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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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  • 04/15/13--11:53: Saxy Songs of the 80s

  • It must be the toughest gig these days to be a saxophone-playing session musician--you just don't hear them anymore in most mainstream music. One recent exception is Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory" which featured the late Clarence Clemons. She gets an A for effort in my book, but the song still falls short of the memorable pop and rock tunes that prominently featured a sax--songs that all these years later we still remember for their sultry solos or melodies. 

    It's so strange to me that saxophones have disappeared as a pop music trend, as they're hip and sexy. And I'm sure we all know that no other decade personified the sax like the 80s did. It seems like every other song on the radio back then featured a saxophone. As with all other lists, this one is purely subjective...but here are the songs that had (in my opinion) the most memorable saxophones... 


    "You Belong to the City" -- Glenn Frey
    I was a big Miami Vice fan in the 80s, even though I was too young to know what was going on in every episode--the opportunity to drool over Don Johnson was my main motivation for watching the show. That, and the flashy clothing, cars and music. Miami Vice probably had the best soundtrack of any drama on TV at the time, and I still have a my copy...on cassette! One track that still stands out is Glenn Frey's "You Belong to the City" because of the repeating saxophone riff throughout. Frey played all instruments on the song except for the sax...that was accomplished by studio musician Bill Bergman. 


    "Urgent" -- Foreigner
    This list wasn't put together in any particular order, but if I had to pick one top 80s saxophone song it would have to be Foreigner's "Urgent." Motown sax legend Junior Walker played on the album version (as did Thomas Dolby on synthesizer.) The whole song just screams sex and it wouldn't be the same without Walker's sax riff and scorching solo. 



    "Careless Whisper" -- Wham!
    A list of notable saxophone songs would not be complete without "Careless Whisper", a song which got overplayed both on the radio and MTV (and which Brooke Shields thought was about her after her breakup with George Michael--ha!) Michael was only 17 when he composed the song on a bus and thought up the sultry sax rift himself.



    "Smooth Operator" -- Sade
    What makes "Smooth Operator" stand out is the sax plays a starring role throughout the song, vs. just having a short solo--just like the character Sade is singing about; a rich, promiscuous playboy. Stu Mathhewman played sax on the studio recording and in the music video. 


    "Maneater" -- Hall and Oates
    Charles DeChant has been a band member of Hall and Oates since the 1970s, and actually plays several instruments including flute, guitar and keyboards. But he's mainly a saxophone expert and "Maneater" was a song that definitely let his sax skills shine. A song with a title like "Maneater" deserves a saxophone. Daryl Hall has said that the track at the time wasn't like anything else on the radio. It reached number one on the U.S. charts in 1982 and stayed there for 4 weeks. 



    "True" -- Spandau Ballet
    Steve Norman (also pictured at Live Aid at the top of this post) was Spandau Ballet's saxophonist, but didn't start with the band that way--he was originally a guitarist. By the third album he introduced the sax to the group's sound, lending a much-needed sax solo to their big hit, "True." 



    "Rio" -- Duran Duran
    British saxophonist Andy Hamilton played with several 80s bands including Wham!, Pet Shop Boys and Duran Duran. He's the saxophone player we hear on the song "Rio" but in the music video, two members of Duran Duran mimic the playing: bassist John Taylor while on a cliff and keyboardist Nick Rhodes on a raft. Hamilton also contributed sax to another DD hit, "Union of the Snake."



    "Who Can It Be Now?" -- Men at Work
    Greg Ham from Men at Work played several instruments, but it's his saxophone playing on "Who Can It Be Now?" that no doubt made the song a hit and introduced the world to the new wave Australian band. 



    There are dozens more songs out there and expanding the criteria here to include the 1970s would have brought Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel to the list. What are your most memorable saxophone songs?

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  • 04/21/13--06:19: The Milkman Cometh
  • Image via Antique Automobile Club of America forums
    The milkman: for those of us born after a certain time in America, we never got a visit from one...no fresh, cold milk waiting for us in glass bottles on the doorstep or in the milk chute every morning. But there was a time for many decades when regular milk delivery was a given. Milk delivery goes so far back that milkmen first delivered the goods by horse and wagon, before the automobile and milk trucks came along. Many people who did have milk delivered recall how the fat (cream) would rise to the top of the glass milk bottles and would be scooped out and eaten (yum!)

    There was even a milkman-themed board game produced in the 1950s, called Merry Milkman by Hasbro. As you can imagine, the object was simple: the first player to deliver all of their milk to the neighborhood won the game!

    Via image Northwest Leeds Tumblr
    By the time I was born in the early 70s, the milkman had practically disappeared from American neighborhoods. It's not difficult to understand why--milk first got delivered at a time when homes didn't have refrigeration and needed to be consumed fairly quickly before it spoiled. In the 1950s and 60s, not only did households have refrigerators, but the first paper milk cartons were being produced, which were cheaper than the heavy glass bottles milk was first carried in. It also cost more money to have milk delivered then buying it at the local store. 

    But the milkman may be making a comeback: in recent years I've seen news stories here and there about how the nostalgic love for milk (and food) delivery is keeping the milkman alive and well in some parts of the country. In Louisville, KY, Ehrler's Micro Dairy delivers milk, cheese, eggs and jam to customers three times a week. In one month alone, they delivered over 800 gallons of milk. 

    A.B. Munroe Dairy of Providence, RI, is another company that provides milk delivery, mainly to the Southern New England area. They've been in business for over 130 years. 

    And what about bigger city dwellers who crave home delivered milk? Manhattanites are in luck; Manhattan Milk, owned and operated by Matt Marone and Frank Acosta, deliver hormone-free milk and other goodies around the New York City vicinity. 

    Interestingly, the milkman never faded away in Britain, where milk delivery remains a trend. As in the States, British milk producers/transporters have diversified their offerings to include yogurt and other foods available for home delivery. In India, milk delivery has never gone out of fashion. 

    I'm not sure if I'd ever use a milk service myself--it's still pricier than visiting a store--but I do like the idea of a milk truck making early morning deliveries and keeping a small bit of nostalgia alive. 

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    Image via Mamecade

    A computer/technology pioneer and the cast of a sitcom that never showed a single PC on the set during their run…a match made in advertising heaven!

    According to an old L.A. Times article, the cast of M*A*S*H* replaced the Charlie Chaplin lookalike that IBM was previously usingto promote their computers in the late 80s. The president of the agency that created the campaign said that M*A*S*H* was a natural fit for the new strategy because they represented teamwork. By the time these ads aired/ran, the popular show had been off the air for five years. Maybe theexecutives also felt that American consumers would appreciate seeing familiar faces to shill computing products. Then again, lots of celebs were showing up in computer print ads and commercials around this time...Bill Cosby for Texas Instruments, Bill Bixby and Tandy and William Shatner pitching Commodore were just some of the celebrity endorsements for computers during the 80s. Whatever the reason, the second commercial spot here looks like a M*A*S*H*/The Office....er, mashup:




    A few years before this campaign, Alan Alda was the spokesman for Atari computer products. Is it just me, or is this commercial a little unsettling? What the heck is Alda doing dressing in a college boy's room, if he isn't his father? Shouldn't Hawkeye be checking out the girls' dorms?


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    Today I'm launching a new post theme for Go Retro: A Song's Story. We'll take a look at some songs from music history that have an interesting history behind them. 

    The reason for my first choice, "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down," is because I have a confession about it: until yesterday, I never knew that Cher was the original artist to sing the song and that Sonny Bono wrote it! Hard to believe, but I always thought Nancy Sinatra took the credit. Quentin Tarantino is responsible for my personal gaffe--like most people of my generation, the first time I heard it was during the opening credits of Kill Bill Volume 1. After the film was released, its exposure inspired a lot of bands and singers to cover it--most notably was "Shot You Down" by Audio Bullys who sampled the Sinatra version in what became a top ten UK hit. 

    However, after hearing Cher's original version which was released in 1966, I'm sold on it and prefer it over Sinatra's. I'm puzzled that I've never heard it on the radio, not even on oldies stations. It's already a haunting, depressing song--the singer is telling about her love who used to play with her when they were children and would pretend to shoot her while they rode on "horses made of sticks." They grow up and she marries him--complete with dancing and church bells--but then he leaves her. She's been shot down again yet again by the creep and it's devastating. But there's something about Cher's version that literally gave me chills as I listened to it twice--first of all, it has a Western/Spanish/gypsy theme running through it. No doubt Bono was inspired by the spaghetti westerns that were gracing movie screens in the mid-60s. It also seems to foreshadow the ultimate demise of Sonny and Cher's marriage in the 70s.  

    The song was released as a single and on the Cher album The Sonny Side of Cher. It reached number two on the U.S. Billboard chart in 1966. Sinatra's version was released the same year and pretty much hid in obscurity until it was chosen for the Tarantino movie. It has a more melancholy tone and an opening tremolo guitar effect. 

    Since its release, the song has been covered by Stevie Wonder, The Beau Brummels, Petula Clark, Vanilla Fudge, Lil' Wayne and Italian, French, German and Japanese artists. Cher herself updated the song in 1987 with a rock feel--but I prefer the original (unfortunately I don't think the audio is synched with this video, but it's the only clip of the music video available on YouTube):



    One cover of the song that I came across the other day and love is this version by a Polish singer named Ania Dabrowska. It was released in 2010 and features some pro drumming as well as a scorching sax solo--this right after I posted about how you don't hear saxophones so much in pop music anymore.



    And there you have it. The song will no doubt shoot me down for many more years to come. 

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    Up until not long ago, I long detested beards on men (well...and on women, too. Ha.) I can't even explain why--I just thought guys looked sexier and more professional when clean shaven, with nothing standing in the way of any food that might fall from their face while eating. But now, I think a short, well-groomed beard is devastatingly sexy on the right man. What flipped the switch for me? It was watching Christoph Waltz play Dr. King Schultz in Django Unchained. That beautiful old timey facial hair is as much Schultz's trademark and accessory as the derringer he uses to blow to hell outlaws and abusive slave owners. Waltz has said in interviews that the beard was like a pet, and throughout the movie he cannot resist twirling his 'tache and smoothing it into shape...a character mannerism, I'm sure, he dreamed up himself. Plus he looks dashing with the right length of whiskers in a debonair brown and gray pattern which calls to mind a 1970s Kris Kristofferson. What I wouldn't give to feel those bristles gliding across certain parts of my body, but I digress...

    We're talking about RETRO beards here! And they are sexy and masculine if done right. 

    Beards have definitely been making a comeback on the celeb circuit in recent years--Ben Affleck, George Clooney, and Jon Hamm are just a few of the men who have been sporting them off camera on a regular basis. However, gentlemen need to take care--and clippers--here, because once a beard grows past a certain length it ventures dangerously into ZZ Top, Ted Kaczynski, Grizzly Adams, biker dude, Santa Claus and crazy hippie guy territory. Also, neck beards are never--NEVER!--ever sexy. I don't care what your hipster friends tell you. 

    With that in mind, I rounded up a collection of dudes from back in the day who I think looked good with a certain amount of beard. Emphasis on good. Jim Morrison looked terrible with that caveman beard of his, as did Mick Jagger. George Harrison's Jesus look above is quite fetching, but then he turned into Rasputin the Mad Monk by the time All Things Must Past was released. So you won't find those examples here. Instead I present...

    Jeff Bridges

    Most of us are accustomed to seeing Bridges sport a goatee as "The Dude" in The Big Lebowski. But how hot was he in Against All Odds with his short, trimmed beard? So hot that Rachel Ward could not resist his charms among the Mayan ruins of Mexico. 

    Clint Eastwood

    The good, the bad, and the beard, which is a little bit of both and not ugly (and by bad I mean BADASS.) 

    Harrison Ford

    After finding this photo, I'm surprised that Harry never really was seen with a beard in his younger years. This is really a quite flattering look on him. Indy, leave the razor at home on your next adventure.  

    Paul Newman

    I don't think anything could have made Paul Newman look bad. Something about this beard...perhaps because it's brown...is bringing out his blue eyes even more. 

    Paul McCartney

    All of the Beatles had beards at one time or another, particular by the time Let It Be came out--I'd like to think they started the hairy trend, after all. Around the time the Beatles broke up, Paul looked like a stoned Neanderthal which is what happens when you get lazy about your beard grooming habits. But here in this photo, with a very short beard, I think he looks absolutely love me do-able. 

    Bruce Springsteen

    While I think The Boss looks better without the fuzz, he can still rock a beard--quite literally.

    Steve Jobs

    It was a bit skimpy in its younger incarnations, but I cannot leave Steve Jobs off a list like this. He did indeed look pretty good with a beard...even better than Ashton Kucher. 

    Robert De Niro

    One of the few times we've seen him with a beard--here with his Oscar for Raging Bull

    Eric Clapton

    Not very nice to the women in his life, but I'm guessing they couldn't resist Slowhand's whiskers. He did look very sexy throughout the 80s with the neat, trimmed beard. 

    Billy Crystal

    How cute was Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally when he had the beard?


    Christoph Waltz

    Well looky who we have here! Dr. King Schultz, the early years I presume. Yeah, I had to end it with that.

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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--14:11: 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--20:10: 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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  • 08/29/13--10:05: 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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    Admittedly, Mae West isn't someone I've thought about often--seeing as how Go Retro has a tendency to focus on people, places and things from the 60s through the 80s. But something made me think of Ms. West the other night, and damn, there really ought to be a movie made about her life. To most folks, she is remembered best for her trademark husky voice (back in the day she would have been referred to affectionately as a "broad"), platinum locks and sassy double entendres. However, West was also a talented comedienne and entertainer--the first on-screen star to exude sexiness and humor at the same time, which she gleaned from her vaudeville beginnings. She also lived a colorful life and remained quite active right up into her 80s. The lady had chutzpah, and here are ten factoids to prove it: 


    1. She wrote all of her snappy one-liners
    West was allowed to call the shots in her movies--she rewrote her lines for her first film, Night After Night, turning it into a hit--and many of her quotes have stood the test of time as classic zingers said both on and off the screen: 

    "Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?"

    "When I'm good, I'm very good. But when I'm bad, I'm better."

    "A hard man is good to find."

    "It's not the men in my life that count, it's the life in my men."

    "It is better to be looked over than overlooked."

    "Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before."

    Needless to say, West was pretty uninhibited and confident for her time--but not filthy by today's standards. Her quips left most of it up to an audience's imagination (but did manage to infuriate women's and Catholic groups during one bawdy NBC radio program.) 

    According to IMDB.com, West's early films, while box office smashes, were a bit controversial and led to studios establishing the Motion Picture Production Code, which regulated what content could be shown or said in pictures. It was then that West started writing her famous double entendres as a way of getting around these codes. 

    My favorite line, however, comes from one of her last films, a 1970 movie called Myra Breckenridge. The movie itself is considered one of the worst flops ever made and caused a lot of lawsuits (another blog post for another time) but that didn't stop me from enjoying this clip. The line in question is at the veeeeery end--and yes, that is a young Tom Selleck sans mustache.



    2. She "discovered" Cary Grant
    In a 1976 interview with Dick Cavett, West said that she was flipping through photos of  actors that a Paramount director gave to her to pick her leading man for the film She Done Him Wrong. (Imagine being able to choose which actor to star with you?) West spotted a good looking young man walking across the street outside the window and inquired about him. "If he can talk, I'll take him!" she told the director. The movie was a box office hit and launched Grant's career. West told Cavett that she actually "had him (Grant) twice"--meaning she made two movies with him...but with West, nearly everything she said had a double meaning. 

    3. She was a supporter of gay rights
    Years before her movie career, West wrote a play about homosexuals called "The Drag." It never opened; she had already been arrested for staging another controversial play at the time (more on that a bit below.) West believed that gay people were born gay, and was vehemently against the belief that therapy could "change" a person from gay to straight. She would become a gay icon years later. 

    4. She didn't launch her movie career until she was nearly 40 years old
    West's first motion picture role was in the aforementioned 1932 film Night After Night. She was 39 at the time which is nothing short of amazing, and she managed to keep her age a secret. Not that she had to--she looked freaking fabulous and years younger, probably due to the fact that she stayed out of the sun as much as possible. 

    5. She was arrested for writing and starring in a controversial play
    Years before Madonna made waves with her erotic coffee table conversation piece "Sex", West wrote, produced and starred in a 1926 play by the same name. It marked her debut on Broadway and ran for nearly 400 performances before the New York City Police department raided the theater and arrested her for "corrupting the morals of youth." She was sentenced to 10 days in jail, and enjoyed meals with the warden and his wife. She must have made a good impression, because she was released after serving 8 days due to good behavior. The scandal didn't hurt West's career at all, and raised her profile. 



    6. She recorded rock and roll albums
    In 1966, West recorded an album featuring rock and roll covers called Way Out West, backed by a teen band called Somebody's Chyldren. A Christmas album followed the same year. She also recorded a second rock album in 1968 called Great Balls of Fire which didn't get released until 1972, and included The Doors' hit "Light My Fire." Whether she was actually a good singer I can only leave up to you--I've heard far worse renditions of popular music at the time by actors. She was the oldest female singer at that time to have a solo album on the Billboard 200 chart--a record that wouldn't be broken until 2011 when country singer Wanda Jackson released The Party Ain't Over.



    7. She didn't want to be on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
    When The Beatles were pulling together personalities for their infamous album cover, they had to ask permission to use celebrity likenesses. Mae West initially turned down their request, saying, "What would I be doing in a 'lonely hearts club'?" She had a point. But then the Fab Four sent her a personal letter saying that they were fans of her, and she accepted their request. Ringo Starr would later co-star with her in her final movie, Sextette.

    8. She became a cougar
    West was married a couple of times and involved in several relationships, but her last one when she was 61 up until her death was with a bodybuilder 30 years younger than her, Chester Rybinski, who changed his name to Paul Novak. He was one of the performers in her Las Vegas musclemen stage show and would later say "I believe I was put on this earth to take care of Mae West."



    9. She inspired a sofa
    West's lips inspired surrealist artist Salvatore Dali to create the "Mae West Lips Sofa"--an art deco shaped couch with a design that is recognizable to this day. Allied forces airmen during WWII also referred to their life preserver jackets as "Mae Wests" because they resembled her waist and breasts. 

    10. She bought a building to shut up a bunch of racists
    West dated the boxing champion William "Gorilla" Jones, who was African-American. The landlords of the Ravenswood apartment building West lived in at the time didn't allow "negroes" to visit the complex and complained, so West shut them up by purchasing the building and lifting the ban on African American guests and tenants. 

    Mae West was certainly a woman way ahead of her time and in 1982, Ann Jillian played her in a TV movie about her life, but I think a big screen rendition is in order. Truth be told, I don't think there is an actress convincing enough to play her in a biopic (unless she's an unknown) but it would be nice to see Hollywood bring her to the public's attention again. 

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