Category Archives: Pointless Nostalgia Video

Internet Gauntlet Answered: Heinz Homestyle Gravy

Almost a year ago, I threw down an Internet Gauntlet demanding to see the original version of a Heinz Homestyle Gravy commercial from the mid-80s. As you may recall–look, I know you don’t, but just say you do–there were several instances of this ad on the web, but not the original, long-form, unexpurgated version that I remember my grandfather loving so much.

How do I know? Because I could tell there were a few subtle differences between the original and the harshly edited variation that later polluted the airwaves. Either they reshot the thing or they used a different take. In the later version, the old man mugs a bit more, and addresses his sad lament (“oh no…”) directly to the camera. But in the majestic original, he keeps laughing to himself even as he realizes he just pissed off his old battle axe of a wife and will probably get a rolling pin on the dome for his insolence.

I couldn’t have been older than 10 when these ads first aired, and yet I remember being mad when they switched them up. Why? Because I recognized the comedic superiority of the first version, and because I was a really weird kid. I thought we’ve been through this already, jeez.

And yet, when I asked for the original version from you, the internet, I received not one response. Not one! You should all hang your heads in shame, you cowards.

And you should now raise your heads to witness this!

That’s right, some brave American patriot has posted the original Heinz Homestyle Gravy commercial! Tell me the delivery employed in this ad does not make it a million times better than that cheap hack job remake. You can’t tell me that, because it is not true and you are not a liar. Also, I now realize that the old man went on to play Louis CK’s agent in an episode of Louie. You know, the one where he was forced into playing a cop in a Matthew Broderick movie. Amazing how these things come back around.

I think I’m gonna go lie down for a while.

McDonald’s: The Old Hotness

As I’ve written many times (and will no doubt write many times more), I enjoy watching old VHS tapes in my collection because they provide time-capsule-like snapshots of a certain era. You get a glimpse of what folks were obsessed with back then–or what their corporate overlords DEMANDED they be obsessed with.

Prime example: McDonald’s. Being the unstoppable behemoth they are, advertising is virtually pointless for them. Unless they’re introducing a new product or promoting a sale, there’s really no way for them to increase McDonalds awareness, or no reason to, either.

Problem is, McDonalds has an advertising budget that dwarfs the GDP of several African nations, and them bucks gotta be spent somewhere! So sometimes they devote said bucks to idiosyncratic campaigns whose aims aren’t exactly clear when the commercials first air, and become progressively dimmer with the passing of time. For instance, I have many McDonalds ads from the mid-80s in my YouTube collection that involve people dancing. Not just a few steps, either. I’m talking like Busby Berkeley showstoppers. Did anybody want to see this 25 years ago? I doubt it, but these ads look a hundred times weirder now.

But that’s a subject for another time (or never; never works, too). This is all a lead in to tell you that I was recently reminded of an odd ad campaign McDonalds ran in my youth. (What reminded me? My brain, because it hates me.) They had several commercials in which the HOTNESS of their food was heavily emphasized. Me, I think heat is an assumed quality of all food, non-gazpacho edition. But for some reason, circa 1985, McDonalds was all like NO, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND. OUR FOOD IS REALLY REALLY HOT AND THIS IS A CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION. It seems ironic in retrospect, considering they were eventually sued for almost burning someone’s face off with coffee.

My efforts to find out exactly why McDonalds did this (i.e., googling) have been fruitless. The only theory I have is that these debuted around the same time as Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” ads. So perhaps this was McDonalds reaction to Wendy’s needling of the size of their meat. “Oh yeah, you think your burgers are bigger? Well, ours are hotter. Take that, assholes.”

So that you may be as baffled as I, here are a few humble examples.

Continue reading McDonald’s: The Old Hotness

Internet Gauntlet Thrown and Answered: Spy Tech

How many of my previous Internet Gauntlets have been satisfied? Let’s see, by my calculations…ZERO. Someone has to step it up, people, and it seems that someone is me.

My plan was to do a new Internet Gauntlet Thrown for an ad I haven’t seen in many a moon. It was for a line of toys in the late 1980s called Spy Tech. I never played with them, as I was a little older than their target audience by the time they debuted. However, I did enjoy the Spy Tech ads, which were a perfect encapsulation of a very childish, very 1980s brand of paranoia. Here’s an example.

I love this ad so very much, for so many reasons. It taps into a very basic fear/hope that all children have: Adults are engaged in evil, nefarious schemes they must hide from kids AT ALL COSTS. Naturally, when kids think things are being hidden from them, they must try to uncover them. Kids like to think that they may become entangled in a great mystery or adventure which only they can see to its conclusion (see: every cartoon made in the last 50 years).

Spy Tech could only have come from the 1980s, a time when children were told that an endless series of mysterious strangers were trying to capture them and take them away in a windowless van, never to be seen again except on the back of a milk carton. Of course, you were never told exactly why this might happen, so the sensible response was to FEAR EVERYONE. Like in this ad. “There’s a stranger on your block!” That’s all we need to hear! Better follow him to the movies, kids!

The kicker: These kids really have stumbled on something. They’ve so unnerved The Stranger that he tells his contact in the movie theater ticket booth, “Cancel the plan–they have Spy Tech!” The contact, looking more annoyed than alarmed, hastily places a CLOSED sign in the window. Joke’s on her, though; the CLOSED part is facing inward, so everyone will assume the theater is still open.

The universe of the Spy Tech ads has two features that nowadays would at least be questioned, if not banned outright:

  1. Kids can go off by themselves and shadow potentially dangerous strangers.
  2. Anyone even slightly different is deserving of suspicion and should be monitored as closely as possible.

There were many Spy Tech ads, all of which followed a similar template. In another commercial, a couple of kids track the new couple who moved next door, who just MUST be up to something. It ends by revealing these seemingly mild mannered professionals have a living room full of surveillance equipment of their own! Gadzooks!

But my favorite was one I’ve been hunting down for years. It has the typical Spy Tech scenario: kids surreptitiously follow a weirdo on their block. Why is he a weirdo? Because he has shifty eyes and whistles loudly on his way to work. Better make sure he’s not in a sleeper cell!

Hounded by a crew of amateur spooks, The Whistler stops at a newsstand. He does not make eye contact with the man behind the counter. He does not even stop as he picks up a newspaper. He simply says, “They have Spy Tech” in an ominous growl and moves on his way. The man at the newsstand, panicked, squeaks out “They know!” And, scene.

The reason this one always cracked me up is because it was so vague and menacing. All the other ads are fairly explicit in some way or another that demonstrate the tailed strangers are spies. This one leaves so much to the imagination. The Whistler just grabs his paper and passes along the bad news to his contact, who tells us nothing more than THEY KNOW! It always killed me.

I’ve been looking for this ad for years. Years, people. Not only could I find no one else who remembered it, but I also couldn’t find anyone who remembered Spy Tech itself. How soon we forget! I began to wonder if I’d exaggerated the memory, or even imagined it altogether.

Well, it turns out, if you want something done, you gotta do it yourself. Deep in the bowels of YouTube, I finally found this commercial again, and yes, it is everything I remembered, and more. The quality is substandard even by YouTube’s yardstick, but I think the essential Spy Tech-iness comes across. You’re welcome, Internet.*

* Keep watching after the Spy Tech ad for an awesome Cheerios ad featuring Bo Jackson, as well as some more relics from this glorious era in the history of kids commercials.

Your New President: Trump Castle

I remain convinced that 1) the Trump-for-President talk will fade as soon as a more viable Republican candidate emerges, and 2) even if it doesn’t, he will have his ass handed to him as soon as he attempts any serious campaigning. The man is a grown child, a spoiled brat, and he hasn’t the slightest idea of what he’s in for if he actually runs for office.

The biggest nightmare that awaits him in running for office is an arena in which he can definitively lose. I don’t think Trump could handle that, because he has never truly and unequivocally lost at anything. In business, you can technically fail–as Trump has done many times–yet still turn a profit and, in a sense, win. Now that he’s dipping his toes into political punditry, he still can find a way to win when he loses. When Obama produced his birth certificate, Trump got to take credit for “forcing the issue.” So even though he lost in the sense that he was dead wrong (and also lying, it seems, about having all those “investigators” in Hawaii), he could claim that he “won” by making the president respond to his idiotic needling.

But when you actually run for office, you can lose. Not only that, but everyone will know exactly how badly you lost. I can’t imagine that Trump would put himself in such a position.

However, since speculation about him running will not go away, I promise to regularly post some Trump-related monstrosity until it does. First up, an ad that is deeply ingrained upon my psyche. Because Trump was not satisfied with just plaguing Atlantic City with his tacky casinos. He also had to pollute the local airwaves with his cheesy ads. If you lived anywhere in the tri-state area in the last 30 years, you probably saw this a thousand times more than you ever wanted to. The 80s-riffic jingle in this ad gets re-stuck in my head once every few months, at which point I raise my fists to the heavens and scream TRUMP!!!

How classy was Trump Castle Hotel and Casino? You can hazard a guess based on the fact that a large yellow sign that blares FREE PARKING gets as much screen time as anyone else in this ad.

Also, if you want to know what kind of person would seriously contemplate voting for Trump for president, peep this comment that appears below the video.

A Henry VIII-esque slob of a king and FREE PARKING–an inspiration to us all! TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP..

Pointless Nostalgia Video: British Airways

In the late 1980s, British Airways began trying to bust into the crowded American airline market. Initially, they tried to do this with a cutesy, more American approach, as in this ad where people come together to form a face that winks for some reason. Presumably, this was meant to demonstrate British Airways’ friendliness. However, something about the way it was assembled and filmed made it seem more foreign than welcoming, like a higher class version of a Mentos commercial.

So they went the other, more British route and made a commercial that showed how much better they were than everyone else. It featured a group of the stuffiest, stodgiest English actors ever giving performances that exuded the proper amount of staid attitude and catty bitchiness endemic to British businessmen.

The plot: There’s some hotshot in New York who “thinks he can tell us how to run things.” His rivals plot his downfall by forcing him to fly the red eye to London. “He’ll be hungry…and tired,” purrs one, sounding like John Heard as Caligula in I, Claudius. But their Machiavellian plot is thwarted by British Airways’ accommodating business class cabins. So when the young lion arrives in Ol’ Blighty, and one of his executioners queries, “Pleasant trip?”, his voice dripping with bile and sarcasm, Our Hero responds simply, “Yes, thank you.” The evil overlord’s face sags, realizing all at once that he’s been defeated.

This commercial–excuse me, advert–could only be more English if it was wearing a Man U jersey and chowing down on beans and toast. It made a very real, very deep impression on me as a young lad. Perhaps because I’d already been exposed to so much British TV via PBS. Between my dad’s love of Monty Python and my mom’s love of Masterpiece Theater, there was a lot of Anglophilia in my house growing up (despite my dad’s on-again, off-again Irish pride).

Watching it again as an adult, I’m impressed by the depth of performances by these wicked old hags who dream of luring their young rival to London “like a lamb to the slaughter.” It’s like a two minute version of House of Cards, with a triumvirate of Francis Urquharts.

Ultimate Warrior on Arsenio Hall. Need I Say More?

Because it’s Friday, and because I love you, here is a clip of The Ultimate Warrior on Arsenio Hall during both personalities’ respective heydays (brought to my attention by the tweeting of @jeskeets). Even as someone who could care less about wrestling, I can enjoy the resolute early 90s-ness of this video. Also, there’s nothing I enjoy more than a big slab Grade A USDA-approved crazy.

An 80s Palate Cleanser from Phil Simms

Just so I’m not ending the working week on a total down note, please enjoy this workout video from the glorious, un-self-aware 1980s starring Phil Simms. This came over my transom thanks to Dan Epstein, author of the great retrospective of 1970s baseball Big Hair and Plastic Grass. I interviewed Dan on this site way back in May of last year. Why not read it, tough guy?

Internet Gauntlet Thrown: Heinz Homestyle Gravy

The results of my first Internet Gauntlet throwing remain inconclusive. However, I still feel confident hurling another one. Because that’s what leaders do, they charge right ahead, regardless of results or consequences.

Around Thanksgiving, a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of gravy. And when I think of gravy, I inevitably think of an ad that aired during my childhood. This commercial always cracked up both of my grandparents, possibly because it featured an elderly couple who (barely) resembled themselves.

The ad in question was for Heinz Homestyle Gravy. The narrator regaled the aforementioned couple with all of the preparation and care that went into the making of their product, insisting it was just as good as gravy you could make in your own kitchen. With each point the narrator made, the wife responded, “Oh really?” At the very end of the ad, when the narrator insists it’s exactly the same as homemade, the husband quips, “Oh yeah? Where are the lumps?” As he chuckles, the wife shoots him a withering look, and he croaks out a sheepish, “oh no…” realizing he is now in the doghouse.

There are versions of this ad on the internets. Here’s the most common example:

But I declare this version the most ripe of shit from bulls. This is not the original ad. How do I know? Because the original was longer, for one thing; this video is 15 seconds long, and I’m sure the original was a standard 30 second spot.

Secondly, I distinctly remember one key aspect of the joke at the end, something that made it so funny. In the original version, the husband still has a smile on his face, and is looking right at his wife, when he says “oh no…” That made it much funnier than this redux version, where the husband mugs, double-takes, and speaks right into the camera. The earlier version had subtlety. Don’t try to pass off this Velveeta as fine cheddar, Heinz.

So the Internet Gauntlet I am now throwing: Somebody find me the original, 30-second version of this ad. I know it’s lurking out there somewhere. You have the power to bring this to light! You are the people we’ve been waiting for!

Ghosts of Thanksgivings Past: Marvel Floats

As a kid, the highlight and lowlight of every holiday season for me was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was the highlight because, duh, huge balloons. It was the lowlight because, even to a child, it had some truly cringe-tacular moments.

For some strange reason, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has always (or at least always in my lifetime) simultaneously tried to appeal to both kids and Broadway aficionados. Why did they try to do this? I don’t know, because Times Square is sort of close to Herald Square? Makes as much sense as any other explanation.

They also tried to shoehorn various celebrities into the festivities. Some were established, or at least recognizable. Some were clearly being foisted on the show by some agent hoping to establish a client. (If a singer was “performing” his/her “smash hit single”, it was a virtual guaranteed said single hadn’t even been pressed yet.)

Regardless of their status, said celebrity would probably be inserted into some sort of float or setpiece in which their presence was superfluous at best. And often asked to sing, even if (often especially if) they were not known as a singer. (“Here to perform a medley from Damn Yankees, please welcome Abe Vigoda!”)

This was extremely frustrating to a little kid. When you’d see the opening credits for the Parade and see something you loved teased as coming up soon, naturally you thought that said thing would be presented in a form you loved. If you were told Masters of the Universe would appear, you assumed they would resemble the cartoon you watched every day. You didn’t expect guys in weird, foamy costumes fake-sword fighting on a 15-foot float.

In that spirit, I present this video from the 1989 (first captured and shared with the world by the excellent X-Entertainment.com, which has a plethora of Thanksgiving Parade videos and period commercials as well). It features a float by Marvel Entertainment, full of all your favorite Marvel characters, and of course Melba Moore too, because…huh?

Ms. Moore sings “I Need a Hero,” addressing many of the lyrics to Captain America and Spider-Man (who’s too busy crouching to pay her much attention). She had a few hits in the 1980s. “I Need a Hero” was not one of them. This is something the Parade is notorious for doing, having some random person sing a random song in a random setting, thus assuring that everyone involved looks intensely uncomfortable.

Compared to some performances I’ve seen, Moore is in Laurence Olivier territory. She’s game enough to get caught in web-type-thing and climb through a manhole. But no one else has much room to maneuver, and the Marvel heroes and villains don’t fight so much as they lightly tap each other and shift from one foot to the other. The Hulk in particular looks like he doesn’t know what to do with himself.

By the end of the video, everyone is bopping along to the beat, regardless of affiliation. You can see both Doctor Doom and Luke Cage rockin’ out as the song fades away. Moore has united them all with her R&B song stylings.

Weird? Of course, but no weirder than the Marvel float from 1987, which did not include Moore or any other practitioners of the quiet storm arts. It was just a lot of low-impact aerobics, featuring the exact same float seen above, most of the same heroes, and the soundtrack from Back to the Future.

Captain America is prominently featured, as he saves Wolverine from being shoved by bad guys, zaps Doctor Doom to death, and briefly passes by RoboCop without comment (and before you say RoboCop wasn’t part of the Marvel Universe, he was, smart guy). 

Two things that confuse me more than the presence of RoboCop: Why does Dr. Strange look like Frank Zappa, and why is The Hulk a bad guy?

Internet Gauntlet Thrown: “You’re Gonna Win!”

When I love something, it’s usually due to a combination of factors, but I can always pinpoint one element and say, “This exemplifies why this is awesome.” Like how “Clowntime Is Over” might be the best song ever, but whenever I listen to it, I lose myself in how perfect the bassline is. Or like how The Jerk is an indisputable crowning achievement of 20th century comedy, as represented by the duet between Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters where she suddenly without warning breaks into a trumpet solo.

In this vein, there was an ad for Comedy Central that ran in the early/mid-1990s that was so intensely dark, non-sequitir-y, and perfect that it is the gold standard by which I judge such promos. And I do judge promos. Constantly. I’m judging even as I type this.

This commercial was shot in black and white. A prisoner is being led to the electric chair. Tight shots on his panicked face. Beads of sweat break out on his forehead. A priest gives him halfhearted last rites. He shoots a hopeful glance at the phone on the wall, hoping for a pardon. Nothing. He is strapped in. The helmet is put on his head. The clock ticks closer and closer to midnight. Any second now, he will pay for his crimes.

gonnawin.pngAnd all of a sudden, an acoustic bass is heard. The prisoner looks off to his left. The camera cuts to a corner of the room, where a jazz trio is performing; a vocalist, a drummer, and a bassist. The singer is a pompadoured hipster-crooner in sunglasses, singing right at the prisoner with exaggerated hand gestures the following lyrics:

You’re gonna win!
You’re gonna go!
You’re head of the pack,
You’re king of the show!
You’re on the move
Straight to the top
You’re way out in front
You’ll never stop!
You’re gonna win!
You’re gonna WIIIIIIIIIN!

Halfway through the song, the prisoner is smiling and tapping his feet. Yeah, everything’s gonna be okay! And it ended with the tagline THINK POSITIVE: COMEDY CENTRAL.

Everything about this ad was great, but the one detail that really got me was the trio’s drummer. He had this insane wide-eyed grin, almost Cheshire Cat-like, looking straight at the camera. It was monstrously funny. I used to draw little recreations of the trio in my high school notebooks. That’s how much I loved them.

This ad popped up in my head recently, so I decided to troll through the internet and look for it. Surely someone had captured its majesty in YouTube form so the entire world could enjoy it and make racist comments about it (since all YouTube videos, regardless of content, attract racist comments).

Well guess what, Internet? You have failed. Failed miserably. Because there is no video representation of this ad ANYWHERE on your series of tubes. For shame.

Sure, you can find later permutations of the ad, like one where a guy comes home to find his wife boning the plumber, and another where a guy takes a dive in a runaway elevator. Not good enough, internet. The death row ad was the ne plus ultra. You need to supply the original and you need to do it posthaste.

I have literally dozens of VHS tapes from this period with episodes of MST3K. It’s very possible one (or more) of them has this ad on it. But you know what? I’m putting the onus on you, Rest of the Internet. Haven’t I done enough to immortalize the commercials of yesteryear? “Yes,” says everybody.

So get on the stick, you guys. I want this thing on my desk after Thanksgiving or heads are gonna roll.