Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Disco Meets DEVO On The AIR

The PopCulteer
January 15, 2021

Friday On The AIR

Friday afternoon we offer up this year’s first new episodes of MIRRORBALL and Sydney’s Big Electric Cat. The AIR is PopCult’s sister radio shation. You can hear these shows on The AIR website, or just click on the embedded player at the top right column of this blog.

At 2 PM, Mel Larch uncorks a new MIRRORBALL! The AIR’s showcase of classic Disco music enters 2021 with a line-up of classic tracks from the golden era of excess and intense dance floor fever. Just check the playlist for this bodacious bit of boogeymania…


Odyssey “Use it up and Wear It Out”
Barry White “You See The Trouble With Me”
Tina Charles “I Love To Love”
Boney M “Rasputin”
Patti Brooks “After Dark”
Bacarra “Yes Sir I Can Boogie”
Eruption “I Can’t Stand The Rain”
Gibson Brothers “Cuba”
MFSB “The Sound of Philadelphia”
The Three Degrees “Dirty Old Man”
Eddie Kendricks “Ain’t No Smoke Without Fire”
Ashford and Simpson “Found A Cure”

You can now hear MIRRORBALL every Friday at 2 PM, with replays Saturday at 10 AM, Sunday at 11 PM, Tuesday at 1 PM and Wednesday at 7 PM, exclusively on The AIR.

At 3 PM, Sydney Fileen graces us with a very special episode of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat that is near and dear to your PopCulteer’s heart. Sydney devotes the entire program to a two-hour mixtape of DEVO music from the first dozen years of the band’s existence.

Sydney didn’t give me a full playlist, but she assures me that the show will feature a mix of their hits (“Whip It,” “Beautiful World”), deep album cuts (“Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA,” “I Desire”) and their trademark cover songs (“Satisfaction,” “Working In a Coal Mine,” “Secret Agent Man”).

DEVO is one of my favorite bands, and I didn’t know that Sydney was doing this show until yesterday, so I’m really psyched up for it.

Sydney’s Big Electric Cat is produced at Haversham Recording Institute in London, and can be heard every Friday at 3 PM, with replays Saturday afternoon, Monday at 7 AM, Tuesday at 8 PM, Wednesday at Noon and Thursday at 10 AM, exclusively on The AIR. You can also hear select episodes of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat as part of the overnight Haversham Recording Institute marathon that starts every Monday at 11 PM.

And that is it for this week’s PopCulteer.  Check back for fresh content every day and all our way-cool regular features.

Imitation Potatoes

Cheesy Toy Knockoffs

Way back in the 1990s, your PopCulteer wrote a monthly action figure column for Toy Trader Magazine. In Facts on Figures, I covered the action figure world, and as an adjunct, I would do a sidebar each month called Cheesy Knockoff of the Month, where I would find a cheesy knockoff and sarcastically rip it to shreds.

I have occasionally revisted the idea here in PopCult, even though there are more than a dozen websites that do the same thing on a daily basis now. It’s fun to get out the hatchet and have at some poor unsuspecting delightfully awful imitation toy.

Today we’re going to look at Best Food Friends, a product, which I believe no longer being produced, by PlayMind Ltd, a Chinese company who’s range of toys is sold at TJ Maxx and several online catalog. My favorite toy that they make is “Licensed Car Collection,” which is, of course, not licensed.

But today we are going to look at their product line that bears more than a passing resemblence to Hasbro’s classic, Mr. Potato Head.

A quick bit of history may be in order. Originally released in 1952, the first version of Mr. Potato Head was just a collection of facial and body parts that kids would attach to a real potato. The first toy advertised on TV, Mr. Potato Head was an instant hit.

In 1964, spurred by the pointy pieces not being safe and parents complaining of their kids playing with rotting food, Hasbro rounded the edges of pieces, and supplied a plastic tuber for Potato-eaded hijinks.

This is the Mr. Potato Head that I had as a kid.

This was the Mr. Potato Head that I grew up with, and his universe expanded to include Mrs. Potato Head, plus assorted plastic veggie and fruit friend like Oranges, Peppers, Cucumbers, Carrots and more. The cool thng was that you could interchange all the eyes, mouths and other features, and if you wanted to, you could create a Picasso-esque portait with unconventional eye alignments and such.

However, the parts of Mr. Potato Head were still too small for the tightening toy safety regulations, so in 1975 Mr. Potato Head was redesigned once again, and took the form that most folks know today, where you can store the pieces inside his potato body, and most folks just try to make him look like he does in the Toy Story movies.

When Hasbro redesigned Mr. Potato Head in 1975, all of his non-potato buddies disappeared.

Mr. Potato Head was no longer hanging out with his old gang.

Mr. Potato Head is, to this day, a top-selling toy icon, and it’s been decades since Hasbro has made any non-spudly friends for him, so PlayMind decided to fill the gap.

That’s where the Best Food Friends come into play. I found these in an online store, Lakeside, and it appears that they are no longer being made, but probably didn’t sell too well to begin with, so they have plenty left in stock.

The BFFs are sold in plain white boxes with only a barcode and manufacturer information.

I don’t know if these were ever sold in brick-and-mortar stores in regular retail packaging, but the white boxes add a cheesy charm to the concept.

The figures are stylistically similar to the post-1975 Mr. Potato Head.

There are three figures, with somewhat odd names. “Violetino” is an eggplant, with male attributes and his accessories are a tie and a tablet. “Beauty Belle” is a feminine red bell pepper, with blonde hair in pigtails, a giant lollipop, and she comes with a pepper stem that can take the place of her hair. Lastly we have a floret of broccoli with the confusing name, “Mrs. Afro.” Mrs. Afro seems to be an older character who comes with glasses, a butterfly for her hair and a shopping bag. She also has no nose, or even a place for one.

Right off the bat, all three figures are smaller than Mr. Potato Head by an inch or two. None of them have a place in their body to store extra pieces, and while the paper insert (printed in color on one side) says that they have compatible parts with each other, that is not entirely true.

In some cases, the parts don’t seem compatible with the figure that they accompany.

Ears don’t like to go in all the way, and on two of them, neither do the arms. The arms are not bendable, but they can hold their accessories.

Then there’s the mystery of the missing Best Food Friend. We’ll get to him in a moment, but let’s look at the figures themselves first…

Violetino, who should be called “Mr. Eggplant Head,” looks the most like his potato-y inspiration. He only comes with one of each of his facial features, so his play value is somewhat limited if you only get the single figure.

Violetino, mostly unassembled.

He looks a bit like Mormon Missionary version of Mr. Potato Head

His ears and arms don’t fit well, but at least he can stand on his own. He comes with a tablet, which raises a question we’ll look at later.

There are other weird quirks with Violetino (including that name) but the strangest is that his collar and necktie mount behind his mouth.

Next up we have Beauty Belle, who, in spite of her name, appears to be a little girl character. True to form for a cheesy knockoff, my Beauty Belle came with two right ears. Her giant removable hair piece is so heavy that she can’t stand up well on her own. Also, her parts just don’t fit well at all.

True Story: After the photo shoot, I was unable to get all the parts to fit back in the box.

I know, what’s the deal with the yellow lips? Note how poorly the parts fit, too.

She’s a bit of a cool throwback to Mr. Potato Head’s pal, Pete the Pepper, but again, if she’s the only figure you get, you’re stuck with her in one basic mode.

Then we have Mrs. Afro. I suppose she took her name from the fact that her broccoli floret hair does look a bit like an afro hairstyle, but I think it’s safe to assume that this character was named by somebody for whom English is not their native language.

You get the impression that more time was spent on concept than execution

I don’t know why they went with a butterfly instead of a nose, but it made for a cool lighting effect.

The Pepper makes for a decent guy. Insert your own joke here.

You can trade her parts out with the other figures in the line, but they just don’t look right. Peppers don’t have florets you know.

I did do a little mixing up of the parts. The Pepper works better as a dude. The Egglant looks wrong with blond pigtails.

Lastly, we have to address the missing fourth Best Food Friend. He’s not shown on the instruction sheet, but if you look at Violetino’s tablet, you will see a tiny drawing of Larry The Leek. He looks like the coolest of the bunch and has a ball cap and a basketball. And he’s winking! I mean, how cool is that?

Where the hell is Larry? Also, there is no such thing as 14:30 PM, dammit!

Though his name may sound like an incontinent character from “Guys and Dolls,” Larry The Leek is actually an interesting non-existent addition to the ranks. He would provide an additional set of male face pieces, and would allow for these toys to be used to reenact “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”

I mean, isn’t that what everybody does with Mr. Potato Head?

But he’s not here. Could it be that, on the slow boat from China, during that long and grueling trip, that the Best Food Friends had a Donner Party moment, and reduced their ranks by one friend?

The world may never know.

Waxing Rhapsodic About Trading Card Art

The Wonderful World of Wax Wrappers
compiled by Jason Young
Self Published
$20 plus shipping from Canada on eBay

This book is a real treat for fans of old-school non-sport trading cards. It’s a compilation of Wax Wrappers, which were phased out in favor of foil wrappers with ultra-high-quality printing.

The Wonderful World of Wax Wrappers celebrates the art and innovation that was necessitated by the limitations of printing on wax paper before all that happened.

Jason Young, who put this book together, doesn’t try to create a detailed reference work. This is a slim volume of gorgeous full-color photos of vintage trading card wrappers released from the late 1950s to around 1990. There’s a brief essay in the front of the book, and informative captions throughout, but he lets the art be the star. An added bonus is that Jason is based in Canada, and some of these wrappers are variants of the ones that are familiar to collectors in the US.

Because the printing presses used for the wax wrappers were, shall we say, a tad funky, the vast majority of wax wrappers had line-art, rather than photographs. Photos just didn’t look right when printed with limited colors on food-grade wax paper.

Food-grade wrappers were used because the vast majority of trading cards included a stick of bubble gum in those days.

Translating photographic images into low-res three-to-five color images resulted in artwork that come out looking like mid-1960s Andy Warhol silkscreens. These wrappers were Pop Art before Pop Art was a thing.

From Young’s eBay page, we see some of the TV shows that made it into trading cards in the 1970s.

In fact, on the few occasions when they did try to use a photo on a wax wrapper (Supergirl, for instance) it looked pretty bizarre. In most cases, these wrappers are like miniature billboards, with beautifully simplified images representing their subjects.

As a long-time writer for Non-Sport Update, I’m neck-deep in this stuff most of the time, but it’s really cool to have a book that just looks at the art created for this aspect of the non-sport hobby.

Most of the wrappers are presented larger than they were originally printed, and for fans of pop culture, this is a virtual timeline of the period from 1960 to 1990. We get all the high-water marks: Batman; Marvel Comics; Gilligans Island; Star Trek; Elvis; Happy Days; Jaws; Universal Monsters; WWF and several pages of wax wrappers for cards devoted to Star Wars and its sequels. Back in the day,  lots of movies and TV shows with kid appeal made their way into the world of trading cards. You’ll see a lot of them here.

The Wonderful World of Wax Wrappers is available from Jason Young on eBay, but you want to act fast. Young says that he is on his third and final printing, and if you love pop culture and trading cards, you probably don’t want to miss out on this book.

Another Beth of Fresh Air

I’m taking a moment away from my normal routine of telling you about cool things like toys, books, comics, music and whatnot to tell you about an important thing.

Beth McCarthy, the daughter of longtime PopCult/RFC friend Tony Slack, is in need of her second double-lung transplant, and Tony has a GoFundMe page up to help with the expenses.  Beth was born with a rare medical condition and battled respiratory issues her whole life. Eventually it became apparent that this young mother of twins would need a lung transplant in order to survive.

Tony put on a variety of fundraising events under the banner of “A Beth of Fresh Air,” including improv shows with his group, The Mighty Schmucks, and they banked enough money to help the family get through the crisis, which involved Beth relocating to Pittsburgh with her mother for the surgery and a recovery period, and medical bills that stagger the imagination. I wrote about one of these in October, 2018.

Beth was on the transplant list. The family had to wait for a pair of lungs to become available.

The call came in April of 2020, and by July, Beth was back home, hopefully settling into a normal life.

But it was not to be. As Tony explains in the GoFundMe listing…

Beth received her new lungs this past April.  Unfortunately in the tradition of 2020, things have took an unexpected turn.  Beth is now hospitalized due to a series of ailments, and is facing a second double-lung transplant at UPMC.  That means more medical bills, several months of living in Pittsburgh, and all of the expenses involved with living away from home.

Beth is a real, live miracle.  After receiving her 1st transplant she got married, rode bikes with her children, and went hiking.  Lets do what we can to make sure she gets back to where she belongs again.  Which is raising her beautiful babies and growing old with the man of her dreams, Tim.

In addition to the need for a 2nd lung transplant,  Beth’s mother April has decided to become her primary care giver.  This involves April putting her own job aside to give Beth the care she needs up until,  and after the transplant.  Due to this April will also be in need of financial assistance to help cover her own bills and expenses.

Let’s show 2020 that we are stronger than anything it can throw at Beth!  And more than anything, let’s pray for this beautiful and strong young woman.

Tony has been a friend since before he appeared on the very first video episode of Radio Free Charleston. Beth is his pride and joy, and she is a very special young woman. I hope you consdier donating to this cause.

Bill Lynch wrote two great profiles of Beth in The Charleston Gazette-Mail. These are hidden behind a paywall HERE and HERE.  In the first from 2019, Bill spoke with her Dad before her operation…

The Air Force medical technicians missed the situs inversus diagnosis, and they had no idea at all about Kartagener’s syndrome, the reason why Beth is tethered to an oxygen tank, the reason why she’s waiting for a double lung transplant.

Kartagener’s syndrome is a rare condition related to the situs inversus but affects the fine, hair-like cilia in her body, particularly the cilia in Beth’s lungs.

Tony said, “The cilia are supposed to catch the stuff that’s in the air and then you sort of cough it back up. That’s normal. With Beth, the cilia are deformed. Stuff falls in, and it just gets trapped in there.”

It’s made her susceptible to colds and respiratory infections. Through her childhood and teenage years, there were trips to respiratory specialists and periodic hospital stays. Tubes were put into each of her ears over a dozen times to help fend off fluid buildup and infection.

The second of Bill’s articles, published just last August, presented Beth post-surgery, seemingly well on the way to recovery…

Two weeks after surgery, Beth left the hospital and moved into a nearby Airbnb with her mother. They spent the next two and a half months going back and forth to doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions. Beth sometimes walked in a local park during the day, but otherwise, generally, stayed in.

Beth kept in touch with her children through FaceTime on her phone. Tim, her father and her brother, Joe, would visit occasionally.

Her breathing is much better. She said her lung function is at 57% and improving, but it’s something she’ll have to work at for the rest of her life through therapy, exercise and caution.

Even after COVID-19 fades, Beth will always have to wear a mask in crowds.

“I’m immunosuppressed,” Beth said. “When you have a transplant, they tell you that you’re trading one illness for another.”

There will also be regular trips to Pittsburgh for checkups and tests, expected hospital stays, and it’s likely that her body will reject the lungs more than once.

It will be a fight to keep breathing.

Subscribe to The Gazette-Mail for the whole story, Bill did a great job, and I’ve swiped the accompanying photos from Chris Dorst and Kenny Kemp, but I have a feeling they’re cool with this since is such a good cause.

It was known that the lungs in the first transplant were high-risk, and may not last long,  but nobody wanted to go through this again so soon.

I know that we just escaped one of the worst years on record, and times are chaotic and frightening right now, but please take a moment and consider donating to help Beth with this massive medical crisis. It’s something positive that you can do to counter all the negativity in the world right now.

Get Psychedelic Tuesday

Once again, we only offer up one new episode of our speciality music shows Tuesday on The AIR with a fresh edition of Psychedelic Shack. RFC and The Swing Shift are taking the week off because plans changed and your PopCulteer got hit with a big last-minute rush job. We’ll be back next week at full strength.

Meanwhile, you may point your cursor over and tune in at the website, or you could just stay on this page, and  listen to that happy little embedded radio player over in the right column of the blog.

Tuesday on The AIR at 10 AM you can tune in for an encore of Radio Free Charleston V5 Episode 26, which you can read about HERE. This edition of the show opens with a very relevant tune by John Ellison, and offers up three full hours of great local and international music. We will return next week with a brand-new show that will open with an exciting new local metal band.

At 1 PM we encore last week’s episode of Curtain Call, which is split between being a tribute to the late Rebecca Luker and a showcase for the Ratatouille Musical on Tik Tok.

2 PM sees a brand-new episode of Psychedelic Shack. Nigel Pye blows our mind with a full hour of trippy-hippy brain-expanding music from the golden era of musical experimentation.

Check out the playlist….

Psychedelic Shack 038

Speed, Glue and Shrinki “Stoned Out of My Mind”Silbrerbart “God”
Wishbone Ash “The Pilgrim”
REO Speedwagon “Dead At Last”
Farm “Jungle Song”
The Mads “Fly Away”
Mother Sunday “Midnight Graveyard”
Blood Sweat and Tears “Go Down Gamblin'”

Psychedelic Shack alternates weeks with NOISE BRIGADE Tuesdays at 2 PM, with replays Wednesday at 10 PM, Thursday at 9 AM, Friday at 1 PM, Saturday at 10 AM, Sunday at 9 AM and Monday at 7 PM.

At 3 PMThe Swing Shift brings you three encore episodes. Our Swing showcase will return with new episodes next week. You can hear The Swing Shift Tuesday at 3 PM, with replays Wednesday at 7 AM and 6 PM, Thursday at 7 PM and Saturday at 5 PM, only on The AIR. You can also hear all-night marathons, seven hours each, starting at Midnight Thursday and Sunday evenings.

Monday Morning Art: Color Boxes

Sunday afternoon I decided that I had enough of the news, so I turned on some loud music and cranked out a purely-digital abstract painting. This is the kind of thing I can do in my sleep. I laid colored boxes over one another, then colored the areas they overlapped with different hues, then warped it up a bit, did concentric negative patterns, unwarped it and slopped some digital paint over it.

It was more productive than scrolling through Twitter to see the latest outrage. I’m not finished being outraged, but I needed to take a break.

If you want to see it bigger, just click on the image.

Meanwhile, Monday at 9 AM on The AIR, we bring you six episodes of Steven Allen Adams’ NOISE BRIGADE. Steven will be sucked into the vortex of the legislature soon, so new episodes of our Ska/Punk showcase might be in scarce supply for a couple of months, but we don’t want you to think we forgot about him.  Then you can tune into an encore of a recent episode of  Prognosis at 3 PM. This week Herman Linte brings us a selection of progessive rock tunes recorded before a live audience (back in the days when there were such things). It kicks off with Steve Hackett.

You can listen to The AIR at the website, or on the embedded radio player at the top of the right-hand column of this blog.

Sunday Evening Video: Glass Spider Tour

On the fifth anniversary of his passing, we bring you a full concert by David Bowie, taken from his Glass Spider Tour, in 1987.

List of songs:
1.Up The Hill Backwards
2.Glass Spider
3.Day-In Day-Out
4.Bang Bang
5.Absolute Beginners
6.Loving The Alien
7.China Girl
8.Rebel Rebel
10.Never Let Me Down
12.Sons Of The Silent Age
13.Young Americans
14.The Jean Genie
15.Let’s Dance
18.Blue Jean
19.I Wanna Be Your Dog
20.White Light / White Heat
21.Modern Love

Tour band:
David Bowie – vocals, guitar
Peter Frampton – guitar, vocals
Carlos Alomar – guitar
Carmine Rojas – bass guitar
Alan Childs – drums
Erdal Kizilcay – keyboards, trumpet, congas, violin
Richard Cottle – keyboards, saxophone

Tour dancers:
Melissa Hurley
Constance Marie
Spazz Attack (Craig Allen Rothwell)
Viktor Manoel
Stephen Nichols
Toni Basil (choreography)

The RFC Flashback: Mini Show number 42

This week we go back to 2014 and the late, much-lamented Dunbar Bowling Alley  for a couple of tunes from our old friends, Under The Radar.

This week’s RFC MINI SHOW was recorded Halloween night 2014 at The Bowling Alley-Dunbar. The RFC crew captured the reunion of Under The Radar, who hadn’t played a show together in over six years. Under The Radar was Rusty Marx, Bill Robinson and Mark Lanham, and they had a blast getting back together for a night of classic rock tunes.

Under The Radar first appeared on the fourth episode of Radio Free Charleston, back in 2006, and it was great to see them back in action.

That Was A Week

The PopCulteer
January 8, 2021

I have worn out the adage about “Interesting Times,” so I can’t really use it here, but damn, folks. This week certainly did not go as expected.

Wednesday started out as a truly joyous day as the fine people of Georgia elected two Democratic senators, thus tipping control of The Senate to the Democrats, and handing Mitch McConnell his political balls in a tiny Dixie cup.  We should have been celebrating the coming period of prosperity and sound leadership that we can only get when the Republicans are out of power.

But before we could savor that moment, the pro-Trump terrorist rally began, and an unprecedented attack on our government took place. Not since 9 11 has our Democracy been so assaulted by radicalized hate-mongering terrorists. There is no reason that the people caught on video and in photos shouldn’t be rounded up and shipped off to Gitmo, to await a military trial that might happen sometime in the next five years.

This has nothing to do with today’s post, but it looks really cool and I wanted to put it here.

As I said yesterday, it didn’t really seem right to do an article about farting plush or Batman or the type of distractional content that I usually provide here in PopCult.

It’s not like the old Gazette days, when I had to walk on eggshells to avoid making the Widder Chilton clutch her pearls and fire everyone in the features department, but still, I want to focus on fun stuff, even when reality intrudes and takes a huge dump in pop culture like it did Wednesday.

Heck, with so many people glued to the news, the ratings for AEW and NXT took a pretty major hit, despite both shows delivering killer episodes. The wrestling folks can’t want until we get normal adult leaders in place and the news becomes boring enough to not siphon off their audience like it has for the last four years.

Today we must soldier on and hope that we can get through the next couple of weeks with a minimum of chaos and despotic hijinks from the nutjob in chief. So we’re going to look forward and preview what PopCult has on the agenda in the coming weeks.

First, we have a radio note to share: Over on The AIR, our sister internet radio station (listen to it at the website or on the player in the right column), we are promoting Mel Larch’s Disco Music showcase, MIRRORBALL to weekly status…sort of. Starting today at 2 PM, you can tune in to relive the Disco era every Friday.

Mel is still going to do new episodes of the show every other week, but now we have enough episodes in the library to alternate repeats with the fresh shows, and keep the beat going on a regular basis. The AIR Music Special will disappear for a few weeks while we re-tool our station and extend some invitations for new hosts to come to The AIR.

The plan is to shake things up a bit in February, and add some new sounds to the station.

To mark the new weekly status, Friday we’ll replay Mel’s first episode of MIRRORBALL, and just for the heck of it, we’ll follow it at 3 PM with the very first episode of our New Wave Music showcase, Sydney’s Big Electric Cat, which will return with a new episode next week.

I want to get back to writng about cool toys.

Meanwhile in PopCult I have a stack of new stuff to tell you about. We have a new action figure line to review, as well as cool new albums from some old friends, and there are a bunch of exciting books and comics in the queue. It’s everything from pulp fiction to trading cards to Italian Sex and Horror comics (seriously, that’s the title).

I’ll also be showcasing a few websites that you might enjoy.

On top of that, just yesterday, I finally added HBO Max and Peacock (the free version) to my Roku, and you’ll be getting in-depth reviews, probably a month from now. I want to take my time to assess these new streaming beasts.

I really want to get back to thinking about cool toys and comics and stuff, and be done with worrying about the horrors of the last four years of the American nightmare.

So please do check back at PopCult every day for fresh content, and all of our regular features. I’ll still be here, even if the mood is…concerned.

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