as usual, the cast cracking themselves up. Watching the ensemble break character was always a highlight of the series, and here they find themselves struggling at times make their way through a skit about a murderous “sewer shark” making its way through the pipes of an apartment building. (Harvey Korman is especially unhinged as a Quint-type Roto Rooter man, complete with a Robert Shaw-inspired accent).

What’s Happening!!, “Raj and the Older Woman”

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Airing in the second season of the fondly remembered late ’70s sitcom What’s Happening!!, the episode “Raj and the Older Woman” had well-meaning high school student Roger Thomas (the underrated Ernest Thomas) attempting to woo a girl several years his senior by taking her to a swanky Beverly Hills bistro. The very-unworldly Raj puts on his finest church clothes for the date, including a Jaws tie, which, as of the installment’s original airing in 1978, was already out of vogue. His younger sister Dee (Danielle Spencer) quickly takes notice of his offbeat choice in neckwear, resulting in what is arguably the greatest exchange in sitcom history:

“Raj, your tie is out”

“Thanks Dee!” (tucks tie back into suit jacket)

“You don’t understand, your tie is OUT!”

Dickie Goodman, “Mr. Jaws”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIzkq0VC_A8

The 1970s were a golden age for novelty songs, case in point, the Dr. Demento favorite “Mr. Jaws” from early sampling pioneer Dickie Goodman. It is an absolute testament to the popularity of Jaws that a mix of snippets from comtemporary hits by the likes of The Eagles and Olivia Newton John with a jokey narrative frame that would have been at home during the height of vaudeville could reach #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Then again, Jonathan Livingston Seagull was a best seller that decade and Qualuudes were around, so…

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Bryan McNaughton & His All News Orchestra, “Right from the Shark’s Jaws (The Jaws Interview)”

In case one Jaws break-in novelty record (so-called because of the use of segments of popular songs inserted in alongside of thematically linked narration) wasn’t enough for you, we offer this selection from Bryan McNaughton & His All News Orchestra that was released on Philadelphia’s Jamie Records in the summer of 1975. Using the same comedic formula that Dickie Goodman is credited with creating, this track offers a fine counterpoint to “Mr. Jaws…” unless you hate these sort of things, which is also an entirely acceptable opinion to have.

The Seaweeds, “You Swam Away with My Heart”

Sung from the POV of a man whose boyfriend was attacked by Jaws, this novelty anthem sounds like something that would play on a Jukebox in a John Waters movie (or as pre-show music at a Josie Cotton show). Released on the North Hollywood-based REV Records, this 45 is a treasure for lovers of musical psychotronica, a gay love song modeled after teen pop songs of the 1950s created to cash in on the shark fever of 1975. This song isn’t just great, it’s something of a miracle.

Lalo Schifrin, “Jaws”

Two years before Meco Monardo added a disco beat to a John Williams compositon with his chart-topping “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band,” Lalo Schifrin (composer of the theme to Mission: Impossible) gave the iconic music from Jaws with a Studio 54 restyling. The song reached the UK Top 20, which is lucky for fans of sexist interpretative dance, because it gave us the following performance by the unbelievably named Legs and Company that was taken from the venerable British charts show Top of the Pops:

Astonishingly enough, this wasn’t even remotely the only Jaws disco song…

The End, “Do The Jaws”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hcvrn7jiUos

We’ve never done “The Hustle” while suffering from a gaping head wound, but we imagine such an experience would be just as disorienting as listening to this quickie dancefloor cash-in.

If we are being completely honest though, we must admit that we’ve listened to this on a loop while composing this article. Feel free to judge us about this, we completely understand.

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Seven Seas, “Super Jaws”

There’s no snark to be had here, “Super Jaws” is an absolutely incredible piece of seventies funk. Information on the group Seven Seas is seemingly hard to come by, so our best guess is that they were session musicians thrown together quickly to record this in order to cash-in on Jaws mania. If this isn’t the case, feel free to correct us in the comments as we’d love to see what else this band is capable of. This is fantastic.

Jabberjaw

Jabberjaw was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon series in which the titular Great White sounded like Curly from The Three Stooges and spent his time getting mixed up in shitty Scooby Doo castoff adventures and playing drums in his pals’ rock band. Yeah, he sucks. (At least until the inevitable, Eisner-winning DC Comics relaunch in which he is an attorney for Greenpeace struggling with a pill addiction he developed after the mysterious death of his lover/confidant, Bubbles). And what with Jabberjaw having his heyday in the give no fucks 1970s and all, he wasn’t the only animated predator who came to Saturday mornings after Jaws-mania began running wild…

Misterjaw

Misterjaw was another shameless attempt to make the shark craze palpable for young viewers desperate to think of the ferocious fish as something more than the subject of their pool/bathtub/bedtime terrors from the period of 1975 to 1980. (Not that any of us aren’t still absolutely terrified of the undersea beasties). But this show differs from the animated garbage fire that is Jabberjaw for two reasons. First, it is really cleverly done. You see, Misterjaw is a lovable character who had the good fortune of being a recurring segment on The Pink Panther and Friends, a series created by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises — a company that never quite acquired the stink of repetition that plagued the output by its rivals of the era like Filmation and Hanna-Barbera.

Thanks to great voicework from Arte Johnson as Jabberjaw and Arnold Stang has his bowler hat-wearing sidekick Catfish and adventures that rarely overstayed their welcome, Misterjaw manages to have aged well. Something that can’t be said of many of his peers. The second difference between this toon and Jabberjaw is how it doesn’t even make any effort to disguise its inspiration — you hear elements of John Williams’ Jaws music at the start of every adventure, copyrights be dammed.

Orca

What Jaws did for sharks, 1977’s Orca did for killer whales…minus the records-shattering success, global adoration and inspiring of weirdo thinkpieces like this one some 40 years after the fact.

Çöl (The Desert)

The Turkish film Çöl (The Desert) features the, pun-intended, jaw-dropping above sequence that is one of the finest examples of Sharksploitation ever committed to celluloid. Fans of the Schifrin version of the Jaws theme, the day is yours.

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Deep Jaws

This 1976 sexploitation effort is not a porn parody of Jaws (keep reading for that) but rather a T&A-packed “comedy” that derives it’s name from Spielberg’s blockbuster and another hit of the era…the porn crossover sensation Deep Throat.

Gums

Subtle, Gums is not. But as you’ll quickly notice from the NSFW trailer embedded above, this 1976 porno/spoof of Jawsdoes possess enough sleazy charm to make it something of a psychotronic film, well, classic isn’t the word, but curiosity? Interesting failure? Complete waste of time? You figure it out, we’re still trying to process what the hell Brother Theodore is doing in this.

The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island

This feature is very deliberately crafted to focus on the ways pop culture was immediately impacted by Jaws after its release. This is why you won’t find any analysis of the Jaws 19 spoof from Back to the Future Part II, the Sharknado franchise, the insane novelization of Jaws: The Revenge, and so on. For these topics can, and, Editor-in-Chief willing, should have their own discussions on the site at another time.

Yet we have to discuss the mechanical elephant in the room, and that’s the sad, terrible fate of the once noble Bruce the Shark. He served us so well in Jaws and then became a staple at the Universal Theme Parks with his iconic spot on the backlot tour. Yet when the hard times hit Bruce, they were devastating. Because Bruce was there, he often found himself featured as a threat on shows that were shot at Universal’s Southern California studios. Having to try to kill Nancy Drew was bad enough, but then in 1981, Bruce made an soul-sucking cameo in The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island that had the famed team escape getting eaten by plunging basketballs into his mouth. As Suzanne Vega says, when heroes go down, they go down fast…

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The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, “The Shark That Ate Lobo”

The 1979-81 BJ and the Bear spin-off series The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo premiered with an episode in which Claude Akins’ TV lawman encountered the mechanical shark from Jaws. Neither YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion or Pornhub (see Rule 34) contain any footage from this televisual treat, which is a damn shame as cheesy late ’70s sharksploitation is the best sharksploitation.

Colt 45 Malt Liquor ad

Sharks and malt liquor. What can possibly go wrong?

The Rocky Horror Picture Show poster

When it came time to promote their September 1975 release of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 20th Century Fox ad execs decided to market their oddball musical with the tagline “a different set of jaws,” hoping that evoking the name of the year’s biggest hit would bring them some synergy. It failed miserably of course, with the film initally tanking at the box office. However, and for much different reasons, Rocky Horror has endured over the years just as much as Jaws. ‘Tis a funny thing, life.

Jaws Jokes

One of the beautiful things about capitalism is not only did one cash-in jokebook inspired by Jaws seem like a great idea, but multiple ones. Thus we also had…

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101 Shark Jokes

Sample joke: What time did Bruce the Shark go to the dentist? Tooth hurty. (Probably, we’ve never read this). See also…

Star Jaws

For what it’s worth, this is actually a Star Wars cash-in, although we guess it has “Jaws” in the title to reel in anyone who was still stuck on the previous blockbuster back in 77. This is done by The Spirit’s Will Eisner, and is really entertaining and well worth the dirt cheap price you can score it for at used bookstores and online. (“Star Jaws” was also the name of a wondrous issue of the old Spidey Super Stories comic in which Doctor Doom named a Death Star-type planet muncher just that). Which brings us to…

Spidey Super Stories

Because Marvel never met a pop culture touchstone it couldn’t try to make a buck off of.

Life with Archie

Et tu, Archie?

Action Comics

We’ll stop with the comics after this one as we know you have to get back to work at some point, but we really got to call out Superman on this one for looking panicked, as if a shark was any kind of threat to him. Just melt the fucker with your heat vision and call it a day. Dude, make an effort.

Jaws manga

Herald Books released this strange truncated manga adaptation of the film back in 1975. Scans of it are easily found online, but the actual book is nearly impossible to find (at least at any kind of reasonable price). Seeing how important Jaws is culturally and just how cool of an item this is in general, our wish is that some intrepid company figures out the rights to this and releases a translated version for the U.S. market.

Hook Jaw

Hook Jaw was a comic that made it its debut in the UK anthology Action in the late ’70s. Due to its extreme violence, it quickly became notorious and was forced to tone down its content. (Which is still pretty wild compared to the stuff the U.S. was putting out due to the retrictions of the Comics Code Authority). The original comics have been collected in a standalone volume, and the title was recently resurrected by Titan Comics, proving that you can’t keep a good sea murderer down.

Jaws Halloween costume

We live in an age where you can go to a store and buy Jaws Yahtzee. Take a second to think about how insane that is. Over 40 years later and the movie is still inspiring new product, so much so that websites like Jaws Collector exist to give you the skinny on all the merch available out there. If there’s one thing we hope you take away from this article it is just how far-reaching of a phenomenon Jaws was…and is. So we want to wrap things up by showing you the physical embodiment of the film impacting everyday life, this Jaws Halloween outfit that Collegeville Costumes released.

Jaws was a film that kids probably shouldn’t have seen, but it was so inescapable that most of the product released like games and toy sharks was geared towards children. A book about a killer shark becomes a movie, which in turn becomes a disco turn, which in turn becomes a joke book, which leads to a Halloween costume. The ultimate takeaway here is that sharks may be interesting, but capitalism is straight-up fascinating.