Funky Town

The Cast: Funky Town (The Store), Lipps Inc. (creators of Funkytown), Myself (a child).

When a child asks you a question. Things get told—out loud.

So, a few days ago, my wife and I took my two youngest children to get their wisdom teeth removed. Along the way, the song Funkytown began to play on the radio. That lead to the question that lead to the magnificent telling of the grand tale of a store that was so amazing that it had its own song: Funky Town.

As already mentioned, I don’t think like most people. And if this is how I operate as an adult, you can imagine what I might have been like as a child. Connections between this and that were all over the place. Comments sometimes made, made NO sense—to me. So, you may understand why I thought the 1979 hit song Funkytown would be about the greatest store in the world: Funky Town. And if you don’t, well then, I’ll just have to explain it to you. Which, really is the reason why I wrote this story—to explain it to you. So now, I’m wasting your time by trying to explain that I’m trying to explain about what I was explaining about. We should probably just move forward now.

Yes, that would be best.

Alright. My youngest daughter had at this point asked how a song on the radio and an old store in another state are connected. My response, “Because the song is asking for a ride to the store.” At least that’s the way I understood it. I was six, gimme a break.

Rimrock Mall, Billings, Montana. That was the place to be. That was the place to find the coolest stuff. And to a six-year-old, it was massive! Rimrock had it all! I only really cared about a few shops: Aladdin’s Castle (the video arcade—a seedy, dark den of teen sweat and angst, filled with electric delights all of which only cost you 25), a corner booth candy shop where all the delights were on display to entice and draw you in (my family would regularly stop and get a little bag of freshly caught Sweedish Fish—to this day I cannot eat them and not think of that store, who’s name I have forgotten… okay it was Morrows*), and finally Funky Town (the grand-daddy of all toys stores—of all stores).

The candy shop was great, but I was six, and as such didn’t usually have money to spend there. And if I did have money I would be reminded that if I spent it there I wouldn’t have it for anything else I might want to buy (Funky Town… curses! no fish today). And Aladdin’s Castle was the greatest arcade. It was even accessed at an angle. If you weren’t paying attention to the storefronts you might walk right past it (I was six, the signs were like 30 feet above my head—I said “like”, it’s bad estimation, but need I remind you that I was six!).

You can see part of the Aladdin’s Castle arcade sign in the upper-right corner.
Photo by Bob Zellar, Billings Gazette Staff.
Video gamers play Galaga at Aladdin’s Castle, September 4, 1984.
Photo by Larry Mayer, Billings Gazette file photo.

Anyway, all that aside, my main goal, my destination of destinations was always Funky Town. This store had it all! It was the greatest toy store of all! Time!

Sure there were other toy stores that may have been bigger (Toy’s R Us), and there may have been some with larger selections of some products (Toy’s R Us), but for a mall—and a 6-year-old in 1980—there was no place greater in all the world—save Santa’s (you know, at the North Pole).

Funky Town had it all!

Yes, Funky Town had it all! There was enough of a variety of the wide selection to keep any child—and most adults—occupied and happy. There were puzzles, coloring books, crayons, dolls, action figures, electronics, medieval swords and shields, Star Wars, Thundercats, He-Man, jacks, bouncy balls, paddle-ball, basketballs, footballs, baseballs and bats and gloves, sidewalk chalk, whoopie-cushions, hula-hoops, jump ropes, giant novelty foam cowboy hats (they were big—literally—in the 80s’), and so much more! Like I said, the selection/variations were limited, but the variety… You couldn’t beat Funky Town.

Richard Pryor, as Gus Gorman, in Superman III (Warner Bros. Pictures, 1983), wearing a giant novelty foam cowboy hat.

With all that background information now available to you, reader, we now add the song Funkytown by Lipps Inc. (released in 1979, and again in 1980). In the song they sing:

Gotta make a move to a town that’s right for me
Town to keep me movin’
Keep me groovin’ with some energy

Well, I talk about it, talk about it
Talk about it, talk about it
Talk about, talk about
Talk about movin’

Gotta move on
Gotta move on
Gotta move on

Won’t you take me to
Won’t you take me to
Won’t you take me to
Won’t you take me to

At 6-years-old I did have typical childhood ignorance. Childhood innocence. But I still understood that some music is metaphorical and not always literal. And I didn’t know that it was “Funkytown”, not “Funky Town”. To the human ear, they sound. Exactly. The same. (the same!) How was I supposed to know? I was 6! My biggest priority was catching Inspector Gadget on T.V. after school or hoping that Super Grover would make an appearance on Sesame Street.

Well, as a result of that mental connection, it wasn’t until years later, that I would learn that the song was not about some lady that wanted to get the same super cool toy store that I always wanted to get to. I had to be told that they were not related. I had to be told!

Fine. The lady wants to go to a groovin’ energetic place (metaphorically New York). And while Rimrock Mall still stands, that Funky Town store no longer exists, but every time I hear Funkytown, Cynthia Johnson wants to do the same thing I wanna do: Move on. Move on to Funky Town. Won’t you take me too?

*The following articles helped me find the name:
Retrospective: Rimrock Mall, part 1 here, or part 2 here.

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