Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kermit the Psychopath

This news may be tough to come to grips with, but believe it or not, everyone’s favorite amphibian once took delight in torturing and murdering another muppet. Picture if you will our little Kermie, just past tadpole stage, without his trademark collar and as slick and bald as the villain John Doe from the movie “Se7en”, starring in a series of coffee commercials where he bangs, shoots, stabs, bonks, blows up, shoots out of a canyon, and even electrocutes another hapless poor muppet just because the fellow doesn’t like Wilkins coffee!

OK, so the muppet really isn’t Kermit. Although he looks an awfully lot like a prototype of him, he’s really spokespuppet Wilkins, shilling Wilkins coffee and trying to convince his unassuming buddy Wontkins to drink it. Lest we think gratuitous muppet violence is disturbing, keep in mind that Jim Henson’s creations started out with adult appeal, often appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show. I personally LMAO watching one collection of clips after another – these brilliant 8 second spots came to be when a young Henson was commissioned by Wilkins coffee to create a series of television commercials beginning in 1957 and lasting until 1961. With such a short time to make a lasting branding impression, the spots had to be lightning quick and deliver some bang! I think that’s just what they accomplished. 179 commercials featuring Wilkins and Wontkins aired, and Wilkins coffee even offered vinyl puppet renditions to purchase, which I imagine would be collector’s items today.

Essentially these ads are saying, “Drink Wilkins coffee…or die!” They are a hoot.

Enjoy these, and I’d love to hear your comments. Now if only we could get Kermit to do some of these things to the ultra-annoying Miss Piggy…

Monday, February 22, 2010

Five Things That Were Way Better Way Back When

"'Cause the good ol' days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems..." - Billy Joel

Sorry, Billy, but I have to disagree. There are *some* things that were much better generations ago then their modern-day incarnations. Don't worry, I'm not about to sound like the old man with his horse and buggy lamenting about how the automobile will never catch on. There's no disputing that time and technology has made some things better, like cars, computers, and medical procedures. I just think there are some things that shouldn't have been tinkered with, and those would include:

1. Air Travel

Flying the friendly skies once meant sitting back and stretching your legs out in front of your spacious economy seat, while miniskirted stewardesses brought you free cocktails and food. No patdowns, no luggage fees, no paying for food. This type of flying as most Americans knew it is now extinct.

Truth be told, I'm actually one of the few people who admits she loves to fly - maybe because I don't do it that often - but I am also one to agree that modern air travel today sucks compared to 40 years ago. Besides the ridiculous homeland security measures that treat even new mothers and their newborn babies like they're shoe bomb smuggling psychos, we now have to pay for everything - checked luggage, crummy processed food, and even headphones to watch the in-flight movie or listen to music - perks that all used to be FREE. It seems like the airline industry nickels and dimes us more than our banking institutions. Legroom on commercial airplanes has also shrunk during the past 30 years, and continues to get worse. There's something to be said for trains, which are actually my favorite way to travel. Let's hope Amtrak doesn't mess it up.

2. TV Sitcoms

I've said it before and I'll say it again that the last half hour comedy sitcom that I made a point of watching every week was "Everybody Loves Raymond." I could laugh at just about anything that aired during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. To name just a few favorites, "Alice", "Cheers", and "The Golden Girls" were staples of my childhood and teenagehood growing up. Look at the variety there - these were programs about a single mom working in a diner, senior women living together, and the patrons of a Boston bar. While there's still some gems to be seen on cable TV, current-day network shows are for the most part, in the crapper. Most sitcoms revolve around unfunny storylines involving parenthood, horny men, bratty children, and...did I mention parenthood? Yeah, we get it already. Hollywood, try a little imagination why don't you.

3. Gas Stations

Remember the scene in "Back to the Future" where Marty McFly is in his hometown in the 1950s, and we watch as several uniformed gas station attendants eagerly come rushing out to a driver to fill the car's tank, clean the windows, and check the oil and tire pressure, all to the tune of "Mr. Sandman"? It's hard to believe during a time where we hand over $3/gallon for gas that we often must pump ourselves, but this used to be a reality for drivers beginning in the 1920s. Gas stations used to be called "service stations" due to the perks provided.

Harry Smith of CBS' The Early Show wonders what happened to service stations as well. I'm not sure of the answer myself except the turning point was probably the oil crisis of 1973 which started a chain of events that led to several gas stations going out of business and decreased competition in the business. Today's high speed world where most drivers don't want to waste time getting gas is probably another contributing factor. Sure, you can get sandwiches and lottery tickets at gas stations today, but once in a while, wouldn't it be nice to get squeaky clean windows and have your tires checked - for free?

4. Children's Extra-Curricular Activities

I bet you've received an email that was circulating a few years ago addressed to "all the kids who survived the 1930's, 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's." A few of the lines went like this:

"We did not have Play stations, Nintendo's and X-boxes. There were no video games, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVD's, no surround-sound or CD's, no cell phones, no personal computers,
no Internet and no chat rooms. WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!"

Consider this: these were kids that grew up during the golden age of television, but even that didn't distract them from going outside and getting some physical activity. And recreational drugs? Smoking pot is mere child's play compared to the "games" that these bored little cretins dream up today, such as "huffing" and the "choking game."

5. Glamour Magazine
I was a long-time subscriber of Glamour in the 90s but if my sisters brought over any used copies in the 80s I ate those up, too. In a way, I came of age reading Glamour because it was aimed at the type of woman I always imagined I'd be: smart, career oriented, and classy. The articles were written with this demographic in mind - along with the usual fashion pieces, you'd find job and health advice along with pieces on purchasing your first home and there was even an awesome recipe included each month. It wasn't just for college age women, either - women in their 20s through their 40s were well represented. It was this type of intelligent content that separated Glamour from the very sinewey and sex-oriented Cosmopolitan on the stands (not that I didn't read Cosmo as well and learn a thing or two.)

And then there was an editorial change sometime in the late 90s/early 2000s, and Glamour became essentially Cosmo's twin. No longer was the copy aimed at mature women - the magazine became a dumbed down version of itself. They kept the dos and donts section, but gone were the recipes and job advice, instead replaced by way too much fashion and sex advice aimed at 20-somethings. Even their horoscope - which used to be quite sophisticated - turned seriously lame.

I know in time I'll come up with five more things that are worse now than back in the day. But for now, these are the five that grate at me the most!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Whatever Happened to Songs That Told a Story?

We all know the story of "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" as sung by Jim Croce. And the grim tale of Maxwell Edison, as told to us by the Beatles in "Maxwell's Silver Hammer." And thanks to the 1970s one-hit wonder group Looking Glass, we know about the girl named "Brandy" who fell in love with a sailor, but couldn't steal his heart from the sea. The list goes on and on - it shows what imagination many songwriters from the 60s through the 80s had, to come up with so many memorable characters and set them to music. Sometimes the songs weren't about a particular person, but tried to teach some sort of moral lesson (like "Cat's in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin.)

I don't doubt that musicians today are still using fictional or non-fictional characters as inspiration, but if they are I'm just not hearing them that often. Do you think Katie Perry is capable of weaving such a fantastical tale as the ill-fated romance of Lola and Rico as could only be told by Barry Manilow in "Copacabana"? I think not.

So, to remember what it was like here's my list of the 25 best and/or most memorable storytelling songs. May they long live forever on the radio waves.

1. Space Oddity - David Bowie
2. American Pie - Don McLean
3. Scenes From An Italian Restaurant - Billy Joel
4. Alice's Restaurant - Arlo Guthrie
5. Escape (The Pina Colada Song) - Rupert Holmes
6. Take A Letter, Maria - R.B. Greaves
7. Luka - Suzanne Vega
8. Cat's in the Cradle - Harry Chapin
9. A Boy Named Sue - Johnny Cash
10. Billy, Don't Be a Hero - Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods
11. Shilo - Neil Diamond
12. The Hurricane - Bob Dylan
13. Copacabana - Barry Manilow
14. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) - Bruce Springsteen
15. The Gambler - Kenny Rogers
16. Rocky Raccoon - The Beatles
17. Come Dancing - The Kinks
18. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown - Jim Croce
19. Harper Valley PTA - Jeannie C. Reilly
20. Last Night by The Traveling Wilburys
21. In the Ghetto - Elvis Presley
22. The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun - Julie Brown
23. Christmas Wrapping - The Waitresses
24. Paradise by the Dashboard Light - Meatloaf
25. Leader of the Pack - The Shangri-Las

Honorable mentions - Bobby Darin wrote two superb storytelling songs, Me & Mr. Hohner and Long Line Rider, that only die-hard (like me) Darin fans would know about.

As it is with most lists, I know I'm bound to miss quite a few examples. So let me know in your comments which ones you would add.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Clothing of the Future - 1930s Predictions

It's always amusing to see what predictions past generations came up with about the 21st century. This is a great little clip showing what fashion designers of the 1930s envisioned clothing in the year 2000 (note how they include a comma) would be like. Good thing that flashlight tucked into your hair never caught on. Remarkably, they were close on the men - a portable phone, carrier, and facial hair (the goatee did start coming on strong about 10 years ago.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Boy Meets Computer Meets GIrl: The Origins of Computer Dating

Happy Valentine's Day weekend! In honor of the holiday, I decided to take a look at a dating fad from the 60s and 70s: computer dating. Yep, the notion of using a computer to play cupid for you is actually not new. A few decades before eHarmony came to be, lonely hearts who couldn't find dates through their friends, in a bar, the local record store, or at the discoteque could use a computer dating service to be set up.

It all started in 1965 when two buddies and Harvard undergrads, Jeff Tarr and Vaughn Morrill, spent yet another dateless Saturday night together. Dreaming up new ways to meet girls, the pair came up with the idea of using a computer to match people up. They knew that Europe was using computers for similar matchmaking purposes. After enlisting the help of another pair of friends, David Crump and Douglas Ginsburg (who would later become a Supreme Court nominee), Operation Match was born.

The concept was simple: participants were given questionnaires meant to assess their personalities. The info gathered from cards were transferred onto punch cards and run through a mainframe computer, and the applicant received information that would be considered illegal today: the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the most compatible matches. So what if any of your potential new significant others turned out to have ten bodies buried in their basement - this was the 60s, after all! The foursome tried to craft their questionnaire with science and humor in mind. Here's a sample question from one of the forms:

Your roommate gets you a blind date for the big dance. Good-looking your roommate says. When you meet your date, you are sure it’s your roommate who is blind – your date is friendly, but embarrassingly unattractive. You:
(1) Suggest going to a movie instead
(2) Monopolize your roommate’s date leaving your roommate with only one noble alternative.
(3) Dance with your date, smiling weakly, but end the evening as early as possible.
(4) Act very friendly the whole time and run the risk of getting trapped into a second date.

One of the toughest questions would always be "How good-looking are you?" The foursome said that ugly people tended to say that they were good-looking, and vice versa.

The group of would-be cupids had to enlist the help of a computer science major to actually get the dating service off the ground. They also rented an Avco 1790 computer (which back in those days took up the space of a room) and were allowed to work on their campus project from only 2 to 4 AM every night. Participants were charged $3 each and it took about six weeks for the Harvard team to produce a match list.

If you can imagine the romanticism that computers and emerging technologies had on society during the mid-60s, then it's probably not a big surprise that the idea of computing dating was viewed as very cutting-edge and ahead of its time. As soon as word got out about this new dating fad, the craze started sweeping college campuses, and Tarr and Morrill collected over 7,000 questionnaires (and match making fees) during the first year in business alone. One female student at Vassar received over 100 matches.

Crump, an aspiring songwriter on the side, even penned a rock and roll composition about computer dating, with the following lyrics:

Well, I filled out my form and I sent it along,
Never hoping I'd get anything like this.
But now when I see her,
Whenever I see her,
I want to give her one great big I.B.M. kiss.
She's my I.B.M. baby, the ideal lady,
She's my I.B.M. baby.
From the first time I met her I couldn't forget her,
She's my I.B.M. baby.
Well we've dated sometime,
Things are going just fine, and I'd like to settle down with her.
Just like birds of a feather
We put 2 and 2 together, and we came one with an I.B.M. affair.
She's my I.B.M. baby, I don't mean maybe,
She's my I.B.M. baby.

By the 70s, it had spread to include older singles in metropolitan areas. One such company was called Compumatics and operated out the New York City area. Computer dating also worked its way into pop culture - on a 1974 episode of Sanford & Son called "Matchmaker", Fred tries to help his son Lamont find a wife through a computer dating company. An episode of "The Odd Couple" showed Oscar trying a computer dating service.

This all begs the question if anyone was actually successful with this form of dating service; did any long-term marriages occur through computer dating? Friends who knew people who tried it at the time say no - and sadly, this was sometimes a last ditch effort for folks who had been single for long stretches and never found love through the usual avenues at the time. My 8th grade class even participated and I remember my matches were the three dweebiest class nerds.

Linda Dannenberg, who wrote to the New York Times a few years ago about her own experiences with campus computer dating in the 60s says, "I remember the delicious anticipation with which we all awaited the names and schools of our matches. I eventually met up with two of mine. One was a Yale sophomore, an earnest fellow from Pocatello, Idaho. The second sentence out of his mouth was, ''If you were a potato, Pocatello would be the center of your world.'' Next!

My other date, Yale '66, a shaggy mathematician, talked hauntingly, obsessively and in exquisitely painful detail about how computers were going to take over the world."

Operation Match, despite receiving over a million responses annually by the late 60s, remarkably failed to make a profit. Eventually it was purchased by investors who used the personality compatibility technology to match up college roommates. By the 80s, personal ads in newspapers and other periodicals and video dating had become the newest way to meet cute and computer dating would fall by the wayside until the Internet came around. Still, we can thank the early efforts of Tarr, Morrill, Crump, and Ginsberg for paving the way to Internet dating as we know it today.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Go Retro Receives an Award!

Go Retro has been recognized with the One Lovely Blog Award! Mucho thanko to Gilligan over at the epic Retrospace for spreading the love and bestowing me with this nifty award. Gillian is THE purveyor of past pop culture so I highly recommend checking out his awesome site if you haven't done so already.

So what else does this award mean? It means I better get my ass in gear and start posting more. It also means I get to recognize ten blogs by passing the award along...not an easy task with so many wonderful sites out there. I will try to choose folks who were not already recognized on Gilligan's list. And those would be...(drum roll, please):

Mid Century Madness

Dad's Dish Retro Blog

Some Like It Vintage

I Love Retro Things

Pop-o-Matic Deluxe!

Howdy From Cowtown

The Sexy Armpit

No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane

Time Machine to the Twenties

Hellcat Vintage

Congrats to the winners! Hope you enjoy your award and will keep the love flowing by passing it along to other bloggers.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Under My Thumb: A Disturbing Vintage Advertising Trend

Sexism in vintage advertising is no secret, and lately I've noticed while perusing ads of the 60s and 70s that there's a recurring theme that Pete Campbell of Sterling Cooper probably would've dreamed up (or at least, approved of): putting women below men, literally. In the 60s and 70s, it was perfectly OK to depict men stepping all over women, standing above them, or otherwise keeping them below waist level in some subservient fashion. Creepily enough, in some of these ads, the women seem all too happy to be down and out like our shoe lady up above. Let's have a look...

I first saw this Caveman ad on ILuvRetroThings (a really cool blog if you haven't already checked it out.) The fact that it's advertising a cigar and the man is holding an oversized club (that the lady's eyes are drawn to) just adds to the phallic imagery as well.

Want to promote men's pants? Just sit a female model next to them...and oh, have her bite the guy's knee while you're at it. Titillating, indeed.

The model looks intimidated. I guess you would be in her position, too.

This one just floored me (no pun intended!) The copy reads, "Though she was a tiger lady, our hero didn't have to fire a shot to floor her. After one look at his Mr. Leggs slacks, she was ready to have him walk all over her. If you'd like your own doll-to-doll carpeting, hunt up a pair of these he-man, Mr. Leggs slacks." Doll-to-doll carpeting? Wow, just wow. Words fail me.

Women aren't pets, so why would you pretend to pat them? Note to advertisers: having the man place his hand on the girl's head does nothing to soften the sexist effect of these ads - in fact, it does quite the opposite!

The brunette in this hilarious shot appears to mesmerized by the man's ass. And the blonde's eyes are aiming right for her partner's crotch.

Even the innocent men's tie and shirt manufacturer, Van Heusen, got in on the act. Why does she have to kneel on the floor to serve breakfast in bed?

Lastly, this isn't an ad - it's a 1980s album by the German group The Scorpions, who were known for some pretty controversial/sexist album art. Just a ridiculous title and cover all around.

Ah well, at least Nancy Sinatra got her revenge...

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Mary Ford: The First Guitar Heroine

As a woman learning the guitar, I occasionally hear comments about how guys can play better than women, that it's really hard for girls to play, yadda, yadda, yadda. To which I say to all poppycock. There are tons of great female guitarists - Bonnie Raitt, Joan Jett, Nancy Wilson, Charo (yes, Charo as in Cuchi-Cuchi Charo...if you don't believe me, look her up on YouTube) and countless others. However, Mary Ford would probably have to be my pick for the first famous female guitarist and a quite smashing one at that. Mary was married to guitar player extraordinaire Les Paul and often sang while he played, so even I was surprised to learn she could pick up an ax. Here's one of the few times she was shown having a little duel between her and her husband, and she has no problem whatsoever keeping up. You go, girl! This is from the Colgate Comedy Hour.

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