Saturday, December 28, 2013

Whatever Happened To...Fitness Television Programs?

I find it amazing that out of the hundreds of channels I receive in my cable subscription not a single one of them is devoted to health and fitness. There's never been a greater need for one. Americans continue to get fatter and unhealthier and nearly every week it seems there's a news story about our growing obesity problem, yet an exercise show featuring at-home workouts is apparently as elusive as the Tooth Fairy as we head into 2014.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

10 Things You Didn't Know About Bobby Darin

"It isn't true that you live only once. You only die once. You live lots of times, if you know how." - Bobby Darin

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Bobby Darin's death--and considering that he's my favorite entertainer of all time, I couldn't let another day slip by without spreading some love for my Bobby D. Notice that I chose the word entertainer to describe him in lieu of singer or musician. That's because Bobby Darin, as his diehard fans already know, possessed talent that was way more multi-faceted than just being a crooner. So many of today's fame whores from Miley Cyrus to Kanye West are nothing but posers with overinflated opinions of themselves; Darin was the real deal. He wrote catchy songs that spanned several genres and composed instrumental music, had mastered several instruments by the time he was a teen, was intelligent, involved in social and political causes and even scored an Oscar nomination. If you think that the only thing Bobby Darin contributed to the world was "Mack the Knife", think again. The man was so amazing that when his son, Dodd Darin, interviewed friends of his father for his biography about his parents, "Dream Lovers: The Magnificent Shattered Dreams of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee," he said they often burst into tears while waxing nostalgia about his dad; so beloved that he was. Here are ten things most non-Darin fans probably don't know about him...

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Reasons Why the Rankin/Bass TV Specials Rocked

As a 70s/80s child I'll always hold a special place in my heart for the Rankin/Bass animated TV specials--particularly the ones that featured their stop-motion technology. Every year it seems a new children's Christmas special makes its debut, but they can never touch anything that Rankin/Bass produced--in fact, they're downright lame by comparison. I started to think about why Arthur Rankin's and Jules Bass' creations were so enchanting, given that animation has become way more sophisticated compared to the 1960s. While everyone working on the Rankin/Bass team contributed to the success of these specials, I determined that it seemed to boil down to three key ingredients...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Few Words From Jack LaLanne on Being Happy and Grateful

When Jack LaLanne passed away a few years ago, I came across this wonderful clip of him (which I posted before) from his early television fitness show on what it means to be happy (or unhappy) in modern society. At that time, modern society was the early 1960s or so, but I think the point he made back then still rings true today. This was the great thing about LaLanne's show--besides demonstrating exercises for viewers to follow along at home, he dispensed nutrition and lifestyle tips, proving that being healthy is more than working out alone, but a combination of exercise, food, and mindset. 

Sadly, it's even tougher today to be happy than it was when this show was filmed. The world moves along at a much faster pace and people (or at least, Americans) are overworked, stressed, and often struggling to make ends meet. I'm sure it wouldn't comfort Jack if he knew that today, in addition to walking around looking miserable, people are doing so while being transfixed by a smartphone screen. What I like about the clip below is that it helps puts things in perspective--and that happiness is an inside job.

I'd like to wish all of my readers a very happy Thanksgiving, yummy food, and safe travels if you're leaving home. I hope everyone finds something to be happy and grateful about--every day of the year, not just on the holiday. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida at the Museum of Fine Arts

Last weekend a friend and I saw a fashion exhibit called "Hippie Chic" at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. I regret not being able to see and report on it earlier during its exhibition time--November 11 was the last day it ran, and I know Go Retro's readers would have dug it. For that, I can only apologize and try to make up for it with my photos and commentary.

Hippie Chic was a collection of 54 ensembles all made during the 1960s and 1970s, ranging from classy old Hollywood-inspired pieces to psychedelic "Summer of Love" outfits and everything in between. Upon entering the exhibit we were immediately transported back in time, helped along by a jukebox loaded with hits from the era, shag rugs, and rotating platforms. Honestly, I could really feel the energy that the 60s evoked the second I entered the room. There were designs by Geoffrey Beane, Ossie Clark, Peter Max, Beverly Johnson, and Yves Saint Laurent. The first outfit we noticed was the very colorful and psychedelic dress above (the press release for the installation calls it a jacket, but it sure looks like a dress to me.) It was designed by Barry and Yosha Finch of the design collaborative "The Fool", who were responsible for much of the clothing that The Beatles sold in their short-lived Apple Boutique in the late 60s. It was by far my favorite outfit in the exhibit and I wish I could have it!

Here's a sampling of what was included in this very fascinating installation...

Friday, November 08, 2013

Today's Go Retro Blog Post is Brought to You by a Very Drunk Orson Welles

Paul Masson has nice wood? Huh? 

Where was I, again? Oh yeah...if you grew up as a kid in the late 70s or early 80s then you may remember the television commercials that Orson Welles did for Paul Masson wine with the famous tagline, "We will sell no wine before its time." Well, judging by the looks of this amazing clip of outtakes I stumbled upon yesterday (that made me laugh so hard I went through 3 or 4 tissues) Orson was definitely drinking something before his screen time. Paul Masson champagne is fermented...and so is Welles. One can only imagine what was going through the heads of the two actors in the scene with him.

Welles, however, was hitting the hooch hard on something other than Paul Masson. He pitched the winemaker's products for two years, then made the mistake of mentioning on a U.S. talk show that he never touched Paul Masson wine. The company dropped him as a spokesperson...but amazingly, had no problem with him showing up three sheets to the wind to film their ads and miss his cues. 

Paul Masson replaced Welles with John Gielgud. Welles went on to shill a board game, frozen peas (there's a clip on YouTube of him arguing about the logic behind the advertising copy), photocopiers, and...Japanese whiskey. Looks like he finally got it under control by the time that commercial was made. But hearing "Mwaaaaah haaaaaaa whiskey!" would totally make my day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Frank Langella, Sexiest Dracula Ever

I suppose it's a moot point to pick on Twilight--the last movie in the series aired some time ago. But the whole time this phenomenon was in full swing, I was shaking my head, at a loss to understand why so many women--some of them my age--were drooling over that character of Edward Cullen and the actor who played him, Robert Pattinson. 

You see, the vampires that I grew up with were supposed to be scary, not dudes that you would disrobe for in a heartbeat and jump into bed with. Count Orlock from Nosferatu, the first true vampire film that started it all? Downright ghoulishly fugly. Bela Lugosi? The quintessential Dracula of his time, but again, not sexually appealing. Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows? Sorry, no...and hell-to-the-no to Johnny Depp's version. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt never did a thing for me, either. But at least these dudes were grown up men and didn't have skin that sparkled in the sunlight (a character trait of Edward's that I don't get...isn't sunlight lethal to vampires?) And I'm sorry, Twilight fans, but out of all of these guys, Edward Cullen would easily be at the bottom of my list. The reasons why would take up this entire blog post, so let's just leave it at that. 

There was, however, Gary Oldman from the 1992 Bram Stoker's Dracula--and he was attractive during the scenes where he played a younger Count Dracula, dressed in Victorian garb. But then I remembered another Dracula from my childhood...a Dracula movie that I watched on TV and even as a young girl, I could see that there was something different about this count. He was a little less scary than other Draculas...he didn't show his fangs and there was no blood smeared on his face. When he broke into the bedroom of the woman he intended to seduce he looked downright appealing...I could totally understand why she sighed and unbuttoned the top buttons of her nightgown, willingly giving him access to her neck. And the scene I remember most (and that has stayed with me to this day) is the eerie ending--a lone cape flapping away over the ocean, looking just like a bat flapping its wings as I remember my father remarking. 

I'm talking about the 1979 film Dracula, starring Frank Langella. After viewing clips of this movie, which I haven't seen in several years, I can honestly say that as much as I'm not fond of vampires, I would gladly throw back my head and offer my neck to Frank Langella as Dracula. His has to be the sexiest portrayal of the count even to this day. Edward Cullen isn't fit enough to polish this man's coffin, as far as I'm concerned. 

I think it's safe to say that Langella and the moviemakers took Dracula to a whole new level with this movie. There's a really awesome documentary on the making of the film uploaded to YouTube in five parts called The Revamping of Dracula. In it, Langella discusses how he had control over how this Dracula would be portrayed, right down to the height of his collars. He wanted the count to be a departure from Bela Lugosi's cartoonish, heavily accented character; instead, he would play him still as intense, but romantic and sexy as well. Langella was 40 at the time of filming, with trademark 1970s machismo: a tall frame, great hair, and exotic good looks. He was actually starring in a stage version of Dracula when movie makers watched him and knew that he'd be perfect for their film adaptation.

Langella and the filmmakers also saw Dracula as not so much scary, but a tragic gothic hero. Where Bela Lugosi reveled in the darkness and thought his "children of the night" made beautiful music, Langella's Dracula thinks they sound sad and lonely--a metaphor for his own existence. As a result, this Dracula was closer to his portrayal in earlier plays and the book. This was one classy and charming count. 

The late movie critic Roger Ebert said it perfectly: "Most of the previous Draculas we carry in our imaginations share two things: fangs and overacting. They come on so strong that potential victims shouldn't let them within yards of their necks. Frank Langella gives us a character who 'acts' as if he's a count: He has royal manners, he is irresistibly attractive to women, he would have impeccable table manners if only, of course, it were not forbidden for him to eat." 

Even the movie's lobby card alludes to this Dracula's eroticism:
Check out the scene where Dracula climbs down his castle's wall into Lucy's (Kate Nelligan's) bedroom to seduce her--it's both scary AND sexy!

What follows this scene has actually been criticized by many fans--as Dracula and Lucy make love, the sequence is bathed in red laser beam light, psychedelic style, and graphics by Maurice Binder, who did the opening credits for many James Bond films. The director of Dracula was John Badham, who had previously made Saturday Night Fever, and the laser beam trend was finding its way into rock shows and movies. It's out of step with the rest of the film, but it's a sign of its time. 

The movie also costarred two veteran actors, Donald Pleasence and Sir Lawrence Olivier. Olivier was apparently very ill during the making of the film. 

And that purposely ambiguous ending? It's sad to see Dracula get hoisted by a hook into the sunlight and incinerated into ashes...but there's also a sense that somehow he lives on. I'm sure that was the sympathetic ending Langella and the filmmakers were hoping for. 

There was another Dracula movie released the same year that also showed the character in a more positive light--the comedic, campy Love at First Bite, starring George Hamilton as a disco dancing Drac. It's entertaining and funny in its own right, but for pure sex appeal, my vote is still for Frank Langella.

Here's part 1 of the featurette The Revamping of Dracula. You can watch all parts on YouTube. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Old Timey Dentistry

I must confess that dentists and dentistry don't make me squeamish...maybe it's at least partly due to the fact that I have good teeth and visit my dentist every six months for a cleaning and check-up only to hear (knock on wood) "see you in six months." 

But for those of you who hate the dentist, then this post is perfect for this time of year, the Halloween season. It doesn't help that dentists have (quite unfairly, I believe) gotten a bad rap through several years of pop culture history--Little Shop of Horrors and Marathon Man quickly come to mind. One fairly recent depiction of a dentist in film that is positive is Dr. King Schultz in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. Even though the movie takes place after Dr. Schultz has given up dentistry in favor of bounty hunting, I couldn't help but feel that the character's gentlemanly and kind demeanor (when he wasn't busting a cap into well-deserving criminals and cruel slave owners, of course) must have meant he was a gentle tooth doctor with a caring bedside manner years before he met up with Django. Even the advertising logo on the side of his dental wagon proclaims him as "amazing and painless" with "work in a careful, up-to-date manner...prices in the reach of all." I'm just saying, if you needed a tooth pulled in the 1800s, Dr. Schultz would be your man. (I also think a movie prequel or even a network series based on the character would be a smash hit for us fans of the movie...again, just saying.)

With Dr. Schultz in mind, let's take a look (if you dare) at a selection of historical dental images and advertising from the 1800s to the 20th century that just may make you a little more grateful for your own dentist's modern equipment the next time you go (I promise that none of them are really gory; maybe just a bit heebie jeebie-ish.) Just relax and open wide...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Whatever Happened to...Raking Leaves Instead of Blowing Them?

I curse Dom Quinto. Who the heck is that, you ask?

He's the dolt who invented the leaf blower. 

I just spent the last hour listening to an obnoxious neighbor power one of these equally obnoxious contraptions. A solid hour! I'd rather have listened to a dentist's drill or the failed auditions from every season of American Idol. I seriously wanted to march over his property line, wrench that thing from his hands and blow it where the sun doesn't shine. 

To be fair, suburban America's obsession with these noise polluters cannot be entirely blamed on Quinto. His original blower wasn't designed for consumer usage or for displacing leaves, but for agricultural chemical spraying in the 1950s (although I suppose we should pummel him for making it easier to spread cancer-causing pesticides on our produce.) Manufacturers soon discovered that consumers were removing the parts from the blower meant to hold and distribute chemicals, instead relying on the high wind speeds they produced to blow leaves and debris from their property. Genius. 

By the 1990s, over 800,000 leaf blowers a year were being sold in the United States. 

And now, they're everywhere. I hate these things with a passion! I can see using one for a few minutes to clear a driveway (like my mother often does) or another quick, minor clean-up job. But the problem is they seem to have replaced raking, which is what my neighbor was using his for this afternoon. When there's a landscaper crew nearby, forget about it. That's all you'll be hearing for the next 2-3 hours, never mind one. Way to go, ruining a beautiful day in the neighborhood. 

Modern society is SO lazy today it's pathetic. Why rake leaves when you can blow them away? Better yet, why mow or maintain your own lawn yourself when you can pay a landscaper crew to do it for you? (I'm not talking about homeowners with large properties and yards, where landscaping is justified, but houses that sit on a half acre of land, if even that.)

I'm not just blowing hot air here (ha.) Leaf blowers are not exactly the best thing for the environment and your well-being. For starters, the gasoline powered blowers emit carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. More of concern to me is their mind-numbing noise level, whether they run on gas or electricity. They are so loud they can cause hearing damage to the operator and anyone within close range after extended usage without earplugs. Many cities in California have wisely banned or restricted their use. Also, they are not exactly lightweight--I've helped my mother blow leaves off her driveway, and was surprised at how heavy it felt as I strapped it off my shoulder. I much prefer taking a custodial style broom and pushing the leaves off. In my opinion, it doesn't take much more time to get the job done and it's exercise! 

Call me crazy, but I'd rather rake at any time and burn some calories while working my shoulder and back muscles. There's also something kind of therapeutic and soothing about raking leaves on a beautiful autumn day that I suppose is lost on too many people. 

Kudos to California...if only the rest of the country would consider following their lead. Nothing would make me happier than seeing the leaf blower die a quick death. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ten Things You Didn't Know About Mae West

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: 

Thursday, August 29, 2013


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???

Saturday, August 24, 2013

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.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Land of the Lost TV Series #6: Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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. 

Friday, August 09, 2013

The Queen of the 80s (Guest Post by Spencer Blohm)

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 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.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

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?

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?

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 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?

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

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 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?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Song's Story #3: (They Long to Be) Close to You

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.

Friday, July 12, 2013

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

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Splatter Platters: A Look at Teenage Tragedy Songs

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.

Friday, June 28, 2013

And the Winner of the Shabby Apple Giveaway Is...

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.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Phil Collins: Terrible Or Terrific?

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 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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