Saturday, July 27, 2013


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?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

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


"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


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.

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