|Written by John Teehan|
I don’t want to get all hipster on you good people, but there really is something special about vinyl records. All those nicks and grooves being picked up by an actual needle and being interpreted and amplified into actual sound…tell me that’s not a more honest rendering of audio than digital recordings.
Oh, digital is great and all, but lately I have come to understand the renewed fascination with vinyl, and have, myself, been enjoying a sort of rediscovery.
As I’ve been on this little journey of rediscovery, I’ve been recalling some of the albums of my youth which included a surprising number of spoken word stories. Most of these were for little kids–fairy tales and whatnot. One thing I seemed to have missed out on as a child was the story albums for popular cartoon and television shows of the time. Stuff that, even as an adult, I still dig. I knew they had to have existed, and it didn’t take me long to find them.
Here are but four examples of fun stories, with classic, nostalgia-laden pop culture ties readily available on YouTube, but dating back to the glorious age of vinyl.
Jonny Quest was big for me when I was a kid, and it was a first in many ways for cartoons in general. For one, it was one of the first attempts to do an animated show using a more realistic art style, it was an early prime time cartoon feature, one of the first to feature a non-white main character (Hadji), and one of the first to suggest a mature relationship between two single adults (Race Bannon and Jade). The storylines were inspired by a mix of pulp adventure and the young adult adventure such as Tom Swift. It was a show ahead of its time and cut down way too early. The few attempts to reboot it haven’t been very successful–and rightly so.
Still, one original-style adventure escaped in the form of a vinyl LP with a story of the Quests and Race Bannon making a perilous deep sea dive and Race fighting off a giant squid. John Stephenson does a good job standing in for Don Messick as Dr. Quest, but it’s nice to hear original voice actors Mike Road as Race Bannon and Tim Matheson as Jonny. Given that Matheson sounds a little older than he did during the show’s original run, fans suggest that this story takes place a couple of years after the series ended. It might also explain why there’s no Hadji in this episode–with fans deciding that he must have just returned to India at some point… and not eaten by a re-animated Tyrannosaur or some other Quest-adventure monster.
The music is a little different from the original show’s soundtrack, but not terribly so. It still fits the bill for adventurous storytelling. All in all, this is one of my favorites, but I’ll admit to some bias given my absolute adoration for the original series.
Trivia Note: Jonny Quest is voiced by Tim Matheson who later went on to have a successful film and television career. Most of you may remember him best as Eric “Otter” Stratton from Animal House (1978).
The Jetsons: First Family on the Moon
Hanna-Barbera Records (1965), Columbia Special Products (1977 reissue) – 12″ LP mono
Who doesn’t love The Jetsons? No one, that’s who. And if you think you’re on the fence, all you need to do is give this album a listen. It’s pretty representative of the show, and perhaps even a bit more funny than typical if for no other reason than they’re selling the story without the animation. In short, Elroy enters the Jetson family into a radio contest (this is when radio contests were still a thing… you know… in the future) for an all-expense paid trip to the moon.
It’s a fun piece broken up into three parts, with songs from the Hanna-Barbera Singers sprinkled in between. The voice cast are all familiar, although Don Messick voices George instead of the iconic George O’Hanlon. The legendary Daws Butler voices Astro in this, but otherwise it sounds pretty much as you’d hope. It’s a fun listen, and good for a nice, solid nostalgia kick.
Yogi Bear and the Three Stooges Meet The Mad, Mad, Mad Dr. No-No
Hanna-Barbera Records (1965) – 12″ LP mono
Who’s smarter than the average bear? Not many, if any. Certainly not any Stooges.
I really enjoyed this one. Of the classic comedy groups of a bygone era, I was always more of a Marx Bros. sort of person rather than the Three Stooges, but there’s no denying the Stooges were comic geniuses in their own right, and pairing them up with Yogi Bear seems almost a natural. It features the voices of real Stooges: Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly-Joe DeRita, and the incomparable Daws Butler as Yogi Bear and the mad-times-three Dr. No-No. The sound effects and background music are pure Hanna-Barbera, so you know they had full studio support behind this album.
In this story, the Stooges are hired on as forest rangers at Jellystone Park with the specific task of keep tabs on Yogi. Things go awry when they have to rescue Yogi from the nefarious Dr. No-No who is turning people into animals with his diabolical device. Bonus content is the song “Yogi Bear” by the Hanna-Barbera singers. This is also the last album ever recorded by the Three Stooges.
Batman – Four Exciting All-New Action-Adventure Stories
Power Records (1975)
Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na! Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na! Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na!
Moving away from the Hanna-Barbera catalog, another great producer of LPs and 7″ records featuring popular shows of the late 60s to 70s was Power Records. They put out records featuring material on not just The Caped Crusader, but Star Trek, Spider-Man, Superman, The Six Million Dollar Man, Planet of the Apes, and others. Sadly, there is not as much information available online regarding the voice actors or other production notes.
With the entry I offer below, you have a pretty solid 50 minutes of entertainment, though, with four Batman stories presented in a classic radio drama style: “Robin Meets Man-Bat”, “Mystery of the Scarecrow Corpse”, “Gorilla City”, and “Catwoman’s Revenge”.
The theme music is very much inspired by the TV show, so it seems to me they were going for that feel–and certainly for that audience. I didn’t readily recognize any of the voices of the actors. It’s a shame they didn’t get Adam West and Burt Ward on board for this as it’d have made it even more fun.
This seems to be a regular flaw, unfortunately, in the Power Records offerings. In listening to other entries in their catalog while writing this–Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Conan, and a few others–I found no recognizable voice talents being used. Still, these were all fun audio adventures.
If you enjoy old radio adventure dramas–particularly in the style of, say, The Green Hornet or Gang Busters, you’ll enjoy these.
Here’s some good news. All of these can be found for sale online at one place or another. eBay, certainly, but also other online vinyl collecting sites. Their relative rarity and niche-ness make them a little pricey in spots–well, pricey for used records. Jonny Quest might run you more than $50. Batman could be more like $25. I suppose actually purchasing the vinyl originals would only be of interest to serious collectors of this niche of vinyl nostalgia.
It’s nice that so many are available on YouTube for your listening pleasure. Still, I admit that I’m going to save my pennies for a Jonny Quest album. My son will know Jonny Quest. And he’ll know the proper Jonny Quest.
Isn’t that right, Bandit?