''Schoolhouse Rock,'' ''MAD Grooves,'' and Irvin Allen return from the past

By David Browne
June 28, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Cultural lampoons from the 1960s and ’70s

Kids today — they think they invented the idea that pop culture can be playfully self-referential. Ha! Anyone who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s delighted in MAD magazine’s arch cultural lampoons, saw rock music appropriated and turned into a math lesson on TV’s Schoolhouse Rock!, and were mesmerized by ’50s- inspired sci-fi television series like Lost in Space and Land of the Giants. Now, in the end-all of nostalgia, each of these experiences can be revisited on CD, with mixed results. MAD Grooves, for instance, collects parodies from various long-lost MAD albums. The targets include doo-wop, Dylan, and disco, but the music is low-rent, and the lyrics (which, like the tunes, were not written by MAD staffers) aren’t up to the magazine’s wonderfully warped, snotty standards.

Those hurrying brass sections! Those chilling theremin-style keyboards! The sensation of being chased by an underwater monster or caught in a meteor shower! It can only be The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen, a six-disc box that collects scores from producer Allen’s Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The Space and Voyage suites — by, among others, John Williams — are especially vibrant. Each disc can be bought separately, but the complete set includes a bonus CD with interviews and ultracool sound effects (”It is Dr. Smith who is a bubble headed booby!” intones the Robot).

In retrospect, the music on the four-disc set Schoolhouse Rock! doesn’t exactly rock. Instead, lessons on math, history, grammar, and budgeting your allowance are sung to ersatz cabaret. Yet some of the tunes are ingenious, like ”Three Is a Magic Number” (which grooves as hard as De La Soul’s 1989 remake) and ”Do the Circulation” (”Like your blood, you just start moving around!”). Whether these two-decade-old recordings will speak to today’s preteens is debatable, but kids of all ages should drool over the box’s packaging — a spiral notebook covered in fake denim. Start saving that allowance money! MAD Grooves: C- The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen: B+ Schoolhouse Rock!: B