Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Adorable Animal Toys of the 80s and 90s

vintage lps kitties

In any decade, cute cuddly animals are a surefire win with young children. Their inherent appeal is in their big expressive eyes, their huggable nature, and their covetousness-inducing inflated sticker price. Toy manufacturers know that these cuddly critters will inevitably send young children into the throes of toy store-aisle ear-plugging, breath-holding temper tantrums, the embarrassment of which would surely motivate our parents into purchasing the overpriced fuzzball.

These toys were no exception, with their manufacturers incessantly and successfully peddling these big-eyed plush animals at us with every commercial break on Nickelodeon or during Saturday morning cartoons. Many became bona fide fad phenomena, impelling us to race to our nearest Toys ‘R Us to become the first on our block or classroom to own one of these little guys. Though they varied in cuteness from brand to brand, ownership of any of these animal fluffies was sure to garner you some playground credibility.

Glo Worms

Is it a nightlight or is it a stuffed animal? Our clever friends at Hasbro showed us in 1982 that these two kid-friendly items were not necessarily mutually exclusive. Glo Worms served handily as both, with their plush bodies and enormous hard plastic light-up faces. They were cute, they were comforting, they were a little creepy.

Pound Puppies

Pound Puppies were such a phenomenon in the 80s and 90s that the original toy spawned an entertainment franchise, boasting an animated television show and feature-length film. Pound puppies had, unsurprisingly, a hangdog look to them--after all, they had presumably been languishing in the pound, hoping to be adopted. In the show, however, the puppies were far from helpless--they worked as a team to solve complex problems at the Puppy Pound. You know, just like in real life.

Puppy Surprise

Even after so many years, this toy still strikes many of us as a bit disturbing. The concept is cute--your mother dog comes with an indeterminate number of puppies, so it’s an actual surprise when you slit ‘er open. On the practical side, though, it gave many young children a premature and medically inaccurate perception of childbirth. For a year or so, I thought that we simply reinserted babies back into their mother’s bellies for convenient storage at clean-up time.

Littlest Pet Shop

As the name implies, the Littlest Pet Shop toy line chronicles the daily lives and activities of the littlest pets in their very own shop. The original 90s versions came with all sorts of fun features, translating into numerous small parts for us to swallow or lose throughout the course of play. Some of the more novel versions came with fun features like rubber stamp pawprint functions or head bobbling abilities. As with most reimagined toy lines, the 2000s version released by Hasbro are decidedly more freakish-looking.

My Little Pony

My Little Pony was a veritable phenomenon in the 80s and 90s, with young girls everywhere scrambling to own one of these sparkly-haired plastic horses. They appealed to little girls’ sensibilities in all the basic ways: pastel colors, glitter, brushable hair, and horses. If you’ve ever met a little girl, it’s pretty clear Hasbro cooked up a fail-proof concept.


Who knew a parachute loaded with poly-fill could be so cuddly and lovable? The ad touts Puffalumps as “like marshmallow pillows, you can never squeeze too tight...You can’t hug a Puffalump wrong!” Well, that’s a relief. I constantly worry I’m showering my stuffed animals with affection in all the wrong ways. Whew.


I’m not sure if these can technically be classified as animals, but they are stuffed, so they’re going on the list. I had endless Popple paraphernalia in my youth, including some straight-to-VHS videos and a pop up tent. These ambiguous teddy bear-esque stuffies came in all varieties, including rock star and sports lover. A little something for everyone, you might say.

Care Bears

Care Bears were originally created as card characters by American Greetings, but their popularity led to their release as a toy line and later as popular animated characters. Each Care Bear boasted a tummy symbol, indicating exactly what it was that put the “care” in their status as official Care Bear.


Picture the characters from Littlest Pet Shop. Now stuff those adorable little critters into a too-small tank or cage. Smooshies may not have taught humane treatment, but I imagine our parents liked the compactness and easy storability.

Beanie Babies

Beanie Baby's 3

Of course, no list of 90s stuffed animals could be complete without at least a cursory mention of the market-cornering fad-maker itself, TY’s Beanie Baby line. They served no function and weren’t even all that cuddly, but somehow TY convinced us these pellet-filled creatures had inherent value. They didn’t, of course, and the investment-minded among us 90s children are undoubtedly kicking ourselves over the poor market growth of our collections in recent years.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

LFO Tribute: In Memory of Rich Cronin

In honor of the passing of Rich Cronin, LFO's lead singer, I thought it would be appropriate to repost my long-forgotten LFO entry. Though I certainly poked a lot of fun at LFO over the years, it was all out of love; I was a huge fan and was saddened to hear of Cronin's death following a long battle with leukemia. Rich will certainly be missed by 90s pop music fans the world over. So from all of us who wore Abercrombie and Fitch in middle school with hopes of someday attracting a cool frosted-tipped guy like Rich, this one's for you.


In honor of our fleeting days of summer, I thought I'd round out this sweltering season with a refreshing burst of non sequitor boy band absurdity. The 90s were a heyday for boy bands and girl groups; teenyboppers fell over themselves and swarmed the TRL studios in droves to catch a glimpse of these highly calculated, well-managed, overly-primped and coiffed ensemble acts. One of the greatest mysteries of the 90s is how a decade that began as so musically rebellious so quickly morphed into a veritable bubblegum pop teenage circus*.

Not all boy bands were assembled by sleazy record producers at open casting calls seeking "The Bad Boy" and "The Sensitive One." Sometimes, for reasons probably better left unexplained, these types of musical groups saw fit to form organically. LFO (short for Lyte Funky Ones, if that's any clue to the secret of their long lost street credibility) was one of these bands. The group formed in 1995, which meant they spent a good 4 years failing to crack the ever-enigmatic fortress of formulaic pop music. It's hard to say which is worse: that they never had a doubt about the self-perceived brilliance of their musical output, or that they suffered tumultuous periods of uncertainty but managed to persevere for the sake of the greater good.

After their years of wandering parched in the proverbial music desert, music markets inexplicably decided to offer these boy bandits (boy banders?) a nice cool drink. Sure, they had encountered marginal success on the UK Billboard charts, but they could at best be classified in the late stages of obscurity. By the late 90s, they had finally managed to garner some attention with the accidental leak of their inane demo song, "Summer Girls."

Summer Girls is clearly a very polarizing song. If you zip on over to Amazon.com, you'll see most reviewers give the single either one or five (out of five) stars. These dispensers of judgment speak passionately on both sides of the energy-and-time-wasting debate. One five star reviewer enthusiastically writes, "THE BEST SONG FOR A&F LOVERS!!!!!!!" The liberal use of both all-caps and generous exclamatory punctuation certainly expresses their support for both LFO's single and the bitchin' Abercrombie-wearing lifestyle. Well played, reviewer.

On the other side of the Summer Girls battle, a verbose and angry anti-LFOer contends, "I mean, it would be one thing for this song to simply exist in it's own suicidal dimension, not dragging anyone to the hungry abyss with it; but it insists on pressing itself upon our nation, seizing the nubile minds of our youth in its evil maw and condemning them to a lukewarm existence with candy-coated ideas of life." (And I thought I wrote tirelessly long sentences. That one boasts an incredible 59 words. That's a fourth of an eighth grade book report, right there. Congratulations, Captain Spare Time, for this landmark achievement in wordiness.)

So perhaps that dark, angry reviewer took it a tiny bit too far in demonizing the song's "evil maw" and its captivating trance over the young and impressionable, but the sentiment is clear. A lot of people really, really, did not like this song. It represented all that was empty and vapid about teenage pop music in the late 90s. On the other hand, in some sort of colossal teenybopper inside joke, a serious contingency of people swore this song was brilliant. The jury's still out on this one, so I'll leave it to you to be presiding judge:

It goes a little something like this:

Yeah, I like it when the girls stop by
In the summer
Do you remember?
Do you remember
When we met that summer...

What can I say, I like the way this is going already. rhyming words with themselves is an art form, I tell you. An art form!

New Kids on the Block had a bunch of hits
Chinese food makes me sick
And I think its fly when girls stop by for the
Summer, for the summer

I like girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch
Id take her if I had one wish
But shes been gone since that summer,
Since that summer

In case you have yet to notice, the song uses completely unrelated examples and reads like a poorly-written advertisement for Abercrombie and Fitch. We get it, you like the store's women's clothing selection and its consumer base. Was this love really worth penning a song over?

Hip-hop mama laid spic and span
Met you one summer and it all began
You're the best girl that I ever did see
The great Larry Bird, jersey 33

When you take a sip, you buzz like a hornet
Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole bunch of sonnets
Call me willy whistle cause I cant speak baby
Somethin' in your eyes went and drove me crazy

When we get past the chorus, we get to see just how nonsensical the song really is. I don't know about you, but I'm fairly certain that "hornet" and sonnet" do not rhyme. A travesty, indeed. If you're going to use completely non-related lines, why not at least make them rhyme properly. Is that so much to ask?

Now I cant forget you and it makes me mad
Left one day and never came back
Stayed all summer then went back home
Macaulay Culkin was in Home Alone
Fell deep in love, but now we ain't speakin'
Michael J. Fox was Alex P. Keaton

When I met you I said my name was Rich
You look like a girl from Abercrombie and Fitch

Alright, I like the way this is going. Hello, 80s and 90s randomly inserted pop culture references! It is nice the way this Rich fellow occasionally intersperses it with something marginally relevant to the song.

New kids on the block had a bunch of hits
Chinese food makes me sick
And I think its fly when girls stop by for the
Summer, for the summer

I like girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch
I'd take her if I had one wish
But she's been gone since that summer,
Since that summer

The chorus obviously needs no further editorialization. I'm pretty sure it speaks for itself.

Cherry Pez, Coke, Crush Rock, Stud Boogie
Used to hate school, so I had to play hooky
Always been hip to the b-boy style
Known to act wild and make a girl smile
Love New Edition and the candy girl
Remind me of you because you rock my world

You come from Georgia where the peaches grow
They drink lemonade and speak real slow
You love hip-hop and rock & roll
Dad took off when you were 4 years old
There was a good man named Paul Revere
I feel much better baby when youre near

You love fun dip and Cherry Coke
I like the way you laugh when
I tell a joke when I met
You I said my name was Rich
You look like a girl from Abercrombie and Fitch

At least in this one we get a brief history lesson. If ever asked who went from town to town on horseback announcing that the English were coming, you can just hum through Summer Girls to recall the answer. This Rich also really, really likes Cherry flavoring. Cherry Pez and Cherry Coke? Surely you jest, Rich. How could one handle such intense sugary fruitiness?

Chorus (let's skip this one, for all of our sanity)

In the summertime girls got it goin on
Shake and wiggle to a hip-hop song
Summertime girls are the kind I like
Ill steal your honey like I stole your bike

Boogaloo shrimp and pogo sticks
My mind takes me back there oh so quick
Let you off the hook like my man Mr. Limpet
Think about that summer and I bug cause I miss it

Like the color purple, macaroni and cheese
Ruby red slippers and a bunch of trees
Call you up, but whats the use
I like Kevin Bacon, but I hate Footloose

You came in the door I said it before
I think Im over you, but Im really not sure
When I met you I said my name was Rich
You look like a girl from Abercrombie and Fitch

I was about to write this one off completely until they made that Mr. Limpet reference. Sold!

Also, I may have to disagree with you on Footloose, Rich. Respectfully, of course.

Okay, so perhaps that's all we can take of that, but you must admit there's a certain...charm to their inanity. Sure, it's a gimmick, but sometimes gimmicks sell. Indeed, this was not the last we saw of LFO. They also brought us the equally intelligent "Girl on TV":

And yes, the Girl on TV in the video is Jennifer Love Hewitt. This song was somewhat less tangential, but it was still definitely pushing our boundaries of lyrical tolerance. I'll admit, in a moment of middle school weakness, I did possibly have a soft sport for this song. A small one, though. Cross my heart. Tiny.

Regardless of their apparently controversial music (on Amazon, that is), they had more staying power than you may have assumed. After all, whenever Summer Girls comes up on shuffle on my iPod in the car, all the passengers miraculously seem to know all the words.

Don't judge.

*And yes, I recognize that there was plenty of high quality alternative music that was popular in the late 90s. We're talking a shift in th etrends of mainstream youth culture, and is thus not meant to be a judgment of quality in any way. (obviously)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Number One Hits of 1995

Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to my local radio station’s “90s Dance Party,” leading me to conclude that--whether for nostalgic or empirical reasons--90s music is far more effective in making my friends and I want to get up and move. Music has a great way of jarring long-latent (or long-repressed) memories, recharging memories and corresponding emotions you had long since forgotten. For example, I can’t hear “California Love” without being immediately transported back in time to the roller rink in fifth grade during couple’s skate. The two are forever linked in my mind.

Whatever your personal connections to the songs, 1995 was a great year for number ones. With its cheesy power ballads, corny duets, and line dance fads, 1995 undoubtedly provided the soundtrack for many of our earliest boy-girl parties. At roller rinks and middle school dances across the globe, preteens awkwardly snowballed to “Always be my Baby,” unaware of the irony that they would probably never see this person again come high school.

One Sweet Day, Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men

Holding steady at number one for a record 16 weeks on the Billboard charts, Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” was a major hit of the mid-90s. It’s not the happiest of songs--”One Sweet Day” was actually cobbled together from several germinations of mourning/tribute-type songs in the works by the two artists. The message is ultimately positive, though, celebrating that we will one day be reunited with our loved ones.

The video, however, leaves much more to be desired. I understand that both recording artists had to go through a lengthy course to write and record the song, but it seems that the video should have more to it than just a straight capture of that process. To their credit, though, the writing and recording as it appeared in the video was just how I imagined it.

Because You Loved Me, Celine Dion

Celine Dion is queen of the cheesy, over-the-top power ballad genre, and “Because You Loved Me” definitely delivers on her claim to fame. It performed well on the charts, holding particularly steady at number one on the Adult Contemporary chart. Success on the Adult Contemporary chart usually earns you a place in the Easy Listening hall of fame, meaning Dion’s ballad was destined for constant replay in dentist waiting rooms and grocery store aisles worldwide.

Always Be My Baby, Mariah Carey

It’s somewhat amazing to think that Mariah Carey has managed to maintain such a steady level of fame over the last 15 years. Sure, she had her Glitter debacle and other personal setbacks, but she’s still putting out hits as high-charting as she was back in 1995. “Always Be My Baby” is a fun, upbeat song with lots of “do-do-do-dums”, making it both easily to sing along to and impossible to get out of your head.

Tha Crossroads, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

Along the same vein as “One Sweet Day,” Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “The Crossroads” was also paid tribute to a late friend. While Bone Thugs were well-known for their quick rhymes laden with profanities, they toned it down and sweetened it up for their quieter hit “Tha Crossroads. Who knew band members with such easy-to-take-serious names as Wish Bone, Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone, and Bizzy Bone could deliver such a heartfelt song?

California Love, 2Pac featuring Dr Dre and Roger Troutman

“California Love” helped make the late rapper 2Pac a household name among even the least credible of rap music aficionados. The repetitive chorus and hooks make this another song that happily lodges itself in your brain, guaranteeing you will be singing it internally for at least the remainder of the day. In my case, too, I’m destined to spend the day humming the tune and remembering my heyday at the roller rink. Ah, the memories.

Macarena, Los Del Rio

No list of 1995 hits would be complete without mentioning the all-encompassing omnipresent Macarena. Bad dancers everywhere breathed a sigh of relief that they would no longer be required to come up with their own moves. The Macarena made it easy to simply extend your arms, turn them over, bend them up, touch your head, throw in a little hip shake, and go. Thanks to Los Del Rio, we can all look back at those old wedding and bar mitzvah party videos and cringe at our sheeplike eagerness to be a part of a fleeting fad.

No Diggity, Blackstreet featuring Dr. Dre

This song came on the other day when I was at a party and I couldn’t believe how many people in attendance still knew all of the words. For those of us who have trouble studying or balancing our checkbooks, it’s probably because our brain is crammed full with useless Blackstreet lyrics. Nevertheless, there are worse things to fill up our brain space; “No Diggity” has catchy lyrics and a great beat. I’d much rather be able to belt out, “Baby you’re a perfect ten/I want to get it/So can I get down so I can win” than balance my checkbook, anyway.

You’re Makin’ Me High/Un-Break My Heart (Toni Braxton)

Just in case you thought Celine Dion had the monopoly on cheesy power ballads, it’s important we draw some attention to the big-voiced Ms. Braxton and her own corner of the power ballad market. Both of these songs off her Secrets album reached number one in 1995, establishing her as a major player in the R&B scene. Clearly her fame has dwindled slightly over the years, though; I don’t see Celine Dion succumbing to the allure of Dancing With the Stars’ almighty paycheck.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Children of the 90s Update

Hello loyal readers!

After I received my 10th or so fan email today (thank you, by the way!) asking if I was shutting down Children of the 90s, I thought I'd take a minute to address it on the blog. First, thanks to all of my readers who have been concerned over the less frequent posts as of late. Don't worry, Children of the 90s isn't going anywhere--I still have plenty of great topics to cover (or you can email your suggestions to me directly at childrenofthe90s@gmail.com).

It seems, though, that I can no longer keep up with the pace of daily posts. Instead, you should expect to see something in the neighborhood of weekly or twice-weekly new posts. I recently moved, started a new job, and got involved in some new projects and can't devote the same attention to daily postings. I will, however, still be writing new posts at least weekly, so check back often! Thanks to everyone for your questions and emails--I always appreciate hearing from readers. Feel free to drop any future topic suggestions in the comment section!

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