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The-Re-Decade followers won’t be surprised by this!

Two years after Weird Al’s “Ricky,” the jazz vocal ensemble The Manhattan Transfer recreated the I Love Lucy set for their music video for “Blee Blop Blues.” The melody for the song was originally arranged and released by Count Basie and his orchestra, and became one of his go-to songs in his 1950s performances. Double decker fifties nostalgia!

#1 Genius of our time Weird Al has toyed with Fifties nostalgia throughout his entire career (his twisted nostalgia song “The Good Old Days" from his 1988 album Even Worse was a personal fave). In fact, the very first track on Weird Al’s very first LP (1983’s 'Weird Al' Yankovic) was a Fifties nostalgia parody. “Ricky” uses the music from Toni Basil’s 1981 song “Mickey” to send up the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. “Ricky” was the first song from the record released as a single, and was accompanied by Weird Al’s first ever music video (co-starring Tress MacNeille, the voice of Babs Bunny from Tiny Toons and Dot from Animaniacs). This was likely the first comedy video played on MTV.

Full page display ‘ad’ taken out by director John Landis for a special section on Michael Jackson in the July 21 1984 edition of BILLBOARD, in celebration of the massive success of THRILLER and in anticipation of the summer VICTORY tour he was about to embark upon (it turned into a disaster). The whole issue is bizarre and amazing, and features ads taken out by record execs, hospitals, managers, and other artists congratulating Jackson directly. It’s strange to see BILLBOARD allowing itself to come off like a high school yearbook, but such was Michael’s power in 1984. The whole issue is available to peruse over at Google Books. It’s totally bonkers. You should check it out.

Full page display ‘ad’ taken out by director John Landis for a special section on Michael Jackson in the July 21 1984 edition of BILLBOARD, in celebration of the massive success of THRILLER and in anticipation of the summer VICTORY tour he was about to embark upon (it turned into a disaster). The whole issue is bizarre and amazing, and features ads taken out by record execs, hospitals, managers, and other artists congratulating Jackson directly. It’s strange to see BILLBOARD allowing itself to come off like a high school yearbook, but such was Michael’s power in 1984. The whole issue is available to peruse over at Google Books. It’s totally bonkers. You should check it out.

"Something Terrible Has Happened Here": The Crazy Story Of How "Clue" Went From Forgotten Flop To Cult Triumph

Very much enjoyed this Buzzfeed feature on the transformation of CLUE into a cable & home-video favorite. It’s not often acknowledged that CLUE is yet another 1950s nostalgia film from the 1980s!

05 - Do The Fonz [ MjTunes Vision ] - MjTunes

Many of Michael Jackson’s most memorable music videos from the 1980s borrow from Fifties Hollywood. “Beat It” is a reworked WEST SIDE STORY. “Thriller” is a pastiche of 1950s teen horror films like I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF. And “Smooth Criminal” has Michael taking the place of one of his heroes, Fred Astaire, in the recreation of a sequence from THE BAND WAGON. But as this clip reveals, Michael was toying with Fifties imagery well before MTV was even founded.  This clip, from the largely forgettable 1976 variety series THE JACKSONS, features Michael and his siblings (that’s little Janet in the pigtails) singing a pretty awful novelty song based on HAPPY DAYS.

Some of the choreography stuck with Michael later—in his unreal 1983 performance of “Billie Jean” at the Motown 25 anniversary, you can see MJ do the same “Run your comb through your hair and wave it in the air” move as he pulls here, but with, you know, an imaginary comb. Check it out:

Book Manuscript - Back to the Fifties

Big news - Back to the Fifties is going to be published by Oxford University Press! Stay tuned.

Life Magazine, 1972

Many associate the rise of Fifties nostalgia with Reaganism, and with aging Baby Boomers recalling their lost youths. There is merit to those associations, but this June 1972 cover story in LIFE suggests that there is more to the story. The photo spread in the issue chronicles the rise of Fifties-themed parties and Fifties music and fashion spreading on college campuses in the early 1970s. It bears noting that this article pre-dates Fifties nostalgia texts like AMERICAN GRAFFITI, HAPPY DAYS, and most oldies radio stations.

In 1985 Paul McCartney teamed with the BBC to produce THE REAL BUDDY HOLLY STORY, a documentary about the life and music of Buddy Holly featuring interviews with Keith Richards, the Everly Brothers, and members of Holly’s family. It also features some truly glorious moments of McCartney self-importance. He’s great.

McCartney’s documentary was meant to serve as a corrective to the Hollywood biopic THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY (Columbia Pictures 1978)—it is interesting and telling that McCartney explicitly mentions that film in his documentary’s opening. That film’s producer, Gary Bauer, had succeeded in tying up 20th Century Fox in the production of their Buddy Holly film, THREE SIDED COIN (which Busey was also cast in) in the late 1970s, clearing the way for Columbia to score big with THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY. The demand for a long-gone rock star was of course a byproduct of the success of oldies radio, but was also an echo effect of the massive success of Don MacLean’s 1971 folk single “American Pie,” which chronicled Holly’s tragic death. Buddy Holly would also be featured in the 1987 Columbia film LA BAMBA.

What I find interesting and relevant about this string of nostalgia texts related to Holly is the way that they compete for commercial position in the pop-nostalgia marketplace as well as competing for historical significance (hence why McCartney’s documentary declares itself to be the “REAL” Buddy Holly Story). While narratives about stars always make competing claims of truth and authenticity over what the star “was really like,” in the relation of these nostalgia texts we’re also seeing the ways that the questions of “what the 1950s were really like” and “what America is really like” are also up for debate.

In 1985, Viacom, a television syndication company, purchased MTV and Nickelodeon from Warner/Amex. Inspired by the immense success of oldies radio and taking advantage of Viacom’s holdings of classic fifties tv series (Donna Reed, Dennis the Menace, Mr. Ed), MTV programming executives launched NICK AT NITE in July of 1985. Like oldies radio, Nick at Nite aimed itself at two audiences, branding the lineup as prime-time entertainment that could appeal to Nickelodeon’s kid audiences while offering nostalgic appeal to Boomer parents.

In his excellent book RERUN NATION, Derek Kompare describes the network’s pitch to viewers:

"Nick at Nite’s initial mode of address…harked exactly back to the boomers’ nostalgic TV neverland of the late 1950s, with colorful space-age shapes, bouncy pre-program bumps and promos…overenthusiastic announcers’ voices, mascots, and music reminiscent of the era (or at least the pastel-laden 1980s version of the fifties). This iconography of TV dinners and Raymon Loewy cocktail tables was consistent with the discourses of the fifties nostalgia already in circulation at this time…."

Derek Kompare, Rerun Nation: How Repeats Invented American Television.New York: Routledge, 2004. p 181. [AMAZON]

The ad above also evidences a growing confidence from MTV executives, who strong-armed cable carriers into adding their channel through the “I want my MTV!” campaign just a few years prior. The ad’s directive to “call your local cable operator” is a continuation of MTV’s winning formula.

Nick at Nite would also serve as a precursor to the niche-casting that MTV would later perfect. In 1985 MTV was still working from radio’s AOR playbook, but would soon develop blocks of programming that would appeal to specific niche audiences (YO! MTV RAPS, HEADBANGERS’ BALL, 120 MINUTES, HOUSE OF STYLE, etc).