Vintage VHS Commercial Bonanza, Part 3 (Kal Kan, Diners Club, Miller Lite, Ashford & Simpson)

The Von Ryan’s Express of vintage 1982 TV commercials rolls on! This is the first half of the third ad break for the movie — broadcast by WABC-TV on June 19, 1982 — and it features spots for Kal Kan Mealtime, Diners Club, Miller Lite, and Ashford & Simpson.

(Here are the first and second installments in case you missed them.)

Of the four spots, my favorites are easily the Miller Lite and Ashford & Simpson one. The first is from Miller Lite’s all-time great “Less Filling/Tastes Great” campaign that ran for many years and featured a host of sports legends. This one stars Ben Davidson, the great Oakland Raiders defensive lineman who also dabbled in film acting. He played Rexor, Thulsa Doom’s second-in-command, in the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Conan the Barbarian.

I also love this spot for an upcoming Ashford & Simpson concert at Radio City Music Hall. It’s just so damn funky and totally ’80s.

Ken (Snyder) - By Request Only

Music from the Worst Album Covers — Ken, By Request Only

While opinions vary as to what the worst album covers of all-time are, By Request Only invariably shows up on just about every top 10 list. To be honest I don’t really see why. Sure, it’s kind of cheesy and good for a cheap laugh — but is it really bad? I don’t think so, but I’m just one man. Regardless, I made it my mission to track down this album — issued only under the mysterious name “Ken” — and check it out.

Ken (Snyder) - By Request Only

So here’s what you need to know. Ken is actually Ken Snyder, and By Request Only is a fairly typical contemporary Christian music album from the mid ’70s. That is to say it’s basically traditional gospel infused with contemporary country and even a little bit of rhythm and blues. The first track, “He Loves Me So,” gives you a good idea of what you’re in for on the rest of the album. It’s pretty, bland, and completely harmless — kind of like the album cover itself, no?

The arrangements on most of By Request Only‘s 10 songs are fairly standard — Snyder — who very faintly evokes the sound of Glen Campbell — is the lone vocalist and is backed by a rhythm section of drums, bass guitar, and piano/organ. On a handful of songs we get treated to the surprise inclusion of a string section (on songs like “I Heard Footsteps” and “Walk With Me”). It adds a level or maudlin professionalism I wasn’t expecting, and it sounds nice enough.

Only once does Ken try to get a little down and dirty, and that’s on “Modern Religion.” It’s a halfway decent song that, much like the other nine, are largely undercut by Snyder’s mediocre singing. A lot of the songs on the album clock in at or under three minutes, but despite their brevity it’s really easy to get distracted while you’re listening. More than once a song ended and I hadn’t even realized it.

For that reason, I’m not sure there would be a point to including every song from the album here. But if you really, really have to hear the whole thing then it’s all up on YouTube.

Halfway through this record we’re treated to a medley of sorts, “Holy Spirit Flow Through Me / Come Holy Spirit.” It sounds like a typical vocal solo you’d hear in a Sunday service at your local Protestant church, but I point it out here because of Ken’s rather interesting pronunciations — “holy spiri”t as “holy spiruuuut” and “weakness” as “weaknuuuus” for example.

It would be really easy to take potshots at the lyrical content of this album, and I’m sure others already have. The fact that “Ha ha, he believes in Jesus!” jokes are incredibly lazy certainly doesn’t stop people from using them. But really, this all strikes me as a pretty earnest and sincere expression of religious faith, so who am I to knock that? Especially when there are those barely adequate vocals I think I mentioned before.

So what about the man behind the music? Well, years ago a group of internet sleuths attempted to track Ken down, using the Sheldon, Iowa address printed on the back of the album cover as a starting point. Turns out there is a Ken Snyder still living in Sheldon, and he’s a member of a church called the Parkview Assembly of God. Check the Church Directory link and you’ll find him.

If you’re a devotee of good old-fashioned country gospel, you may find something of value in By Request Only. Otherwise, this is an utterly unremarkable record that just so happens to have a ton of kitsch value. Let’s end things with the final track from Ken’s album, a mildly — and I do mean mildly — rousing number called “I Want to Live My Life for Jesus.” Ken, if you are in fact still out there — keep on believing’ and keep on singing!

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PolCat album cover

Sunday Jazz: Let’s Talk About the PolCat Album

PolCat album coverI see at least half a dozen PR emails a day concerning albums and projects I have little interest in. So it figures that I missed the February release of PolCat, the debut album from a project featuring Chris Poland, one of my all-time favorite guitarists.

The name, I’m certain, comes from Poland and tenor saxophonist Frank Catalano, who make up half of this astoundingly talented quartet.

How I stumbled upon this album is not important — I’m just glad I did. It’s one of the freshest, most enjoyable releases of any genre I’ve heard this year, and hopefully points the way to more output from this group.

I haven’t heard much of anything from Catalano prior to this album, but his sax playing is agile and tuneful. Likewise, the rhythm section of bassist Sean O’Bryan Smith and drummer Jim Gifford is tight and propulsive. They clearly have chops (witness Smith’s sick grooving on “Pharoh” as an example), but when necessary they lay down a rock-solid foundation for Poland and Catalano to do their thing.

But the main reason I wanted to hear PolCat was Chris Poland. Having mostly heard Poland’s solo work and his work with Megadeth, I was curious to hear how he would sound in a jazzier outfit. Turns out he sounds fantastic. His playing is in turns delicate and ambient (reminding me a bit of Andy Summers, another of my favorites) and white-hot. He shreds like nobody’s business on tracks like “Forget About It” and “Mighty Burner,” which I’ve added to my Sunday Jazz playlist (linked below). On cuts like “Rain” and “Glass House” he alternates between placid and frenetic with ridiculous ease.

Serious jazz fans will appreciate the expert interplay and top-notch improvisation on PolCat, while devoted metalheads should love hearing one of the great guitarists of the genre do his thing. The bottom line is that PolCat has a little something for everyone, and is not to be missed. I don’t have any song samples for you, but check out this live rendition of “Mighty Burner” from the group’s debut show at the Alvas Showroom in San Pedro, CA.

PolCat is out now on Ashro Records, and can be purchased from iTunes (no Amazon yet).

Track listing

  1. “Forget About It”
  2. “God Made It Beautiful”
  3. “Microphone Check (feat. Malcolm-Jamal Warner)”
  4. “Mighty Burner”
  5. “Rain”
  6. “Glass House”
  7. “Sona”
  8. “Pharoh”
  9. “NS Factor”
  10. “Americana”

(Spotify users — you can listen to selections from PolCat and many of the songs featured on Sunday Jazz by subscribing to my GFS Sunday Jazz playlist.)

Saturday Serials: “Eight Steps Down” (Batman 1943, Chapter 13)

"Eight Steps Down" (Batman 1943, Chapter 13)And just like that, it’s Saturday again, which can mean only one thing — it’s time for another edition of Saturday Serials, currently showing the 1943 Columbia Pictures Batman feature starring Lewis Wilson as the Caped Crusader.

Today we look at the thirteenth chapter in our saga, “Eight Steps Down.” After completely failing to rescue Linda Page in the last chapter, Batman does some legit detective work to track her down. I love the quaintness of Batman having to stop by a call box on the street to talk to the police. Ah, simpler days.

We also get a lesson in etiquette, as Daka informs Linda that you should address people from Japan as “Nipponese” and not “Jap.”

So what does that “Eight Steps Down” mean anyway? Well I’m not sure, even after watching this. But I can say that the cliffhanger is surprisingly solid; much better than the last few. We may get an exciting finish to this serial yet. Only two more chapters to go!

1960 Ford Motor Company New Car Lineup brochure

Retrotisements — 1960 Ford Motor Company New Car Lineup

1960 Ford Motor Company New Car Lineup brochure

Print advertisements, brochures, and TV commercials help give us a glimpse into the automotive past. Today’s ad collection shines a spotlight on the 1960 Ford Motor Company domestic American car lineup, which featured four main models — the brand-new, compact Falcon, full-size Fairlane and Galaxie, and the second-generation, luxury Thunderbird — as well as the usual assortment of wagons and trucks.

1960 was a fairly significant year for Ford in terms of change. On the consumer front, the recently introduced Galaxie was completely remodeled, while the Falcon made its debut. The Falcon represented Ford’s entry into the compact car market, and its development was spearheaded by company president Robert S. McNamara — who in 1961 became United States Secretary of Defense under President John F. Kennedy. The Falcon was marketed along with the third-generation Fairlane as Ford’s “Economy Twins.”

One of the curious things about Ford’s 1960 campaign is their use of the Peanuts characters to sell cars. They showed up both in print ads (see one of the Falcon entries below) and TV spots. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since Snoopy’s been hawking life insurance for years, but still, it’s pretty bizarre to see Charlie Brown and his friends smoking cigars to celebrate new Fords.

(To see other car lineup advertisement galleries, click here. Got a request for other years and makes? Let me know in the Comments section.)

1960 Ford — General

1960 Ford ad - Wonderful New World of Fords for '60

1960 Ford Falcon/Fairlane 2-page ad

1960 Ford new car lineup ad

1960 Falcon

1960 Ford Falcon brochure pag
1960 Ford Falcon advertisement
1960 Ford Falcon wagon advertisement
1960 Ford Falcon ad feat. Snoopy
1960 Ford Falcon 2-page advertisement
1960 Ford Falcon ad feat. Peanuts
1960 Ford Falcon Wagons ad feat. Alice in Wonderland
1960 Ford Falcon wagon ad feat. Peanuts

1960 Fairlane

1960 Ford Fairlane brochure page
1960 Ford Fairlane 500 Town Sedan

1960 Galaxie

1960 Ford Galaxie ad

1960 Ford Galaxie advertisement

1960 Thunderbird

1960 Ford Thunderbird brochure page

1960 Ford Thunderbird 2-page Marines ad

1960 Ford Station Wagons

1960 Ford Station Wagons brochure
1960 Ford Country Squire wagon advertisement

1960 Courier

1960 Ford Courier Sedan Delivery advertisement

1960 Ford Pickups

1960 Ford pickup truck ad feat. F-100 and Ranchero
1960 Ford Pickups 2-page ad

1960 Ford farm pickups advertisement

1960 Ford Trucks

1960 Ford Trucks ad

1960 Ford Trucks Brochure - 4-wheel drive models

1960 Ford Trucks Brochure - medium duty models

1960 Ford Trucks Brochure - super duty models

1960 Ford Trucks Brochure - tandem axel models

1960 Ford Trucks Brochure - school bus chassis

1960 Ford Trucks Brochure - parcel delivery chassis

(Some brochure images sourced from The Old Car Manual Project.)

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Nuclear Fallout Shelter (1950)

Vintage Photo Wednesday, Vol. 5 — 1950s Family Nuclear Fallout Shelter

Here’s a totally fascinating and somewhat disturbing image from the early days of the Atomic Age and the Cold War (click for a larger copy).

Nuclear Fallout Shelter (1950)

As you might be able to guess, this is a family nuclear fallout shelter, made out of steel and full of all the home comforts of 1950.  I spot two board games — Life and Chutes & Ladders, a Reader’s Digest book, a box of macaroni dinner, a block of Velveeta, some Ajax cleaner, and assorted other sundries.

Why, in the event the Soviet Union ever drops the Big One I would expect to live comfortably in this thing for at least a week before going insane.

(Source — National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)

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Bubble Guppies

A Parent Reviews Children’s Television: Bubble Guppies

My son likes to watch kids’ shows on TV, which means I have to watch kids’ shows on TV. I’ve had plenty of time to form opinions on these shows, and now you get to read them. Today: Bubble Guppies.

(Previous entry: Thomas & Friends)

Bubble Guppies

Bubble Guppies — Pictured (l t r): Molly, Goby, Nonny, Deema, Oona, Gil, and Mr. Grouper.

Some kids’ shows are tolerable. You can get through them but wouldn’t ever seek them out on your own. Others are painful to watch (I’m looking at you, Dora the Explorer). You suffer through because you love your children. And some are enjoyable in their own right. You gladly watch them with your kids, and you may even tune in after they’ve gone to sleep for the night.

I think that out of all the shows I get to (have to) watch because of my son, Nick Jr.’s Bubble Guppies is my current favorite. It’s a cousin of sorts of another Nick Jr. show, The Backyardigans, but is far superior in almost every way. Let’s break it down:

In Bubble Guppies, the main characters (shown above) live in Bubbletucky and go to school together. As you might expect, the show is all about setting up and delivering a lesson of some sort, and learning about various topics along the way. The show trades heavily on skit humor and upbeat, modern singing and dancing. A perfect example of the latter is the “Outside Song” that is performed in every episode. I’m going to warn you now that once you watch this, it will be stuck in your brain for days.

In fact, the music really is the star of the show. From the insanely catchy theme song to the incidental music, it’s all very professionally produced and executed. Imagine if the performances on Glee didn’t make you want to stab your brain with a Q-Tip and you get the idea.

As for the humor, it’s really hard for a show to pull off jokes that adults can appreciate but that doesn’t zoom over kids’ heads. I think for the most part Bubble Guppies pulls this trick off quite well. It’s very cute and earnest without pandering or being too saccharine. Think of it as an alternate SpongeBob universe that isn’t completely demented.

The voice acting is very well done. The producers found a good group of kids to play these characters — Angelina Wahler as Deema being my favorite — and Tino Insana is a perfect fit as Mr. Grouper. He reminds me just a bit of Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) from The Princess Bride.

Visually, I dig the show. It’s bright and colorful, and the CGI is really snappy. It moves quickly but isn’t hyper, which again can be hard to pull off.

Overall, I really like Bubble Guppies in case you couldn’t tell. As I was browsing YouTube clips I saw a lot of comments from adults that enjoy the show in a non-ironic way. I am now one of them.

Vintage VHS Commercial Bonanza, Part 2 (Kool-Aid, Eastern Airlines, and More!)

Following up on the last installment, here’s another group of vintage TV ads from a June 19/20, 1982 recording of Von Ryan’s Express on WABC-7. This is the second commercial break, and it contains spots for Kool-Aid, Eastern Airlines (featuring a pre-Webster Emmanuel Lewis), Mobil Detergent Gasoline, and 9 Lives featuring Morris.

If you want to see more awesome retro commercials, subscribe to my YouTube channel now!

Saturday Serials: “Embers of Evil” (Batman 1943, Chapter 12)

Saturday Serials: “Embers of Evil” (Batman 1943, Chapter 12)

Saturday Serials: “Embers of Evil” (Batman 1943, Chapter 12)

We’re so close! After this week, there are only three chapters left in the 1943 Batman serial film! Sadly, Daka’s henchmen still haven’t figured out that blowing up a building is a less than effective way to kill Batman and Robin. That’s lucky for us I suppose, since otherwise this series would’ve ended weeks ago.

One of the shortcomings of the serial format is fairly clear to me now. There really are only so many ways to end each segment with a cliffhanger putting the hero’s life in danger. This is at least the second or third time Batman’s been trapped in a burning building or wreck in this series. It does start to feel worn out at a certain point. I don’t know, maybe it felt fresher 70 years ago.