6/24/16

The First 5 Sesame Street 45's: Part One (1970)

Today, we start a 5-part journey, sharing an amazing and historical stash I recently picked up.  We have talked about early Sesame Street a few times, but now we can really experience it.  It's funny, because I was a "second-generation" SS watcher, in the mid-to-late 70's, and I never knew as a kid that the show had experienced an earlier incarnation, because most traces of its genesis were gone by the time I started watching (and the earlier clips they could use didn't really mess up any continuity).  We have discussed before about when Oscar was orange, but there are more oddities, such as a Bullwinkle-ish Big Bird, the completely different Gordon, the "Anything People" and so on!

The first Sesame Street LP was released in 1970, and songs from it were used as "singles" on Columbia Records, the earliest nine or so being in the form of "book & record sets."  These weren't exactly "read-along" books, but instead supplemental information included to enhance a child's enjoyment of the songs.  They were very much like early "board books" and were printed on heavy cardboard.  Unfortunately, they weren't coated, like today's board books are, so they are a little more prone to yellowing and preschool mayhem.

And, oh, the artwork.  It has that delightful feeling of the time when the show was finding its feet, and establishing what we would today call a "brand."  Some of it is downright psychedelic!  Let's begin:
Of course, the A-side of the first record is the original, first-season theme, followed by a B-side track called "Hello," where the main characters all introduce themselves.  This was pretty smart, and the first photo inside the book is meant to illustrate that track.  Strangely, it isn't a very well-set-up shot, and looks more like an outtake or behind-the-scenes photo.
The next page gives us the lyrics to the theme song, with shrinking fonts to illustrate the fade out.
Next up is a two-page spread, illustrating the "Hello" track, in case you have no idea who is who.
Now dig this:
I could stare at this all day.  This is sublime.  Melty Kermit, unsure-about-his-mortality Big Bird, Orange Oscar, Cookie Monster (who as we shall see, is much more emotional)...it just keeps going.  
The books are short, and this is the back.  The included 45 has no slot to go into, so it just sort of sits inside the book, and has the same cover art as the front and back of the book:

As you can see, the paper sleeves took much more damage than the books.  Yes, in the 1970's, they gave little kids records, and expected us to take care of them.  Most didn't.
And now to the songs!
Before "Sesame Street Records" was its own label, these early 45's just used Columbia labels of different colors, with the famous street sign to one side.
In some cases, these early songs were different, or longer, than their LP counterparts, and if you see a song that is familiar to you from later dates, then this version is entirely different, with different instrumentation.  In the cases where characters evolved, like Big Bird, our early version of "ABC-DEF-GHI" is a world apart from later ones.

Originally, I was going to do a Monday-Friday week of this, but since it's Friday and we all deserve it, let's start now:


P.S. - I was able to work some magic with these, and I'm really happy with the results.  Whereas often kid records are tinny and have lots of high end (and middle), these sound really good! Please enjoy!

6/23/16

Don Rainey - READ-LISTEN-LEARN BEGINNER'S GUITAR (Sears, 1959)

It's time to get back to some audio, which we used to do around here pretty regularly.  I have a small pile that I have been slow to get converted.  It is a very laborious process to convert, edit, and clean audio, but I'm going to be sharing some of the odder items here, just like the good old days.

First off is this piece of...record...a 45 rpm disc that more than likely came with the purchase of a beginner guitar from Sears & Roebuck catalogs.  While today this idea is a farce, and usually results in an instrument of dubious quality that cannot be tuned, in 1959 and in the early sixties, you could actually get a fine specimen; one that was actually made of...wood (GASP!).

Your "host" is Don Rainey, who also made the 12" version that you had to buy separately (as well as an album about how to play the Autoharp...it's called the AUTOHARP; you just push the chord you want and strum...there are no instructions necessary!).

Anyhow, I have several problems with this disc, and I don't really know where to begin.  First off, Rainey wants you to tune your new guitar to this record, and he doesn't teach you another way, and each note goes by quickly.  I bet this was a huge thrill back in the days when you couldn't rewind, and I imagine several records got scratched beyond repair using this ludicrous idea.  If there's not a piano in the house, buy the kid a pitch-pipe or something.

Secondly, Rainey's guitar is not directly miked, and sounds terrible.  In fact, Rainey doesn't sound so hot himself, and I did what I could to clean up this record (and it wasn't bad, in fact had little use). 

Thirdly, he uses the old standby group of "beginner" chords, C, F, and G7.  He insists that to make the F chord, which is "one of the more difficult," he mentions, you must wrap your thumb around the neck and make an F on the low E string.  Huh.  Now, you can do this if you want to--you can use your toes if you are so inclined--but never in any beginner books did I ever see that.  It just goes on from there.

Fourthly, he keeps mentioning chord charts that were supposed to be included.  They aren't, but no big loss.

Fifthly, he actually tells beginners that 3/4 and 4/4 are "both of the time signatures."  Seems like there are more to me...
In the end, the truth is pretty simple:  you can't learn to play the guitar from a 45 rpm record.  The best way I have ever found is to buy a big book of sheet music you are familiar with that includes the chords above the staff, and go from there.  For me as a kid it was some sort of COMPLETE BEATLES book that was the size of a phone book, but it worked for me.

Of course, these types of records are simply to laugh at, and chop up for samples, so enjoy! More is on the way.

LINK:  Read-Listen-Learn (or don't) Beginner's Guitar

6/21/16

The Invisible Threat

What did HE do???
More amusing thrift store findings. 


6/10/16

Recent E-bay Auction Description Says It All

Taken from an Ebay auction from a couple of weeks ago, the seller's description (from Japan) made my day, and he wasn't even trying to:
"I'm a Godzilla fan, not a fighter!"

6/6/16

A Short History of the LEGO Brick (1949-Today) PART TWO

In Part One of this mini-history-lesson, we saw what the very first plastic Lego bricks looked like, and we got all the way into the early 1960's, as the first tubes began to appear.  Let's pick up where we left off...

Note: Everything from this point onward will be ABS plastic, which is still in use today.

7) 2x4 Brick (Samsonite) 1961-1970
Lego invades America!  The Samsonite company (yes, as in luggage) held the license to sell Lego in North America, and they also produced the bricks they sold.  On the left is the logo that only Samsonite used (called the "Open O"), but there were also some oddities, such as the normal logo slipping in (as seen in the brick on the right, which was taken from a set that we have looked at here, from 1966).
Samsonite was infamous for having much less quality control than the Lego group is famous for.  You can see some pretty strange examples out there, but here is an example from my own collection, where the logo begins to be less than straight:
These bricks all say "Pat Pend." like we talked about in Part One.

8) 2x4 Brick (with Flowrib) circa 1966 to pre-1974
The "flowrib" term refers to the horizontal bar that intersects the tubes, on the inside of the brick.  Evidently it was an experiment in strengthening the design.
Now the water begins to get a bit murkier, because we are throwing a new wrench into the machine:  "Pat Pend. Obscured."  At some unidentified point, Lego was granted their patent, but as we said last time, existing supplies were used up, rather than thrown out.  Also, Lego preferred to alter existing molds that still had life left in them, rather than make new ones.  The solution was to obscure the Pat Pend on the mold, or grind it out, if you will.  The result was a blob where the words used to be.  Here is an extreme close-up of the insides of the above right brick:
Interestingly, you can still see the shapes of the letters when magnified, although to the unaided eye, they really look like blobs.
It's generally agreed on, or at least steadfastly believed by several collectors, that "Pat Pend." pretty much was gone by the year 1974.  Molds wear out eventually, after all.  This will come into play in our next category:

9) 2x4 Brick (Slit Tubes with Sidebars) pre-1974 to 1979
By now, you begin to definitely see the overlap I was referring to in Part One, and why the years can't always be written in stone.  This new design of brick, with slotted tubes and "sidebars" along the sides of the brick's interior, can be found saying "Pat Pend," with the Pat Pend obscured, and completely without the Pat Pend at all, indicating we are finally past that time period.

10) 2x4 Brick (no Pat Pend, no Part ID#) circa 1980-1984
Now we can pick up a little bit of steam, because the changes are slowing down.  This early-80's brick is past the point of patents, but the sidebars have gone away temporarily.

11) 2x4 Brick (Cross Support with Sidebars, no Part ID#) circa 1985-1990
For the next five years, Lego reinstated the sidebars, and for the first time, added a "Cross Support," a wall that passes through the middle tube, and provides strength.  

12) 2x4 Brick (Cross Support with Sidebars, "3001" Part ID#) 1990-CURRENT
The last change that was made to the beloved 2x4 brick was the inclusion of 3001, which is the Lego group's part number for this brick.  

My goal was to document the "major changes" in the history of the brick, and as we have seen, there are several variables that can create even more variants.  We never even approached the subject of Mold Numbers, which are also stamped into the bricks, and can be seen in some of the photos! 

A Word on "Test Bricks"
One of the extremely helpful collectors I communicated with was mpfirnhaber, who can be found on the forums at Brickset.  He was kind enough to sell me the "sideways logo" bricks we looked at last time, as well as help me correct a some errors in the dates I had researched.  He included a "test brick" that blew me away.  He wrote, and I quote:

"The C brick was made by the Bayer plastics group in Germany. They supplied ABS pellets to Lego for many years. The bricks were made to test color consistency, clutch strength, plastic strengths, and other things. These C bricks come in tons of different colors - many that have never been used by Lego." 

Wow! That is pretty sweet, eh?  If you want to see many more test bricks, including "marbled" or "swirled" ones, check out his amazing Flickr page in the links below:
  
Bibliography:
WoutR's Flickr Page (browse by album to see chronological brick history)



6/3/16

A Short History of the LEGO Brick (1949-Today) PART ONE


Occasionally, the historian in me gets interested in a side-tangent-project, and down the rabbit hole I go.  Often, this activity brings me quickly to a deep state of regret.  Today we are going to look at one of my recent projects, which was to see how the Lego brick (specifically, what is known as a "2x4" brick) has changed over the years.  That should be easy, right? The Internets should be full of information, right?  Well, if not...then, the official Lego website should contain all the answers, right?
......................right?

Nope to all of those.  In fact, the deeper I got, the sorrier I was that I'd ever started.  Really, there's precious little information out there, and lots of it is fragmented and built on supposition.  To my great luck, I was able to encounter a couple of experienced and knowledgeable collectors that pointed me in the right direction; otherwise there's no way I could have put this together, and I'd have eventually (gasp!) given up.

Lego collectors are an interesting breed.  In fact, collectors in general are.  Just like with anything, there are various levels and specialties, and you have to find the right people to talk to, and then talk to them.  Just to show you where I was in my knowledge at the time, I knew there had been changes over the years, but looking on Bricklink won't get you too far--there are only a few official part numbers given to this brick, which is now known as "3001," but there are myriad variations of it.  Most sellers don't differentiate, and the earliest of bricks weren't even sold in America.  They get lumped in with a catch-all part number called "3001old." In one case, I had to go to the source--a seller in Denmark--to even find one of the early ones to import!

I wanted to focus on the more major, structural, design-based changes for this project.  Otherwise, it would have gotten out of hand quickly.  For example, one website lists 42 variations of this brick, while, in discussion with other collectors, there are enough variables to factor in so that you could end up with over 100! Therefore, you can see why I wanted to hit the main points.  We will discuss these variables, and you will see what I mean.

One more note:  when it comes to early Lego, many times, dates are sketchy.  I am not, not, not saying my dates are 100%, and I've tried to put "circa" where it's appropriate.  The reason is this:  when molds changed, existing pieces were used, and sometimes even mixed in, so you can't say a design change was made on Monday, and by Wednesday the new design was in place, and all of the old version was gone.  It just doesn't work that way.  In some cases it was a matter of a few years before earlier designs had disappeared. 

With all that said, let's start at the beginning:

1) Hollow Brick (with one slot) 1949-1950
As makers of wooden toys for years, the Lego company jumped into the use of plastics in 1949, and produced their first interlocking bricks.  You will note the slot--which was made to accommodate early versions of doors and windows, which look nothing like the ones we see today.  There was no logo at all on the actual studs, but a block-letter logo (of which there are variations) was stamped on the inside of the bricks.  What's more, early bricks were made out of a completely different plastic, Cellulose Acetate, which is often called CA.  As you can see, the plastic tended to warp as it aged, rendering bricks unstackable!  These bricks were sold in and around the Denmark area.

2) Hollow Brick (with two slots) 1951-1953
As time passed, it was decided to add a second slot, because of the doors and windows I mentioned. Early Lego was very concerned with buildings--why? Because the company produced small, Hot Wheels-type vehicles at the time! The CA plastic was still in use, and distribution began to slowly spread.

3) Hollow Brick (with two slots) circa 1954-1955
Continuing in the same direction, some variation was added to the placement of the slots--there were still two, but they could be just about anywhere.  Notice the lower right stud on the front of the white brick, which is where a pin pushed the brick from the mold.  You can also see that the logo changed, which is referred to as the "dogbone" logo by collectors.  CA is still the plastic used.  So, see? We have already had quite a few variations already, and the water is about to get much, much muddier...

4) Hollow Brick (no slots) 1956-1957
Slots have gone away, and for the first time, a logo now appears on the studs!  CA is still the plastic of the day, and now Lego is beginning to think about a better way for the bricks to hold together, to "clutch." Distribution continues to expand.  A huge change was about to happen...

5) 2x4 Brick (first tubes) 1958-1962
Aha, this is beginning to look more familiar.  Yes, tubes were introduced, to improve the interlocking function of the bricks.  The early tubes were smaller in diameter, but it was a step in the right direction.  This brick was still CA, but that was about to change too.
And now, a brief lesson on one of the other major variations:  the "Pat. Pend" brick.  In 1958, the Lego group applied for their first patent on their latest iteration of this brick.  Beginning at this time, they began to stamp the inside of the brick, showing that the patent was waiting to be issued.  For one reason or another, this feature will stay with us into the 1970's, as we shall see.


6) 2x4 Brick (Tubes, sideways logo) circa early 1960's
And then, a curious thing happened.  Lego experimented with a "sideways" logo for a short time, which you can see here.  Then, the plastic was changed, from CA (the lower brick in the photo) to ABS, or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, which is the plastic still used to this good day.  This is the upper brick in the photo, and you can see the difference in the two.  I have seen pages where people think these "sideways" bricks are from the 1950's, but it is a well-documented fact that Lego changed plastics in 1963, which therefore makes the early date impossible.

I knew this was too much to get into one post...next time, Lego breaks into America, and we look at the second half of this journey.  Be there!

5/26/16

Godzilla Puzzle "Air Attack" (HG Toys #458-04, 1978)

And, lastly, here is the third 150-piece Godzilla jigsaw puzzle in the series made by HG Toys in 1978.  Called (somewhere) by the name of "Air Attack," if we take these puzzles to be chronological scenes, then it means that Godzilla has rampaged the city (first puzzle), fought his way to the harbor (second puzzle), and is now on a mountain above it all, being pestered by planes.  It's all in a day's work.
Even though the hues here show the effects of a waning sunset and the purple of the approaching night, there's a pleasant psychedelic backlash to the color scheme, with Godzilla grounding the whole thing, standing out starkly in the forefront.  (Wow, my Fine Arts professor would have been proud of that one.) As he looks back to torch an oncoming plane, he also looks at the viewer, as if to say, "See what I go through??" (Okay, maybe that was a bridge too far, there. I got carried away.)

Once again, for completeness, here is the Canadian version (which I don't own), put out by "Frolic":
 

5/25/16

Godzilla Puzzle "Harbor Havoc" (HG Toys #458-03, 1978)

Here is the second HG Godzilla puzzle from 1978.  Again, the title isn't on the box, but it's called "Harbor Havoc."  Here we see a very angry Godzilla being attacked by battleships.  There is so much action in this painting; there's a lot to take in.  
What's sort of obscured by the banner on the box is Godzilla lifting the front end of a ship out of the water, while SIMULTANEOUSLY flinging one into the air with his tail.  And check out the poor displaced people:
All done, of course, as various missiles fill the air.  

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a photo of a Canadian specimen to show you, but occasionally they do turn up on Ebay.  All in all, a lovely set of puzzles that no vintage Godzilla collection should be without!

5/24/16

Godzilla Puzzle "City Rampage" (HG Toys #458-02, 1978)


As promised, here is a bit closer look at the three 150-piece HG Godzilla puzzles from 1978.  The first one is the "red" one, also known as "City Rampage" (although you won't find the name on the box, if I remember correctly, and mine is out of reach at the moment).  The name may have come from HG Toy catalogs, but who knows.  The most we can be sure of is that they gave it the number of #458-02.
 The art is lovely, and again, my opinion is that they were going for a "realistic" depiction, as if they were fleshing out the (then-current) H-B cartoon.  It has everything you'd want from a scene of Godzilla in the city:  buildings being destroyed, citizens fleeing in panic, the pavement cracking open...although, if this were an American poster for a Godzilla film, the running woman would be in a red dress, which is more common than you might think.  We need to look at that one of these days.
And then there's this poor guy, who is behind one of Godzilla's humongous toes:
Did he narrowly missed a very flat fate? Either way, it's a nice touch, and a good start to a unique series of American Godzilla puzzles.

In the "equal time" category, here is the Canadian version of the puzzle (which I don't own), put out by a company called "Frolic":

5/23/16

Godzilla Puzzle Boxed Set (HG Toys, Mail-Order, 1979)

In 1978, HG Toys made 3 lovely Godzilla jigsaw puzzles that were each 150 pieces.  We haven't covered these very well--they are listed on my sub-page, VINTAGE AMERICAN GODZILLA, but we need to look at each one separately.
As it turns out, there was an order form in many of HG's boxed puzzles (they also held many other licenses for TV shows, like The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Vegas, and more), there was a mail-order form that allowed you to order a boxed set of all three puzzles, in "a lovely gift box!"
Now, you have to remember that, in 1979, this was considered a "lovely" gift box, and mine is even brown and marbled, instead of blue like the photo (and completely un-labeled).  Inside are three bagged puzzles, each with a little tag showing you which was which, and a set of posters of the box art from each.
 The posters are rolled, and contained in the carboard sleeve behind the puzzles.  They measure 11x14" and are unfortunately too big to scan.  The good news is, they feature the box art paintings without any titles or lettering imposed, just like the finished puzzle would be.  And, they are suitable for framing:
The beauty of these puzzles is that they depict a realistic, "dinosaur" iteration of the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla, which of course is what the puzzles are indirectly promoting.  That's my opinion, anyhow.
These amazing sets have been leaking out to Ebay one at a time, as the seller obviously has a supply of them (as well as some of the other TV-show puzzles), so if you are looking for one, now's your chance.

HG Toys, of course, also were makers of the legendary GODZILLA vs THE TRICEPHALON MONSTER playset, for which they also issued a puzzle!