Four albums from the Florida-based Kid Stuff label somehow star the Blake Edwards/DePatie-Freleng character in musical stories without his speaking a word.
PINK PANTHER PUNK
Kid Stuff Records KSS-117 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo / 1981 / 26 minutes)
Pop Songs: “Another Brick in the Wall” by Roger Waters; “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” by Billy Joel; “What a Fool Believes” by Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald; “Call Me” by Giorgio Moroder, Debbie Harry.
Original Songs: “Panther on the Prowl,” “Rock and Roll Panther” by John Braden.
Instrumental: Theme from “The Pink Panther” by Henry Mancini.
Kid Stuff was an odd little record company that set up shop in the Washington Federal building in Hollywood, Florida. It was across the street from the Hollywood Mall, where TV’s Supermarket Sweep was taped in the ‘60s and Adam Walsh was abducted in the ‘80s.
Kid Stuff’s first releases were adaptations of public domain stories and local children’s plays, including those of actor/director Ivan Kivitt of Miami’s Merry-Go-Round Playhouse. The earliest records, which were particularly abundant in area record stores, had very humble, rough artwork and graphics.
As Disneyland Records entered its second golden age with Mickey Mouse Disco and a line of albums and read-alongs featuring Disney and other licensed characters, and Peter Pan hit gold with Irwin the Disco Duck, their Power comic book character line and various covers of current pop hits, Kid Stuff slowly gained momentum in a similar way.
Strawberry Shortcake was an early success. The cover art in the series literally transitions from magic marker to slick on-model art as the label began its climb. Kid Stuff aggressively snapped up the properties Disney hadn’t acquired and released records at a lightning pace. By and large, the audio on each disc shows the effect of breakneck production and limited funds.
John Braden, also Florida-based, wrote and produced most of the early licensed records, including The Pink Panther titles. As Kid Stuff grew more prestigious, so did their stable of creative talent. The Care Bears series was produced by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of The Turtles. Paddington records were produced in New York by Arthur Shimkin, founder of Golden Records. A few albums were actual soundtracks but most were still being made in South Florida.
The Pink Panther LPs came in the wake of Strawberry Shortcake and followed the identical format—a rock and roll album, a country platter, etc. and helped launch Kid Stuff into competition alongside Disney, Peter Pan and Sesame Street on big box store shelves.
The Pink Panther Punk album is the only one to feature cover versions of actual hit songs. The slim plot is a series of present-time radio broadcasts involving a band called “The Pink Punks” and their new drummer, who turns out to be the Panther.
This is the only album that suggests the Panther might speak, other than the Henry Mancini music signaling his arrival. An interviewer (who in ‘70s tradition, is a “Baba Wawa” personality based on Gilda Radner’s Barbara Walters impression on NBC’s Saturday Night) asks him about criticism of his wardrobe.
Ultimately, his bandmates respond with the opening words to Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” (“What’s the matter with the clothes I’m wearing…”) The band members are named Itchy and Scratchy, by the way, eight years before The Simpsons coincidentally introduced its show-within-a-show characters with the same names.
On DePatie-Freleng’s Saturday morning Pink Panther TV shows, there was a running storyline in the interstitial segments between the cartoons in which Inspector Clouseau and his assistant, Deux-Deux, pursued the Panther for no apparent reason except mild hijinks. This is the case on all four of these Kid Stuff albums, with The Inspector (with his customarily outrageous French accent) and Deux-Deux (with a now-un-PC Hispanic accent) are played by two uncredited actors in place of One Day at a Time’s Pat Harrington, Jr., who voiced both.
PINK PANTHER ROCK & ROLL
Kid Stuff Records KSS-5003 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo / 1981 / 29 minutes)
Songs: “Panther on the Prowl,” “Rock and Roll Panther,” “How Do You Catch a Panther?” “Panther Punk” by John Braden.
Instrumental: “Theme from The Pink Panther” by Henry Mancini.
This is essentially a reworking of Pink Panther Punk without the expensive pop songs. The story is now about the band before the Panther became their drummer. The Inspector disguises himself as “Rona Ripoff” this time around but does the “Baba Wawa” voice instead of a Rona Barrett impression.
The Inspector does indeed nab the Panther, but public outcry convinces him to reverse his decision—if the Panther “stays out of trouble,” whatever that is. While the production values of this album are similar to its earlier incarnation, the cover art shows signs of greater care. The emphasis on the cover’s importance is evidenced by a member of Kid Stuff’s sales staff, who told me that they didn’t really sell records so much as they sold record covers—primarily to parents.
PINK PANTHER PARTY TIME
Kid Stuff Records KSS-5004 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo / 1981 / 29 minutes)
Songs: “Pink Panther Party Time,” “My Many Faces,” “It’s So Nice to Be Invited to Your Party” “C.A.T.” “What a Hero” by John Braden.
With its cohesive, amusing storyline well balanced with the songs, this is the best of the four albums. The Inspector and Deux-Deux board a luxury cruise ship—guess why—which is holding a lavish party for the spoiled daughter of a Margaret Dumont-like society matron.
It’s far from A Night at the Opera, but it works on its own terms. The rich lady is allergic to fur, the bumbling Inspector pretends to be a chef and the Panther steers the ship out of a storm. The allergy vanishes for no reason, but that’s nitpicking. When a work made with great haste and limited resources turns out to be entertaining despite its challenges, it’s a success.
THE PINK PANTHER COUNTRY ALBUM
Kid Stuff Records Picture Disc KSS-6010 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo / 1982 / 24 minutes)
Original Songs: “Panther Picker,” “Bluegrass Special,” “Pink Panther Country” by John Braden.
Public Domain Songs: “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” “Swanee River,” “Dixie.”
From a listening standpoint, this recording has less in the way of story than the other three discs. It’s a generic kid’s country album with Pink Panther nods. Another character could be used in his place and it wouldn’t change very much—and that’s pretty much the format Kid Stuff used for many of their character-based records. Musically, it offers an authentic country sound with a tight, capable band. Just the same, there are long stretches of instrumental riffing that, while well played, seems like filler.
Visually however, the art on this picture disc is a knockout—it even depicts the horse from the short, “Pinto Pink” (whose look and animation is similar to the equine trickster in Goofy’s “How to Ride a Horse”).
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Pink Panther Punk”
The renditions of the early ‘80s-era pop tunes are pretty good as kid’s versions of the period go, despite the limited fidelity of the sound. Even though the records are all in stereo, there’s little or no separation between channels.