There's always a great deal of chatter on sites like this about retro TV. That's not very surprising. After all, since about the 1960's or 1970's, television has always been there while most of us were growing up. In a way, it was a great equalizer among kids. Someone I have nothing else in common with can form a common bond with me if they know the theme song to "Gullah Gullah Island", for example. Television is also frequently talked about on retro sites because it's one of the most dynamic influences in our lives-television programming, children's or adult's, changes like it's going out of style. It changes drastically, and it changes often.
Children's videos, on the other hand, are a little bit different. They still change as rapidly as children's television does. However, videos aren't discussed as much. Why? Well my theory is that videos don't have the equalizing power that television does. If you watched videos as a child, your parents had to go to a store, make a decision with a video in their hand, and pay for that video alone right at that moment. It's different than just paying the cable bill and having you watch whatever comes on the TV.
My parents must have made that decision a lot, because I had more videos in my room as a small child than some small towns had in their video stores. Sesame Street, Nickelodeon shows, Disney movies...the list was endless. But for this article, I'm going to be focusing on the video series that featured the other great equalizer of humanity-music.
The best place to start is at the beginning, and thus I'm beginning this retrospective with the first video series I remember. As the name suggests, this was a series designed for infants and toddlers. The videos all featured short "music videos" set to the song of children's singer/songwriter Hap Palmer. Among the songs featured:
My Mommy Comes Back, a song which chronicled children being left at daycare, a neighbor's home, and grandma's house before being picked up at the end of the day to the cheerful chorus of "my mommy comes back, she always comes back, she never would forget me!"
Baby's Good Doggy, in which a giant dog sings about how wonderful life is with his "baby" in the most stereotypical dog voice you'll ever hear. Any time I've had to imagine the voice of a dog, this is what comes into my head. I now realize it is from this video.
Security, better known as Don't Wash My Blanket. I think the title is pretty self descriptive there.
When I got to be about 5 or 6 years old, I realized that I was no longer a baby and thus shouldn't be watching tapes entitled "Baby Songs". Fortunately, my parents realized that as well and began purchasing Kidsongs tapes. At that age, I actually thought the two series were related, and that Kidsongs were produced by the same people as an alternative for kids who'd outgrown Baby Songs. You know, the same way Coppertone makes Water Babies sunblock and Coppertone Kids sunblock. Well, that was my rationale at the time.
Kidsongs tapes are in no way related to Baby Songs videos. The tapes were produced by different companies over the years, and also spawned a television show on PBS. But of course, this isn't an article about TV. This is about the videos. Each Kidsongs video was built around a theme. Examples include:
A Day at Old MacDonald's Farm, which included such kid classics as "Old MacDonald" and "Shortnin' Bread" (with alternative lyrics about the joys of cooking breakfast.
Ride the Rollercoaster which followed the kids through a day at the amusement park, including songs such as "Whole Lot of Shaking Going On" and the ode to all that is not healthy, "Fast Food". Check out these lyrics and tell me this could be published today:
"I love burgers, and I love fries
I want a milkshake on the side
Cheese and ketchup everywhere
There's nothing that we won't try"
Nope, that's pure 1990's pre-obesity epidemic entertainment right there.
What I Want to Be which featured songs such as "Sea Cruise" (demonstrating being a sailor), "Candyman" (to demonstrate being a candyman) and "Act Naturally" (to demonstrate being an actor/movie star).
All of the Kidsongs videos featured songs sung by kids, rarely with adults and never sung by adults alone.
Unlike Baby Songs and Kidsongs which I watched, for the most part, in my home Wee Sing videos were a series that I was mainly exposed to in school. Our music teacher loved these videos. There were a total of 9 videos in the original series, each with a different story. Unlike Kidsongs, which featured the same "Kidsongs kids" in every video, each Wee Sing video featured an entirely different cast of characters. Examples of the Wee Sing series included:
Wee Sing Together, a story about a little girl who's stuffed animals come to life and throw her a magical birthday party. Included such songs as "Bingo", "The Alphabet Song", and "Little Peter Rabbit.
King Cole's Party, in which Jack and Jill, Mary (sans lamb) and Little Boy Blue travel to King Cole's castle for a party. Included Jack and Jill (of course), Mary Had a Little Lamb, and Five Little Ducks.
And of course, there was Wee Sing in Sillyville, a thinly veiled story about the effects of racism set in a coloring book. Laurie and Scott are transported into their coloring book by Sillywhim who hopes the children can help reunite the citizens of Sillyville who have divided among color lines. Included such songs as "Down By the Bay", "Once an Austrian Went Yodeling..." and "John Brown's Baby" (reworded to "Bitty Booty Baby).
Then, of course, we have the big one:
Disney Sing Along Songs
There has already been an extensive article posted about the Disney Sing Along series, so I won't go too in depth about the history of the series. However, I couldn't do an article about my childhood videos without at least mentioning this series. This series exposed me to Disney movies that I had never seen, some of which I've still never seen. For example, I've never seen "Oliver and Company". But, I can sing "Why Should I Worry" perfectly. Why? Because I watched these videos every day of my life when I was 9. Some of my favorite examples:
Circle of Life
And Pongo and Perdita, which I found to be creative but not in keeping with the rest of the series. Rather than taking songs from different Disney films, this video used original songs, or classics such as Take Me Out to the Ball Game and built them around a central storyline. It was a fine production, it just didn't feel like a Disney Sing Along.
Well, there you have it. A rundown of what kept me re-winding all through the 90's. But hey, at least there were no commercial breaks!