The Wish Book

When I was a kid, I can remember reading the Sears and J.C. Penney Christmas catalogs like some people read the newspaper—particularly the toy section. They didn’t call it a “wish book” for nothing. So I’ve been fascinated lately by a website called Plaid Stallions, whose tagline is “reliving the 70s a catalog page at a time.” These pages from the 1977 Western Auto toy catalog come from past my toy-wishing prime, although I recognize some things my 11-year-old brother would have wanted, like a Six Million Dollar Man action figure, or the SSP Smash-Up Derby car-crash game.

(There wasn’t much else you could do with SSP cars, except to crash them. They were powered by pulling a ripcord through a slot to set the car’s drive wheel spinning. Even a half-hearted pull of the cord provided enough torque to make the car travel at a high rate of speed, so unless you were playing with it on a basketball court or something, it was almost certainly going to slam into the wall of the family room or the basement long before it would stop on its own.)

The site also features ads for actual mind-boggling 70s fashions—like this, which gives a whole new meaning to the term “sweater puppies,” or these handsome his-and-hers shirts. (Honesty compels me to report that The Mrs. and I owned matching sweaters, which were given to us for Christmas a year or two before we were married. We wore them in public at least once.) And then there’s this indescribable pair of pants, which I would nevertheless buy if I could find a pair today.

It will take somebody smarter than me to figure it out, but I suspect that the oddity of 70s fashions involves more than our vantage point in time nearly 40 years later. Fashions of the 1950s don’t look half as dated and strange today. There was something seriously bent about our aesthetic sense at that time. We didn’t know it then, of course. Polyester leisure suit, Qiana shirt, enormous bell-bottoms, Earth shoes—all were normal fashion choices made by perfectly normal people. Maybe it was the result of the 1960s’ freewheeling ethos and rage for self-expression being extruded through the all-powerful force of the marketplace. Maybe it was sunspots. Beats the hell out of me.

In keeping with today’s theme—that today’s dated and strange was yesterday’s perfectly normal—I give you a disco version of “The Little Drummer Boy,” which sneaked onto the Billboard Hot 100 at Number 95, thus earning a spot in our Down in the Bottom series. When I mentioned it last spring, I said at the time, “Maybe I’ll post it someday, but it won’t be in March.” Well, today’s the day. It was released in 1975, a time before disco beats became mindless and repetitive. This version gives the old song a Philly-soul gloss, and it’s not awful.

The Little Drummer Boy”/Moonlion (out of print)

5 responses

  1. Even odder than the puppy sweater was the “tea-stained” leisure suit it was paired with. What WERE we thinking?

  2. His eyes aren’t quite that googly, but I have a genuine plush Cookie Monster similar to the Western Auto model that I won with prize tickets from Dave & Buster’s a few years ago. The greats never fall out of fashion.

    Of course, you talk Christmas toy retail in the 70s and this has to be acknowledged: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wt-TE6JYC2s

  3. I frequent the Plaid Stallions myself. It takes me back to a rather foggy period of my memory (I was only 3 when the 70s ended so my memories of that era are quite foggy).

  4. Plaid Stallions is in my blog reader. The Star Wars stuff that shows up there was a big part of my childhood.

  5. I’m another reader of the Plaid Stallions blog as well. The Western Auto toy catalog post made me write abut my own toy catalog memories on my blog last week. Read it here:
    http://jannghi.blogspot.com/2010/12/remember-christmas-toy-catalogs.html

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