This week, two musical eras are represented on two albums based on Saturday Morning animated characters created to promote breakfast cereals (and specially-marked boxes).
LINUS THE LIONHEARTED
LP Record Album (Original TV Cast)
General Foods Corporation / Premier Albums (Peter Pan Records) L-10 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Mono)
Linus the Lionhearted was a Saturday morning cartoon show that featured characters developed for various Post cereals. The short cartoons starred Linus himself (Post Crispy Critters), Lovable Truly (Alpha-Bits), So-Hi (Rice Krinkles) and the character that outlasted them all, Sugar Bear (Sugar Crisp/Super Sugar Crisp/Golden Crisp).
Released in 1964. Producer: Ed Graham. Special Musical Arrangements: Johnny Mann. Running Time: 32 minutes.
Voices: Sheldon Leonard (Linus); Carl Reiner (Billy Bird); Ruth Buzzi (Granny Witch); Jesse White (Claudius Crow); Gerry Matthews (Sugar Bear); Bob McFadden (Lovable Truly, Rory Raccoon, So-Hi).
Songs: “Roar For Linus (Opening Theme)”, “We’re Glad We’re What We Are”, “So-Hi Say”, “Nothing’s More Fun Than Eatin’ Corn”, “Hurrah Rah Sugar Bear”, “When Lovable Truly Brings the Mail”, “Billy Bird”, “Singin’ Like a King”, “Just One Lion”, “Linus and His Friends Must Go (End Title)”.
These cereals had varied histories as to other mascots and product configurations—the illustrated history colorfully chronicled in Tim Hollis’ superb book, Part of a Complete Breakfast: Cereal Characters of the Baby Boom Era. In 1964, Hanna-Barbera was unveiling series developed with Ideal Toys (Magilla Gorilla, Peter Potamus) for ABC. The same year, CBS presented Linus the Lionhearted, which did the same with cereal characters.
And thus began the kerfuffle. Magilla and Peter did not raise the hackles that other toy-based shows did, such as Pantomime Pictures’ Hot Wheels (which was taken off the air) or Filmation’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (which was criticized but protected by being syndicated). Linus lasted quite a while considering the objections that arose because the characters in the show were also in the commercials.
Debates of this kind continue to go back and forth as long as there is commercial entertainment aimed at kids. Sometimes the efforts go too far over the line in the perception of some, and other times they don’t seem to bother anyone. After Linus the Lionhearted left network TV in 1969, it was sporadically syndicated but is not likely to be an imminent home video release (especially due of sensitivities that the So-Hi segments might inspire).
To boomers, the show is fondly remembered for its Jay Ward-ish layered scripts, stylized design and excellent voice cast, headed by Sheldon Leonard as Linus and Carl Reiner as his sidekick, Billy Bird. The vocal presence of Leonard and Reiner might have a connection between their partnership in The Dick Van Dyke Show, and General Foods’ sponsorship of another Leonard TV hit, The Andy Griffith Show. (Reiner also voiced several animated cartoons, including the Anatole segment of the 1966 Gene Deitch feature, Alice of Wonderland in Paris and Brutus and Brownie pilot for Ed Graham)
Ruth Buzzi, only a few years before Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, voices Granny Goodwitch, the wonderful Jesse White is Cornelius Crow and supreme New York voice actor Bob McFadden handles Lovable Truly and several other characters. Gerry Matthews, the voice of Sugar Bear, who was also a New York talent at the time, now runs The Museum of Un-Natural History in Walla Walla, Washington.
The record album was offered as a premium from Post cereals. The theme and end title music comes from the soundtrack, but all the other dialogue and music was created for the record. Despite the cost-saving measure of adding lyrics to license-free public domain songs, the orchestrations, choral work and overall production values are impressive.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
Open / “Just One Lion” / Closing
On the TV show, both the open and close were edited, so it’s nice to hear the complete versions. The opening theme, of course, comes at the beginning of the album, while “Just One Lion” is the finale featuring the entire cast. The odd thing is that song, in which Linus and the gang head happily off to a joyful feast, is followed directly on the LP by the sorrowful closing theme from the series. Those who remember the show will recall it as a teary, sorrowful farewell to the characters until next week’s show.
PRESENTING THE SUGAR BEARS
Big Tree Records (Ampex) BTS-2009 (33 1/3 RPM LP Stereo)
Released in 1972. A Product of National Musitime, Inc. Producer: Jimmy Bowen for Amos Productions. Arrangements: Pete Carpenter, Glen A. Hardin. Running Time: 29 minutes.
Singing Voices: Michael McGinnis, Baker Knight, Mike Settle, Mitch Murray (Sugar Bear); Kim Carnes (Honey Bear).
Songs: “Happiness Train”, “All of My Life”, “Right On”, “Feather Balloon”, “Kinda Friendly Things”, “You’ve Been a Long Time Coming”, “You Are the One”, “The Two of Us Together”, “It’s a Good Day,” “Someone Like You”, “Anyone But You”.
The businesses of animation, television, advertising and children’s music had changed in the five years between the release of the Linus the Lionhearted LP and this bubblegum pop collection of original songs “performed” by Sugar Bear and Honey Bear.By 1969, the appeal of The Beatles, The Monkees and especially The Archies to kids brought a pop music attitude to children’s records. The traditional children’s record approach of the 1964 Linus album is nowhere to be found on Presenting The Sugar Bears. Also not on the record itself are the names of the characters or any bridging dialogue. The eleven songs are presented just as they are, in a very straightforward, non-‘kiddie’ way.
The songs are excellent representations of the genre, pure teenybopper tunes with “hooks” galore. No songwriting credits are given, but the singing, arranging and production talents are top drawer. Several studio singers are given credit for singing on the Sugar Bear tracks (something Ron Dante was not granted at the time), and most notably, future music superstar Kim Carnes (“Bette Davis Eyes”) sings for Honey Bear without the trademark rasp she adopted for her stellar pop career.
Jimmy Bowen, who produced Carnes’ first solo album, Rest of Me, also produces here. Bowen, who had already produced records for the artists on Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label, became a fixture in country music with such stars as Reba McIntire, Garth Brooks and Glen Campbell. “Amos Productions”, listed on the Sugar Bears LP, was his (and Carnes’) first record label.
The album was sold in retail stores and was either not a big success, or too many were manufactured in anticipation of hit status. Dozens of copies remained on the shelves of stores such as Lionel Playworld for years, as well as in discontinued record bins.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Presenting The Sugar Bears”
Get ready to groove, though it’s odd that there’s no song that even suggests Sugar Bear’s “Can’t Get Enough of my Sugar Crisp”. Here’s the whole album: