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Preserving the people, places, and things from the pop culture past...because some of us still believe in yesterday.

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    Image via bayswater97 flickr
    I'm sure that the lack of good customer service in today's society is something that everyone can relate to. I've held off on ranting about it for so long because I used to work in the hotel industry and a grocery store, and having been on both sides, can tell you that the customer is not always right--nay, sometimes they can be downright douchebags. I've also seen people treat perfectly nice retail salespeople horribly and have actually spoken up on more than one occasion and made off-hand comments, within earshot, about how rude they were when it was my turn at the register. 

    But lately the tables have been turning, and it's the people working in retail stores who truly have this I-couldn't-give-a-shit-about-you attitude. In the past few months, here are four scenarios I was part of:

    1. I was waiting at the counter to buy a blouse at a local consignment shop but the teenaged salesgirl behind it ignored me for a good 2-3 minutes as she was transfixed by her boss, who was assisting another customer as she set off the alarm trying to walk out of the store. She finally said to me without any greeting, "All you all set?" It took all my strength not to say something sarcastic but I did what any good customer does nowadays--I unleashed a bit of my wrath on Yelp. And I was not the only one which tells me there's a problem with the employees in that store. 

    2. I was in a local Sephora and asked one of the salesgirls if they had a new black eyeliner pen in stock called Punker. She said she would check and went to another girl and asked her, who just looked at me, shook her head and said, "No, we don't have any left." No mention of when or if it might come back in stock, no mention of looking up another Sephora to see if they had any, and no mention of ordering it on the website. I walked out. 

    3. I was getting gas at a station location I don't usually go to, but had no choice as the other location is closed for renovations and they have the best gas prices in town. The guy in the booth was on his phone and didn't even look at me when I told him how many gallons worth I wanted. He did, however, look at the money like he was confused and couldn't subtract $45 from $60. So I repeated myself, he gave me the change, and I took it without saying a word. Pardon me for interrupting your personal phone call, asshat. 

    4. I went out to eat with a Meetup group and we were instructed to sit anywhere in the upstairs area. After being ignored by several waitresses walking by, one of them told us the table we were at was reserved, despite the fact that there was no sign on it. After we grabbed another table, the waitress asked what we were going to have for drinks. I said we hadn't received menus yet and politely asked for some. When she bought them out, she dropped them so hard on the table on purpose that they made a THUNK and walked away. Things seemed to go downhill from there. 

    Grrrrrrrr.

    This is such a departure from customer experiences I had growing up. I can still remember the managers of the shoe store and art supply store I visited as a kid, and the name of the kind man who ran the video store in town, Mr. Zappala (how many store owners today do you know by name?) When Mr. Zappala passed away from cancer, there was an outpouring of support in the local paper because everyone adored him. There were so many smaller mom-and-pop businesses around in the 70s and 80s, run by people whose livelihoods depended upon how happy they could make their customers. They couldn't afford to ignore people who walked through their doors...as that would eventually lead to theirs being shuttered. I can understand that working service jobs does not always deliver the greatest paycheck...but you know what? Neither was my hotel salary, but it was a job that paid my way through college, and therefore I had to respect it and the guests whether I liked it or not. If I didn't, I'd be out of a job. 

    So, I think part of the problem here is they're hiring nitwits who just don't care. And with a lousy economy, if a big store like Walmart loses workers, there's ten more out there desperate to replace them for a piddly paycheck. 

    Call it part of our increasingly isolated society where no one makes an effort to connect with other human beings. I won't even get into the rise of customer service hell, where you're stuck in "press this for that" purgatory trying to get ahold of a live person. It stinks, and there's not much we consumers can do except take to Yelp and other review sites. 

    I came across this 1970s McDonald's training video (gotta love that opening ditty, "the greatest gift you give is the smile you give to your brother...") Nowadays Grumpy Cat doles out more smiles than the workers at McDonald's, but the reason I'm showing it is because there's a segment about a young man who goes to an auto supply store and how he's treated. 

    If any of you have some great customer service horror stories to share, please do. 


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  • 05/20/13--17:00: Happy Birthday, Cher!
  • Cher turns 67 today, and to help celebrate the folks at Can't Miss TV invited me to post this groovy infographic showing the history of Cher's career. I'll always remember Cher's impressive movie career, especially as she hit her stride in films in the 70s and 80s, the decades I grew up in. Moonstruck remains one of my favorite romantic flicks, ever. Happy 67th to Sonny Bono's better half!


    Images under CC BY-SA 3.0& CC BY 2.0.  Additional data from Wikipedia and DirectSpecialTV.

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    Through early morning fog I see
    visions of the things to be
    the pains that are withheld for me
    I realize and I can see...

    That suicide is painless
    It brings on many changes
    and I can take or leave it if I please.


    The most amazing thing to me about "Suicide is Painless" (actual title: "Song from M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless)" is that the hard hitting lyrics were written by a 14 year-old, Mike Altman. A 14 year-old! He's the son of Robert Altman, who directed the 1970 movie M*A*S*H. Altman needed the "stupidest song ever written" for the scene in the movie where Walter "Painless Pole" Waldowski fakes his suicide after suffering a bout of impotence with a visiting nurse. Altman tried his hand at writing the lyrics but didn't think they were stupid enough, so he handed the job to his 14 year-old son. Johnny Mandel composed the music.

    The result was anything but moronic: Suicide is Painless is one of my favorite TV/movie themes of all time, not because it's depressing but because it's so damn poetic and beautiful. If I ever get around to practicing my guitar again, this song is on my must-learn list. Since most people are accustomed to hearing the cheerful, instrumental version that was used on the series, I highly recommend checking out a cover where the words are sung. I know I included her in the last song's story post, but I really like Ania Dabrowska's version:





    One other tidbit about this song to save for your next trivia competition: Robert Altman told Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show that his son received over a million dollars in royalties from writing the lyrics, while he received only $70,000 for directing M*A*S*H.

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    Photo vis ThinkNice
    Phil Collins seems to be a pop culture conundrum to me--in the grand scheme of music history, is he terrible...or terrific? 

    It's a question I've struggled with ever since the 1980s, when I first became aware of who Phil Collins was. On the one hand, he's a tremendous drummer...and I know at least one drummer who admires his skills, particularly on projects outside of Genesis such as Brand X, which was a jazz fusion group active in the mid-70s and later again in the 1990s. On the other hand, Collins can be downright irritating--his sappy solo hits evoke strong emotions and usually not of the sympathetic variety; he's been called "The Most Hated Man in Rock and Roll." I found his 1989 hit "Another Day in Paradise" among a blogger's worst songs ever written list, who so aptly described the reasoning for his choice with five poignant words: "Shut the f*** up, moron." 

    So this post is my half-assed attempt at determining if Collins is painfully uncool...or coolly...er...painless? You know what I mean. No offense to the Collins fans out there; this is purely my opinion. Here we go.


    Terrific: He appeared as an extra in A Hard Day's Night. That's pretty cool, right? He was 13 at the time and is sitting in the audience during the television concert sequence, and also narrated and added commentary to the documentary You Can't Do That: The Making of A Hard Day's Night.

    Terrible: "I Can't Dance." Collins' whiny vocals in this song really grate on my nerves ("'Cause IIIIIIII can't dance, IIIIIIII can't sing") as does the "dancing" by the group--they just look like dorks. And seeing Collins on a beach with a pink tank top, baggy jeans and long hair (despite a receding hairline) is really unsettling. I don't care if it was the early 90s--this is just awful. 


    Terrific: A little 1988 movie starring Collins called Buster. Buster was about Buster Edwards, a petty crook who was involved in England's Great Train Robbery of 1963. I was truly prepared to hate this movie and thought that it would be yet another misguided attempt to turn a singer into a movie star. Surprisingly, it's not all that bad and costars Julie Walters. 

    Terrible: "Sussudio." What does su-su-sudio mean anyway? Collins admitted in the 80s during its release that the word has no meaning. And yet it manages to stick in your craw all day like lint to velcro. So. Damn. Annoying.

    Terrific: "In the Air Tonight." No need to go into much detail why. It will forever be associated with Miami Vice.

    Terrible: "Illegal Alien." Without a doubt, one of the worst pop/rock songs ever written, accompanied by an awful racist video. Collins tries to sing the song with a Mexican accent and the band wears mustaches and sombreros. One verse in particular was so controversial that it was omitted for radio play and from the video:

    "Keep your suspicions, I've seen that look before
    But I ain't done nothing wrong now, is that such a surprise?
    But I've got a sister who'd be willing to oblige
    She will do anything now to help me get to the outside"


    Yeesh. Phil, what the hell were you thinking? Can you imagine if they tried to release this song today? 

    Terrible: "Don't Lose My Number." This song makes about as much sense as a gorilla wearing a ballerina costume. The lyrics throughout are addressed to some dude named Billy--who the hell is Billy anyway? It's as if Collins assumes we should know. The video is even worse, mixing Western and Mad Max themes. 

    Terrific: The video for "Land of Confusion." Featuring the puppets of Spitting Image, this one will give you the heebie jeebies. Creative and unsettling.  

    Photo via A Blumes With A View
    Terrible: This photo. Something about his baldness and shorts reminds me of George Costanza's Art of Seduction pose from Seinfeld

    Terrific: "Easy Lover." I love this song. 

    Well I guess the conclusion we've come to here today is...Collins is both terrible and terrific!


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    It wasn't long ago that I was thinking about posting a new giveaway on Go Retro. Luckily, the universe delivered my manifestation when the owner of Shabby Applereached out to me with a giveaway offer for my readers! If you're not already familiar with Shabby Apple, let me just tell you they have the cutest vintage clothing around for retro loving ladies (sorry, gentlemen--I plan on hosting another giveaway soon that will appeal to you.) Their fashion lines always seem to get updated on a regular basis, too. 

    You can great a sense of Shabby Apple's vintage clothing styles. 

    Here's the details of this summer giveaway. One lucky Go Retro reader can choose a dress or skirt from a selected list of styles that Shabby Apple has set aside for the giveaway below. Do a search on the site to see each item.

    Snapdragon
    Heart of Me
    Dressage
    Grand National
    Hackney
    Captain
    Admiral
    Cut the Cake
    At last
    At first site
    My vow to you
    Maid of honor
    Together forever
    Ever after
    Save the date
    Moon River
    Ski Bop
    Some like it Hot
    Tiber
    Andes Skirt
    Jetty Skirt
    Ballerina
    Nantucket
    Boogie Woogie
    Marigold Skirt
    Lime Ricki Skirt
    Park Picnic Skirt
    Hully Gully Skirt
    Newcomb Skirt

    To enter, just leave a comment saying any ol' thing. The giveaway will run from today through next Wednesday, June 26 ending at midnight EST. I'll announce the winner on Thursday, June 27. Good luck!

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    Tabathia! Congratulations and I'll be sending you an email with info on how to claim your dress. Thanks to everyone who entered and I hope to hold another giveaway soon.

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    You would think that in 1950s Americana, teenagers were a happy lot. They had drive-in movie theaters, rock and roll, their dad's Oldsmobile, and Clearasil. Yet the post-WWII era was responsible for launching a music genre that persisted for several decades: the teenage tragedy theme. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, young characters in songs met untimely deaths through car and motorcycle crashes, drownings and even suicide--and these songs routinely topped the U.S. music charts. 

    The question is why were these songs so popular? Teenagers sure weren't dreaming them up--it was the songwriters and record companies. Why did so many hits kill off the subjects of the songs? Who knows...but at least we can trace the beginning of this macabre trend to one event in pop culture history.


    Image via The Song Blog
    On September 30, 1955 the actor James Dean died after crashing his Porsche 550 Spyder nearly head-on into another car near the intersections of highways 46 and 41 in California. Just a week before Dean's death, a little rock and roll vocal group called The Cheers had released a single called "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots", written by the famous lyrical/composer team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. (Cool bit o'trivia for you: one of the members of The Cheers was Bert Convy, who would go on to be a game show host for Tattletales, Super Password and Win, Lose or Draw.) "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots" is a snappy little number that tells the tale of a motorcycle lovin' fool that was the "terror of Highway 101", losing his life after colliding with a diesel truck. Most likely its inspiration came from the 1953 Marlon Brando biker film The Wild One.

    Black Denim Trousers by The Cheers on Grooveshark

    "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots" might have faded into pop music obscurity if it weren't for the timing of its release. It climbed to number six on the U.S. charts. (Alas, The Cheers were not so cheerful, it seems: t
    heir follow-up teen tragedy song was "Chicken", which is about a disastrous hot rod race; it sounds almost exactly the same as "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots.") After its popularity came the funeral march of teen tragedy hits for songwriters and singers.

    There was "Endless Sleep" (1958) by Jody Reynolds, "Teen Angel" (1959) by Mark Dinning, "Tell Laura I Love Her" (1960) by Ray Peterson, "Ebony Eyes" (1961) by The Everly Brothers, "Last Kiss" (1962) by Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders, "Moody River" (1961) by Pat Boone and "Dead Man's Curve" (1964) by Jan and Dean, just to name a few. 

    One of my favorites from this period is Johnny Preston's "Running Bear" (1959) which I first heard when it was featured in the 1989 movie Scandal. Perhaps the "uga uga" chanting is a bit politically incorrect by today's standards but it's classified under the genre (due to its Romeo and Juliet theme) and I love its saxophone and rockabilly sound:



    Ironically, "Running Bear" was written by J. P. Richardson ("The Big Bopper") who died in the same plane crash as Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens--another event which could be attributed to the genre, along with teenage car culture and the rise of the Motor City, Detroit.

    The radio waves got a little more cheerful when Beatlemania swept the world. But then a girl group named The Shangri-Las scored perhaps the biggest and most well-known teen tragedy song of all, the 1964 hit "Leader of the Pack." With its ominous opening piano strikes and motorcycle sound effects, it tells the tale of a girl whose rebel boyfriend dies in a motorcycle crash after her father tells her she must break up with him. It was banned for a while in the UK and became a hit there after the ban was lifted. The Shangri-Las seemed to be the queens of songs that dealt with teenage heartbreak at the time; their earlier hit of 1964 was "(Remember) Walking in the Sand" and in 1965 they topped the U.S. charts again with a somber song about a girl who runs away from home to be with a boy, causing her mother to die from loneliness called "I Can Never Go Home Anymore." 

    Here's The Shangri-Las performing "Leader of the Pack" on the TV show "I've Got a Secret"--with Robert Goulet providing comic relief:



    The hits continued throughout the 1960s with songs such as "A Young Girl" (1966) by Noel Harrison, "Green, Green Grass of Home" (1966) by Tom Jones, and "Ode to Billie Joe" (1967) by Bobbie Gentry. The 1974 hit "Billy Don't Be a Hero" by Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods is mistakingly thought to be inspired by the Vietnam War, but is really about a Civil War soldier. 

    I also think that Skeeter Davis' hit "The End of the World" should be lumped into this category as well--even though there's no direct mention of suicide in the song, it seems to me the main character's point of view is that she can't go on living after a breakup. Sylvia Dee, one of the song's writers, drew inspiration for it after her father's death. 

    Probably the best thing to come out of the teen tragedy genre were the parodies. Even Lucille Ball got in on the act. While preparing for a 1965 episode of The Lucy Show called "Lucy in the Music World" she was advised that "Today's youth aren't happy unless they're miserable." She sings a song with Mel Torme in the special called "The Surfboard Came Back By Itself" about a surfer who's eaten by a shark--thus taking a playful swipe at two music genres of the time at once. (As an aside, I believe Ball was in her 50s in this clip yet looks like she's 22!)



    In the 80s, I distinctly remember the Julie Brown parody "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun"--a song written years before school shootings became tragic recurring events (I think it's safe to say such a song could never be released today, even though I admit my friends and I found it funny at the time.) 

    But the best parody, in my opinion, was the one recorded by Jimmy Cross in 1965 called "I Want My Baby Back." This sick, twisted song became a staple on the Dr. Demento radio show and was voted the World's Worst Record in the UK, but that's only if you take it literally. Cross "sings" (or rather, speaks most of the song) in an accent reminiscent of Gomer Pyle, from the point of view of a distraught necrophiliac boyfriend whose lover was killed by the Leader of the Pack himself, leaving her dismembered body all over the place ("over there was my baby...and over there was my baby...and way over there was my baby.") By the end of the song, the singer decides that he simply can't live without his girl, and digs up her grave and crawls inside the casket (accompanied by a creaking special effect that seems to go on forever.) 



    Fortunately, it does seem like the teen tragedy theme has died down (no pun intended) in recent years--but then again, I don't generally listen to the usual pop and hip hop stations, so I'm blissfully out of the loop. Would anything they could dream up today anyway have quite the same impact as these songs did? 

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  • 07/12/13--14:15: Movie Reviews: Them! (1954)

  • "When man entered the atomic age, he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, no one can predict." - Dr. Medford in Them!

    Them! is an awesome movie and I loved every minute of it. I could end my review right there and then, but of course you deserve more. You may think that a horror movie about giant mutant ants is best viewed during Halloween season, but the summertime is perfect for watching this flick. After all, insect populations are at their highest right now and so is the temperature. So get the popcorn ready but don't bother with the bug spray--there isn't enough Raid in a store aisle that can kill off the creatures in Them! After viewing it for the first time, I can understand why the movie is considered a classic and a favorite among sci-fi/B horror movie fans. 

    Them! was released in 1954--during the Cold War era--and was one of those horror movies that played upon the fears of what nuclear technology could do to planet earth and its species; most often, that animals and humans exposed to radiation could grow to unnatural sizes and in grotesque ways. It was the first of the "big bug" movies (titles that were released after the success of Them! include Tarantula, Earth vs. The Spider, Beginning of the End and many more) and is routinely considered one of the best of the genre. 

    I'm always hesitant to give a boring scene-by-scene synopsis of movies in my reviews, but I think the first half hour of the film is worth describing. 



    The movie opens with two police state troopers--Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and Ed Blackburn (Chris Drake)--traveling through the New Mexico desert when they receive a call about a little girl wandering by herself nearby. When the officers pick her up, she's in a catatonic state, staring straight ahead and is unresponsive. They put her in their cruiser and continue on to investigate a trailer home--belonging to the girl's family--that has been ripped into. No money has been taken, and there's no sign of the other family members. A bag of sugar has been broken into. 

    At first, the baffled policemen think this is the work of a "homicidal maniac." But then they visit the local general store which has been ripped apart in the same manner. The cash is still in the register, but a barrel of sugar has been ransacked. The policemen discover the store owner's body and his twisted rifle. Peterson walks out of the store to file a report, leaving Blackburn to guard the store. Blackburn hears a strange sound outside of the store, goes out to investigate, and is killed by one of the giant ants (which we don't actually see.)

    A large, strange footprint is found in the sand and at this point authorities are called in to help with the case: FBI agent Robert Graham (James Arness) who is unable to identify the footprint, Dr. Harold Medford (Edmund Gwenn; you know him best as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street as well as many other roles) and Pat Medford (Joan Weldon), a father/daughter team of entomologists from the Department of Agriculture. 


    Dr. Medford has a theory as to what is going on, but is hesitant to reveal it yet. Instead he performs an experiment with the little girl that was found and is recovering in a hospital. Since it was reported that the general store's owner's body was discovered to contain "enough formic acid to kill 20 men", he waves a bottle of formic acid under her nose. Suddenly, she awakens from her zombie-like state, is terrified, and starts screaming "Them! Them!"

    It isn't long after this before Dr. Medford's theory and fears are confirmed: nuclear bomb testing done in the area in 1945 has caused house ants to grow to hundreds of times their size, with a taste for human flesh (as confirmed by one amusing scene where an ant drops a human ribcage from its mandibles.)



    The crew locates the entrance to the ant nest and throws cyanide into it with the hopes of eradicating the colony. For me, this was the creepiest part of the movie--who the hell would go investigate a giant ant nest, even if they had to?  At this point, I will say no more for those who haven't seen the movie. 

    One of the reasons Them! succeeds so well is the amount of suspense that is built up before the ants appear on screen, which isn't until a half hour into the film. If you watched the movie without seeing the poster or knowing anything about it first, it would definitely add to the mystery. We hear them a few times before we see them--and the high pitched, pulsating, echoing sounds they make are truly creepy. It's the perfect build up! 



    By far I think the most impressive performance in this movie is by the little girl, Sandy Descher (although everyone is good and there's an amusing scene involving Dr. Medford trying to communicate via radio headphones.) A child actor who also appeared in The Last Time I Saw Paris and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Descher was 8 or 9 when Them! was filmed and her brief but pivotal role as a girl terrified out of her wits really adds to the suspense. 



    Now, about those ants. I'm sure many CGI enthusiasts would scoff at the mechanical ants in this movie, but I can definitely appreciate the work that went into creating them and would imagine they looked menacing on the big screen at the time the film was released (and trust me, they do look cooler on film than the screenshots make them look.) Their construction and operation (they were really purplish-green in color, by the way) was overseen by a man named Ralph Ayers and helped earn the movie an Oscar nomination for its special effects. I think my only disappointment is that we don't get to see them "flying" as reported by several characters in the film.  



    Many elements prevalent in Them! reminded me very much of the Alien franchise, particularly the second film, James Cameron's Aliens (1986.) The orphan girl wandering around in shock, the inhospitable, windy environment, creepy dark passageways and creatures that emit a deadly acid (not to mention egg laying queens) are found in both movies. The scene where the crew finds hatched eggs in one of the ant farm's chambers was straight out of the 1979 Alien for me. 

    Plus, there's something about seeing a movie such as this one in black and white that really adds to the creep factor. The cinematography over the desert scenes is impressive. 

    Another giant ant movie was released in 1977: Empire of the Ants starring Joan Collins. It was based on a short story by H.G. Wells and frankly, looks and sounds terrible. However, for a creepy and crawly good time, you can't beat Them! and those prophetic last words as spoken by Dr. Medford in the movie's final scene will haunt you long after the screen fades to black. 

    Here's the official trailer to Them! and you can watch the entire movie for free, online here at Mevio


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    Ah, yes--The Carpenters' hit "(They Long to Be) Close to You" is the quintessential 70s love ballad, is it not? It was even Homer and Marge's love song on The Simpsons when they're shown meeting each other for the first time in the 70s. 

    But the song's roots go back to before Beatlemania, and had already been recorded by a few artists before Karen Carpenter's vocals and brother Richard's new arrangement turned it into solid gold in 1970. Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, it was first recorded by Richard Chamberlain--yes, the actor--and released as a single in 1963 as "They Long to Be Close to You" (no parenthesis.) Chamberlain's version is now considered a "Golden Throat" recording; however, I don't think he sounds all that terrible. You can judge for yourself below. The song just didn't have the secret sauce yet to turn it into a hit. 



    In 1964, Dusty Springfield recorded a version of the song that wasn't heard until 1967, when it was released on her album Where Am I Going?


     Bacharach and David's composition made its way to The Carpenters a few years later when it was first suggested to Herb Alpert as a follow up to his number one hit, "This Guy's in Love with You." Suggested as in a song to sing to. I love me some Herb Alpert, but I'll be the first to tell you that he's better suited as a trumpet musician and not a singer. Alpert apparently felt the same way, as he tried recording "(They Long to Be) Close to You" but was unhappy with the results (the recording later appeared on a 2005 Tijuana Brass record called Lost Treasures 1963-1974.) So he gave it to the new act that had just signed with A&M Records, The Carpenters.

    The Carpenters definitely put their own twist on the arrangement of the song. Richard Carpenter said of the experience, "(Herb Alpert) just gave me a lead sheet, and he said, 'I have a recording of this, but I don't want you to hear it. I don't want anything to influence what I may come up with. Just keep, at the end of the first bridge, two piano quintuplets.' That record, that song, the arrangement, all of it, is misleading to the uninitiated, because it sounds simple. And it's anything but simple."

    Because of the Herb Alpert connection, a lot of people think he played the trumpet on The Carpenters' version, but that honor went to Chuck Findley. Carpenter wanted a layered sound for the middle of the song, and tried having multiple trumpet players perform it in unison, but each instrument sounded slightly different. Findley played all the parts himself, then layered them together to get the sound Carpenter wanted.

    Karen also played drums during the first few sessions, but Alpert didn't like her technique, and gently suggested that Hal Blaine replace her as drummer.

    That was probably a wise move, because it allowed her vocals to shine on what would become the brother and sister act's first and most famous hit. An instant classic was born.

    "(They Long to Be) Close to You" earned The Carpenters a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus in 1971, the first of three Grammy Awards they would win during their careers. Of course, it's been covered seemingly hundreds of times to this day--even The Smashing Pumpkins recorded a version of it. Harry Connick, Jr. released a nice track of it on his 2009 album, Your Songs


    But I doubt anyone will ever be able to top The Carpenters.


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  • 07/27/13--17:09: Ms. Go Retro Answers All

  • You know what's amazing? Go Retro has been live for 6 years now and averages around 1,000 page views a day; that's nearly triple the amount it was getting just over a year ago. And that means people like to write to me. Most of the time the messages are cool--accolades for the site or information that folks thought I would find useful. But with "fame" (ha ha; I use that term loosely) comes a price: a few times a week I now get unsolicited email that often have some off-the-wall motives behind them. You wouldn't think so, seeing as how this blog is all about peace, love and Happy Days, but it happens. I thought I'd take a moment to show you some of the messages that I get on a regular basis. Some of this has been improvised from memory, but I think you'll get the drift in a hurry. I'm thinking some of this may be best digested into a "Contact Me" section of the blog eventually, so that we can hopefully stop some of the stupid before it gets to me. 

    Dear Go Retro,

    I write a blog where I gush about Robert Pattinson's chest hair pattern, debate whether Amanda Bynes is truly insane, and share as many One Direction photos that I can get my mitts on. Can we exchange links on each other's blog rolls?

    Generation Zzzzzzz

    Dear Zzzzzzz:

    Well, I think you and others emailing me similar requests need to ask yourself a question: does my own blog/site have a retro/vintage theme to it? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think it's a safe assumption that most of my audience doesn't really give a shit about Robert Pattinson, let alone his chest hair. 

    Dear Go Retro,

    Can you tell me where I can buy retro/vintage style clothing, like the ones I see on Mad Men?

    Sincerely,
    Miss Clueless

    Dear Miss Clueless:

    A word of advice here: Google is your friend. That's pretty much what I have used to find some interesting sites that sell retro style or actual vintage clothing. Before then, I knew no more than the average person on good resources for retro clothing. 

    Dear Go Retro,

    We publish a magazine about serial killers, the PREMIER publication about serial killers, and it's supplemented by a calendar featuring the serial killer of the month. Would you pretty please link to us and give these soulless heathens of society some free publicity?

    Sincerely,
    Psychotic Phil

    I really, really, REALLY wish I could say that I am making this one up. Granted, the interpretation above is slightly different than the actual inquiry I received, but I was absolutely nauseous that such a publication (and calendar) exists. I really was tempted to write this guy back and give him a piece of my mind on what I really thought about the theme of his magazine, but I held myself back because God only knows what would have happened to my personal safety...one never knows when you're dealing with whackos on the Internet. I just deleted it, but if there was ever an email that gave me the heebee jeebies, that was it. 

    Dear Go Retro,

    I write a blog about the latest technological gadgets and my reviews of them. Would you like to be a guest author for it?

    Sincerely,
    REALLY Clueless Nerd

    Dear REALLY Clueless Nerd,

    Sure, if by the latest technological gadgets you mean VHS and Walkman.

    Yeah, this happened, too...and what's really maddening is that when I wrote the guy back and explained that my blog was about retro pop culture, not the latest technology, he clearly didn't even pay attention to my message and asked me yet again if we could post-swap. That's when I lost it a bit by asking if he even READ my blog, pointed out that the name of the blog was Go RETRO and that the LAST thing I'd be writing about would be the latest piece of technology invented to separate people from the real world. Needless to say, I never heard from him again. Go figure.

    Dear Go Retro,

    I'm selling my parents' home and wish to get rid of the mid-century modern furniture. I heard that movie studios like to buy this stuff to use in films. How do I go about doing that?


    Movie Set Mary

    Dear Mary,

    Um...look some up and contact them? Why not just put the stuff up for sale on eBay? Good luck. 

    Dear Go Retro,

    I really enjoyed your post about go-go dancing. Are you a go-go dancer?

    Dancing Fool

    Dear Dancing Fool,

    Only if you count my past lives. Tip: just because someone writes about something doesn't mean they work that profession. Thought that seemed pretty obvious but I guess not. 

    Dear Go Retro,

    Hi, how are U? Do u have any 60s-80s tv shows or tv specials? write ihavenocluehowtowrite@aol.com

    Dear I Have No Clue,

    "U" need to be more specific here. What do you mean, do I have any 60s-80s tv shows or specials? Do you mean do I have any on DVD? And why do you want to know? So you can buy them? Information (and communication) is key.

    Sigh. For the record, I'm still waiting for this email to come in:

    Dear Go Retro,

    We've been reading your blog for a while, and we think you'd make the perfect talk show/TV variety host of your own retro morning show. It'll be called...um...Go Retro . You'll kick off every show doing a dance of a particular era along with your background dancers. You'll get to interview notable celebs and people with connections to the pop culture past. Singers from every decade want to perform for your audience. You'll highlight retro fashion and will show people how to throw groovy retro themed parties. Did we mention we'll pay you $250,000 per show? What do you say?

    Big Joe the Network CEO

    Well, one can dream, right?

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    Image via Bilal Ali Productions
    Editor's Note: Today's post is brought to you by guest blogger and freelance entertainment writer Spencer Blohm. 

    On August 9th, the late, great Whitney Houston would have been 50. To honor this great artist’s career, Go Retro and I have teamed up to bring you some of the greatest moments of Whitney’s career during the decade she owned: the 80’s.

    Whitney had her first #1 single in 1985 with “Saving All My Love for You” from her self-titled debut album. This song was just the first of her record-setting seven consecutive singles in a row, a record which she still holds today. Here in this 1985 live performance on Late Night with David Letterman, a fresh faced Whitney wows the audience as soon as that powerful voice comes bellowing out of that waifish body.



    She followed up her soulful first single with a lighter dance track called “How Will I Know”. The dance floor friendly song showed Whitney wasn’t just a gospel singer, but one who was able to cross genres. Here she performs it live on the Peter Popshow in 1985 underneath a rotating triangle with a rainbow in the middle of it. Because it was 1985. 



    If people were doubting her ability to be a successful gospel/pop crossover before, she solidified she was here to stay with “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” the first single off her second album Whitney in 1987. The song was a massive success, her biggest yet. In addition to earning her a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, went double platinum, hit #1 on the charts in thirteen countries, and it gave us this glorious music video. 



    To counter her dance anthem, she released “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” and became the breakup anthem of 1987. Many a teenage girls spend their evenings crying into their pillows listening to Whitney’s soothing, yet powerful voice tell them of unrequited love.



    For her second dance anthem off of Whitney she chose “So Emotional”, her sixth of seven #1 singles in a row. The music video featured an abundance of hair, leather blazers, guitar solos, and high waisted jeans, yet Whitney’s beauty still shines through.




    So today, we remember Whitney for what she gave us in the 80’s; songs to cry to, songs to dance to, and some really voluminous curls. Happy 50th Whitney, may you rest in peace.

    About the Author: Spencer Blohm is a freelance entertainment and pop culture blogger for GetDirectTV.org. He grew up listening to his mother try to do her best Whitney imitation in the car on the way to school. His mother is no longer allowed to sing in front of him.

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    When I learned that some kind hearted soul had uploaded several episodes of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman to YouTube, I knew that it was my duty as a retro blogger to finally check out for myself what this show was all about. Much love has been spilled for the Norman Lear-produced series on other retro blogs, so I'll be careful not to overlap too much what's been written about it already. Let me start by saying that my honest impression five minutes into the very first episode is that I thought it was bad--a show full of bad acting, bad dialogue and bad jokes. By the end of the 22 minute running time, I thought it was brilliant. Sixteen episodes in (a mere fraction of the 400+ episodes that were filmed) I am definitely hooked on Mary's whacky and wonderful world. 


    The series was--to use a very cliche and overused term--groundbreaking. When it debuted in 1976, nothing like it had aired on television before, and little else has since (one exception is Twin Peaks, which the show has been compared to.) I'm sure that the people behind Desperate Housewives would like to think that their depiction of suburban life was edgy, but it doesn't even come close to Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. What I'm about to say isn't original (I believe it's in Amazon.com's description of the series) but Mary Hartman was the ultimate desperate housewife. 

    Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman is a soap opera parody, which we gander right away during the opening credits as the lead character's name is caterwauled twice (by the actress playing Mary's mother) over melodramatic music. Norman Lear felt that soap opera dialogue was often repeated. There's so much twisted HUMOR in this series--I like to think that the omission of a laugh track was simply because the it didn't need one. To give you a better idea of the show's unsettling aura, in one episode a school sports coach, drowsy from cold medicine, accidentally drowns in Mary's chicken soup. Other characters met their demise in equally bizarre ways. 

    Mary Hartman, as depicted by Louise Lasser, is--of course--the show's leading character. With her collared pale blue minidresses and pigtails she reminds me of Dorothy, and the suburban town of Fernwood and its eccentric citizens are definitely her Oz. Or, she could be Alice in Wonderland. Surrounding her domestic world is:


    Tom Hartman (Greg Mullavey) - Mary's cad of a husband who refuses to have sex with her.

    Loretta Haggers (Mary Kay Place) - Mary's big-haired best friend and neighbor, who has dreams of making it big in Nashville as a country-western star (but is playing at the local bowling alley in the meantime...in the cutest, sparkly 70s costumes you can imagine every country western singer wore back then.)

    Charlie Haggers (Graham Jarvis) - Loretta's rather physically unattractive husband and Tom's best friend.
     

    Cathy Shumway (Debralee Scott) Mary's single kid sister, who has a new boyfriend every week.

    Mrs. Martha Shumway (Dody Goodman) - Mary's quirky mother, who likes to talk to her plants.

    Heather Hartman (Claudia Lamb) Tom and Mary's ornery pre-teen daughter, who seems to have a sugar addiction and who witnessed the mass murder of the Hartman's neighbors.




    The first episode introduces us to all of them, but Charlie and Loretta Haggers are the most memorable to me. With apologies to the Jarvis family, Graham Jarvis is easily one of the most unattractive men to ever grace a TV screen. What's even worse than his egg shaped balding dome is his body. About fifteen minutes into the first episode, our eyeballs are subjected to Charlie Haggers sans shirt--a sight that is not for the faint of heart. His nipples actually point downward, his skin looks as saggy as a deflated balloon, and his pale, completely muscleless body is covered with a LOT of hair in all the wrong places. Bleeecccccchh! I can only imagine that my reaction was also the sentiments of TV audiences across the country when it aired. Charlie is supposed to be 43 years old and older than Loretta, yet they have the steamiest sex life of all the characters on the show (Charlie tells Mary's husband, Tom, that they get it on 5 or 6 times a week.) At first, I found their frequent on-screen affection to be quite disturbing and icky. But by the 9th episode, the Haggers had really grown on me, and Charlie in particular proves himself to be a good guy, and definitely in Mary's corner during a crisis in her marriage. I kept waiting for Loretta to reveal ulterior motives by marrying Charlie, but they truly support and love one another. (However, I could do without hearing Loretta constantly refer to Charlie as "Baby Boy", her pet name for him. Capitalizing on the show's popularity, Mary Kay Place put out an album under her character's name and one of the tracks, "Baby Boy", actually became a novelty hit.) 



    The Haggers' marriage is in starch contrast to Tom and Mary Hartman's relationship. Tom is the biggest tool on the show. He runs hot and cold with Mary, refusing to give her sex and berating her for trying to initiate it, saying that she shouldn't do anything and then telling her that she's not doing anything "the right way." Hoping to put the spark back in their relationship, a frustrated Mary takes out sex tip books from the library, which Charlie discovers, infuriating Tom who then blames Mary for embarrassing him. Tom acts like a child and his wardrobe reflects it--his Star Trek inspired PJs (not in the above screenshot, however) and matching bi-color jacket and baseball cap look like something a 3rd grader would wear. 



    Because he is such an asshat, Tom has an affair with a woman from the plant, a tall married hussy named Mae who clearly has been around the block too many times, and quite possibly with some of her male coworkers. None of the actors on this show were what you would call good looking (although some male fans do have a thing for Louise Lasser) and in some cases, don't even pass for average. As Mae, Salome Jens is an interesting choice because she is obviously a bit older than Tom--this coming during a decade when a woman over 40 was considered old and washed up and you almost never saw them in bedroom scenes, never mind with a younger man. But sweet karma is served as Tom catches a STD from Mae. 

    Needless to say, Mary has her hands full--with her pervy grandfather aka "The Fernwood Flasher", who is arrested for exposing his crotch to an elementary school cafeteria lady, her cheating douchebag of a husband, and bratty daughter who witnessed a mass murderer that wiped out a family (and their chickens and goat) in the Hartman's neighborhood and who is subsequently kidnapped by the murderer. All that plus a concern that her kitchen floor has waxy yellow buildup.



    What I love best about this show is that in true soap fashion, you never know what to expect. The series addressed so many taboo subjects of the time: sex, masturbation, indecent exposure, etc. that it was often shown late at night, sometimes as late as 11 PM. Just like daytime soap operas, it aired Monday through Friday with continuing storylines.

    And the writing on this show was second to none. One of the best lines I've ever heard that was written for television comes from Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. It's in the scene  below where Loretta, suffering from amnesia, is kidnapped by Harry Dean Stanton. His friend sizes Loretta up and says, "You put a diamond on a slut, it'll turn into a rhinestone ." Then the same character launches into a dialogue about sluts. I'm telling you, Tarantino couldn't have written it better. Come to think of it, dude looks like he belongs in a Tarantino film. (Warning: the following clip contains some strong language by 1970s television standards.)



    Another reason to love Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman is the gaudy sets. It's as if the Fingerhut catalog showcased rooms in the 70s a la IKEA: we're talking quintessential tackiness of the decade. 



    Spolier alert: for reasons still unknown to me as of this posting, Louise Lasser left the show after only one season. During season one, the writers gave poor Mary a nervous breakdown while being interviewed on live TV (a moment that you can find on YouTube) and she ended up in a psychiatric asylum which was a bit of a vacation for her. When she returned, she eventually left Tom and ran off with Sgt. Dennis Foley, a police officer who clearly has a thing for her from the show's get-go. After Lasser's departure, the series became rebranded as Forever Fernwood. The rest of the cast stayed on and Shelley Fabares joined the show as Tom's love interest after Mary leaves. Forever Fernwood lasted for 130 episodes and was then replaced with a talk show parody called Fernwood 2-Night, which later became America 2-Night. Are you confused yet? 

    It's downright criminal that the remaining episodes of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman may never see the light of day. Perhaps us retro bloggers should band together and petition the distributor for a full release?

    Also, as if the show wasn't cool enough, Sammy Davis Jr. recorded a groovy ode to Mary that incorporates the opening theme--found on his LP "The Song and Dance Man."



    One final thought: I'm seriously tempted to dress up like Mary for Halloween. Then when people ask me who I am, I'll have the pleasure of shouting, "Mary Hartman! Mary Hartman!"

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  • 08/24/13--20:14: Awkward Ads

  • Sometimes, you come across a vintage advertisement that makes you do a double take. You ask yourself if you're really seeing what you're seeing, or you start to feel uncomfortable looking at the ad. Such is the case with the collection I've gathered for this post. Many of these left me shaking my head.


    Like the first one, above, promoting hair color. I have no problem with the kids being topless, even the girls--they don't have breasts yet. However, I couldn't help but notice that one of the gingers appears to be pinching another girl's nipple. It just looks really awkward and struck me as funny. I imagine this was the result of a photo shoot that was a challenge, trying to wrangle a dozen young kids and getting them to stand still and look into the camera. Come to think of it, some of the adult models aren't even looking directly into the camera. 



    Next up is this Volkswagen Beetle spot. These prints ads made such an iconic campaign for the car, but this one missed the mark severely. "Women are soft and gentle, but they hit things. Most other VW parts are interchangeable, too. Inside and out. Which means your wife isn't limited to fender smashing. She can jab the hood. Graze the door. Or bump off the bumper."

    Yikes. Normally I give passes to retro ads that others find sexist, but this one is undeniably insulting. Could you imagine the uproar it would cause today?



    Words fail me. "Teens too chubby to fit into regular sizes" is really the icing on the cake. Yet, this was frank and honest language for overweight people back in the day. 


    Lord West did a print campaign in the 60s and 70s with the tagline "...and the lady approves" featuring young daughters with their dads. As sweet and innocent as the intention was, the problem is the gesture in this particular ad just seems waaaaaaaay too intimate...they look like they're about to make out. It's too close for consumers' comfort...certainly mine. 

    As if that's not creepy enough, check out THIS male model and daughter. Where the devil did they find this dude? And the little girl looks scared. 



    I don't care what anyone says; male underwear ads of yesteryear are always awkward. Unless you have a solo male model standing modestly, there's no good way to execute these ads...and for some reason, many featured groups of men. I think it's weird that the dude behind the seated guy has one foot up on the back of his chair. 


    But it could be worse. We could always feature sweaty macho men wrestling with the tagline "Let's Get Down to Business." This brand touted its "stretchy seat."



    Or how about we feature three average Joe Schmoes? I feel sorry for the old man...clearly, that is not a Jockey semi-brief but a Depends diaper with extra padding. The second dude reminds me of Judd Hirsch from Taxi and the last guy looks like he's ready to get his freak on with the animal print brief and necklace. Grrrrr, tiger!



    These guys, on the other hand, look like they're cracking up at their matching printed get-ups or are ready to par-ty!



    Feminine hygiene ads always seem a little weird...it's a tricky product to shill, for sure. But for the love of Tampax, why is his face so close to her derriere? If I had a date during that time of the month, I wouldn't want to subject him to...well, to this. Forget the old adage ladies first"...for his sake, he should be ahead of her climbing up the hill.  



    I think I saved the best for last. Talk about an extremely awkward product for children, which is certainly not being helped by the choice of the child model. 

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  • 09/06/13--16:31: Mmmmmmm....Metrecal!
  • When I came across the vintage ad above for the diet drink Metrecal, I was both repulsed and fascinated by it. It looks like Pepto-Bismol gurgling (urrrgh!) in a bowl, but is actually the strawberry flavor of the product. It's ludicrous of the advertisers to think that consumers were going to opt for a can of Metrecal after they mention steak and potatoes in the ad…were they serious???


    Yet, for several years, Metrecal enjoyed much success on store shelves and is often credited with kicking off the liquid diet phase of the 1960s. It was inspired by a concoction given to invalids and sick people (never a good thing) and originally came in a powder form made of skim milk, soybean flour, corn oil and vitamins and minerals that was mixed with water. A couple of years later, Metrecal (the name was a combination of "metric" and "calories") started arriving on store shelves in cans of various flavors. 


    Mead Johnson, the company that manufactured the product, advised consumers to drink four servings of Metrecal daily to lose and maintain weight. At a mere 225 calories per can, that means anyone on the Metrecal diet was subsiding on only 900 calories a day. Mead Johnson claimed that the hunger pains went away after a few days. Metrecal cookies, clam chowder (noooo!) and tuna with noodles were eventually added to the product line, despite the fact that many dieters reported that the liquid flavors were disgusting. In 1960, Time magazine published an article on the Metrecal craze and noted that some people added liquor to their Metrecal to make it more palatable.


    Metrecal inspired many competitors (such as Carnation with its instant breakfast drink) to jump on the liquid diet fad, but by the mid-60s it had already started to lose its luster. People were finally realizing that man could not live on liquid nourishment alone In the late 70s, Metrecal and other products were discontinued after the Food and Drug Administration declared them dangerous due to 59 reported deaths connected to liquid protein products. (Today we have Slim Fast, but that program at least recommends supplementing their products with actual solid meals.)

    Here's a look at some Metrecal TV commercials from back in the day. I'd have to say that freezing the product to turn it into ice cream actually doesn't look so bad...but I still wouldn't try it. 







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    Ad via AdClassix
    Man, remember how thrilling it was to get your driver's license? When I was in high school, entering your 16th year was an exciting time because it meant you'd get to drive. You'd savor the sweet feeling of freedom behind the wheel, as you no longer had to be shuttled everywhere by your parents, an older family member or a friend.

    This is a feeling that was shared by teens when they became legally able to drive over the past 50 years or so. But lately, something has changed, as I found out via a few news reports last year. Teens and young adults are no longer in love with cars, driving, and auto culture. In fact, they'd rather own a smartphone or a tablet than an automobile. And many aren't even bothering to learn how to drive. In the 1950s, we would have called these kids "squares." But today it's the norm, and understandably, auto makers are a little concerned about it. 

    The way I see it, there are a few reasons why today's young adults simply don't dig cars as much as previous generations did...


    Image via Classic Style Preservation

    1. Buying/Owning a Car is Expensive. 
    From this point of view, I can understand why today's kids don't want a car: they're expensive, especially when compared to the bang you could get for your buck in the 1960s and 70s. A VW Beetle, for example, retailed for about $1,700 during the 60s. Today's version starts at around $20,000. Even a four cylinder Kia with just the basic features will run you about $14,000. Not to mention there's the on-going cost of maintaining a car--and paying for gas (which is hovering in my area around $3.65.) The price of everything has gone up--except for the average American family's income, or at least not enough when compared to the jump in inflation. Teens and 20-somethings were hit hard by this recent downturn in the economy, and they simply cannot afford to own an automobile.



    2. The Car is No Longer a Means to Freedom 
    Where my generation and others viewed the car as a symbol of freedom, the Internet has become the new path of escapism from school, parents and other responsibilities. I find this ironic considering I feel downright confined after being online for too many hours in a row and nothing else feels more refreshing than shutting down the devices and connecting with people in person--or even reading a good book.

    3. Things Can Be Done Online Instead of In-Person
    Society also doesn't have to rely anymore on having a car to get things done--shopping and so many other tasks can be accomplished by going online instead of physically driving someplace.


    Photo via Life archives/AllPosters
    4. Lack of Car-Centric Places Where Kids Can Take Their Wheels
    Drive-ins, diners, car-hops, and other cool hang out places were synonymous with car culture in the 50s, 60s and 70s. When's the last time you saw one of these places? This begs the question of where do kids make out these days on dates, if not in the back seat of a Toyota? 

    This indifference towards car ownership is hard for me to wrap my head around. How my friends and I loved driving once we were all able to do so--I have many fond memories of trips to the movies, fast food restaurants, the mall, the beach, the prom, (my friend borrowed her father's Lincoln Town Car at the time--we felt like big shots!) each other's houses, and even just back and forth to school. 

    During the warmer months, I still love to get in my car and drive someplace--there's nothing like going to the beach with the sunroof and windows open, the wind blowing through my hair and my favorite music playing. I've owned exactly three cars to date since I got my license 25 years ago, and I've loved all of them--my first car was a 1985 Pontiac Firebird; the second, a 1998 VW Beetle and my current mode of transportation is a 2003 Honda Accord coupe. Since my dad was a big car guy, I've saved all of the vintage brochures he collected on various models around the early 70s and while I'm hardly an auto expert, I usually keep up with the latest models and trends. I've gone to auto shows and vintage car shows (I guess it should come as no surprise that the majority of men you see at vintage car shows are older, retired dudes who scrimped and saved their whole lives to buy the classic vintage beauty of their dreams. You don't see too many 20-somethings as the owners at these events.)

    The muscle cars of the 60s through the 80s catered to the younger crowd...but this is no more. The auto manufacturers aren't making many muscle cars due to lack of interest. I guess it's not the worse thing in the world, since a new driver in control of a 300 hp machine is enough to make anyone nervous, and America's roads are pretty congested as it is. Add in the fact that a lot of people like to text or use a phone while they're behind the wheel and frankly, I'd rather those folks never learn to drive. 

    But as far as I'm concerned, teens and young adults don't know what they're missing...and this constant need to be online and communicate only via text and Facebook isn't doing anyone any favors. I hate to borrow the title of a Rihanna song here, but instead of "shut up and drive" maybe we should be saying "shut it off and drive." 

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    I'm very pleased to announce my participation in a special event taking place next week--a Valerie Harper Blog-A-Thon! From March 19th-22nd, several cool bloggers and myself will be posting all about the lovely lady who won our hearts over on 1970s and 1980s American television. A big shout-out and thank you go to Amanda from the awesome blog Made For TV Mayhem for putting together this blog-a-thon to celebrating the life and career of Valerie Harper. Want to know who else is participating? Here's the list--be sure to give these blogs and sites a visit!

    Christmas TV History
    Craftypants Carol
    (Not all posts suitable for office viewing!)
    Daily Grindhouse
    How Sweet it Was
    Kindertrauma 
    Michael's TV Tray
    Moon in the Gutter


    My post will be going up on March 19, so stay tuned. Are you a blogger yourself who would like to participate? Just visit Made For TY Mayhem and leave a comment for Amanda with a link to your Valerie Harper post!

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    All images from CityGal on Angelfire
    A few years ago I received an invitation in the mail to be part of a TV focus group event that was taking place at a local hotel. We were told that the group wanted the public's opinions on new TV pilots that had the potential to become full-fledged sitcoms. In exchange was the chance to win free groceries and other prizes. Little did I know at the time that it turned out to be a scam--the "pilots" that were shown to us were clearly anything but NEW programming. The clothing, hairstyles, cars and huge honking telephones were dead giveaways that they were filmed in the early 90s. One show we watched was about a woman who felt she had a past life connection with a love interest. The acting and storyline was so horrendous it could make any soap opera look like Downton Abbey.

    One sitcom that they aired, however, stands out to me to this day because it was the best one. It starred Valerie Harper and was called City. We were told that Harper was considering making a return to sitcom television and the network needed test audiences to provide their opinion of it. What they didn't reveal, however, is that City had already aired its entire 13 episodes on CBS from January through June 1990.

    City was Valerie Harper's return to sitcom television after her previous situation comedy, Valerie, resulted in her dismissal from the show over salary and contract disputes. Harper starred as city manager and widow Liz Gianni, who had to deal with the bureaucratic day-to-day job duties as well as a truly kooky staff (including a stupid security guard who coats himself with White-Out to ensure that no one could ever steal it) and her 19 year-old college dropout daughter, Penny, who is the cause of some household angst thanks to her dating choices.

    Unlike Valerie Harper's iconic Rhoda, Liz Gianni didn't sport headscarves, but she did have some amazing big hair in this series along with feminine power suits. Among her eccentric crew was Anna-Maria Batista (Liz Torres), a Cuban purchasing agent who pronounced "yep" as "jep," Wanda Jenkins (Tyra Ferrell), an African American secretary who was once married to a classical pianist, Gloria Elgis (Mary Jo Keenan), a city social worker and spoiled bubblehead, and Roger Barnett (Todd Susman), the assistant city manager with a weakness for gambling. Everyone reported to the corrupt Deputy Mayor Ken Resnick, played by Stephen Lee. No doubt the producers probably had the unique characters of Night Court in mind when the sitcom was conceived. 

    There were some weird coincidences between City and Valerie, which by this time had been renamed The Hogan Family after Harper's character was written off the show and replaced by a new female character played by Sandy Duncan. The actress who played Liz's daughter, Penny, on City was LuAnne Ponce--the sister of one of the boys who played Valerie Harper's son on Valerie, Danny Ponce. Valerie Hogan's husband on Valerie was named Michael, as was Liz Gianni's late husband on City. CBS also scheduled City to air opposite of The Hogan Family on NBC. 

    City is so elusive in television history that I couldn't locate any video clips to include in my post. For whatever reason, this show failed to secure a second season despite debuting with really great Nielsen ratings which held strongly through April 1990. It's a shame that it only lives on thanks to a lame research company's attempts to pass it off as modern-day TV fare. 

    As far as the research study scam, no real harm was done. They collected everyone's addresses, but I don't think they did anything with them as I didn't receive any unwanted junk mail as a result. Valerie Harper's husband considered suing the research company that aired the pilot of City across the country, as the use was unauthorized. At least these screenings have exposed some folks to a series that deserved to air longer than it actually did.



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    The Valerie Harper Blog-A-Thon that Amanda at MadeForTVMayhem organized still marches on, and it's been wonderful seeing all of the love this week for one of our favorite TV ladies. I've had so much fun reading the other posts that I realized one of my own wasn't enough for me. So today I want to talk a bit about Rhoda Morgenstern's signature bohemian look and how Valerie Harper herself was inspired to create her character's fashion sense. Disclaimer: I'm pulling much of the details from a story The Hollywood Reporter posted a couple of weeks ago. 

    I'm sure that when many of us think of Rhoda, we immediately think of headscarves. "That's so Rhoda" I think to myself when I see someone wearing a scarf this way--even if it's in a fashion photo taken years before television audiences were introduced to Rhoda. Headscarves were to this iconic TV character what a leather jacket was to Fonzie, and what shoes would become years later to Carrie Bradshaw. On The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later for a bit on her spin-off sitcom, Rhoda, Mary's best friend was rarely seen without a colorful scarf tied around her head. 



    There actually seem to be two stories about how scarves found their way into Rhoda's closet. The first is that Valerie Harper's secretary used to wear scarves and inspired the look. 

    But according to The Hollywood Reporter, it was another woman who was responsible for being Rhoda's fashion muse. A forthcoming book by author Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, MaryandLouandRhodaandTed: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show A Classic, explains that Rhoda originally was portrayed as a somewhat dowdy character, with baggy clothes that would keep her blended with the background. But Valerie Harper lost 30 pounds on Weight Watchers, and she was inspired to kick her character's wardrobe up a notch when she saw Mary's stand-in, Mimi Kirk, hanging out on the set one day. 


    Kirk, a self-proclaimed "late hippie" and free spirit of her own, was wearing a scarf around her head and colorful clothing. Harper was inspired and asked the show's co-creator Allen Burns how he would feel if Rhoda dumped the "schlumpy" stuff. Rhoda, after all, was a creative individual; she worked as a window dresser for a department store. Why shouldn't her clothing reflect that artistic quirkiness?

    Burns was all for it and as Kirk told The Hollywood Reporter, she actually made a lot of Rhoda's scarves herself, as not every store scarf was the right size and shape to tie them just so around a head. A lot of Rhoda's headwear was crafted from fabrics including bed sheets and table clothes that Kirk would cut and sew. She also made a lot of Rhoda's jewelry and went to Harper's house for a little closet cleaning, getting rid of anything that Rhoda wouldn't wear. 

    I love this clip that I found the other day, which explains how to get the Rhoda look:




    It's interesting to note that by season three of the spin-off series Rhoda, the character was becoming a savvy businesswoman and underwent a wardrobe makeover, ditching the scarves and bohemian clothing for more workplace-oriented attire. Someone--perhaps the writers, perhaps Harper herself--felt that Rhoda needed to be less artsy and more sophisticated (not that scarves can't be sophisticated.) No matter. Rhoda was beautiful either way--and her trademark accessory lives on in television history. 


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    Photo via The Jane Austin Film Club
    Should I be ashamed that I had never heard of one of England's most prominent department stores, Selfridges, until PBS started promoting the premiere of the series Mr. Selfridge a few weeks ago? This latest Masterpiece Theater series premieres on Sunday, March 31 and stars cutie Jeremy Piven as the wheelin' and dealin' Midwestern American store mogul Harry Selfridge who made a name for himself when he opened up the first department store of its kind, Selfridges, in London in 1909. 


    An illustration of Selfridges' rooftop via Melbourne Blogger
    Big whoop, you may be saying. How exciting can a series about a department store be? That's what I thought until I found out that the flagship Oxford Street Selfridges at one time had a rooftop terrance that showcased gardens, parties, fashion shows, cafes, mini golf and even a ladies' gun club. Harry Selfridge also revolutionized the way customers shopped, by making a trip to the store fun and exciting. He started window displays and has been credited with coining the phrase "The customer is always right." (I am sure that many folks who work in service-related industries would like to slap him for creating that mantra.) Every detail of the store--from lighting to the way salespeople approached customers--was meant to provide a pleasurable shopping experience. Let's hear it for materialism!



    I am sure that the series' producers embellished the Selfridge saga with storylines and events that never took place and will play up Harry Selfridge's womanizing ways (Jeremy Piven looks like he's having too much fun with the ladies in the photo above to portray a dedicated family man.) According to the PBS site, a showgirl and "temptress" named Ellen Love will be one of the women drawn to Mr. Selfridge's charisma. PBS is clearly hoping to corral the Downtown Abbey fans like myself who are going through withdrawal, as the Selfridge promos starting airing the minute the last season of Downton ended. 

    Something sad and ironic to note, which may or may not be portrayed in the series: for all of his success, Mr. Selfridge went bankrupt during the Great Depression, pretty much because he couldn't curb his own spending habits and gambling addiction. 

    I guess we'll see how this plays out when Mr. Selfridge airs the first of its right episodes next Sunday on PBS. Here's a preview of the series:


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    Photo credit: Mathieu Meunier
    I know this blog has been quiet of late…and it's going to be even quieter as I'm leaving for Washington D.C. on Thursday for a mini-vacation and to see the cherry blossoms in the nation's capitol. In the meantime, there's something that's been on my mind lately. Go Retro is now six years old and in all that time there is a type of post I would love to do which hasn't been accomplished yet and that's to interview somebody. That's right, I'm looking for a great scoop--so consider this an open call to find someone relevant to pop culture history who wouldn't mind answering a few questions for this blog. Some of the subjects I have in mind include:

    *Someone who co-starred in a notable music video from the 80s who might have a story or two about the band/performer and the behind the scenes going-ons (I came close a few years ago when I almost got the woman who starred as Alice in Tom Petty's "Don't Come Around Here No More" video, but she flaked on me. Pfffft. Her loss, right?)

    *Someone who worked behind the scenes on a notable TV sitcom or variety show from the 60s, 70s or 80s.

    *A former Playboy bunny who worked in one of the Playboy clubs

    *A former go-go or backup dancer for any of those variety/music shows

    *A roadie or groupie for a band/performer from the 60s, 70s or 80s

    *Someone who worked for or had a close encounter with the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, or any other notable music group/performer from the era.


    You get my drift. Anyone who has a good story to tell. If you or someone you know fits the bill, feel free to email me at GoRetro1@hotmail.com.

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