As National Strawberry Month regrettably draws to a close, let’s look at soundtrack albums for three animated TV specials with that high-fructose star of the 1980’s.
THE WORLD OF STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE
Kid Stuff Records KSS-165 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo / 1976)
Released in 1980. TV Executive Producer: Robert L. Rosen. Associate Producer: Kouji Sekiguchi. Producers: Romeo Muller, Charles Swenson, Fred Wolf. Director: Charles Swenson. Writer: Romeo Muller. Music: Howard Kaylan, Mark Volman. Running Time: 24 minutes.
Voices: Russi Taylor (Strawberry Shortcake); Romeo Muller (Mr. Sun/Narrator); Robert Ridgely (The Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak; Julie McWhirter (Huckleberry Pie); Joan Gerber (Blueberry Muffin, Apple Dumplin’); Pamela Anderson (Raspberry Tart); Bob Holt (Escargot).
Songs: “Strawberry Shortcake (Theme),” “Smile a Sunny Morning,” “At Sunflower Market,” “Count Off,” “It’s Fun to Say ‘Berry’” by Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan.
There’s no denying that Strawberry Shortcake and her berry-licious friends can set the teeth to tingling. They were born among the plethora of demographically targeted corporate franchises that proved successful in the ‘80s and provided the blueprint for today’s tentpoles, though in retrospect they are dwarfed by their progeny.
American Greetings hit an Everest of pay dirt several with such characters as Ziggy and Care Bears, each of which took on animated form. In the case of Strawberry Shortcake, the animation was unique, not for its groundbreaking innovation so much as it’s personnel.
Among the credits: Producer Fred Wolf is a familiar name in the animation business who, after winning an Academy Award for his cartoon short The Box (1967) established a studio in L.A. for making commercials, features like the The Point (1971) and specials like Free to Be… You and Me (1974). Animation director Charles Swenson made the notorious X-Rated feature Dirty Duck in 1977. This 1980 special came along when Wolf and Swenson were in a transitional period, moving from the “indie” style to the more mainstream projects necessary to sustain a studio. Burt Rosen, was a producer who transitioned from musical variety specials to animation—including 1974’s sweet, unpretentious Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus (with Jim Backus).
Rosen produced the latter with a writer who has become a legend among fans of Rankin/Bass specials and series, Romeo Muller. Largely uncredited for the creation of characters—all the misfit toys, Burgermeister Meisterburger, Professor Hinkle, Irontail– that augmented three-minute songs like “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” and “Frosty the Snowman,” Muller established canons for holiday mythology long cemented in the minds of millions.
It’s probable that, like most of the creatives involved with Rankin/Bass films, Muller was a work-for-hire freelancer with no longterm financial stake nor control over the projects themselves. So when he began coproducing with Burt Rosen, Muller was afforded these luxuries and probably more money than he had made on most past assignments. However syrupy one might find Strawberry Shortcake cartoons, at least there’s comfort in knowing that they must have provided Muller some well-deserved clout and compensation.
Muller is also essentially the “star narrator,” in that he takes on the role that such celebrities as Fred Astaire and Burl Ives filled in Rankin/Bass specials, a fictional character who sings and tells the story, breaking the fourth wall. An experienced stage performer, Muller had certainly earned this position. In addition to breaking the fourth wall with the viewer, Mr. Sun is also able to interact with the characters in the story.
There’s also a first-rate cast of Hollywood voice actors, included the wonderful Russi Taylor, who had voiced teenaged Pebbles for some later Flintstones ‘70s shows, and more famously, Minnie Mouse and Donald’s nephews. Bob Holt and Julie McWhirter were also well-known names to those of us who used the Evelyn Woods Speed Reading Course to read Saturday Morning TV voice credits.
The first special introduced most of Strawberry’s friends, all named for sweet treats, and the Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak (voiced by Filmation’s Tarzan, ubiquitous character actor Bob Ridgely), an archetypical Muller villain who, at least in the first special, turns “nice” and reforms. Maybe subsequent specials were not assured yet, but when they were, the Pieman was of course, a meanie again (like Sharpay in the High School Musical movies).
There are some amusing touches, such as The Pieman’s catch phrase “Yah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah, tah-tah-tah-tah!” and a throwaway gag in which Strawberry mentions her favorite cartoon, “Tom and Berry.” The plot is standard kiddie sitcom—there’s a surprise birthday party planned, but no one can tell her, so she starts to feel rejected. It’s a storyline that never ceases to disturb. Why put a loved one through such agony for a stupid party? Of course, all ends well and everyone celebrates with a lot of sugary stuff.
Since all three albums discussed here are audio pickups of the specials, they’re identical to the videos, except that the sound quality is somewhat better (but not crystal clear and full fidelity like a Rankin/Bass soundtrack). Here’s the video version:
STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE IN BIG APPLE CITY
Kid Stuff Records KSS-163 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono)
Released in 1981. TV Executive Producer: Robert L. Rosen. Producers: Romeo Muller, Buzz Potamkin. Assistant Producer: Cindy Kunst. Writer: Romeo Muller. Music: Howard Kaylan, Mark Volman. Running Time: 24 minutes.
Voices: Russi Taylor (Strawberry Shortcake); Romeo Muller (Mr. Sun); Dianne McCannon (Orange Blossom); Robert Ridgely (The Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak; Julie McWhirter (Huckleberry Pie, Tea N. Honey); Joan Gerber (Apricot, Blueberry Muffin, Apple Dumplin’); Pamela Anderson (Raspberry Tart); Bob Holt (Coco Nutwork).
Songs: “Smile a Sunny Morning,” “What a Day,” “Big Apple City,” “What’s Your Name?” “Strawberry Land” by Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan.
Like Felix Unger of TV’s The Odd Couple, Strawberry Shortcake heads for New York (“Big Apple City” in berry-speak) to participate in a bake-off. First prize is a gazebo.
Several things are worth noting. The Pieman essentially mirrors the opinions of many adult viewers with his disgust at all the “berry talk” the characters use, basically replacing “very” with “berry” and splicing “berry” onto other words (not unlike the way the Smurfs, denizens of another big ‘80s franchise, replace words with “Smurf”). At the end of the story, Strawberry actually threatens the Pieman with a steady stream of berry talk unless he agrees to her conditions! Who could refuse?
One of Muller’s inside jokes is a reference to the “little theater off Times Pear,” a nod to the classic radio show Mr. Firstnighter (which by the way starred animation voice acting greats Barbara Luddy and Olan Soulé).
The music and songs for all these syndicated Strawberry Shortcake TV specials were written by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of The Turtles (“Happy Together”). The duo went on to write and produce all the Care Bears albums for Kid Stuff Records. Most of the songs have the same sound, but there’s just a tad more of their goodtime rock sound in this special than in the other two.
STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE PRESENTS PETS ON PARADE
Kid Stuff Records KSS-5024 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono)
Released in 1982. TV Executive Producer: Robert L. Rosen. Producers: Too Fukumoto, Fred Wolf, Muller/Rosen Productions. Directors: Kohsei Ohtani, Fred Wolf. Writer: Romeo Muller. Music: Howard Kaylan, Mark Volman. Running Time: 23 minutes.
Voices: Russi Taylor (Strawberry Shortcake); Romeo Muller (Mr. Sun/Narrator); Dianne McCannon (Orange Blossom); Robert Ridgley (The Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak; Julie McWhirter (Huckleberry Pie); Joan Gerber (Sour Grapes, Blueberry Muffin, Apple Dumplin’); Pamela Anderson (Raspberry Tart); Bob Holt (Coco Nutwork).
Songs: “Today,” “I’m Much Lower Than You,” “An Animal’s a Kid’s Best Friend,” “March Back to Town” by Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan.
This special opens with Strawberry offering a litany of exposition to her little pet that tells us that she is the judge of a pet competition. The opening song, “Today,” is particularly catchy and a standout among the others.
New to the cast is Sour Grapes (voiced by the wonderful ‘70s voice acting staple Joan Gerber), a female partner in mischief for The Pieman. The two sing a duet called “I’m Much Lower Than You” that coincidentally resembles another villain duet: “She’s a Nothing” from Hanna-Barbera’s Heidi’s Song, also sung by Gerber but with Fritz Feld as her sidekick.
Record collectors take note: the climactic high point of Pets on Parade centers around a record and a phonograph. The Pieman sneaks Strawberry’s recording of “Jeannette McBerry and Nelson Donut” behind the stage and uses it, Singin’ in the Rain-style, to fake the singing of his Berry Bird, Captain Cackle, and Sour Grapes’ beloved snake, Dregs. Strawberry is blamed for cheating, but when she threatens to haunt The Pieman with annoying berry talk unless he confesses (a fate worse than death, apparently), she is cleared and everyone enjoys sugary treats available at your favorite store.
“Strawberry Shortcake Theme Song” – Dennis Scott & Sara Gellers
The specials and other Strawberry Shortcake albums were successful enough to inspire cover versions. This is one of the very last Golden Records ever made (after the label changed to Wonderland). Grammy-winning producer/composer/performer Dennis Scott (Sesame Street) recorded this for veteran children’s record producer Ralph Stein, who also produced for Peter Pan and Pickwick. One of the country’s most respected names in music, Scott continues to compose for TV, film and live entertainment throughout the world.
On the second record, Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City, there’s a absence of the character Tamale Mole aka Guaca-Mole the Mexican mole (the animal, not the popular Mexican dish) who has a very poor sense of direction. Tamale was a one-shot character who was seen on the TV special Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City and for some unknown reason was never seen again on any of the Strawberry Shortcake TV Special or the revival series in 2003. & 2009. I wonder if they took him off due of a fear of protests and possible backlash by Hispanic groups?
Fun Fact: Tamale Mole (pronounced “Mol-LEY”) is a popular Mexican dish that usually comes around the Christmas season but can be enjoyed year round. And of course Guacamole is a popular tasty dip made of Avocados,spices,chilies and sometimes with lime juice.
I didn’t realize that. One other thing about Pets on Parade — because the record doesn’t have a visual, it’s hard to understand why Strawberry is accused of cheating. Unlike his Rankin/Bass work, Muller did not cover the visual with narration, making the whole show work without a picture.
Pamela Anderson is also heard on the records!
I’m not sure if it’s the same one. Is it?
Checked her bio on IMBb and it’s not the star of Baywatch and Poster Girl for PETA. She starred in Dreamgirls, House of Cards and as the voice of the tweenaged Pebble Flintstone in Little Big League.
Julie McWhirter was also known as Julie Dees after marrying DJ Rick Dees (of “Disco Duck” infamy). She did many voices and impressions on Rick’s radio show.
I seem to recall a “Strawberry Shortcake Live” album.
There were at least a dozen Strawberry Shortcake albums and read alongs from Kid Stuff Records. To my knowledge, these were the only original cast soundtracks.
When David Letterman had his “Dave’s Record Collection” bit, he featured the “New York New York” track from my copy of the “Strawberry Shortcake LIVE” LP. It was the segment with the surly hand model and either the model’s humorless attitude or my record may have been why the segment was seldom–if ever–done again on the show. Sorry, America.
“Dave’s Record Collection” was one of my favorite bits on Letterman’s old show, but I must have missed the one where he played the Shortcake cut. (In the first or second year of his show, Dave played an old rental car jingle as a running gag. The radio station where I worked at the time had the CRC music library, which had that particular cut.)
The second special was produced by Preciptal Motion Pictures in New York. Marty Taras, Lu Guariner, Gerry Dvorak and many other Famous/Terrytoon staffers were involved.
Thank you for filling in the animation blanks, Noah. There’s just so much to discover about these things. Strange, though, how an LA voice cast was used, but then, Rankin/Bass used to do that too. Maybe it was a phone patch, common in the ’80s.
It’s interesting to look back though and notice that the first and third specials produced at Wolf’s studio was otherwise outsourced to Toei Animation in Japan besides. After that, the specials were handled by Canada’s Nelvana Ltd., I think they had Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian on those.
I have a little more respect for the whole STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE franchise after reading and listening to the links in this piece, Greg, especially since Flo and Eddie (Mark and Howard of the Turtles and/or Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention and their own solo albums under that other assumed name). I recognized their pop stylings immediately…and what a great way to promote classic theatrical cartoons of any kind (Tom and Berry)! But, hey, while we’re at it, let’s give some love to LOONEY TUNES and BERRY MELODIES, eh? Thanks for all this great berry juice!
I hate to admit, I used to watch these specials when I was 5/6. My siblings did too, we weren’t really critical yet to realize what these were and my sis was pretty big on the toys/dolls that were out too.
Just recently I discovered a Strawberry Shortcake 80’s replica doll at a Kmart. I would’ve bought it too since it was on sale but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I guess the nostalgia wasn’t too strong!
Julie McWhirter was also the voice of Plum Puddin’. I have no idea where they got the fact that Joan Gerber was Apple Dumplin’ though, considering Apple Dumplin’ never had one single line of dialog! I’m not sure about the casting of the Pets on Parade record, however. I don’t own it, but I have seen the special ad nauseum, and the only voices credited in the special are Russi Taylor (Strawberry Shortcake), Robert Ridgely (Peculiar Purple Pieman), Romeo Muller (Mr. Sun), Joan Gerber (Sour Grapes and Souffle the Skunk), and Julie McWhirter (Angel Cake and Custard the Cat). Could be the record game more lines of dialog to the other characters, but I don’t know that for sure.