Muhammad Ali's Trippy Children's Record About Fighting Tooth Decay

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Image via

By 1976, Muhammad Ali was on top of the world. He was a two-time World Heavyweight Champion who had defeated George Foreman in The Rumble in the Jungle boxing match, and tussled with Joe Frazier in The Thrilla in Manilla. 

So, how did "The Greatest" as he was called follow up these victories? Well, by recording a children's album about fighting tooth decay, of course. 

The result was a trippy and oftentimes unintentionally funny novelty record called The Adventures of Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay. From what I could find from a 1979 Washington Post piece, the record (and a follow-up) was sold in A&P supermarkets at the time. That would explain why the label is listed as the world-famous St. John's Fruit And Vegetable Co. 

As it turns out, educating children about good oral hygiene was one of Ali's social causes and in 1979 he even entertained a crowd of school children and their parents by staging a fight with Mr. Tooth Decay himself, played by fellow boxer Chuck Wepner. Supposedly, the match was filmed for a short film but as of this writing hasn't been uploaded to YouTube. 

But back to the record. Ali wasn't the only famous figure who lent his voice to this project. Howard Cosell, Ossie Davis, and even Ol' Blue Eyes himself—yep, Frank Sinatra—make appearances. 

The album is just under 40 minutes but trust me, that's long enough. You have to pity the parents of the YouTube commenters who said they had the album, loved it, and would listen to it often. But if it made them clean their teeth more diligently, surely this weird project of Ali did some good. 

The Catchy Opening Song

One high point is that the album kicks off with a song—and a groovy one at that with a terrific horn section. "Ali's Historical Theme Song" features Ali rapping his way through American history while the chorus repeatedly tells us that "Ali's always getting blamed for things he didn't do." 

Those things include pivotal moments in our nation's history that took place centuries before Ali was born: putting the crack in the Liberty Bell, riding the route of Paul Revere, throwing tea into Boston Harbor, etc. None of which has anything to do with tooth decay or dental health! 

One plausible explanation is that 1976 was the year of America's bicentennial and patriotic fever was sweeping the country and permeating many areas of pop culture. So, why not? If anything else, it sets Ali up as the bad ass he was. 

Promotional button for St. John's toothpaste. Image via

A Beautiful Children's Story

The rest of the record is narrated by famed sports announcer Howard Cosell and follows a group of children who meet at their clubhouse and are contemplating how they're going to spend their summer vacation—they've been bored with how the gang spent their previous summers (that included making blueberry pies—such crafty chefs, these kids) and want to do something different than what the president of the club usually has planned for them. 

But not so fast! Here come the storyline's two main villains, Mr. Tooth Decay (who has a foreign, sort of Russian accent) and his dim-witted, sniveling sidekick with a name that sounds like a rapper's, Sugar Cuber. They're lurking outside the clubhouse and are out of breath after being chased by Ali. On the album's cover art, Mr. Tooth Decay is depicted as a sleazy looking, balding, trench coat-wearing flasher brandishing drills, hammers, and other tools for creating cavities in teeth. 

Shortly after Ali encounters the kids ("Have you seen two funny looking characters?"), he tells them how he's training to fight Mr. Tooth Decay and impresses them with a bizarre tale of "murdering a rock" and "hospitalizing a brick"—which proves, of course, that he's just the person to take on oral bacteria! ("I'm BAD - bring on tooth decay!")

With each accomplishment Ali rattles off, the starstruck kids ooo and ahhh in unison (they shout several things in monotone unison throughout the record, which is annoying.) But the best part is when Ali's voice echos while instructing them to get their dental floss-floss-floss and toothbrushes brushes-brushes-brushes ready. 

Image via discogs

Frank Sinatra's Brief Appearance as a Candy Shop Owner

One has to wonder how Frank Sinatra got involved in this record. He doesn't sing on it, but instead plays the owner of a candy shop who is just about to hand over some ice cream to two of the kids, Andy and Kelly. Oh no! 

Luckily, Ali steps in just in time to stop the kids from exposing their teeth to sugar. ("That's like taking candy from a baby!" quips The Chairman of the Board.) When Ali explains that he's coaching the kids to fight tooth decay, this impresses Sinatra who declares that it sounds like an excellent idea, despite the fact that he's selling the very stuff that causes craters in teeth. 

It also takes him a while to recognize Ali but once he does, he's starstruck too, and can't wait to tell Sammy and Dino all about it! 

So now Ali and the kids hop on a bus to pay a visit to a farm owned by his dentist-turned-organic farmer friend Brother St. John (Ossie Davis) to educate them on the importance of eating healthy food and practicing good oral hygiene habits. 

Image via discogs

A Bit of Misguided Dental Advice

Brother St. John is a kind man who shows the kids around the farm and brags that his ice cream is the best, because it's made with dates. It's implied that this type of naturally sweetened ice cream is somehow superior to the regular stuff, despite the fact that dates are sweet and will stick to teeth. He also tells Ali's gang to brush their teeth immediately after eating—that can actually be good or bad depending on what you just ate (it's generally advised now to wait at least a half hour after eating acidic foods like citrus fruit.)

Ali is confident that the kids are now equipped with enough knowledge to fight Mr. Tooth Decay. Unfortunately, those two troublemakers Andy and Kelly (the same ones that tried to derail plans by buying ice cream) discover and eat cake that Mr. Tooth Decay, Willie Plague, and Sugar Cuber left around the clubhouse. Their teeth start to rot immediately, leaving them running off to the dentist. 

So how does Ali save the day? By putting his toothbrush and dental floss over the door to the clubhouse—something that could have been done to begin with!

The record then winds up with fanfare and Cosell describing a boxing match between Ali and Mr. Tooth Decay. And while The Greatest is victorious, Cosell's closing remarks may offer a clue that the battle is not over: "Mr. Milkshake will have his way, chocolate fudge he just can't budge, and so to the dentist we make our way." 

This wasn't Ali's last children's record, by the way. He followed up the following year with The Dope King's Last Stand which featured President Jimmy Carter and celebrity guests Lily Tomlin, Billie Jean King, Arlo Guthrie, Pat Boone, and Frank Sinatra (again!). As you can probably guess, this time he was educating kids about the dangers of drug use. 

If you're a vinyl collector that loves rarities, this one should be added to your collection—if for nothing else, the back's delightful cover art. 

Here's the album in its entirety as uploaded to YouTube...

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.