The Ten Best Christmas Songs of All Time

The Ten Best  Christmas Songs of All Time
                Despite what retailers have been telling you since before Halloween, the Christmas season begins the day after Thanksgiving.
                Now that has passed and the Christmas season is in full swing.  Some radio stations are playing holiday tunes 24/7. As is usual with radio broadcasting in its current state (see my prior blog titled “I Finally Bury a Long-Dead Friend”), you will likely hear the same ten songs over and over instead of a wide variety of cuts.
                Some songs you will undoubted be sick of by December 25th; some songs you are still sick of from all the airplay last year. Some songs will make you smile. And there are some songs you’d wish they play even just once.
                I used to say the holiday season doesn’t really commence until I hear two specific songs: “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon and “Snoopy’s Christmas” by the Royal Guardsmen.  The latter was hard to catch on the radio, if it was played at all; but now thanks to Youtube I can listen to the tune even on a hot August day.  Those two are on the list, by the way.
                I’m listing individual tracks. I could do another list just on general songs that I enjoy (although some versions are grating): “Holly & Ivy”, “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabelle” and “I Saw Three Ships” would make that list.
                These are the songs that transcend the genre: the “He Stopped Loving Her Today” or “Layla” of holiday music. And these are in no particular order.
                I’d love to know YOUR list of favorites:

1.       Joy to the World by Percy Faith. The opening fanfare of this song makes you rise from your seat. It makes you want to march out in the snow with arms stretched outward and shout “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Listening to this makes you picture a bustling city street seen through swirling snow. This should be played when the Ghost of Christmas Present is showing Scrooge Christmas morning in Old London. It’s as majestic as it is iconic. It is the opening song of “A Christmas Story”.  It should be the first song played at the start of the season.
2.       Ring Those Christmas Bells by Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians. I’ll bet you’ve not heard this one. If you have, you know how strange this song is – especially since it was produced in the 1950s. It has an early 1970s post-psychedelic feel to it. It starts off with the singers talking merrily and then break into a chorus of Jingle Bells. Someone chants “Merry Merry Christmas” and it is repeated by the singers as a mantra. That segues into “Ring Those Christmas Bells”; a song whose tune sounds vaguely like the theme to “Green Acres”. At the end the “Merry Merry Christmas” mantra returns. It’s a bizarre tune. I love it! It is on Youtube.
3.       Silent Night by Mannheim Steamroller. The first two tunes on the list are upbeat songs of celebration. This is a very quiet song, appropriately. You listen to this song sitting on the couch in the evening drinking hot cocoa and watching the snow fall. Being Mannheim Steamroller, this version of the song is filled with electronics tweets and whistles and notes that don’t quite sound like they fit, but eventually do. And the end is beautiful; a swelling crescendo followed by a wisp of the first four notes played as if by a child on a toy piano. Absolutely beautiful.
4.       All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey. A fun romping song that sounds like it came off of a Phil Spector Christmas album. Mariah has the chops to pull off the vocal acrobatics of the song and the sex-kittenish sensuality of the lyrics and her delivery (especially the introduction) makes the song a favorite. Ignore the remakes and stick to the original. You’ll thank me. The song is alluring, and not in the creepy sexiness of a “Santa Baby”. Whereas the latter requires a shot of penicillin after every listen, “All I Want …” is a wonderful upbeat happy song for the holidays. This song sometimes makes lists of worst Christmas songs, and there are some remakes that are pretty bad, but I like the original.
5.       Happy Christmas (War is Over) by John Lennon. I used to joke, “You know it is Christmastime when you hear Bing Crosby and Yoko Ono on the radio”.  Yoko sings the middle eight of this sweet song. Like “Imagine”, this is likened unto a children’s song. However, I always found it a sad song. Not only because Lennon was murdered in the month of December and this song was on the playlists at the time; but also because I hear the lyrics as an accusation or condemnation. A man looking at himself in the mirror – “so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, a new one just begun…” Another year passed with unfulfilled expectations.
6.       Snoopy’s Christmas by the Royal Guardsmen. The band hit big in 1966 with “Snoopy vs The Red Baron” and this is a sequel from 1967. Our man Snoopy is once again called upon to fight his arch enemy.  Without giving away the ending, I wonder if the band knew this is similar to an actual event – the Christmas Truce.  In 1914 German and British soldiers exchanged greeting and songs across “no man’s land” – even exchanging gifts such as food and souvenirs. At the end the opposing troops sang carols together and played football (that’s soccer for you mouth-breathers…).  But soon the unofficial truce was over and such fraternization was banned by the so-called superior officers and both sides went back to slaughtering each other over the next four years.
7.       My Little Drum by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. It’s a shame that Vince Guaraldi will be known for only his work on the Charlie Brown cartoons, as he should be remembered for the piano-playing genius he was. We are lucky we have his soundtrack to “Charlie Brown Christmas” available on CD. Every song on the album could be included in a Top Ten, but “My Little Drum” is a unique take on the traditional song (that being “Little Drummer Boy”). Once you hear it, you’ll want to hit the back button and listen to it again. Minor and major notes are hit on the beat and off; and the children singing and humming and prrrrr-ump-ump-ing make a sweet counterpoint to the jazzy beatnik arrangement. It’s the cat’s meow, man. One of the best songs from one of the best holiday albums of all time.
8.       Must Be Santa by Bob Dylan. Even at his best Dylan’s vocal “style” is an acquired taste. Now that he is older and his voice is scorched from too many tours, he sounds the way an oak tree would sound it if could sing. “Someone is vivisecting a wildebeest!” “No, it’s Dylan’s latest album.”  BUT, his voice fits this genuinely great, great version of the Christmas song. It sounds like a rollicking good party was going on while recording it (and the video accompanying the song plays that out to great effect. Mordant bleu, Bob Dylan dances in the video – dances!!). The song is a chestnut of Mitch Miller’s Christmas song chest, but here Dylan made the song fun without quite pushing it into novelty territory.
9.       Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. The 1977 Christmas special from which this song aired is available on DVD. It is strange watching Crosby introduce the video of Bowie’s “Heroes” standing behind a Christmas trees and twinkling lights. The legend says that Bowie hated “Drummer” and did not want to sing it as a duet with der Bingle. So the writers whipped up “Peace on Earth” to act as a descant to “Little Drummer Boy” and also a middle eight for Bing and Bowie to duet. It worked. Bowie’s high vocals paired beautifully with Crosby’s baritone. Crosby sang the main song quietly. This is important. “Little Drummer Boy” is usually performed as a big production filled with artificial melodrama in complete contrast to the ideals within the song. Here the song is quiet and respectful – a small child presenting the only gift he could give to the infant king. Plus I like Crosby’s vocals in his later years. His voice deepened and rumbled. Water glasses vibrated when he sang. It’s a lovely song. And it was Crosby’s last Christmas single. That lends a sadness to it that it otherwise might not have.
10.   Jingle Jingle Jingle by Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer soundtrack. I have not heard anyone remake this song, but it is one of my favorite Christmas songs, perhaps THE favorite. Clocking in at just over two minutes, it is sung by Santa in a deep baritone. A predictable song of ascending and descending notes with staccato trumpets and strings. A simple song for children that captures the season in their eyes. A sweet and lovable song.
11.   OK, one more, what the heck, it’s Christmas. Plus, this list is pretty bare as far as Bing Crosby – only one? You might think I’m building up to “White Christmas” – the song is so iconic and I think the past two generations have forgotten how tremendously HUGE that song was and is. But I want to go with another song by Bing that brings a holiday smile – Melaka Leke Maka. I love singing along and imitating Bing’s low rumble. He sounds like he’s having a fun time with it too. The song is so much fun the Andrews Sisters tolerated each other long enough to sing backing vocals.  And by the way, “Melaka Leke Maka” is NOT the Hawaiian term for “Merry Christmas” – it is the phonetic spelling of a Hawaiian native trying to SAY “Merry Christmas”.

                And there we have the ten best individual songs! Are any of these already stuck in your head? Lucky you…

Thanks for reminiscing with me!
Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

A review of The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2

 A review of The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});             I received “The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2” for my birthday. While listening to it I kept thinking about a quote from Roy Carr and Tony Tyler’s excellent “The Beatles, An Illustrated Record” – my copy from 1981. They were critiquing “Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl” and said (I am paraphrasing) – “The Hamburg Tapes” show the Beatles live at their beginning, “Let It Be” shows the band live at their end, but “…Hollywood Bowl” shows them in their glorious middle”.
            The awkwardly-titled “The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2” also shows them in their glorious middle. At the beginning of their middle, so to speak.
            Most of the tracks aired on the BBC from 1963-1965. I prefer the earlier songs. This was when the Fabs just hit their popularity. Fame and fortune was still new and exciting. They were yet to be labeled “the greatest British composers since Schubert”. The mania was in full swing, but the hurricane had yet to reach Category-Five.
            John Lennon said by the time they reached the USthey were pros and already tired of it all. They weren’t musicians they were pop stars. They enjoyed the taste of fame but didn’t like gorging on it. In an interview on the disks, George Harrison says he was the first to get tired of people asking him the color of his eyes or what he drank at breakfast.
            “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” was in the midst of all that. The best and the worst of Beatlemania.
            “The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2” shows the musicianship of that glorious middle without the mania – when the Beatles were still enjoying being the Beatles.
            Both Volumes contain songs and banter from the various BBC programs from 1963-1965 – including “Saturday Club” and Beatles specials (“Pop Go the Beatles” for example).
            Only a few of the tracks are performed live in front of a screaming audience. But the rest are studio tracks recorded at the BBC per their regulations. In such shows the Fabs could not simply hand the producers their albums to play. Songs had to be recorded for their specific programs.
            Now we would call it “studio live”. The Beatles may have done many takes of their songs, but each one was done in one take and the best picked to be aired during the BBC specials.
            In other words, these were studio live cuts of their hits – without overdubs, without vocal or music effects. Do You Want to Know a Secret without the reverberated introduction. There’s a Place without the harp/harmonica. These different arrangements highlight their musicianship. I’ll discuss that shortly
            They recorded 88 songs for these BBC shows – all either studio live or live before an audience. 36 of these songs were never recorded in their official (EMI/Capital) catalogue.  
            Most of the non-EMI songs were on Volume 1 – here we have only two that have never been officially released – (1) the standard Beautiful Dreamer – a rocked out version of the ballad recorded before an audience but with awful sound quality; comparable to the Hamburg live tapes. Pity – such a rare track and it sounds as if it were recorded through a fish tank; and (2) the Chuck Berry Rocker Talkin’ Bout You.
            Other rarities include different versions of Hippy Hippy Shake, Sure to Fall, and Lend Me Your Comb – which sounds uncannily like Wake Up Little Susie in places – already released on Volume One.
            And there is a version of “Happy Birthday”. Happy Birthday to you! Now I don’t have to ever play Birthday from the White Album – one of the most overplayed of their third-tiered tunes – again! Oh thank you, BBC, thank you and it’s. about. time. … 
            This is where the studio live performances make me enjoy the volumes so much: Songs I have been listening to for (literally) my 49 years on this planet are done differently – even if it is only a difference in the mixing. We hear Paul’s bass much more prominently in most songs. Ringo’s drumming is excellent throughout (and isn’t it time we finally put to bed the critiquing of Ringo’s ability. He’s a good drummer! Accept it!).
            When the initial giddiness of listening to the disks for a few times wears off, I will start rearranging the tracks in the following way:
            I’d like to arrange the tracks from Volumes 1 & 2 in the order of their album releases: in other words, take the song order from “Please Please Me” (their first album) and listen to their BBC versions in the same order. I Saw Her Standing There, then Misery, etc…
            I’ll bet the difference is staggering. In the EMI album “Please Please Me” we have four scared kids from the North going to London on New Year’s Day and nervously recording an album.  The BBC versions will let us hear professionals who are at the top of their craft.
            Perhaps the only disappointment will be Twist and Shout.  In his famous interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon groused about the song ruining his voice during the “Please Please Me” sessions. He said he never recovered the full power of his voice after that. Of course, keep that in perspective: during those interviews he was more bitter over the Beatles than Pete Best was.
            Then I can reconstruct their second album, “Meet the Beatles” with these BBC tracks. And to an extent their movie soundtracks and on until 1965 or so. “New” arrangements of all their songs done studio live at the peak of their musical prowess as a group – as a group, mind you – not as individual musical maestros who happen to share an album – which began with “Rubber Soul” on through “Let It Be”.  With a few exceptions most of the Beatles songs after that were individual efforts, not collaborations.  And even some of those only consisted of adding a line or two. Keep in mind that by “The Beatles” (the White album) they hadn’t even liked each other all that much. Such discord is no where – no where – to be found on these disks.
            On “The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2”, they were still good mates and, as John Lennon correctly said in 1980, they were “the best fucking group in the goddamned world”.
            The banter in between is pretty banal. McCartney admits so in the liner notes. The hosts were the usual BBC announcers for such things and you could tell how square they were, man.
            The in-between-song bits usually consisted of the Beatles reading fan mail and requests – usually followed by the song itself. “Rita and Freda from West Hempstead love Ringo and think he’s gear and want to hear a song from him. So, here’s Ringo coming out from behind the drum kit to sing … Boys!”
            “And now it’s time for the lads to unshackle themselves as they sing Chains!”  You can almost see Lennon and Harrison look at each other and roll their eyes.
            The banter between the announcer and the band is scripted, although some of it sounds ad-libbed. John jokes about his going to college only to be called a “college pudding” and “posh” by Ringo. I can’t think of a more stinging insult to lob at Lennon. But everyone laughed, Lennon heartiest of all. Such genuine bits of humor are rare and I wish there were more of it.
            What makes up for the lack of non-scripted bits between the shows are interview segments with the four Beatles recorded individually in 1966 or so. Each of the segments are eight minutes plus and contain quiet and candid interviews. John talks about what kind of schooling he wants for his son/ He is hesitant to talk about politics and where he stands on certain issues. Quite a contrast to three years later when you couldn’t get him to shut up about it. George talks about his teen years in school and why he considers himself the Silent (not Quiet) Beatle. These interviews are the best part of the disk.
            Volume One was forgotten quickly, being released so shortly before the “Anthology” series because of the latter’s sheer volume of rare and then-unreleased tracks. “The Beatles: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2” led me back to the first volume and I enjoyed it more than I had since its first release.
            Are there going to be Volumes Three and Four? More? I would like to hope so, but no, I doubt it.  The bulk of the 88 tracks have been mined in these first two volumes. There are 40 tracks in this Volume – so what does that leave? A disk of remaining banter would get dull very quickly. Were there guests on these shows? Do we really want to buy a Volume 3 with tracks by Billy J Kramer and Joe Brown (actually I would buy that…)?  I’m not going to worry about that now.
            I have four disks of excellent music from the Beatles’ glorious middle – all done studio live with interesting variations in arrangement and styling. I’ll enjoy those in the meantime.
            I hope you do too.
Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry


A review of “Thor – the Dark World” (no spoilers edition)

A review of “Thor – the Dark World” (no spoilers edition)

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});             The movie starts with a voice-over recounting an epic battle from ages past. The Lord of all things evil wants to take the world back to the darkness over which he rules. He takes a part of his dark essence and creates a tangible symbol of his power.
            Eventually he is defeated by the powers of good and his symbol is hidden through the ages.
            The symbol is found by a citizen of Middle Earth; a citizen who appears to be one of its weakest members but contains hidden strength. 
            The re-discovery of his symbol awakens the Dark Lord, who again masses all things evil into another pitched battle against the forces of good. Should good fail, the entire universe will be taken over by darkness… 
            But enough about “Lord of the Rings”, this is a review of “Thor, the Dark World”.
            Oh, wait, they both start out like that.
            In “Thor…” Sauron is called Malekith, played by former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston, whose make-up is reminiscent of 2009’s “Star Trek” baddie Nero.  For a time during the show I thought it may have been the same actor. I doubted the producers would have been that dumb to cast the same actor in a similar role with identical make-up, though.
            Malekith the Accursed was created by the superb comic book writer/artist Walter Simonson. He received a byline deep into the closing credits. I hope Marvel managed to pry open its billion-dollar coffer to give him his complementary free ticket as thanks for the millions of dollars this movie will rake in with the help of his creation.
            The movie picks up where the last “Thor” movie and “The Avengers” left off. As is and will be the routine for these Marvel movies (and for Marvel Comics as well), these are shared-world movies – it is all interconnected. Events from one movie spill into the other movies. There is even a cameo/crossover to wonderful affect with a certain shield-slinging Avenger.
            The plot – after the battle at the end of the Second Age – er – the battle with Malekith, the One Ring – er – the Aether is discovered by Deagol – er – Jane Foster. It takes over her body and will eventually destroy her if a cure is not found.
            Just as had happened five thousand years ago during the first battle with Malekith, the Nine Worlds are converging. Physics will go awry and it will be easy to travel amongst the worlds.
            So Thor finds Jane and takes her to Asgard. Not coincidentally, Malekith invades Asgard to get back the Aether out of Miss Jane. Chaos ensues.
            Beating back the invasion is costly and Thor wants to take the battle to Malekith. Odin forbids it. So Thor, as any son would, sneaks behind his father’s back with the help of his friends and his imprisoned brother Loki.
            Meanwhile, Malekith travels to earth to begin the process that will envelope the universe in darkness. The Convergence will make this easier since, from Midgard, he will have access to all realms.
            Thor, Jane and her seemingly incompetent scientific team are all that stand in the way of the coming darkness.
            Chris Hemsworth does an excellent job in his third go-round as the Thunder God. I like him better here than in the first movie. It is nice seeing Thor at full power.
            Anthony Hopkins returns as the scene-chewing Odin –ever barking and snapping at his lines with his usual gusto. I love him as Odin and hoped he would have a bigger role in the battle scenes. Alas.
            We DO get to see Rene Russo as Thor’s mother Frigga kick some ass though.
            Idris Elba as Heimdall also as a bigger role here. I hope to see more of him in future movies.
            The aforesaid Eccleston as Malekith makes a very good villain, but there’s not much else for him to do other than thrust the Aether at Thor time and again. There’s not much motivation for him in this movie other than to “destroy the universe”. Yeah, get in line. There is a small bit about his wanting to avenge his people, but, ye gods (pardon the pun), his people started it. This isn’t about revenge – this is just a second go-round. Perhaps if we were to feel more empathy for a dying race Malekith would have been a bit more well-rounded as a villain.
            Jane’s compatriots return in this movie – Dr. Selvig still recovering from his role in helping Loki in “The Avengers” and Jane’s intern, the annoying Darcy (her comic relief is unnecessary; this is meant as to the character not the actress portraying her). And now Darcy has her own intern, an equally annoying and incompetent Britisher. Of course after all this comic relief we then have to take them seriously during the final battle. It baffles me that filmmakers think after two hours of laughing at these dolts we will suddenly accept their sudden conversion to adequacy.
            Loki is again played by Tom Hiddleston and as with both “Thor” and “The Avengers” he steals every scene his is in. Here is a villain whose motivations are as clear as they are complex – unlike Sauron or Malekith.  Throughout the film, until its very end, you have no idea whose side he is on.  Well, that’s not true – you know he is always on HIS side, but his alliances have so many twists and turns it keeps your attention during the movie.  Oh, and the aforementioned “get in line”? One of Loki’s best cracks in the film…
            And the movie keeps your attention. It’s not a great film – not as jaw-dropping as Thor’s last film appearance, but on par with the other Marvel movies to date (only the first “Iron Man” has yet to raise the same goose bumps as “The Avengers” did).
            The effects are smashing, pun intended. The faux-Shakespearian dialogue is still a hoot and Thor is easy to cheer on as he battles to save us all.
            It is worth waiting until after the first few minutes of credits (after an excellently-done cast roll call) to watch a set-up of either a future Thor or Avengers movie plot. The final scene after the rolling credits – where we learn the names of the grips and gaffers – is not as satisfying and is worth waiting until it is out of DVD or on-line viewing. It is not worth the dirty looks from the theater crew waiting for you to leave so they can sweep up your popcorn. There’s no Nick Fury asking Thor to join the Avengers; there’s no surprise guest-hero or guest-villain – the bit after the casting credits takes care of that.
            Good movie. Go see it in the theaters to get the whole effect of the vastness of the subject. Enjoy.
Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry


In Defense of Cousin Oliver … or at least Robbie Rist!

In Defense of Cousin Oliver … or at least Robbie Rist!
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});                 My daughter is very much into the Disney cartoon “Doc McStuffins”. The premise is straightforward: little girl pretends to be a doctor and fixes broken toys. It can be anything from dirt to broken “winder-uppers” to stuck on-off switches or volume controls.
                Helping her are her own toys. When no one else is around, her toys come to life through the magic of Doc’s stethoscope. Her toys assist with the diagnoses and/or rescue of the various other toys she helps.
                These range from a wind-up surfer girl to a loving plush lamb to a hippo with a southern accent who acts as her chief nurse.
                There is also a dragon named Stuffy. He is clumsy and slips and falls a lot. He also likes to brag about being fearless. This is usually followed by something scaring him; a typical kid-TV occurrence (children’s television is not known for their unexpected plot twists. This isn’t “Chinatown”…).
                On a whim my wife checked out “Doc McStuffins” on International Movie Database. “The guy who does the voice for Stuffy played Cousin Oliver on ‘The Brady Bunch’.”
                Cousin Oliver.  If you are of a certain generation – mine – the combination of those two words just made your jaw clench.
                Cousin Oliver appeared only in the last six episodes of “The Brady Bunch” – six out of one hundred and seventeen. He had the last line of the last show of the series. Sam the Butcher and Tiger the dog were in more episodes and yet Cousin Oliver is remembered by more fans of the show than either of the former.
                …and more reviled.
                …oh so reviled.
                Why? By 1974 “The Brady Bunch” was in its fifth season. The lovable children (I am NOT going to rehash the plot for you – if you don’t know the plot of “The Brady Bunch” you are reading the WRONG blog…) were growing up and some were old enough to start college.
                The show reflected that to an extent. The attic was converted to a room – sorry, a groovy pad – for Greg. It would not do for a basically grown man to still share a bedroom with two younger brothers. Greg was a young man with raging hormones and needed some personal space to entertain Marcia his cadre of chicks now swarming all over him.
                I suppose Marcia’s flying the coop would have been next in a Season Six. Perhaps they would have converted the garage or turned Mike’s office into a separate room for her. Perhaps they would do what Mike & Gloria did later in “All in the Family” and move out altogether. We would have had scenes set in Marcia’s college dorm. It would have changed the whole tenor of the show. I doubt the program would have lasted past that season if that happened. Probably best it was not renewed when it was.
                Can you imagine the producer’s dilemma?  “Our cute kids are now handsome and beautiful adults! What do we do?”
                “Let’s add a wacky neighbor,” one says. (There is always some schmuck at meetings like this that wants to add a wacky neighbor)
                “Quiet! No, no, this show is about a group that will somehow form a family, remember?  If the kids are growing up, let’s replace them with more kids!”
                “Carol and Mike having a baby?”
                “Too realistic. This is the show where they mow Astroturf. And babies won’t help – what kind of plots can we have with a baby? We need to get back to pre-teen kids so we can have stories about trouble at school or the playground. Let’s bring in nephews or cousins or something…”
                Thus was born Cousin Oliver. He was younger than the Brady siblings (step-siblings, let’s remember) and was overall cute and lovable. Before Oliver the last season’s shows had lackluster stories and repetitive plots. During Oliver the shows had lackluster stories and repetitive plots. It’s like putting a dying plant into a different pot.
                I’ve read comic books all my life. This sort of thing happens in that medium every ten years or so. “We’ve run out of ideas; let’s change things.” Changing Superman’s suit doesn’t help change lackluster writing and overused scenarios. It only makes it LOOK different.
                Thus “The Brady Bunch” was not renewed and Cousin Oliver got the blame.
                Also thus the term “the Cousin Oliver Syndrome” was born. A dying show would add a cute kid to spark new interest among viewers and energize the writers, producers and staff. It never works. Well, it worked with Olivia on “The Cosby Show” but that was the frickin’ Cosby Show. They could have replaced the children with Jello Pudding Pops and it still would have worked…).
                “Different Strokes” brought in a new white kid after two-thirds of the child cast went to prison grew up, “Growing Pains” added Leonardo DiCaprio, “Married With Children” quickly realized their new kid – named Seven – was a mistake and made fun of him throughout the rest of its run, “The Partridge Family” added a neighbor’s kid – I think he played oboe or something, “Family Matters” seemed to add a new kid every season, and “Who’s the Boss” added another kid after Alyssa Milano became too unbelievably sexy to play a tomboy named Sam anymore. None worked.
                Cousin Oliver still elicits mob-like vitriol: “I hated that little so-and-so.” “That brat!! Why if I ever meet him, I’ll …”
                All right, everyone relax. Yes, Cousin Oliver and what he spawned should be despised with all our passion, but the actor himself … he’s had a wonderful career!
                His name is Robbie Rist and he was born on April 4, 1964. Yes, Cousin Oliver is older than I am.
                “April 4th! The day is cursed! Martin Luther King was assassinated and Cousin Oliver was born!”
                OK, stop that right now…
                After “The Brady Bunch” he appeared in most shows you would imagine in the 1970s and early 1980s: “CHIPS”, “Medical Center”, etc.
                He was in a few episodes in “The Bionic Woman” as a student.
                I remember him more for two other roles:
                He was Ted and Georgette’s adopted son on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. The scene where Ted has to spank his naughty son is one of the funniest scenes of the series – which means it is one of the funniest scenes on television. Youtube has the show available for viewing (for now): 
                It starts at about 20:00 minutes in. This was unintentionally recreated word for word the first time I had to swat my daughter.
                Although he was in one episode of “Lou Grant”, he did NOT play David Baxter.  Much like that other so-called spin-off “Trapper John MD”, the show had nothing to do with its parent program. It took the name and that was about it…
                He was also a regular on the NBC Saturday morning live-action show “Big John Little John”. I loved that show. I expect if I were to see an episode now I would be drearily disappointed; as I am with most Saturday morning cartoons I cherished as a kid but watch now with rolled eyes.
                And now Robbie Rist is known for his voice-work – from video games to animated shows. Batman, Blues Brothers, Ghost Busters, Final Fantasy, Lord of the Rings, and Naruto.
                He played the bus driver on the bogglingly successful movie “Sharknado”. Did you see him?
                And of course he does the voice of Stuffy on “Doc McStuffins”. Which is where I started this whole thing.
                So cheers to a great career, Robbie Rist!
                And for the rest of you – love the sinner and hate the sin, would ya?
                Copyright 2013 Michael G Curry