Here’s another quick dose of Chipmunks – something that came out in the ‘80s but is more in line with the pre-TV-show Chipmunks. It’s “Chipmunk Punk”, a “fantastic collection” of top 40 hits that really couldn’t be less punk at all. The only thing remotely punk about this collection is the artwork, and that doesn’t even really do the trick.
The Chipmunks take you through punk classics like Tom Petty’s “Refugee” and Blondie’s “Call Me” before peaking with Queen’s* punk anthem, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”.
And the other thing? The singing is really bad! They can’t even get that part of the gimmick right! Somebody get Alvin some lemon water.
*edited to correct the proper artist behind “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”
Alvin and the Chipmunks is one of the few franchises that seems to effortlessly skate from generation to generation without much fuss from society about the differences between iterations. It’s a pretty charmed life – how many other franchises enjoy the same sort of hall pass? With Alvin it seems that as long as the main gimmick – covers of popular songs with the pitch dialed up- is there, everything else is forgivable. Works for me!
I grew up in what I selfishly consider Alvin‘s “sweet spot”: the mid 1980s. Ruby-Spears productions rolled out a wildly successful cartoon show featuring the Chipmunks and Chipettes, and the Marketing and Consumer Product worlds had finally figured out how to turn TV-show-enthusiasm into big toy (and other product) money. Taken as a whole the Alvin and the Chipmunks product line becomes a case study in how to make a buck off of a popular franchise in the ’80s, and I thought it’d be fun to look at the different items that bore Alvin’s face. For this post I’ll only focus on stuff that came out of the 1983 cartoon; no products referencing earlier or later Chipmunk iterations…but there’s a ton of those too!
Dolls based on popular franchises are nothing new, of course, but The Chipmunks had a pretty robust line-up of plush and plastic. The depth of the offering is surprising; there are some deep cuts here in the picnic and stage playsets. Uncle Harry?!
There’s something about the plastic molds used for the Chipettes’ heads that unsettles me. I had the Alvin plush and I have to say, it’s a solid build. My five-year-old has inherited it and puts it through the same ringer that I did at his age, and Alvin’s still going strong.
This commercial for the plushes is fantastic. The overacting expressions of the (presumed) sisters compensates for the flatness of the little boy’s delivery and everything balances out fine. Also, what’s the boy’s deal? He’s all dressed up – is he the Chipmunks’ butler? Stage manager?
This was the true mark of success in the ’70s and ’80s – you knew you’d made it if a fast food chain wanted to offer a limited edition glass with your show on it. Alvin joined the ranks of the Muppets and the Smurfs with this set of Hardees glasses.
Valentine’s Day Cards
It may be temporal hubris but I feel like the Valentine’s Day card market really dialed it up a notch in the ’80s and the license that you chose to represent your wishes of non-romantic love to your classmates said way more about you than it probably should have. Of course Alvin was in the mix.
Not just any board game, but a Pop-o-Matic board game!
In a VERY ’80s move, fans of the show were given the opportunity to call a toll line to hear messages from the Chipmunks and Chipettes. The charge of fifty cents a call is pretty reasonable and serves to demonstrate how far the toll-line market had left to evolve.
Someone let me know if this line still works.
There are of course more products from the ’80s iteration and like I said earlier there are a whole heap of toys and games and records from all of the other versions of Alvin. Do you have any that stand out for you? I’ll close this out with mine, a 1986 record where the Chipmunks cover iconic movie songs. And also a weird love letter to E.T.
“Meet Us In September” was the slogan for the ABC Network’s Fall 1969 lineup. These sizzle reels capture all of the programming news of the 1969 season. There’s so much to love about this campaign! The font choice and graphic work is fantastic, both in the overall face of the campaign and the show-specific stuff:
Not sure what to make of this Johnny Cash segment.
Here’s a compilation. The Bewitched promo is interesting, too – really assumes you already know what the whole show is about. Which, I guess, in a three-network world in 1969, is a pretty safe assumption.
Dynamix 1989 Video Catalog
This reel of upcoming games from the small-ish (bigger now that they were acquired by Sierra) game company Dynamix is earnest and sweet. A-10 Tank Killer was on a heavy rotation in my house. David Wolf: Secret Agent looks like something right out of Decker.
Pennywise – Microwave Cooking (1985)
There are few things more comfortingly charming than seeing these two British women in 1985 discussing the merits of the microwave. Using “units consumed” as an indicator of value, no less! Is this an alternate reality?
I’ll admit, I’m not entirely sure what I’m watching here – particularly in the first half without subtitles. When you imagine the Soviet side of the Space Race presented to children, though, I doubt you imagine something this beautiful, colorful, and hopeful. The second half presents an inspiring vision of our future in space. Imagine where we’d be if we’d worked together on this back then.
The Cure’s First TV Appearance
Robert! Put on your long hair!
Is there any time that a live performance of “A Forest” isn’t a contender for the best part of your day?
What if you had a silly TV show set in a remote jungle location and you had an idea for a second, unrelated-yet-just-as-silly TV show set in a remote jungle location and you just re-used props and sets from the first silly TV show for the second silly TV show and crossed your fingers that nobody would notice? That’s pretty much Sherwood Schwartz’s approach to It’s About Time, the second silly TV show to Gilligan’s Island‘s first silly TV show.
He actually probably didn’t cross his fingers that nobody would notice. He probably just didn’t care.
It’s About Time follows the adventures of two astronauts, Mac McKenzie and Hector Canfield, who get sent back in time to caveman days and end up living with caveman family Gronk and Shad, . Gronk is played by Joe E. Ross. essentially a caveman version of his Gunther Toody character from Car 54 Where Are You? Shad is played by the lovely Imogene Coca.
The cavemen speak in broken-but-very-very-passable modern English. The rest of the tribe are suspicious of the astronauts, but are eloquently suspicious. The plot lines revolve around either the astronauts bringing modern civilization to the cavemen, or trying to adjust to/reconcile their worldview with the cavemen’s.
Now here’s the interesting part – the show was retooled 2/3 of the way through the season to address the sagging ratings. They basically flip the premise, where the astronauts find a way to return to the present and bring the cavemen with them. The episodes then revolve around the cavemen’s acclimation to 20th Century life. That’s a courtesy the Gilligan gang didn’t get until their TV movie finale!
It didn’t help. It’s About Time was cancelled after the first season. While it’s definitely not up to par with Schwartz’s stronger efforts like Gilligan’s Island or The Brady Bunch, there’s still something special here. There’s just a lot of other stuff weighing it down. Here’s a few episodes.
1980 Coleco Catalog
There is so much to love about this 1980 Coleco Games and Toys catalog. So much to love! This Holly Hobbie oven looks like something out of a haunted house. And how about that plaid stroller?
1987 Train Ride to Coney Island
This is a pretty great snapshot of New York City in the late 1980s. Those kids need to jump into a pool of Purell after laying around on the seats of that train, though .
Goonies Famicom Commercials
The Goonies, as a movie, couldn’t be more American in how the kids act, what motivates them, and the nature of their reward. The beautiful insanity of the Goonies videogames, however, we’re just not capable of that. Kudos to Konami for taking a solid foundation and launching it into the stars. These ads for both Goonies games really hammer that insanity home. I’ll also take this opportunity to repeat the fact that Goonies II is one of the greatest video games of all time.
U2’s First TV Appearance
This 1980 TV appearance is a completely different band.
This 18-minute promotional video for the TurboGrafx 16 game system pulls a page or two from the Saved By The Bell book of video effects.
Most videos like this have a terrible-yet-fun narrative angle threading the game showcases together, but outside of an awkward little kid occasionally playing unseen games we get a rapid-fire tour through just about the entire TurboGrafx library. From Bonk to Darkwing Duck to Super Adventure Island to…Riot City…well, there’s a lot to see here.
The tour through the extensive game library is broken up by accessory after accessory. The portable Turbo Express, the CD Player, and the 5-controller connectable Turbo Tap all make an appearance, promising to turn your slick TurboGrafx system into an expanded clunky mess.
The infomercial concludes with a hard sell on the Turbo , the PS4 Pro of its day boasting increased speed, better graphics, and a higher price point. And a subscription to their Nintendo Power, called Turbo Force.
For what amounts to a relatively unremarkable informercial, it’s actually pretty great – the graphic treatment is insultingly ’90s, the voice-over treatment given to each game is genre-appropriate to the point of being offensive, and the ability to look at the excitement around the gaming technology in 20-year-retrospect gives one a pretty satisfying smug feeling. Definitely worth a look:
Moon Zero Two Pressbook
Speaking of worth a look, I’ve been a fan of Moon Zero Two since I saw it featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the 1990s. The set design, the costumes, the soundtrack, the goofy animated intro, the goofy live-action dance numbers, it’s all fantastic. Zombo’s Closet of Horror features a 12-page pressbook for the movie that’s just amazing in its depth of offerings to all members of a community. Hit the link for all of the scans, but here are some of my favorites:
MTV Spring Break 1993 Special
Is there anything more perfectly 1993 than this special concert during MTV’s legendary annual Spring Break stunt featuring Lenny Kravitz, Living Colour, the Black Crowes, and Stone Temple Pilots? If there is, it’s on you to show it to me.
Of particular note are those black and white MTV bumpers… I may break those out into their own thing at some point. Amazing stuff.
1980s Showtime Free Preview Weekend
I wore my VHS player out during the HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime free preview weekends. My family would take shifts recording as many movies as we could. Thanks to these weekends I can still recite Caddyshack 2 verbatim. This Showtime segment featuring Bill Harris hits that sweet spot.
For a bonus, check out the graphic design of this 1987 Showtime bumper. I want to live in it.
That bass line!
Safeway Supermarket Ad w/ Bob Weir
And to round things out, a stiff, muted Bob Weir championing a good cause in a 1980s Safeway ad. Just weird all around.