Musical memories from Saturday mornings long past

So there I was the other day, driving home from work and minding my own business, when my current favourite local deejay (not that there are very many local deejays to choose from, but still) played a piece of vintage music that took me back to the very earliest days of my childhood. The deejay is, of course, Freddy Vette of good old CJBQ 800 AM out of Belleville, whose weekday-afternoon show of songs from the ’50s and ’60s is hugely popular. Freddy was doing one of his frequent audience-interaction things, inviting listeners to come up with the next few words when he lifted the needle – what? you mean deejays don’t actually spin vinyl records any more? Well, you know what I mean – on the recording of the theme song from none other than the Saturday-morning cartoon show Tales of the Wizard of Oz. (Which, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, you can watch and listen to at the top of today’s post.)

Now, I have to tell you that until that little radio interlude the other day, I had probably not thought of The Wizard of Oz Saturday-morning cartoon show for – well, let’s just say it was several decades.

vintage TV set

Yes, I know I’m dating myself, but it can’t be helped. This looks a lot like the TV in my grandparents’ living room on which, as a tiny child, I used to watch The Wizard of Oz and Hercules cartoons.

The Wizard of Oz may very well be the first TV show I ever watched, back in the days even before my family moved to the Manse in 1964. While my father completed his divinity studies at Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto, we lived with my maternal grandparents in the leafy Toronto suburb of Leaside. And it was there, on the big old black-and-white TV that stood in a corner of my grandparents’ living room, that a very tiny me sometimes watched The Wizard of Oz – about which I can today recall absolutely nothing except its theme song. Let’s just say that if I hadn’t been driving, I could have called up Freddy with the correct response when he stopped the record halfway through: “Oh the world of Oz is a funny, funny place where everyone wears a funny, funny face; the streets are paved with gold – ”

“And no one ever grows old!” I enthusiastically told the radio. (The radio did not, by the way, respond.)

That entertaining exercise got me thinking about other ancient Saturday-morning musical memories – not so much the cartoons themselves, but the theme songs from them. And I thought that you readers – especially the ones old enough to remember and hum along with me – might get a smile if I were to bring a few of those melodies together in this instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse. So come along for the musical ride.

We’ll start with another cartoon that is, in my memory at least, of the same very-early-’60s vintage as The Wizard of Oz. I think this because I remember watching it, too, from the comfort of the yellow upholstered armchair in my grandparents’ living room. How thrilling the theme song for The Mighty Hercules was!

Next I’m going to show you one that’s a bit of a mystery to me. I have always had the dimmest of memories of there being a Saturday morning cartoon show featuring The Beatles, but for all my adult life I thought I must be confused about that because I never found any reference to such a show. That is, until just a few weeks ago when someone posted this on one of those Facebook pages dedicated to funky stuff from back in the day:

ABC cartoons

You’ll notice that the ad’s listing of the cartoon shows does not include mention of The Beatles, but the images of the four chaps front and centre are so distinctive as to leave no doubt. So I realized that my dim memory was right! And then I proceeded to search out the opening theme for the show. I suppose I must have watched it back when I was a kid at the Manse (the glory days of television, as I have argued before), but I confess it brought back no memories whatsoever. Does it for you?

Gotta love And Your Bird Can Sing, though.

Then there was The Jetsons, which has a theme song that’s not terribly catchy but, in my opinion, possibly the best cartoon opening sequence of all time. So mod! So futuristic! Orbit High School! The flying car that folds up to become George’s briefcase! A guy who starts his workday with his feet up on his desk! Man, those were the days – or should I say, those will be the days…

And now, because I was really more a child of the ’70s than the ’60s, I’d like to move forward a few years to when the cartoons featured shaggy-haired kids wearing bell-bottoms, playing in fake bands, and constantly solving mysteries. Here’s one that you kind of had to love:

And speaking of Scooby, let me show you an utterly useless thing that I scored in a fundraising yard sale a couple of years ago at the wonderful Tweed and Area Heritage Centre. Stupidest thing ever, but it makes me smile every time I see it. Note the “SD” on Scooby’s collar – as if everyone wouldn’t instantly know who he is!


Okay, back to theme songs. This show may have been more of an acquired taste. Early girl power, though:

And finally, because I want you to leave this blog post with an irresistible pop song in your heart, a classic that was not a theme song, but – well, swing it, Betty and Veronica!

Of the hokey TV commercials of my youth, and Tex and Edna Boil

Hey, it’s Friday night, end of the first week back at work after the holidays. Everybody’s tired, and yours truly is battling the sinus cold that won’t quit. Long story short: we could all use a bit of levity. Some cheering up. A good hearty guffaw. And I think I have it for you.

The back story is this: I had a night of wackadoodle dreams not long ago, due I am certain to the heavy-duty nighttime cold medication I’d taken just before bed. At one point I found myself dreaming about some of the ads that used to appear on the local TV station – that would be CKWS, the small CBC affiliate in Kingston, Ont., that was one of only two channels that we were able to get – back in my childhood here at the Manse in Queensborough. (You can read my nostalgic tribute to those television days of the 1960s and early 1970s here.) Now, those were the days when many small businesses felt that the best way to advertise their product was to have the owner of the business speak about it in front of the camera for the local TV station. I don’t watch enough TV these days to know if this trend has completely disappeared, but my sense is that it has at least died down quite a bit. But back in the middle part of the last century it was in full flower, and on the small screen one saw all manner of nervous-looking humans woodenly proclaiming the virtues of their product (or dealership, or whatever), and looking pretty ridiculous as they did so. Do you remember?

Those ads turned into wonderful fodder for another great part of television history, the Canadian comedy show Second City TV. SCTV had a recurring sketch featuring Tex and Edna Boil (Dave Thomas and Andrea Martin) of Tex and Edna Boil’s Organ Emporium. I hadn’t watched Tex and Edna in action for many a year, but believe it or not, they showed up as part of that codeine-cough-syrup-fuelled dream. And thanks to my friend Earl, who is brilliant at finding good and funny stuff on the internet, I was able to watch them in action once again. Till tears of laughter ran down my cheeks.

At the top of this post you have kind of an introduction to Tex and Edna’s commercials. To finish off your Friday evening hilarity, here’s another one that Earl found, featuring Tex and Edna with a very special offer if you just, as Edna likes to say, “Come on down!” to their emporium and buy an organ. Enjoy!

Our very own Charlie Brown Christmas tree

There was a treasured part of the Christmas season in the long-ago years when I was growing up here at the Manse. If you are of about my age or younger, I fully expect this same thing was also a treasured part of the Christmas season wherever and whenever you grew up. It was, and is, A Charlie Brown Christmas, the annual Christmas “special” (remember when the TV networks had “specials”?) aired on CBS starting in 1965, and beloved ever since.

Because I am quite sure every single reader will be familiar with A Charlie Brown Christmas, I won’t go into the details of this lovely little animated story based on the cartoon strip by Charles M. Schulz. What I want to tell you about tonight is my latest Christmas-décor acquisition for the Manse: a Charlie Brown Christmas tree!

You remember the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, the wan little thing that Charlie Brown, accompanied by Linus, picks out from amongst all the glowicky fake trees as the one to use in the Peanuts gang’s Christmas play. “Boy are you stupid, Charlie Brown,” Violet tells him when she sees it. “What kind of a tree is that?” adds Patty. “You were supposed to get a good tree. Can’t you even tell a good tree from a poor tree?” barks Lucy. Poor Charlie Brown; he can never get things right.

In the end, of course, Charlie Brown is vindicated in his choice of a real tree. He and the rest of the gang find the true meaning of Christmas after good ol’ Linus recites the Biblical Christmas story, and the poor little tree gets a whole lot of love and attention and is transformed into a beautiful thing. But we all remember that poor little tree as it first appears, and how it droops to the ground (and Charlie Brown fears he’s killed it) when he puts a single red ornament on it.

Charlie Brown tree box

A Charlie Brown Christmas tree in a box – what every household needs at this time of year!

Flash-forward to a recent visit to the Madoc Home Hardware by Raymond and me. Because it was the beginning of December, and for me that’s the time to start getting into the Christmas spirit, I could not resist perusing the Christmas-related items on the store shelves. And what did I find but: a Charlie Brown Christmas tree! In a box! Which you could buy and take home and have for your very own!

It was rather heart-warming how, as we were paying for it at the checkout, several members of the store staff remarked on it: “Oh, you’re getting the Charlie Brown Christmas tree!” “The Charlie Brown tree – I love that!”

Basically, everybody knows, and everybody loves, the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

And now (having followed the some-assembly-required directions) we have one at the Manse! And here it is:

Charlie Brown Christmas tree

A Charlie Brown Christmas tree, right here at the Manse.

And all I have to say about all of this is: MERRY CHRISTMAS, CHARLIE BROWN!

Thunderbirds: to a small kid, a terrifying lot of TV puppet heroes

ThunderbirdsIn the last few posts, I’ve found myself reminiscing about pop-cultural phenomena from my childhood here at the Manse, phenomena that even to me seem a very long time ago. There was that prose poem we all had on our wall, Desiderata; and the disastrous ad campaign of the Trudeau Liberals in 1972, The Land is Strong; and even that stupid and downright dangerous toy craze, Clackers. What’s next? Chez Hélène?

Well, what’s next is in fact a TV show, but it’s not Chez Hélène. That classic 15-minute-long weekday CBC show for kids will have to wait. (Until I can remember the name of the mouse who played a fairly significant recurring role, along with Hélène and Louise.)

No, the show I’m talking about is Thunderbirds. And all I have to say about Thunderbirds is this: I found it utterly terrifying.

Do you remember it? Thanks to its Wikipedia entry I have learned that Thunderbirds was filmed (and, presumably, aired) between 1964 and 1966. I was a very young child then, which probably explains why I couldn’t make head or tail of the rocket ships and other technology that its story lines featured. And perhaps also why its characters, who were puppets, were so scary. Puppets that look like ventriloquists’ dummies (as opposed to, say the Muppets) are scary, if you ask me. Like clowns are scary. Those puppets’ expressions never changed, no matter what the circumstances. Their eyes were always open, unblinking. Their bottom jaws moved woodenly when they “talked.” It was beyond creepy.

However, because I couldn’t make head or tail of the show the first time around, all those years ago, I found it interesting just now to read Wikipedia’s explanation of what Thunderbirds was all about: “It follows the exploits of International Rescue, a secret organization established to save people who are in mortal danger with the aid of technologically advanced land-, sea-, air- and space-rescue vehicles and equipment, headed by the Thunderbird fleet and launched from a hidden island base in the South Pacific Ocean. The main characters are ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy (the founder of IR) and his five adult sons, who pilot the Thunderbird machines.”

As someone who was, in childhood and well beyond, fascinated by the Apollo program and the early astronauts, I was also intrigued by this tidbit: “Jeff is a widower whose five adult sons – Scott, John, Virgil, Gordon and Alan – are named after Mercury Seven astronauts: Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, Virgil (Gus) Grissom, Gordon Cooper and Alan Shepard.” (You can read my nostalgic tribute to the astronauts, occasioned by the death last year of Scott Carpenter, here. And hey, Thunderbirds, what about Wally Schirra and Deke Slayton?)

Anyway, aside from the cool reference to my astronaut heroes, I still think Thunderbirds was wackadoodle and scary. Am I alone in having been freaked out by that show?

The Oscar Mayer wiener and the golden age of advertising jingles

Whatever else you might say about the years during which I happened to be growing up at the Manse – the 19th-century house that I now live in once again, with my ever-patient husband, Raymond – I think you will have to agree that it was the golden age of TV advertising jingles. The years in question were 1964 to 1975, and man, were there some hummable and memorable jingles back then. Songs that everybody knew by heart because we’d all seen the ads a million times. Songs that were extraordinarily catchy and, sometimes, quite tuneful.

I got thinking about vintage TV ad jingles a while back when I was writing a post about things I resisted the urge to buy when I spotted them in an antique warehouse. One of them was a coin bank that looked like the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Which of course got me thinking about the very classic “I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener” jingle, which you too remember (don’t you?) and can hear once again (whether you need to or not) by listening to the video atop this post.

But there were so many more! I particularly remember “Let’s all go to A&W.” Really, I can taste it now – can’t you?

And then there were the Sugar Crisp commercials with Sugar Bear singing a jazzy lounge-lizard-type ditty about not being able to get enough of that Sugar Crisp. He sounds suspiciously like Dean Martin, actually. Was it Dean Martin? Judge for yourself:

Oh, and while we’re on to breakfast cereal, how about the Honeycomb Kid and the jingle’s variation on the popular Jimmie Rogers song:

And who could forget “Uh-oh! SpaghettiOs“?

Oh yeah, and a successor to the Oscar Mayer wiener jingle, the one with The Baloney Kid singing about – well, baloney:

Then there’s the irritating and never-to-be-forgotten “My dog’s better than your dog” song for Ken-L Ration dog food:

Much more uplifting, in my view, was Barry Manilow crooning “You deserve a break today” for McDonald’s. Now, I suspect Mr. Manilow is not happy about his eternal association with that jingle and has done something about it, because I cannot for the life of me find it on YouTube. Which is odd, because lord knows it was once ubiquitous on TV. But here’s an earlier version:

And finally, there the was the greatest of them all – an absolutely inspired (and groundbreaking) commercial that featured not a jingle but really a whole pop song. It was all about peace, love – and Coke:

Okay, people, those are my nominations for best TV ad jingles of the era. What are yours?

Uptight: Kingston (Ontario)’s very own TV dance party

dance party Does anyone out there remember Uptight? It was a weekly show that ran on CKWS-TV in Kingston, Ont., for a few years in, I’m going to say, the late 1960s and/or very early 1970s. Those were the days when I was growing up in Queensborough, and CKWS (Channel 11) was one of only three TV stations that the Manse’s gigantic old antenna (which, by the way, is still there) could pull in. So of course we watched quite a bit of Kingston programming on our rickety black-and-white set, including the classic half-hour religion show Gospel Temple.

Anyway, Uptight was a real period piece, and sadly I can find no trace of it whatsoever on the proverbial internet. But I am not making it up!

If you’re of my vintage or a little older, you probably remember the craze for dance shows. I assume American Bandstand was the granddaddy of them all, but apparently there were others (more on one of them shortly) – and I guess it was natural that small local TV stations like CKWS wanted in on the action too. But while American Bandstand and other big network shows brought in major stars to play live (or more probably lip-synched) music for a studio full of teenagers to dance to, I am pretty sure Uptight used recorded music. Which meant it would have been incredibly cheap content to produce, given that “the talent” – the dancers – came free of charge in the form of local kids who dressed up in their best minidresses and bell-bottoms and showed up for the taping.

Dancers on Upbeat

Dancers on the syndicated U.S. show Upbeat, which clearly was a model for Kingston’s own Uptight.

When I was looking for photos to illustrate this post, I came across references to an American dance show that I’d not heard of before but that was apparently very well-known. According to the website “From 1964 to 1971 Upbeat was one of America’s top television shows, syndicated in over 100 cities. It was Simon and Garfunkel’s first TV appearance and Otis Reddings’s last. Nearly every major rock, soul and pop artist performed on Upbeat: The Who, Three Dog Night, Iron Butterfly, Steppenwolf, Kenny Rogers, James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and many many more.”

Well, that’s all well and good, but the main role Upbeat plays in my little story this evening is that I suspect chances are good it gave the CKWS people the idea for the name of their considerably smaller-scale Canadian version.

Anyway, Uptight may have been of a modest budget and scale, but when I was a kid it was fun to watch. I mean, when you were nine years old in, say, 1969, 16-year-olds with long hair and paisley dresses and hip-hugger jeans doing funky dance moves were kind of awesome. Something to aspire to.

I remember one thrilling time when the story made the rounds – probably on the school bus – that some teenagers from our own local high school, Centre Hastings Secondary in Madoc, including one young Queensborough woman, had been bused to KIngston to dance on the show. We watched every second of that episode, so excited to see one of our own be a real TV star. Sadly, either she didn’t take that bus trip after all or the camera never alighted on her.

Anyway, it’s all a dim memory now. But I throught I’d throw it out there in case anyone else who might have been a CKWS viewer back in those more innocent days also remembers the fun of watching our local young people show their coolest moves on the dance floor.

When old met new, and new won

Maybe you’ll recall a post I did not too long ago about the days when I was an adolescent at the Manse, when every middle-of-the-road singer used to appear on TV variety shows (Ed Sullivan, Carol Burnett, etc.) and sing exactly the same songs. Apparently each one thought that he or she could do the definitive version of Do You Know the Way to San Jose, or Send in the Clowns, or whatever song happened to be omnipresent on the airwaves at the time.

Well, I got a rather hilarious reminder of that the other night. A while back Raymond gave me a delightful gift, a special-edition boxed set from the Carol Burnett Show. (Admit it, you loved it back in the day. Who didn’t?) It has highlights and conversations with the cast members, of course, but also several full-length episodes. One of which I sat down to watch.

The musical guest – as he often was on Carol Burnett – was Steve Lawrence, surprisingly sans Eydie Gormé on that particular night. And the showpiece number Steve decided to do for the episode was his own version of Harry Nilsson‘s Without You. (Yes, I understand that Badfinger originated the song. But you’ve got to admit that Harry Nilsson nailed it.)

For sheer entertainment value and hilarity, there’s nothing quite like watching a middle-aged, middle-of-the-road singer in about 1972 trying to perform a song that’s been a radio hit among “the young folks.” Steve was trying his darnedest to be cool. And it just didn’t work at all.

I always loved that Harry Nilsson single. I had it on a 45 that got played over and over and over again. Steve Lawrence may be considered a smooth singer, but man, he got nowhere near the notes that Harry hit – or the sheer raw emotion.

So yeah, in this case, chalk one up for the kids. Or at least, the people who were kids in 1972.

Don’t believe me? Have a listen: