Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

I always have mixed emotions on this holiday. While I love the optimistic feeling that starting a new year on a clean slate brings, I must admit that I get a little misty eyed when the news programs pay tribute to the notable personalities that passed away during the year. Because we are entering a new decade, ABC News showed celebs who have died during the past 10 years. The list is so long: Katharine Hepburn, Ted Williams, Ray Charles, Fred Rogers, Julia Child, George Harrison, Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon, Evel Knievel, Aaron Spelling, and countless others. Some were old and some died too young - but I like to think that because of the vast vintage blogging community out there, that they continue to live on through their fans such and you and me, who love older pop culture.

While it was not such a nice year for the world in general, it was a tremendous year for me personally, and this blog certainly played a big part. GoRetro gained several followers and fans, and I really do feel like I'm getting to know many of you and your personalities. So many of your blogs are inspirations for mine. Thanks so much for your support and making it a great year for this blog. In the coming months, I hope to spruce up the look and layout and add some new regular features. My sincere wish for all of you is that all have and enjoy the same positive outlook in 2010 and that it brings nothing but good things to you!

To "ring out the old, ring in the new", here's a little George Harrison with just about the only New Year's related song other than Auld Lang Syne that I can think of that was a semi-hit:

Monday, December 28, 2009

Pipe Up

I don't know of anyone who smokes a pipe, do you? (I'm talking traditional tobacco pipes, not hookas and those used for drugs.) Today, when we think of pipe smokers, the images that come to mind most likely include Sherlock Holmes, old sea captains, General Douglas MacArthur, and Santa Claus. However, just a few decades ago pipe smoking was quite the fashion among younger men, a fact that is not lost on the writers and producers of Mad Men - the intellectual character of Paul Kinsey, as played by Michael Gladis, is often seen puffing on a pipe, and Gladis is a pipe fan offscreen. My own father picked up the pipe habit in the 1940s or 50s and was a lifelong pipe smoker, never opting for cigarettes or cigars.

Pipes have been around for centuries, but despite mass production and distribution of cigarettes in the 20th century, pipe smoking really seemed to have taken off in America by the 1950s. By then they had become part of the quintessential image of men, particularly fathers. Even children's books depicted dads smoking a pipe - this image is from a 1959 children's book called Cowboy Andy:

These two 1950s ads, for Van Heusen and Izod, show men with pipes:

I have a theory that pipe smoking was bolstered, in part, by ads such as these (which come from VintageAdsandStuff) meant to show the habit as sophisticated and attractive to the opposite sex. A man with a pipe was thought to be sexy, and the pipe's aroma irresistible to women. I don't know, my mother and I found the smell of my dad's Half and Half most times to be anything BUT intoxicating.

I saved the best for last. The man lighting up in this one is the hit of the party - and the blonde with his arm around him is declaring that she is in love with the tobacco that he's wearing, and the other blonde is wondering if he's married!

I will admit - partly because of my upbringing - that there is something homey and attractive about seeing a man with a pipe. My favorite performer, Bobby Darin, loved to smoke a pipe in the 60s, and was often photographed with one:

Darin was even photographed with a pipe on the cover of his album "Love Swings." Kevin Spacey later said that while filming the Bobby Darin biopic "Beyond the Sea", that the art crew chased him around for days with a cap and pipe, to try to get him to recreate the album cover for the movie.

Then of course we have Hugh Hefner, who was rarely seen in the Playboy mansion without his essential pipe and smoking jacket:

Fred MacMurray of My Three Sons smoked a pipe on the show:

Other famous pipe smokers are said to include (via FujiPub) Yul Brenner, Bill Cosby, President Gerald Ford, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Jack Lemmon, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

So why did pipe smoking - at least in public - fall so out of fashion? I have a few theories. First, it's hardly a portable smoking habit - you need to carry around with you a pipe, a packet of tobacco, and a lighter. Secondly, smoking pipes is all about relaxation and taking your time and slowly getting that nicotine high - a pastime way too slow for our fast driven, instant gratification world. Lastly, it DOES cause cancer and is no safer than cigarette or cigar smoking.

Still, I can think of habits far worse than smoking a pipe - and what a way for a man to stand out today.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tom Jones on the Morecambe & Wise Show

Thank you everyone for the Christmas wishes! I hope Santa was good to all of you.

In an effort to get better acquainted with the British Morecambe & Wise show, I came across this hilarious clip of Tom Jones trying to perform “Exactly Like You” on the duo’s program in the 1970s, and had to share it. I love their smashing dance routine.

As I watched the video for a second time, I wondered a. why we no longer have funny shows such as these today, and b. if today’s TV viewers would find this silly type of non-sexual, very un potty-like humor actually funny. From the comments I read on YouTube, I’m guessing yes. I’ve seen many remarks from people who say they’re in their 20s and 30s who love this stuff. So it behooves me at what point TV lost that magical comedy spark, and why. I suppose when comedians such as Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise and many of our American greats passed away and their shows stopped airing, it was the end of an era. Often I see a glimmer of that silliness in hosts like Ellen DeGeneres, but let’s face it – it just isn’t the same.

Anyways, enjoy the clip:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from Go Retro!

Image credit: Mary Cafferty on Photobucket.

My posts are probably going to be sporadic at best until the new year, so I just wanted to make sure to wish my readers happy holidays. Whether you like your Christmas hip, grooving, or swinging, I hope it's a happy and healthy one for you and your loved ones. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

When Bing Met Bowie

One of my favorite Christmas songs is the late 70s rendition of Little Drummer Boy between Bing Crosby and David Bowie. But I must confess that I didn't know anything about how this strange musical pairing actually came to be. Turns out that it almost never happened, if it weren't for the quick thinking of three songwriters working on Crosby's show at the time.

The unlikely duo were filmed performing the song in September 1977, for Crosby's "Merrie Olde Christmas" special that aired later that year. As Crosby was touring in Great Britain and the theme of the special was celebrating Christmas in England, the special's producers felt it made logical sense to ask British stars to make appearances on the show. Two of them who gladly accepted were the model Twiggy and actor Ron Moody, who was starring in Oliver! at the time. But Bowie was a tough sell. The picky rock star didn't like the choice of the song ("Little Drummer Boy") chosen to sing on the program. In fact, he declared that he hated it and asked if there was something else he could sing (ah, ego.) Panicked, the producers/songwriters of the program - Buz Kohan, Larry Grossman, and Ian Fraser - found the nearest piano and banged out "Peace on Earth", the second component of the song, in just over an hour.

In the segment, before they sing together, Bowie knocks on Crosby's door, then insults him by asking if he's the new butler! Bowie's idea of "old musicians" at the time is John Lennon and Harry Nilsson. I suppose the banter between Bowie and Crosby is as light and humorous as it can be. Picture someone like Paul Anka trying to have a conversation with Marilyn Manson, and you'll see what I mean. At least Ziggy Stardust left his makeup and costumes at home for this performance. It's actually unclear to this day if Crosby even knew who Bowie was, although one of the song's writers says that Crosby's children surely would've filled him in.

The performance aired about a month after Crosby's death, but the song was not forgotten among fans - it circulated as bootlegs until 1982, when it was officially released as a single, and has become a classic.

Interestingly, Clay Aiken performed his own duet of the song with the late Crosby on a 2003 Christmas special, but I don't think his voice complimented like Bowie's did. Here's both versions - let me know if you agree. Pretty thing, isn't it?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Holiday Match Game

"It's always fun to dress alike." That's what one of the captions says for one of these pages, but is it really? Are these couples really having fun? We all know that lots of things should be coordinated...socks, for example. Perhaps earrings. But not couples. The strange vintage fashion trend of his and her matching clothing has been covered on many other blogs, but I couldn't resist posting these beauties from the 1966 Sears Wish Book catalog (you can find it and many others on the site WishBookWeb). Many posts that I've seen usually pull images from the 70s, but this is scary proof that trying to dress like your partner seems to have originated a decade before.

This begs the question of who started this nauseating trend, and why? They don't make you seem like a close couple - just close, maybe, to checking yourselves into the loony bin. It just looks like the type of thing you'd see Steve Carrell, Will Ferrell, or John C. Reilly do in a movie - and for added laughs, they'd do it with another guy!

This outfit is for the Lord and Lady of the manor who already have everything...except for matching blazers:

Thank goodness they did not force the dog to wear a matching doggie coat.

Was the use of the Santa mask as a prop a distraction from the geekiness of these photos? Shouldn't there be two Santa masks, if they're really trying to match?

This takes "I want to get into your pants" to a whole new level. Now you really can be in your sweetheart's pants - even when you're not!

Why should Mom and Dad have all of the torture? Force your children to also suffer. Even the slippers match. And the Holly Hobby type sleep caps? Ghastly.

To be fair, this issue of the Sears Wish Book contained a LOT of colorful, groovy fashions. You just won't find any of them on the first ten pages.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I Want to Party With Mrs. Mills!

In my last collection of Bad Cover Art: The Yuletide Edition I included an album by Mrs. Mills. One of my readers, Richard (who writes a fantastic blog called The Bewildered Brit - check it out sometime if you don't already follow it) kindly told me the back story on Mrs. M. Turns out she was not a one-hit novelty wonder but one of England's biggest recording stars in the 1960s. She even shared studio space with the Beatles at Abbey Road Studios.

Mrs. Mills' story is of the rags-to-riches variety. She was employed as a superintendent of the typing pool in the Paymaster General's office, when in Decemeber 1961 she was spotted by a talent scout at a Woodford Golf Club dance near her home in Loughton, Essex. What was her talent? She played the piano...quite well, in fact, often covering sing along pub songs and roaring 20s ragtime hits, sometimes accompanied by a chorus. In later years, she expanded her catalog to more contemporary hits such as "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing", "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend", and "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree."

And here's the thing - I looked her up on YouTube, somewhat open minded, but wary that she'd end up reminding me of another Mrs. M - Mrs. Miller - who was like a female version of Tiny Tim at the time. I mean, her album covers alone are enough to make anyone guffaw!

But nothing could be further than the truth. I fell in love with Mrs. Mills' personality and talent immediately. Like today's Susan Boyle, she just seems so real and down to earth. Her warm smile, that friendly air - I mean, she just looks like she should be running a B&B in the English countryside, greeting guests with an "Ello luv, come right in for some tea and crumpets and a singalong!" Don't mind if I do!

And this lady loved to party. Just check out the numerous party titles in her rather extensive discography:

“Mrs Mills Hoe-Down Party” parts 1&2
"Everybody’s Welcome At Mrs Mills’ Party”
“Any Time’s Party Time With Mrs Mills”
“It’s Party Time!”
“Mrs Mills’ Party"
“Glad’s Party” parts 1&2
"Mrs Mills Knees-Up Party"
"Non-Stop Honky-Tonk Party"
"What A Wonderful Party"

Mrs. Mills even navigated the antics of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise gracefully, as seen on this 1973 appearance on the Morecambe & Wise show. They take a few shots at her weight and her fruitcake - although we know perfectly well that this was all in good fun, a show could never get away with this today:

Needless to say, her music and stage presence just makes me happy - a delightful lady. Sadly, Mrs. Mills passed away at the age of 60 in 1978. But if she were still here - I'd accept her invitation and would be putting my party boots on!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Men With Hats

It's been said that when JFK appeared at his 1961 inauguration without a hat, that most American men quickly followed the trend by tossing their fedoras aside. The irony of this is that during the 60s, many singers made wearing a hat a part of their regular appearance. Since it's bitter cold and definitely hat weather in my neck of the woods today I thought it would be fun to highlight some of the funky headgear worn by rock and pop stars of the 1960s. They wore them well:

John Phillips
Phillips was rarely seen in concert or practice without his fur hat.

Bob Dylan
A big connoisseur of hats, including the very unusual top hat aka the Abe Lincoln.

John Lennon
Probably the first Beatle to be photographed wearing a hat. He started off with his trademark leather newsboy cap, then got funkier as the 60s and music got more psychedelic, and then returned to caps and berets in the 70s.

George Harrison

OK, so not a real hat per say, but an awfully cute shot:

Jimi Hendrix

Mick Jagger
Although he didn't wear them as often as these other dudes, Mick did occasionally wear hats in concert (this photo was taken in 1970) and for the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll special.

I would've loved to include Tom Petty, but he rose to fame in the 70s. If I missed anybody, please let me know!

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