Thursday, August 30, 2012

Golden Age ('80s and '90s) School Supplies

This week, as millions of children across the country go back to school, I thought it might be fun to revisit some of the most essential school supplies of the Golden Age.

Notebooks, Folders & Binders

In the Golden Age, organization started and ended with the Trapper Keeper.  It was the one stop shop for all of your folders, notes and paper assignments.  The Trapper was great once you got to middle school or high school because you didn’t have to remember which classes had homework (and therefore required you to bring home the notes) and which didn’t—just keep everything in your Trapper and throw that in your bookbag at the end of the day.

In the '90s Trappers started to feature some futuristic and psychedelic cover designs.  Like just about everything else in that decade, bold and vibrant colors were essential.  The Trapper was more than just a useful school supply, but a way to express yourself.

Even Aunt Beckie from Full House loved them!

Like Trappers, folders were a popular way to show off a favorite team, character or something else personally significant.  And also like Trappers, they came in a variety of bright colors and designs.  Particularly popular among the female crowd in the ‘90s were folders and notebooks featuring the artwork of Lisa Frank.  Frank’s products and artwork were easily identifiable by their bright neon and rainbow colors.  They generally featured female-favorite animals, including unicorns, puppies and dolphins.  Eventually Frank diversified away from folders and stationary products into related goods like pencils, stickers and lunchboxes.  Lisa Frank products were certainly girly, but I have to admit that the bright, vivid colors were quite sharp and distinctly ‘90s. 

Writing Utensils

Of course in order to write in all these nifty notebooks and binders, we needed some writing utensils.  Like most everything else in the Golden Age, the loud and vibrant were preferred over the mundane.  The ultra-flashy Yikes! pencils became popular in the 90’s, featuring bright colors and sometimes holographic designs.  When you sharpened the pencil, the wood portion was dyed a different color, giving the pencil a louder, multi-colored look.  It’s pretty rare to see a successful branding campaign for a product as cheap and commoditized as pencils, but Yikes! was able to pull it off in the ‘90s.

A number of other pencil trends came and went in the Golden Age.  In my elementary school, very popular among the guys were football pencils, which featured an NFL team’s name and/or logo. 

Popular with many girls was the push-up style pencil, where instead of sharpening it down, you removed the top piece, put it in the bottom and pushed up a new sharp piece.  Of course, if you lost one of the pieces, you were done for.

Just having flashy pencils was not enough for us.  In the Golden Age, kids loved to accessorize and jazz up their writing utensils.  “Pencil Toppers” were little decorations that had a hole in them so that we could sit them over-top of the erasers on our pencils.  Pencil Toppers came in a number of forms, but the omnipresent-in-the-90s Troll Doll was a favorite.

Pencil grips, or “grippers” as many kids called them, were also a popular accessory.  Even though the gripper theoretically should have been a stigma, since you generally only got one if you weren’t holding your writing utensil properly and needed a device to help you correct that, it was instead viewed by most kids as a cool way of jazzing up otherwise boring pencils.  The triangular prism gripper was common in the early years, but seemed to give way to a smaller, gel-ier style of gripper as the years went on.

As we got a little older and our teachers gave us the go-ahead to move from pencil to pen, we had a wide array of new directions to go in for our writing needs.  One trend that emerged among '90s girls was gel pens.  Structurally similar to a regular pen, gel pens were distinct for suspending their ink in a water-based gel which was usually visible through a clear pen barrel.  Gel pens came in a variety of colors and were almost never confined to the standard black and blue.  Colors like mint green, pink, lavender and sky blue were favorites.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention multicolor pens, which let you select a different color by pushing down a little lever.  You could easily change colors mid-assignment (even though I can’t really imagine many situations where you’d want to).  I am pretty sure every Golden Ager had at least one of these pens, and I’m pretty sure all of us did the same thing—try to push down more than one of the colors (or all of them) at the same time to see what would happen. 

Of course to carry all of these spiffy writing utensils, we needed some sort of case.  Soft pencil cases were popular, but in the ‘90s Spacemaker pencil boxes managed to overtake them.  I tend to think that the pencil box was good if you had a desk to store everything in, or if you were using itat home.  If you were trying to carry it from class to class, it was a little too big and cumbersome.  But it certainly caught on, as most Golden Agers seem to have a clear recollection of the Spacemaker box.

Crayons & Markers
The standard bearer for crayons in the Golden Age was the Crayola 64 box.  Everybody knew that you couldn’t REALLY draw a good picture with an 8 or 10 pack.  The full compliment of 64 colors was essential.  Crayola really outdid themselves when they installed a sharpener right into the back of the box.  If your crayon was getting a little bit dull, all you had to do was peel back the paper a bit, sharpen ‘er up, and you were back in business.  I have no recollection at all of where the shavings went.

In the early 1990s, in conjunction with the release of their colossal 96-crayon “Big Box”, Crayola decided to introduce some new colors to the world in a way that only they could.  16 new fluorescent crayons were added, and a contest was started to name these brand new colors.  As best I can tell, this contest actually ran for over a year, with the winners being announced in 1993.  Some of the new color names included “Robin’s Egg Blue”, “Macaroni and Cheese”, “Timber Wolf” and “Razzmatazz”.  Congratulations Golden Agers, these were your contributions to the world of color.  For a full list of the winners and a really neat history of Crayola through the years, check out CrayonCollecting.Com.

As we got older, it became clear that crayons were for little kids, and if you really wanted a vibrantly-colored picture, you had to go with markers.  Crayola again was the market leader, and their standard 8 pack was usually enough to whip up something “fridge-worthy” in Art class.  But Crayola rocked the marker world in the ‘90s when they invented “Changeables”.  You could write in one color, then a few seconds later you could rub a clear “magic wand” marker over some portion, and the places that were wanded would change to a totally different color.  It might seem ho-hum now, but in the early 
90’s this literally seemed like magic and was pretty much the coolest thing ever.  A short time later, Crayola introduced a cousin to the Changeable—the Overwriter.  You could write something in a dark color—say, black--then write on top of it with a lighter color, and it would actually show up!  Again, mind-blowing in its time.  Some nice girls on YouTube provide a little demonstration to jog your memory.  

But Crayola wasn’t the only marker maker in town.  Who could forget the scented goodness of Mr. Sketch brand markers?  Each marker had a distinct scent that usually smelled like a food item of the same color.  The complete list was: 

  • Red: Cherry
  • Orange: Orange
  • Yellow: Lemon
  • Green: Mint
  • Dark Green: Apple
  • Light Blue: Mango
  • Blue: Blueberry
  • Purple: Grape
  • Pink: Melon
  • Magenta: Raspberry
  • Black: Licorice
  • Brown: Cinnamon

I was partial to the citrusy yellow and orange myself, but most all of them were pretty terrific.  Mr. Sketch markers were also a particular shape that made them easy to connect to each other, which was great for building a marker-tower or a marker-sword—you know, if you were so inclined.  All these years later you can still grab a 12-pack of Mr. Sketch on Amazon for less than $7, if you want to make a picture for your mom, build her a marker tower, or just sniff them “sketchily” while she looks on with concern. 


And finally, who could forget the lunchbox, probably the most fun item to select on your back to school shopping trip.  It was (at least) a year-long commitment, so you had to choose carefully.  Being a huge Ninja Turtles guy, they were my lunchbox of choice (me and a few million other kids my age).  My big sister, on the other hand, opted for New Kids on the Block.  There were so many great lunchbox designs in the Golden Age that you almost couldn’t go wrong.

What were your favorite school supplies in the 80’s and 90’s?  Which are kids still using and which have been forgotten by time?  Tweet us @GoldenAge4Kids or drop us a comment.  As always, a big thank you to those whose old photos we've borrowed for this entry.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Top 10 Movie Themes of the Golden Age

We grew up in a great era for film.  Regardless of the genre, movies in the 1980s and 1990s more often than not delivered with solid acting, well-written plots and tons of memorable moments.  But one aspect of great films that is sometimes underrated by the general public is a great soundtrack.  The Golden Age produced some of the most memorable movie scores and themes of all-time, and in this entry, I’ll weigh in with my Top 10.

A disclaimer: As usual with a Top 10 list, please remember that there is room for differences in opinion.  I’m sure there are some awesome themes that I’ve left out here.  Also, while I typically consider the Golden Age to be the Mid 1980s through the 1990s, the “boundaries” of the age are pretty fluid, and for the purposes of this list I’ve gone a little further back into the 80s for a few tracks.  The idea is to catch themes from movies that our generation grew up on—even if those films were released a little earlier.  That said, I have deliberately left out the themes from movies like Star Wars, Rocky and the Godfather.  Even though those series had movies come out during the Golden Age, they all certainly started in the 70s, and so their music belongs to that generation.  Finally, I tried to keep the list to songs that were either composed specifically for the film they were featured in or songs that were designated as the movie’s “theme” music.  There were a ton of good songs that played in Golden Age movies, sometimes in very memorable scenes, but for this list we’re just looking at movie themes.

Honorable Mention:  Axel F (Beverly Hills Cop Theme)

Ok, so I couldn’t quite find a spot for this one in the Top 10, but it’s definitely worth remembering.  Starring 80s Icon Eddie Murphy, the Beverly Hills Cop series was one of the best action comedy series of the era, helping bring popularity to the genre that would later give us quality Golden Age films like Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys and Rush Hour.  The heavy synth/techno vibe still sounds pretty slick 20-some years later, like you could still throw this track on at a party today.  To kids today, it’s probably better known as “The Crazy Frog Song”, since it was covered by the computer-generated Crazy Frog character and made into a ring tone in the early 2000’s.

10. Forrest Gump Theme

In a movie full of great music, including tracks by Buffalo Springfield, CCR, Bob Seger and Fleetwood Mac, Forrest Gump's orchestral theme still manages to stand out as a brilliant composition.  Composed by Alan Silvestri (who we will see again a little later), the Forrest Gump theme sets the stage for what is, in my opinion, one of the greatest stories ever told in a motion picture.  In particular the part of the score around 2:50 in the video above brings about a flood of emotion and reminds me of the beauty of this terrific film.  Also, the part that begins around 6:55 reminds me of Forrest’s time returning kicks for the Crimson Tide, one of the most memorable parts of this epic movie.

9. Indiana Jones Theme

So, this is my first (and biggest) bend of my own rules, as Raiders of the Lost Ark came out in 1981, a few years before I’d typically say the Golden Age began.  That said, RotLA and the Indy Sequels are distinctly 80s in nature, and many of us grew up on them, so why get hung up on technicalities?  Plus, who could say no to this brilliant piece of music?  It sets the score perfectly for the action and adventure that Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones character would encounter.  The song also serves as our first reminder of a simple rule that will be proven right time and again in this list: John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra are amazing and everything they touch is gold.

8. Ghostbusters Theme

This is an example of a movie theme that grew to be almost as big as the movie itself.  Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters theme not only set the stage for Dan Akroyd and Bill Murray’s 1984 box office smash, it reached the top of the Billboard Top 100 chart the summer the film came out and stayed there for 3 weeks.  Every kid in the Golden Age knew the tune and of course the memorable “I ain’t afraid of no ghost!” slogan.  On a personal level, every Halloween my elementary school would have a little mini-parade in the school parking lot for all the kids to show off their costumes, and the Ghostbusters theme was always played at least once each year.  It’s a warm-fuzzy Golden Age memory for me, and every time I hear the theme I’m reminded of it. 

7. Top Gun Anthem (theme from Top Gun)

I’m not sure that there was a cooler movie made in the 80s than Top Gun.  The film features a lot of great music but only one title theme, and it certainly delivers.  Featuring Harold Faltermeyer (who was also responsible for the Beverly Hills Cop theme) on piano and a big-haired Steve Stevens  absolutely rocking it on electric guitar, the Top Gun Anthem took home a Grammy award in 1987 for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.  Well deserved, I’d say—this song rocked pretty hard and contributed to many Golden Agers wishing they could feel, even for a moment, as cool as Tom Cruise’s “Maverick” in Top Gun.

6. Braveheart Theme

On first listen, you might think that the theme for Braveheart seems very gentle and beautiful for a movie that’s best known for (Mel Gibson as) William Wallace’s rousing pre-battle speech.  But at its core, Braveheart isn’t just about war, it’s about a man who is as brave and noble as they come, who loves his wife, who remembers what his father died for, and who loves his country so much that he is willing to give the last full measure of devotion.  The soft wind instruments mixed with the bagpipes give the song a very sentimental and distinctly Scottish sound.  It was composed by James Horner and performed by—you guessed it—The London Symphany Orchestra.

5. E.T. Theme

Once again I’m stretching the bounds a little bit, dipping into 1982 for this one.  But is there any more classic 80’s kids movie than E.T.?  John Williams did it again here.  Empire Magazine (and a number of other film critics through the years) once proclaimed Elliot and E.T.’s flight to the forest as “the most magical moment in cinema” ever.  High praise, but difficult to argue with, and this theme song is inextricably linked to (and is a big part of) the magic of that scene.  The soaring melody, starting at the 0:13 second mark, mirrors Elliot and E.T. soaring over the forest and past the moon.  As kids, we all watched that scene with a sense of magic and wonder, and listening to the theme now brings those feelings rushing back.  If interested, there is also video on youtube of John Williams conductingthis song live, and the crowd literally cannot help but gasp and applaud when the melody soars at the :07 second mark.

4. Don’t You Forget About Me (The Breakfast Club Theme)

An absolute 80s anthem.  The Breakfast club is the prototype for a teen movie, telling the story of 5 high schoolers with completely different backgrounds who are all brought together by having to spend a winter Saturday in detention.  The song is awesome by itself, one of my favorites from a decade filled with amazing music, and it topped the charts in more than  one country.  But its association with a classic movie like the Breakfast Club makes it truly unforgettable.  You can’t think of one without the other, and they’re both top-notch.  As an aside, any time you walk underneath a goalpost, it’s obligatory to mimic Bender’s fist pump at the end of the movie and sing or hum this song.

3. Jurassic Park

Perhaps more than any other song on this list, this theme transports me back in time to my childhood.  I remember it like yesterday: it was field day at our elementary school, a Friday afternoon about a week before school let out for summer, and a friend’s dad offered to take a bunch of us to the movies to see the new movie called Jurassic Park.  Needless to say, all of us were completely blown away by the film and the (at that time) state-of-the-art special effects that made the dinosaurs seem so real.  Of course, when you watch it back now the effects don’t seem nearly as impressive, but the music has held up wonderfully, maybe even gotten better with age.  Like Forrest Gump, the main theme really contains a few different movements—one which is the most epic and which plays as the helicopter arrives and a bit later when the old guy says “WELCOME… to JURASSIC PARK!”; another more gentle piece that plays when the main characters first see the island’s dinosaurs; and a final piece which plays during the movies more tense scenes.  John Williams, you have done it again sir. 

2. Promontory (The Last of the Mohicans Theme)

Holy crap this theme is epic.  Crank the volume up in your headphones and enjoy this beautiful piece from Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman.  Based on the 19th Century novel by James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans was one of the most critically acclaimed films of 1992 (and still has 97% positive at Rotten Tomatoes).  Starring Daniel Day Lewis as Hawkeye, the movie is set in 1757 during the French and Indian War, when America was almost entirely a vast and untamed frontier.  “Promontory” was actually based on a tune called “The Gael” by Scottish songwriter Dougie MacLean, and I think you can certainly hear the Scottish influence in the violin sound.  It sets the perfect tone for the movies tale of love and war, very similar to Braveheart’s theme.  In the last decade the track saw a bump in popularity: first it was featured in a viral video about the changing globalsocio-economic picture, then shortly thereafter in a Nike commercial featuring Steven Jackson and Shawn Merriman.

1. Back to the Future Theme

Roads?  Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

Topping our list is the classic theme from my favorite movie of all time (though I tried to not be biased), Back to the Future.  Composed by Alan Silvestri, the film’s score plays many times throughout the movie, but perhaps most memorably during the scene where Doc slides down from the clock tower to ensure Marty’s return to 1985—for my money, one of the best scenes in any movie ever made.  There’s a very magical quality to this film, and every single time I hear this theme it makes me want to immediately drop everything and go watch it.  It will never get old or tired, it will always be a classic, and for me it’ll always be the #1 theme in a Golden Age for movie themes.

So, that’s our Top 10.  Who did we overrate?  Who did we leave out altogether?  We’d love to hear your list—post a comment or hit us on Twitter @GoldenAge4Kids