Schoolhouse Rock Rocked (Mostly)

ABC Television

Back in the early days of my childhood, it could not be overemphasized how important Saturday morning television programming was to us kids. Each year, sometime in late summer, the networks would run their prime-time specials previewing their Saturday morning line-ups for that fall. Those programs built excitement for the upcoming season and they softened the blow of the impending school year. Here’s NBC’s 1974 preview show.

Much of the programming seems awfully silly to me now, but when I was a kid I was enthralled. I know I’m gonna sound like an old man here, but kids today are missing out on the excitement of anticipation for the Saturday morning cartoon shows. See? I sound like an old man.

In 1973, ABC debuted a series of interstitial cartoons meant to educate as well as entertain. It was Schoolhouse Rock! And we kids loved them. (Well, most of them.) They were three minute long cartoons, played during ad breaks or between shows, featuring songs that taught about math, history, grammar, science, etc. They were the brainchild of ad man David McCall. McCall noticed his son was having trouble with math, and yet knew all the words to the pop songs of the day. McCall thought that maybe school lessons set to catchy tunes might help his and other kids learn.

In 1971, McCall recruited Bob Dorough, a musician and songwriter, to write a math lesson song, which became Three Is A Magic Number. Tom Yohe, who worked with McCall at the same ad agency, drew up some illustrations to go along with the song. Next thing you know, they were creating a whole series of songs to animate and put on television.

Some of the episodes haven’t aged very well (Elbow Room especially, despite still having a good tune), but most still pack a delightful punch.

And now a break from the blog for a brief rant…

There he is! Little Twelvetoes!

Schoolhouse Rock! also taught me the concept of overkill. As I recall, certain episodes became very popular indeed and started getting played with much higher frequency. One in particular.

Each time I would see the Schoolhouse Rock! intro, I would plead for one of the less frequently played, but much liked by me, installments:

“Little Twelvetoes! Little Twelvetoes! Little Twelvetoes!” I would repeat as I waited to see which would play.

(I liked Little Twelvetoes. It had a mysterious and somewhat creepy vibe. Sort of an early X-Files thing.)

But, no. It would be Conjunction Junction. Again!

Again?! Sigh.

Or, maybe, Figure Eight.

Both were excellent, but they were seriously overplayed.

Rant over. Now back to the blog.

So, what were my favorites? I thought you would never ask.

As I look through the list on Wikipedia, I’m noticing how many I really like that were written, many of which were also performed, by Lynn Ahrens. In no particular order, some of my faves by Ahrens include: A Noun Is A Person Place Or Thing, Interjections!, No More Kings, Interplanet Janet, Fireworks (sung by Grady Tate), and The Preamble.

There’s one that was written by George Newall and sung by Blossom Dearie that I would put in my top three: Unpack Your Adjectives.

I love the art style of I Got Six.

But, it was Bob Dorough who has the most episodes to his credit and the most of my favorites. I’ve already mentioned the first of all the Schoolhouse Rock! cartoons, Three Is A Magic Number and that mysterious alien Little Twelvetoes. Add to those the following (unless otherwise noted all of these were sung by Dorough): My Hero Zero, I Got Six (sung by Grady Tate), Figure Eight (sung by Blossom Dearie), Ready Or Not Here I Come, Sufferin’ Till Suffrage (sung by Essra Mohawk), and the bestest of them all – Lolly Lolly Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here.

Tom Yohe’s simple illustration style was excellent. I especially like his work on I Got Six. The sketchy yet disciplined linework over a white background and limited use of color is brilliant. There may be some eyebrow raising moments in there, what with the harem and the “prince” character and all, but it was 1973 and people were still learning. Heck, we’re still learning today.

How’s that spelled?

The initial run of Schoolhouse Rock! was from 1973 until 1984. The series returned to Saturday mornings in 1994 with a selection of the originals and eight new episodes, including one called Walkin’ On Wall Street. That one has an amusing typo that slipped by everyone. There’s a shot featuring a newsstand. Look at the picture. Can you spot the error?

In 1993, the series was taken to the stage with the production called Schoolhouse Rock Live! Then in 1996, a tribute album featuring ’90s’ alternative artists’ covers titled Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks. And in 2009, Schoolhouse Rock! released several new episodes direct to DVD covering topics related to the environment called Schoolhouse Rock! Earth.

But my heart belongs to the Schoolhouse Rock! that ruled the 1970s.

“Darn! That’s the end.”

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Please check out our eBay page, as well. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on Apple Podcasts.

Thank You!

It’s been one hell of a year, hasn’t it? Social unrest, political strife, economic upheavals, and a global pandemic.

Yep. A hell of a year.

Even so, I want to take a moment to acknowledge my gratitude to those who are so important to Nostalgia Zone.

There’s the staff. Starting with Chris, the owner, who stayed in the store through the three days and nights of protests and riots that came within blocks of our building last summer. I’m not sure what he would have been able to do had the rioters turned their attention to the store, but there he was, willing to go down with the ship. He’s been doing his best to keep up with the online orders and replenish our stock.

And Dave, who although he hasn’t stepped foot in the store since the pandemic forced a shutdown in March, has been working behind the scenes to help keep us going. And, I must say, the store doesn’t feel right without him. Personally, I miss Dave very much. We’ve been friends since 1996 and seeing him each Saturday was something that made my week. Every week. I haven’t seen Dave since March.

Then there is the new guy – Joe. Joe has been helping to organize the store and make room in the basement. (Oh, if you could see that basement! Joe is a saint!) He’s been pushing hard on our eBay sales and getting some good response there. Keep checking eBay, folks, Joe posts new items as often as he can.

And some thanks should go to Michael, who has occasionally helped out with the blog whenever I feel tapped for ideas. I know the blog has been a bit sparse since the pandemic took hold. I still try to get at least two out a month and Michael’s help has been greatly appreciated.

Most of all, we need to thank our customers. You guys have been great. We’ve had to close up once again to in store traffic, because the Covid is just spiking too high these days. Chris had been opening the store on weekends the last couple of months, but, with the current surge in cases here in Minnesota, he felt it would be too dangerous to staff and customers to allow in store business.

We all know a comic book and collectables store needs to be browsed. That’s its main appeal. People need to be able to sift through the boxes and shelves to find those missing items to fill the holes in their collections; or to find those treasures they didn’t know they had to have until it was in front of their eyes. But, with this pandemic, it’s just too risky.

We are still online, though. You can visit Nostalgia Zone from the safety of your home and browse through our catalog and make purchases. You can have your order mailed or you can arrange to pick it up at the store.

So, to all our longtime customers – Thank you so much for your business. We can’t say it enough just how much we appreciate you all.

To all our new customers – Thank you for checking us out and we look forward to making Nostalgia Zone your go to store for all those treasures you just gotta have.

2020 has been a hell of a year. We have high hopes that a vaccine will soon be available and we can get back to seeing you all in the store in 2021.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to see Dave again.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Stay safe! Wear a mask!

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Please check out our eBay page, as well. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on Apple Podcasts.

Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials: Two I Love, One I Hate

put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-otherWell, Holiday is upon us again. (Boy! It sure seems to get here faster each year.) And I thought I’d look at three Rankin/Bass Christmas special classics. Two of which I love, one… not so much.

As with most of us younger Boomers, I really looked forward to all the Christmas specials that would grace our television sets each Christmas season in the late ’60s and early ’70s. When they started showing up it meant that we were inching our way closer to Santa’s visit and all those presents. The specials had the same effect on me as those countdown to Christmas calendars, with each day having a door to open to expose a piece of candy and/or a holiday themed scene. The daily routine of opening each calendar door helped to built the anticipation and to make the time seem to go by a little faster. So, when those Christmas specials started showing on TV my excitement grew and grew.

NorelcoSantaI even liked the ads for Norelco products featuring a stop-motion animated Santa gliding along the snow in the head of one of their electric shavers.

I’m just covering Rankin/Bass specials here. I won’t be talking about the Grinch (my all time favorite) and Charlie Brown. Let’s look at those three, shall we?

Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town (1970)

There is something special about the stop motion animation Rankin/Bass would do. The characters and objects took up space. They had presence and substance. It’s not that I don’t like two dimensional animation, I’m a cartoonist, I love that stuff. But the stop motion had a certain something.

af200d4d04ea755b3bc67daab5d404efThis special tells the origin of Santa Claus. It uses a letter carrier, voiced wonderfully by Fred Astaire, answering questions children all over the world send to the jolly old fella. We get all the dope on an orphan boy left to a family of toy makers and how he grew up to be the world’s greatest gift giver.

Along the way he meets his wife, whose cold heart he melts, an evil warlock, whose cold heart he melts, and a penguin that somehow ended up in the arctic. Santa is voiced by Mickey Rooney and that evil warlock is played by Keenan Wynn and they’re both great. Especially Wynn. He does menacing and humble equally well.

I’ve never been big on musicals, but all of these specials contain songs. I like most of them. In this special, Put One Foot In Front Of The Other is the best song. However, If You Sit On My Lap Today, given it has Santa instructing children to get on his lap and give him a kiss in exchange for a toy, is a little creepy.

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

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“What the hell is wrong with your son?!”

People have begun to point out, in recent years, the horrible message of this show. A message that strongly implies those who don’t conform with what is considered normal by society should be shunned and shamed mercilessly; unless, that is, the difference can be made use of and the formally shunned had better be grateful for finally being accepted. Even Santa is a complete jerk in his treatment of Rudolph’s parents for having the audacity of having a child that doesn’t fit in. And Hermy the elf is treated harshly for not wanting to make toys. He’d rather be a dentist.

Despite all this, I love the special.

I love its look and the songs. The songs really are great in this one, even the ballad There’s Always Tomorrow. My favorites are Silver And Gold and Holly Jolly Christmas which are sung by the narrator Burl Ives. I also like the Island of Misfit Toys and its king. However, would someone really object to a Charlie in a box? And there’s the great character of Yukon Cornelius.

Abominable-Snowman-Rudolph-Red-Nosed-Reindeer
“Arrrrrggghhh!”

Also great about this special and Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town is both effectively make the villains-turned-allies (spoilers) very scary when they are introduced. Both the Abominable Snowman and Winter Warlock are so well done when shown as impending menaces to our heroes. They were genuinely scary to me when I was a boy.

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“Arrrrrggghhh!”

As an adult I see the flaws, but I forgive them and enjoy them to this day. This next special is a different story.

Frosty The Snow (1969)

frosty-the-snowman-1969

This is a two dimensional animation special that just hasn’t aged well for me. I like the cartooning style, but the story is pretty thin, especially when compared to my two previous choices. I know it’s for kids, but it’s pretty lame.

My main problem, though, is the song. Song. One song. The other shows on this list half at least a half a dozen songs each. Yes, they are both hour long shows and this is a 30 minute special, but couldn’t they come up with a couple more songs? Instead we get the title song. Over and over and over. The kids sing it, Jimmy Durante the narrator sings it. He sings it at its regular tempo. He sings it slow. There are snippets of it throughout the show. A verse here, a chorus there.

Over and over and over.

And if you don’t care for the song, it’s a chore to get through. I don’t care for the song.

5492a2ba5edb4062e67cff9102ea3719Also, the pedant in me wonders why it was so urgent to get Frosty to the north pole. It’s just before Christmas. It’s winter. There’s snow all over the place, how warm can it be? And it gets colder right after Christmas, not warmer. Frosty has time. There’s no need to risk little Karen’s life and commit the crimes of jumping a train and trespassing in a greenhouse in order to get Frosty to colder climes.

It just doesn’t hold up. Not for me, anyway.

Packing Peanuts!

May you have a terrific holiday season!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Innocence Dented (Or A Nice Walk Spoiled)

Writer’s note: You are about to read a piece I wrote on my personal blog at dimland.com way back in October, 2010, when my son was seven years old. With fall having been reached on the calendar and the wonderful autumn weather just around the corner, I thought I would re-post this tale of a nice fall day with a father and son walk and the necessity of turning graffiti and another… uh… item into a teachable moment.

misc-trees-autumn-leaves-path-colorful-season-beautiful-pretty-nature-fall-walk-park-foliage-red-forest-free-desktop-background

This past Sunday afternoon was one of those glorious fall afternoons which I wish I could save to enjoy on a mid-winter day. Clear blue sky, cool air, and crisp leaves underfoot.

Mere minutes after his friend had left from their play date, my boy asked if I wanted to take a walk to the bridge. It’s a pedestrian bridge that takes walkers, joggers, and bikers over the nearby railroad tracks. The bridge is just a few blocks away, not far to walk. Considering the pleasantness of the day, I thought it would be an excellent time for the impromptu walk with my son.

It was a pleasant walk. He ran ahead, just a little, as he likes to do, asserting a smidgen of independence at the age of seven. Boy! He’s growing up fast. He was mindful, however, not to get too far ahead of old Dad. Bad knees, don’t you know?

We arrived at the bridge (we have yet to actually get there as a train passes under, but perhaps someday). It was apparent someone had been there before us. They had left their mark: Graffiti. Vulgar, crude, sexual. It became time for an unscheduled lesson in life for my boy.

“What’s a n—ga, Daddy?”

“Va joy joy?”

My son reads really well. Fortunately, some of the writing was so bad and much of it misspelled that he didn’t quite get it right. I didn’t correct him. (It was “va jay jay”. I let that one pass.) I did, however, do my best to explain that ‘n—ga’ is an offensive word. I told him it’s a word used to describe people who happen to have a different skin color than us. And that I didn’t like the word and never use it. I advised him to never use it either.

Walking away from the tags, hoping to get past lesson time, I heard my boy ask, “What’s this?”

There in his hand was a used condom.

“Drop that, right now!” I said.

He dropped it and I kicked it through a crack in the bridge pathway. I say it was “used,” but I can’t be certain of that. It was out of its package, but it didn’t appear to be… full.

“What was that, Dad?”

“Ah geez! Thanks a lot, a—hole!” I said silently to myself, addressing the person responsible for the item so carelessly tossed aside.

I told him it was sort a balloon for adults. Something adults use. And something he didn’t need to be concerned about for now. He told me he thought he might know what it was for. He said, “Is it for your privates?”

Well, then I answered yes. I told him that sometimes men wear that on their privates. Worn to prevent pregnancy on certain occasions when men and women are “together.” I again told him that it was something he didn’t need to be concerned about yet. That I would talk to him all about it when he gets a little older. He was happy with that.

Phew!

We walked back home, my boy grown up just a little bit more than before that walk. A little less innocent.

We arrived home and I sent him straight to the bathroom to wash his hands. As he was washing up, I told his mother of the incident. She immediately had him wash his hands again.

I think I’m going to bring some paint and a brush down to that bridge. Got some graffiti that needs cleaning up.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

Like Father, Like Daughter

Guest blogger Michael Noble returns with a tale of father and daughter bonding. And since this past Sunday was Father’s Day, I thought I’d post this week’s blog a day early.

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“Honey, seeing that sunset reminds me that you gotta keep ’em laughing…”

All of us – every single one – have memories of school. Good, bad, indifferent. I have many. Some, interesting even. *snort*

 

That time in science class during high school when I sublimated too much iodine, causing a purple cloud to erupt within the room followed immediately by an evacuation. Being threatened weekly to watch my back by juniors and seniors just because I was one of the tallest freshman on campus. Spending half my wrestling practices with my face buried in the armpit of a much larger opponent. (I exited wrestling pretty quickly realizing it wasn’t the sport for me.)

So many more memories.

Good times, all. Well … many of them were, looking back. At the time? In the midst of them? Maybe not so much.

So fast forward to parenting, my kids and their schooling. I have been fortunate enough to be part of many memory making moments for them. One in particular.

Since her early, formative years, my youngest daughter has always been a bit hesitant and wary of things. “Cautious” might be a better word. School did nothing but ramp that attitude up; in fact school seemed to exacerbate her condition. It led to a greater degree of introverted behavior. She kept to herself a lot.

That’s not to say she didn’t participate when asked. She simply had to be coaxed. And often.

I was the one doing much of the coaxing, letting her know she’d enjoy something if she’d just try it. Counseling her, I would say things such as “What’s the worst that could happen? You don’t like it? That’s okay … at least you tried.” At least she saw the logic in that.

When she was in the 1st grade, I remember her coming home from school one day, downtrodden.

“I don’t have a talent” she told me, full of exasperation.

“What do you mean you don’t have a talent?” I asked.

“We’re supposed to do something for show and tell during open house in two weeks. Sing or dance or tell a story or something. I can’t do any of those things.”

“Sure you can!” I cajoled her. “Do you know what some of the other kids doing?”

“One of them is playing the piano,” she stated. “Another girl is doing something from a ballet class she’s in. I can’t do anything …”

“How about making them all laugh?” I offered.

“How?”

“You tell a joke,” I explained. “You can do that. I’ve heard you do it lots of times.”

She frowned. “That’s not a talent.”

“Sure it is. Do you know how hard it is to tell a joke, a really good joke, and make everybody laugh?”

She thought about it a moment. “Well … okay. Do you have any jokes I can tell, Dad? Some really good ones?”

Of course I did. I had a million of them.

“As a matter of fact, I do. You remember the talking sausage joke, don’t you?”

“I think so,” she said, visible concern on her face revealing she was doing her best to recall said joke. “Wait … you mean the one with the talking sausage?” Her face lit up. I didn’t quite understand her rationale in hearing from me what the joke was then her asking virtually the same, but it got her excited … and that’s all that counted.

“That’s the one! Look … here’s what we’ll do: Your open house isn’t for a couple weeks, right? We have that long to practice. I’ll help you all along the way and you’ll be a perfect when it comes time to do it.”

“Okay!” she said excitedly.

We got down to business. We practiced right up until the time of the open house. I taught her all the hand gestures, all the inflections, the right timing, everything. She was still a bit hesitant when it came right down to it but familiarity was the key to her nailing the thing. I taught her the importance of being big and bold and loud in the telling and convinced her it would work spectacularly. I was putting my reputation – and her fragile constitution – on the line.

And then? When the time came? It was off to the open house we went.

Several kids were ahead of her. The piano playing girl was there and did her thing. Everyone was impressed. A few other kids did stuff I can’t remember. Then, suddenly, it was my daughter’s turn.

Her teacher called her and she went up to the front of the class. She turned and looked right at me. I smiled and gave her a big thumbs up and charade-reminded at her to be big and loud.

She announced rather awkwardly “My talent is going to be a joke that will make all of you laugh,” to everyone in the room, kids and adults alike. I saw her teacher smile.

She steeled herself and began: “There were these two sausages in a frying pan on the stove. One sausage turned over and said to the other (she wiped her brow with the back of one hand animatedly as she turned to the imaginary sausage and spoke) ‘Whew! It sure is hot in here!'”

She looked at me again and I gave her another thumbs up.

“Then then other said (and she jumped back and screamed as she delivered the punchline) ‘AAAAAH! TALKING SAUSAGE … !!!‘”

Now, here’s the deal: I still tell this joke to this very day. I find it freaking hilarious. I’ve used it over and over and over again. I even opened a seminar with it, much to the chagrin of my boss who begged me not to do it. But I convinced him it would break the ice and win the crowd over. (It did.) So, how did this terrific and wonderful joke go over as my daughter relayed it?

Well, good news and bad news, bad news first.

The Bad News: Not a single kid laughed. Not a one. They just stared at her, not moving, not getting the joke in the least. Complete silence.

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“…Talking sausage. It’s a talking… Is this mic on?”

The Good News: Every single adult in the room got the joke, startled from my daughter’s screaming punchline. And then? They clapped, they applauded her.

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“Hot crowd, tonight! Hot crowd!”

My daughter was beaming. She walked from the front of the room right up to me and high fived me with a big fat smile on her face.

It was a proud father/daughter moment, a passing of the torch so to speak.

Thanks, Michael! You can read more by Michael Noble at Hotchka.com.

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