I hope you enjoy this fairly unusual and fairly long blog post, the first part of what I’m calling the “Old Tapes” series. It’s kind of obscure, almost a train of thought piece, of memories while watching the old VHS tapes from my collection.
The 1988 Xmas Tape, is the most important of the entire collection. That year I was 4 years old, living overseas, and we didn’t have direct access to American TV, so my aunt would record stuff and send it to us. I’ve watched this tape, I am certain, more than anything else in my entire life. A conservative estimate would be close to 500 times, and that is not an exaggeration. The tape is definitely deteriorated, but luckily I’ve had it transferred to digital form… twice, and also transferred to another VHS, which I’m not sure if that tape is still around, if it is I might get that transferred too because it’s probably slightly higher quality since it isn’t as old and hasn’t been watched as much.
The very first thing on the tape is half a music video of “My Prerogative” by Bobby Brown. Did you know that Bobby Brown did the theme song for Ghostbusters II, and he had a cameo in Ghostbusters II as well, if not you can check out the links for yourself. Also, did you know that Britney Spears covered the song? No? Well, that’s okay because it’s unwatchable.
This video was evidently part of a longer show that was sponsored by the now defunct “Valley Forge Music Fair” which was a theater in the round and there is now a Barns & Nobel standing in its place. I actually saw a variety show at the VFMF about Will Rodgers (I think). The larger show closes with a cover of Kenny Logins’ “This is It”. The cover is a far better version than the original song, which sadly I cannot find. I actually have Kenny Logins “Keep the Fire” on vinyl with that song… but it’s not one of my favorite albums.
Then we go into the most important part of the video, the commercials. Don’t get me wrong, the shows on here are all great, if they weren’t I wouldn’t have watched this tape so many times, but the commercials included are almost like a time capsule or even a time machine.
When this tape was recorded: Ronald Reagan was president, Michael Jackson was known only as an entertainer, phones were not portable, synth-laden music came on your choice cassette record or CD, Bill Cosby was America’s Dad, Donald Trump was a casino owner, Back to the Future had a sequence in the future, there was no internet (at least not what you’d recognize as the internet), and Russia was called the Soviet Union. I’m not saying these times were better or worse, or if any of these things are good or bad, I am just saying they were, that was the time, and this tape is my tunnel too it. Somebody watched this exact sequence of programming and sponsors thirty years ago, and now, through the magic of magnetic tape, I am as well.
The very first one is for McDonald’s, telling people to enjoy a 49₵ burger break. I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve seen the cent symbol in a commercial, and finding the symbol for cent to insert here took some time. Then there’s a Reynolds plastic wrap commercial starring the juggler Michael Davis. Evidently, he was big in the ’80s and did a white house correspondence dinner which had Ronald Reagan laughing his tits off.
The first “feature” in the tape, is a Disney Special, which features two vignettes from “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” my favorite movie from Disney’s Dark Age. I have a copy of the movie on VHS as well, an official padded white clam shell Disney tape, not something recorded off the TV. The first vignette is about Rabbit trying to get Tigger lost in the woods so that he stops bouncing, but evidently “Tigger’s never get lost.”
There’s a commercial for Teddy Grams, I finally tried Teddy Grams for the first time while visiting my grandmother in Arizona, and it was probably several years later. I remember, talking to my friend Alex late at night in probably 2010, and while on the phone he tried Teddy Grams for the first time as was shocked at how good they were. They are not simply just graham crackers shaped like bears, there is more to them, but I can’t quite explain what it is.
There’s a commercial for Velveeta that has Claymation jalapeno’s wearing sombreros dancing to the tune of “Tequila” by the Ventures, augmented to change the only word in the song to Velveeta. On the theme with anthropomorphic foodstuffs, the next commercial stars the California Raisins, playing along with Ray Charles to the song “Heard it Through the Grape Vine.” Comparing these commercials to modern commercials, they seem much more on the nose. But at least you know what the hell they’re advertising and why. The Raisins (and perhaps the jalapeno’s in the previous commercial) was created by Will Vinton who passed away at the age of 70 this year, and whose name will come up in a big way later on in this post.
Then there’s a commercial for Monday night football: Seahawks vs. Raiders.
In the second vignette, Tigger bounces too high into a tree, which is ultimately resolved by a fourth wall break in which the narrator tips the book to the side and Tigger slides down the words to safety, kind of postmodern for a Disney movie now that I think about it.
There are a number of commercials for Sears. I only know of one left around here anymore, and it just so happened that my wife worked at that store for years, she was a manager there and it was her first “serious” job.
There’s a nice little snickers commercial, with a college student saying she could eat them without interrupting her studies. I don’t watch much modern TV (I spend too much time watching this tape and others like it), but I get the feeling that they don’t advertise candy as much as they used to, and certainly not in the way that this commercial says in the subtext “eat this and not real food.” I’m sure the nutritionazi’s wouldn’t like seeing that. I don’t know if I’d say Snickers are my favorite candy bar, but they’re up there. I especially like them frozen (the actual candy bar, not the ice cream bar), though I wouldn’t try that unless you have really strong teeth, because they freeze very hard.
There’s a station bump for the Wonder Years, which is kind of surprising that the show is that old. The show portrayed the 60’s in the ’80s, which means that the show itself is older now then the decade that it portrayed by half.
There is a commercial for the Casio Tone Bank Keyboard, with a guy in an empty ballet studio playing a nice classical song. It would have been nice (and made sense) if the keyboard player was Tony Banks, the Keyboard Player from Genesis… I mean it would have fit so well. Unfortunately, I don’t know what song he’s playing, if it is, in fact, something classical. This is followed by a commercial for Pearle Vision, advertising a coupon to get a second pair of glasses for free, and listing the myriad reasons why someone might want an extra pair of glasses. The company is still in existence, and I just googled them, apparently, there are about 3-4 in a 10-mile radius, I don’t wear glasses so I wouldn’t know, glass won’t fix what’s wrong with my eyes.
There is a brief news bump for an upcoming expose, which is slated to answer the question, and I quote “Why qualified blacks avoid the teaching profession.” I can’t imagine a statement like that ever flying on the news in today’s world. They probably wouldn’t even broach the subject. It may have been from a different news bump but, but I think this question was posed by Vernon Odem, who just a few days ago announced his retirement.
The rest of the special is padded out with three Disney shorts, the first is a Donald Duck cartoon called “Bee on Guard”. I’ve lent this tape out to other people from time to time, my aunt (who recorded it in the first place) for one. This was before I broke off the record prevention tab, and it accidentally recorded over most of this cartoon with a segment from entertainment tonight. This news segment is kind of interesting as well, it talks about Jim Lear after having suffered a heart attack, he talks about living the rest of his life “however long that is, at full throttle, doing what I want to do” thirty years later, at the age of 85, he is still alive, he actually hosted one of the Bush/Gore debates. It also mentions the breakup of Yugoslavia, there was some interesting drama about that last year when one of the generals Slobodan Praljak killed himself with poison on the floor of the Hague during his trial. The aftermath of that war is very strange, and the suicide is only a part of it.
There are a few commercials for Toy’s R Us, which, go figure, this year, has shuttered all its stores. It was a sad day, to say the least. Toy’s R Us has always been a staple for me even in my adult life, especially when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got big again, and they were rereleasing some of the originals, I have a Bebop, Rocksteady and Delta Donatello from that line, and a Donnie the Wizard (from a more modern line), all mint on card, and all purchased from Toy’s R Us.
There’s a commercial for Who’s the Boss, a show that featured Tony Danza who since has become a teacher in Philadelphia (I couldn’t imagine being in his class… though I doubt his students would be old enough to appreciate it.) My mom and dad also saw Tony Danza perform (in a musical capacity) at Feinstein’s a year or two ago.
There’s another Disney short featuring Pluto called “Pluto and the Gopher” a gopher gets stuck inside Mini Mouse’s house, and the dog chases it. Nothing of particular note with this short… but it’s a good one.
There’s a Wendy’s commercial in which they teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund (The WWF), and you could get a plush toy with a kids meal. Wendy’s is my favorite fast food place BTW.
There’s a station promo for Murphy’s Law, a short-lived (13 episode) neo-noir romantic dramedy, which looks promising, I found a copy of the pilot episode “Where Are My Socks.” but I haven’t watched it yet. It features George Segal (Pop’s from the Goldbergs) and Maggie Han (Who played Cheryl Han, George’s brief girlfriend in the Seinfeld episode “The Visa.”
The final short in the Disney special is “In the Bag” which of everything on this tape, broken down into their individual components (commercials notwithstanding) this is my favorite. It’s one of only two Humphrey Bear shorts ever made (though he appears in a few other pieces, like an episode of Rescue Rangers). It features a very catchy big band jazz tune of the same name (which even has scatting), don’t get me wrong this doesn’t mean I like that form of music, just this song. I would go into more detail about this cartoon, but you really should see it for yourself.
There’s a short PSA for RIF (Reading is Fundamental), a nationwide program trying to get kids to read. I hated the term “Fundamental” when I was a kid because I felt that it intentionally confused the idea of “fun” with the concept of absolute importance, obligation, and work. It took me a long time to learn how to read. You may find this surprising but I didn’t really start seriously reading until I was 18 (about the same time I started seriously writing).
There’s a great ABC station bump that shows a montage of clips from their prime time shows set to the tune of Yanni’s “Swept Away.” Now I didn’t know that was the name of the song (since it was an instrumental) until 2015. At that point my Dad gave me his iPhone 4, with which I downloaded Shazam, and while watching the tape (one of several viewings that year), found out the title and artist, after 27 years of watching it.
There’s a commercial for Wall to Wall Sound and Video, a chain which no longer exists. In the commercial, it actually had CD’s along with vinyl, tape, and VHS as part of the thousands of music and movies that they sold at the store. A former co-worker of mine’s father used to work at that store (which was later known as “The Wall”) as his first job out of college.
The very end of an episode of Wheel of Fortune is caught on the tape. They played their second version of the theme song (my favorite, which I actually woke up with stuck in my head on August 14th, remember I watched this tape as part of my Totally Awesome August 80’s Marathon this summer). Wheel of Fortune is still on, in their 35th season, and (I don’t even know how this is possible) but somehow Vanna White is even hotter now, Sayjak has noticeably aged, but he never looked all that young, to begin with.
If “In the Bag” is the best piece on the Tape, “A Muppets Family Christmas” is a close second. If you haven’t seen this special, you really need to. The quality of this tape varies from spot to spot, but this particular special seems to have the absolute best quality, sharp picture, etc. The premise is that Doc (Gerard Parkes, from Fraggle Rock, who would die at the ripe old age of 90 in 2014) and his dog Sprocket (a puppet), rent Grisly Farms (Fonzy’s mother’s house) for a nice quiet Christmas, while she is out surfing in California. That is until Fonzy and the rest of the Muppets show up for a massive family Christmas. Then the Sesame Street gang shows up, then Kermit and his nephew Robbin find a Fraggle Hole in the basement and make their way to Fraggle Rock (I actually watched the second season of Fraggle Rock back in September as part of my Mega DVD Marathon. How can you go wrong?
There’s a commercial for shredded wheat which features three flight attendants, stuck snowed in at the airport. One of theme microwaves the shredded wheat and says with a southern accent that how they eat it in Nome. Another says she didn’t know that she didn’t know she was from Alaska, to which the first replays “Not Nome Alaska, Nome Texas.” Yes, there is a Nome Texas, it’s near Beaumont.
Electric Mayhem, the Muppet’s band featuring Animal on the Drums, does a very lively rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock” and for my money, it’s the best version of the song. Interestingly, right around this time the second wave Norwegian black metal band “Mayhem” had recently released their more or less debut EP “Deathcrush” (The bands’ history is bizarre to say the very least, and their discography reflects this). Why not… I just put it on while editing this. The music is not for everyone, but I like it, and (thanks to my friend over at Oblivion’s Realm) I have it on a vinyl picture disk. It’s kind of a rough image for the cover of that album, but not even the roughest cover they have (there are actually 3 more disturbing album covers… but I’m not going to give links to them… okay, okay, if you really want to see what I’m talking about then search yourself for the album covers for: War and Sodomy, Ha Elm Zalag, and Dawn of the Black Hearts, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
In stark contrast to the music, there’s a very cute commercial for a “toy” called Suddly Shower, which is a plastic elephant’s head to theoretically make showering fun for kids. The kid is lip-syncing the extremely difficult baritone aria “Largo al Factotum” from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. You may not know the song by the name, but you know it, check out the link.
Going back in time in our magnetic tape time machine, in 1988 Lego had released a series of commercials under the “Zack the Lego Maniac” campaign. And there is one of these commercials on this tape. Surprisingly I didn’t get called “Zack the Lego Maniac” too much in my youth, my cousins used to refer to me more often as Zachariah Obadiah, thanks to a children series that was in vogue in the ’90s. then after 911 some of my friends used to call me another infamous Zach, but you can probably piece that name out for yourself… I had a sick group of friends. I usually get some small lego set for Christmas, this year I got a Lego advent calendar, which is the first time I’ve done an advent calendar in close to 20 years. And is awesome.
My wife and I have a stuffed Penguin that we treat as a strange cross between a friend, child, and pet. We get him Christmas presents every year (nothing too big, just cute things for him to play with, or more accurately pose for pictures with). My wife has wanted to get him a toy kitchen set, but the price (and concept) is just too high (and strange) for our intentions. I mention this only because there is a commercial for the Play sound Stove and Play Sound sink on the tape.
There is a short station bump for the TV Show “Moonlighting” starring Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd. This year Bruce Willis was the guest of honor at a Comedy Central Roast. There’s another short bump for “Thirty Something” a show that looked very unusual, but I know almost nothing about.
There is a commercial for another toy store, this one, Lionel Kiddy City. There was a Kiddy City at King of Prussia when I was a kid. I bought a bill and Ted action figure there, which I still have. The storefront has been changed to a tobacco store (of all things) which is still there.
There is a short bump for the (then new) TV show Roseanne. Interesting that I should pick this year to write this post. Rosanne came back on the air, briefly, this year, with all the old players and filmed before a live studio audience (you notice them cheer when certain big name actors come on). Then it was canceled because of an infamous tweet that Rosanne Bar made on Twitter. I fully admit that I watched the show when it returned, not because it was one of my favorite shows, but because it was very nostalgic to see it come back, and yes I’ve been watching the spinoff “The Conners” which they’ve used to continue it. It’s pretty good, Rosanne was my least favorite character on the show as it was, so her removal is not particularly disheartening.
There is a commercial for “Air Swatch” (watches made by Victorinox, who also makes Swiss army knives, both the knives and the watches are of the high quality associated with the Swiss). The commercial parodies a flight with announcements made by the head flight attendant, however, the on-screen action is that of a paraglider.
The best part of this episode is the carol scene near the end of the special. There are some great songs included, a lot of old English Christmas carols that you don’t ever year on the radio. Here’s the playlist: Happy holidays, Angles We Have Heard on High, Three Ships, Good King Wenceslas, Holly and Ivy, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Happy Holidays (again), Here We Are as in Olden Days, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Christmas Bells are Ringing, I Heard the Bells on Christmas day, It’s In Every One of Us, and ending with Together at Christmas.
If you recognize the playlist, that’s because we used it in MoonCandle’s seminal Drone Metal Christmas EP “A Very Heavy Holiday”. I really like the version of “It’s In Every one of Us” they do, much better than the actual version, which starts out peaceful and minimalist, but then goes into some bull shit R&B stylings that ruin the song. Good King Wenceslas and Three Ships are some of my favorite Christmas carols as well, and I’d like to write a pagan version of “Holly and Ivy”
There’s a cute commercial for Milkbone Dog biscuits, with a dog picking up a wrapped package and shaking it to see what it might be. We feed our dog Milkbones, along with many other higher-end designer treats… he’s very spoiled.
At the very end of the special, Santa clause shows up to distribute presents, and best of all, Jim Henson himself makes a small cameo and gets sprocket to help him wash the dishes.
There is a brief clip from a football game, I believe it is the Raiders vs. Seahawks Monday Night Football match on November 28th, 1988. In which the Seahawks won 35 to 27, but I don’t care about sports enough to give you any sort of play by play review. The score there is far more than I typically care about football.
The main feature is Mickey’s Christmas Carol, but it’s padded out (like the opening Disney special) with 2 other cartoons, and introduced by then Disney president Michael Eisner.
The first cartoon is Donald Duck’s “Donald’s Snowball Fight.” in which he takes on his three nephews in an all-out snowball war. Not really “Christmas” themed so much as it is a snow themed toon, but that’s just as good.
There’s a GE commercial with a very short but catchy jingle “GE is light, we’ll be there, we bring good things to life.” It’s nice not seeing the pain in the ass twisted compact fluorescent light bulbs.
There’s a commercial for Northwest Airlines advertising that they are the first airline to have all flights non-smoking. As one of the rare non-smoking pro-smokers, I don’t approve. However, I find the historical context of this interesting. It’s rare to find a public area you can actually smoke in (especially indoors) in this area anymore. This is followed by a bump for “The Hogan Family” about a kid who starts smoking and his brother who harasses him about it.
Close to the beginning of the second cartoon in this special, there is another short over recording. There’s a lot of static, however after years of looking at it I was finally able to make out what was attempted to be recorded, a short segment of Bob Ross’ “Joy of Painting” no clue as to what the painting is, you can barely make out his jewfro (no disrespect, that’s just what it is). The cartoon returns with Pluto chasing around Chip and Dale who were brought into Mickey’s house via the Christmas tree he just brought home.
There’s a commercial for FTD brass and blooms bouquet. FTD is still in business, but I can’t imagine seeing commercials for them.
There aren’t a whole lot of movie commercials on the tape, as you might have noticed at this point, I haven’t been omitting the trailers for them, as it is there’s very little I’ve omitted from this review. One of the movies though comes up now and it’s for the original Land Before Time (which has gone on to make 13 direct to video sequels, the last one being released as recently as 2016, and even had a semi-ubiquitous TV show). This commercial was spliced with a commercial for Pizza Hut which had rubber Land Before Time hand puppets to give away as part of a promotion.
There’s a bump for the TV show “Highway to Heaven” and there 100th episode, which in the commercial features a young, pre-Friends (by almost ten years), Matthew Perry.
Then we get to the main feature of the special. Let me tell you right off the bat, Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is my absolute favorite novella and Christmas Story ever, end of story, period. I read it every year on Christmas eve. I have a nice audiobook of it read by Jim Dale (the Harry Potter Narrator and one of the best voice actors of all time). I’ve seen probably a dozen different film versions of this classic tale: the Muppets, the more obscure Looney Tunes version, the Real Ghostbusters version (very interesting), and even the very strange Kelsey Grammer version that has a sequence of Scrooge going to a cold hell, which was not much unlike his life to begin with, but I digress.
The special starts out with a carol that I believe was written and recorded specifically for the special, but I could be wrong, I’ve never heard it anywhere else. Scrooge is of course played by Scrooge McDuck of Ducktales fame (voiced by Alan Young, who also voiced Scrooge in the Ducktales HD Remake (which was spot on) even though he was quite old at the time, and eventually died in 2016). I know I keep mentioning Actor’s deaths in this review… well it’s kind of important, because they live on in these VHS time machine and that is one of the reasons why I have an almost spiritual connection to these tapes (yes there are more tapes that will be receiving the same sort of treatment).
A stable of recognizable Disney characters portrays other characters from the classic novella. Scrooge is obvious of course, Mickey plays Bob Crotchet, Donald Duck plays Scrooges Nephew Fred, Goofy is Jacob Marley, Jiminy Cricket is the Ghost of Christmas Past, Daisy Duck is Scrooges fiance Isabelle. The portrayal of the relationship between Isebell and Scrooge is considerably different and much less nuanced in Mickey’s Christmas Carol (one of the few downfalls of this variation on “A Christmas Carol” although none of the other versions seem to get it right either). The Ghost of Christmas Present is played by Willy the Giant (from “Fun and Fancy Free”) his portrayal is also considerably different than the source material. Tiny Tim is not another mouse. And the Ghost of Christmas Future is played by the Disney’s stock antagonist Big Pete.
The end of the special is a bit of a tear (of joy) jerkier, even after watching it hundreds of times, in fact, probably more so after watching it so much. It ends slightly different than the novella, but with the same spirit. Scrooge goes to Crotchet’s house, with a bundle of toys and spends Christmas morning with his family. I could do a lengthy comparison between this special and the source material (maybe I’ll combine it with the Looney Tunes and Real Ghostbusters variations as well, maybe that will be something for next Christmas… maybe). The story does end with the same words “God bless us, everyone.”
there is a Sprite commercial with a kid and dog finding a snowman, and then giving him a can of Sprite which makes his charcoal mouth smile. There is an Oliver and Company tie-in promotion with McDonald’s, where you can get a plush Oliver or Dodger Christmas tree ornament. There’s a TV show bump for a special episode of Famly Ties (Michael J. Fox’s break out roll) where the father has a Heart Attack.
There’s a commercial for Levies that takes place in the desert with a man and his dog enjoying the scenery. This is one of the only postmodern commercials on the tape (an artistic direction in which most commercials seem to run these days). It’s a nice commercial, very minimalist, but I can’t find a copy of it on youtube… I did try though.
There’s a news bump for “Today” hosted by Brian Gumble talking about Secretary Gorbachev’s US Visit. Remember this was two years before the fall of communism, and the leader of the USSR visiting the USA was a major milestone in signaling the end of communism. There are still a few communist countries around (China, Vietnam, North Korea, Laos, and Cuba) but in 1988 there were 22.
One of the other movie commercials is done in a short infomercial about Oliver and Company, which is the last of the Disney Dark Age movies. I would consider it the first of the Disney Renaissance, but it’s really not well remembered, even though it should be. It’s a retelling of Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” and it has an all-star cast, with Cheech Marron, Ruth Pointer, Bet Midler, and the main character (Dodger) played by Billy Joel (at the height of his corer I might add), great music form both Joel and Hewy Lewis. Now I’ve never seen this movie, and I don’t think I could actually watch it to tell you the truth because it’s about animals, homeless animals, there’s no way I could get through it. But it seems awfully promising. Interestingly they do mention that they plan after Oliver and Company, to make a movie every year and mention that it’s equivalent to the output of the studio from the ’30s, which you can see in the Disney Renaissance (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Lion King, Et.al.).
There a commercial with Buzz the Bee (the Honey Nut Cheerios Mascot) trying to convince Scrooge that he might enjoy the cereal. There’s a station bump for the next Disney special which was slated to be the Disneyland All Stare Comedy Circus.
At the recording session switch, there are the credits for the Garfield Christmas Special (which I don’t think I’ve ever seen). And there’s a bump voiced by Lorenzo Music (the voice of Garfield) about library congress’ recommended books about Christmas. At this point, the overall quality of the video starts to deteriorate again. Some parts are better than others.
There’s a commercial for the Pat Sayjak show which was about to debut. It was a late night talk show that competed with David Letterman. That show, unlike Wheel of Fortune, only lasted for one season, but that one season was 298 episodes.
There’s a Hess Commercial with a catchy jingle. There are no more Hess gas stations left, however, Hess still sells and advertises their toy trucks. I don’t have any Hess Trucks but I do have a Sunoco truck.
There is an RC Cola commercial, in which you could get a free VHS of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I already have the movie, but I’ve been looking for RC Cola for the last year or so. I had a conversation with a friend of mine where I explained to him that RC stood for Royal Canadian… apparently, it stands for Royal Crown, and he asked me why it would be “Royal Canadian” since Canada doesn’t have a king. I explained to him that the Queen of England is their head of state because they are part of the Commonwealth of Nations. He had never heard of that before and he didn’t believe me, so he looked it up on his phone and started shaking his head and said did he understand why I would know that.
The next (and kind of last) special on the tape is Will Vinton’s A Claymation Christmas Calibration. This won an Emmy when it was first shown in 1987. It features claymated music videos for a variety of Christmas carols. Between the songs are clips of the dinosaur hosts, and people who keep showing up with various mondegreen of the carol “Here We Come a Wassailing.” Will Vinton, as mentioned earlier, is the creator of the California Raisins and passed away earlier this year, another strange coincidence for having waited to do this post this year.
The first music video is we three kings which features the titular kings singing in the carol in the traditional fashion with their camels chiming in with more jazzy/R&B/soul sounds. I don’t like Jazz/R&B/Soul music in general, except where it works. This tape has several such pieces on it, both within and outside of this special, and they make up the bulk of the acceptations.
The following music video has Beethoven/Qazi Moto hybrid conducting the Carol of the Bells, with anthropomorphic bells hitting themselves to ring for the performance. One of the bells, “The Dumb Bell” (the low D) can’t get it right. I give bonus points to the special for mentioning that the carol of the bells was originally a pagan carol meant to ward off evil in the dark of winter, which if you listen closely it is a considerably dark sounding song and made for a damn good Trans-Siberian Orchestra Song, which wouldn’t be recorded for another 8 years after this tape was made.
There is a commercial for Ivory soap, showing people working out, working and getting dirty then taking refreshing showers, to another catchy jingle. “I want my clean as real as ivory.” I’m wondering to myself, why did they get rid of jingles? Jingles get stuck in your head, and as an advertiser, you want a product name and what not to get stuck in your head.
There’s a commercial for Domino’s, with the song “Jingle All the Way” being played on a touch-tone keypad. In the days between rotary dials and cell phones, the keypad on a phone made a certain tone when it was pressed, and you could actually play music using a phone back then. Actually, I just checked, cell phones, at least iPhone make the tone as well… that gives me an idea.
There’s a commercial for Isotoner Slippers, a Christmas staple for many years, and I just checked, apparently, they are still selling them. a few years ago I asked my wife for a cute pair of slippers for Christmas (not the easiest gift in the world since I am a size 14), she got me a pair of sleeping panda slippers, we had to hide them when we got our dog, but I still put them on for Christmas Eve.
Next up on the celebration is “Oh Christmas Tree,” but first the mondegreen is “Here we come a waddling” sung by geese. The music video has kids hanging ornaments on a tree. The camera zooms into one of the ornaments, a gingerbread house, to reveal gingerbread men dancing around their own Christmas tree, then it zooms in again to another ornament, this Santa’s workshop (complete with subtle industrial noises), then zooms again to Santa and Mrs. Claus sitting around there own tree, which then zooms into the star atop, and then out again to reveal the same star on the kid’s (from the opening) tree. It’s very well done, and as far as animation goes, probably my favorite segment of the special, as far as the visuals are concerned.
Then there’s an instrumental for “Angle’s We Have Heard on High,” with interpretive ice ballet performed by two fat walruses and a host of penguins, need I say more?
There’s a couple of bumps for a stop-motion special about the life of Santa Claus. It might be interesting but I’ve never seen. I may actually read the book it’s based on “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus” by L. Frank Baum (who, of course, wrote “The Wizard of Oz”).
The next song on the celebration is “Joy to the World” and the mondegreen is “Waffleing” with a group of pigs trying to sell waffles. The variation of Joy to the World here is horrendous, it’s in a world/jazz/funk style that simultaneously takes itself too seriously while too liberally augmenting the source material. It’s also not really claymated but uses surreal imagery designed to imitate stained glass, which would be more interesting if not for the nearly intolerable rendition of Joy to the World. I’ve recently come across a punk song called “Oi to the World” which is far better, the original version is by the Vandals, and there was a cover soon thereafter by No Doubt, both of which I’d highly recommend. I’ve been sending a friend of mine Christmas themed punk songs for the 12 days of Christmas, and these two versions of “Oi to the World” were numbers 2 and 11 respectively.
The last official song in the special is “Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer” interpreted by (as it really had to be) the California Raisins, which is Will Vinton’s best-known creation, though apparently not well remembered. I mentioned the raisins to an 18-year-old the other day, and he had no idea what I was talking about.
Finally after the last song and glamour of elves (I had to look up the collective noun) shows up singing the song correctly, and all the other characters from the various songs join it as the special is wrapped up.
Following the Claymation Christmas Celebration there is the final recording session which is “The Ice Capades with Kurt Cameron” and since he is involved it is therefore unwatchable. When I transferred this tape over to DVD I added something else to the mix, to fill the DVD out.
The Raccoons and the Lost Star
This was a special that I had on tape from when I was overseas as well but on a different tape. The special is about a dog who accidentally crawls into a spaceship that looks like a WWI Biplane. And ends up on another planet that is trying to take over the earth. It’s very 80’s and very well done.
The best part of the whole episode is the scene in which Shaffer (the dog) crawls into the plain and the song “Calling You” starts playing, with probably the best music to animation ever made ever. The Raccoons were featured in a few other specials, they were at one time supposed to be the next big thing, but it didn’t quite work out for them.
This special has nothing to do with Christmas, but I felt it should be put on here. Also, there are no commercials with this one, so that’s about it.
Okay, so here’s the deal. I had the Tape transferred a second time, it had deteriorated a lot from the last time it was transferred (2010 I think). But I got it transferred because I wanted to have a digital copy of the Ice Capades with Kirt Cameron, even though I almost never watched it, and I still don’t, but I’m going to watch it, just for you. Okay, here we go…
The special starts out, slightly underway, with the California Raisins, or in this case, people dressed up in raisin costumes. I left that part in the first digital transfer, the next segment is what goes blank. And it’s also not that bad. It features an older couple “The Beedees” (not sure the spelling) ice dancing, but with various pratfalls along the way, first a light drops to the ice and the guy falls over it, then he has to fix his collar, then his suspenders fall off, and so on. After the segment Cameron interviews them and the woman says how the guy never practiced.
The next segment is the Carruthers, pairs ice skating silver medalists from the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. It’s interesting that the Olympic host country would dissolve less than a decade later, and also on the same tape, there is an over-recording of a news bump that covers that dissolution (mentioned earlier on in this review). I tried to Shazam the song they were dancing to but it didn’t work, which is too bad, because the song is quite good, very intense, very synthwave, although since this was the 80’s the genre didn’t exist then.
The first commercial in this segment is for Pringles, which shows hot scenes: beaches, surfers, top-down convertibles, women in bikini’s, et.al.; all set to the catchy “fever for the flavor of Pringles” jingle. Odd choice for the winter, but it works.
Then there’s a commercial for Chloraseptic (a little more appropriate) with a little girl complaining of a sore throat. Then there the Ivory soap commercial, the first repeat. There are a few repeat commercials on this disk, but not as many as you might think. This is followed by a Head & Shoulders commercial, with the catchphrase: “Head and Shoulder’s But you won’t have dandruff… exactly.”
There’s a station bump for a TV show that I don’t remember called “Incredible Sunday” which was apparently about very talented kids, I don’t know if that was the episode itself or the overall series. This is followed by another station bump for “Mission Impossible” the clip of the main actor lighting a match had been seen earlier in the tape.
Next on the special is Elizabeth Manly, don’t know who she is, and don’t really care. Just some more ice skating. I’m more interested in the commercials for this section anyway.
There’s a Commercial for Vicks 44, I don’t know if that’s still available, but it looked like a really strong cough syrup, but I can’t imagine it being any better then NyQuil and it’s dream inducing magic.
And then we have our first, and only, feminine hygiene product advertised, Always Plus. With a bunch of women talking about how it’s the “best thin maxi ever.” I’m not sure if the term “Maxi” is really used anymore, but those commercials are still one. Here’s a funny story for you. When I was in high school there was some anti-smoking spokesperson at an assembly who asked the kids to raise their hands if they had ever seen a smoking advertisement, which we all did of course. And this was her proof that they were advertising to kids. Afterword I asked a bunch of guy’s rhetorically if they had ever seen a tampon commercial, which we, of course, all had, and it destroyed her argument. QED.
There’s a station bump for Growing Pains, I remember the show, and enjoyed it quite a bit, it was before Cameron became intolerable, apparently, the family gets arrested for some reason, I don’t remember the episode, I don’t remember any specific episode except for the last one.
There are further station bumps for “Superman III” and “A View to a Kill.” Then there’s a Chrysler Plymouth year’s end clearance sale add. And then yet another medicine commercial, for Squibb Care products, some generic medicine. Interestingly, ten years later, the word Squibb would come to be known as a wizard born person who can not use magic, thanks to the Harry Potter series.
In the run-up to the next segment there is a comment about Hollywood stars that have been on ice, the first being Lillyan Gish in the movie “Way Down East.” this is true, Way Down East was an early silent movie, directed by the god of Hollywood himself, D.W. Griffith, and has the first waterfall rescue scene in a movie. It’s a little heavier and longer then the typical fare for the time, but it might be worth checking out, if your a fan of the silent era and have 2.5 hours to kill.
A red carpet is rolled out onto the ice with various “actors” walking down it. A Rolls Royce is brought out onto the ice, somehow, and some actress gets out to sing a sultry rendition of the Hollywood theme song. I don’t know who she is so don’t ask, Madonna would have been a far better choice. She introduces Sonja Henie, (a re-enactor) I had to look up the name. I like the spelling because I like all things Scandinavian, but the ice dancing is… just more of the same.
Then comes the reason I do not watch this special, and I had to fast forward through it, this time. There is a reenactment of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Little Tramp” in which he has a dog living with him on a park bench a dog he loves, a dog that is stolen from him. I didn’t like that when I was a kid, I didn’t like seeing homeless people then and I do not now, there is nothing funny about poverty. And separating a beloved owner and pet is even more unacceptable. The dog comes back in the end, but still. It’s the whole reason why I don’t watch this special, Kurt Cameron and his religious nonsense aside.
There’s an ice dancing segment of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” and then a segment for Fred Estair and Ginger Rodgers… but again it’s ice dancing, not the kind of dancing that those two did. I have almost no interest in dancing as it is, but Fred and Ginger, that’s some impressive stuff, I don’t care who you are… the ice dancing less so. The Hollywood segment finally wraps up, after something I can’t quite make out.
There’s a diaper commercial that’s based on Adam and Eve. Cameron probably plugged that. Okay okay, if you don’t know why I don’t like Kurt Cameron, it’s because of this, I don’t like ultra-religious people, especially the overly judgmental ones. And the fact that he has had virtually no corer since he embraced the religious far right, I think it proves that there is no god, or if not proves it then at the very least is a healthy indicator that if there is a god, it’s not the one that Cameron warships.
There’s a commercial for Folgers Crystals, switching instant coffee with fresh brew stuff. Apparently, the people in the commercial can’t tell the difference. I like instant coffee, but the difference is easy enough to tell, the commercial is damned.
There is a station bump for New Years Rocking Eve 89 staring Dick Clark. Interestingly enough, Clark died in 2012, after having hosted New Year’s Eve for decades, and that was the year we were not supposed to have a new year at all, because of the Mayan prediction, turns out they were wrong, though I actually have mixed feeling about this, but that for possibly another post.
There’s a Katy Thomas segment. Don’t know who she is either. This is followed by a segment of “the Scarecrows” who were (maybe are) a troupe of comedic stunt ice skaters. They use a lot of water in their performance, which I can only imagine was very cold, so props to them for that at least.
There’s a commercial for Cascade that is set in the kitchen of a catering company when they notice that their glasses are not clean, and think its the end of their business. This is followed by another medicine commercial involving a guy who is waiting for cold medicine, and this medicine turns out to be… NyQuil (a good choice).
There is a more specific commercial for Thirty Something in which one of the character’s biological clock goes off, and she wants to have a baby. Luckily I’ve never had to deal with this myself, I don’t like kids and I want to stay child-free for life. This is followed by another bump for a pilot for a show called Heart Beat, which looks like a hospital drama that perhaps focuses on a maternity ward, they may have been talking about abortion in the bump too, I’m sure Cameron has some strong opinions on that as well.
The next segment of the Ice Capades is the Smurfs which is introduced by Allyce Beasely who is advertised from Moonlighting, however, I know her better as Coach’s daughter from Cheers (though she was only in one episode as far as I know). This is followed by a Smirf sequence. I was never all that into the Smurfs, so I didn’t care about it all that much. Allyce is apparently a fairly talented ice skater because she is part of the skit.
There’s a Pepto-bismal commercial with a guy running up and down the stairs. This is followed by a bump for “One Life to Live,” which has a Charley Chaplin reenactor. This is followed by a bump for 20/20 (a show that is still on) and they talk about the newly discovered concept of Winter Blues. I actually suffer from this a fair amount, strangely though I love the winter and the cold, it’s my favorite season, but sometimes I start to get… weird. More recently I found out I had a vitamin D deficiency, so I’ve been taking supplements and that’s seemed to improve things quite a bit.
There’s a commercial for Hellman’s. I love mayonnaise, but my favorite is spicy Chinese mayo, which comes in a squeeze bottle, and I use whenever I need mayo on something, which is probably more often then it should be. Also, the commercial is for Hellman’s Light, I wouldn’t eat that stuff anyway.
There’s a bump for action news, which cuts out halfway through, and that’s the end of the tape, the very end, and the end of my direct connection to the 1980s and my time machine. Looking back, have I changed my mind after having watched the Ice Capades all the way through (or as all the way through as I can) for the first time in at least 20 years? … No, no I have not changed my mind. I really don’t care a whole lot about ice skating.
But I do care an awful lot about this tape, about this little time capsule of 1988. and I hope my love for this tape has come through in my writing, I certainly tried to show it. There are a few other tapes in my collection, that I will be giving the same treatment too if people seem to have found this one interesting. I know this is long, and I’m glad you’ve read it to the very end, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip into the 80s, as much as I enjoy going back to it, year after year.
Merry Christmas Everyone.