There would be no internet without the read-along books of the 1970s.
Hear me out …
What’s the ultimate symbol of the latchkey kids of that generation?
Drunken parties while mom and dad worked?
Finding that dead body down by the tracks when you wondered off because nobody was around to watch you?
“Forgetting” to do your homework because … Atari?
Maybe. Could be any of them.
But you can find the seeds of hands-off parenting in earlier artifacts, like TV dinner trays and, well, latchkeys and those baby kennels where your parents would drop you off Friday nights. What? You didn’t do that?
Well, anyway …
And read-along books.
In case you’re not familiar with read-along books, they were these books (duh) that had pictures in them and cool or scary or educational stories, and you could read them.
Because your parents weren’t going to read them to you.
And also because your parents weren’t going to read them to you, and because you didn’t know all (or any) of the words, they also came with monkey freaking records.
That’s right …
You’d sit down in front of the record player your parents bought for you with the time they didn’t have for you, and you’d listen to someone read the story that you might or might not read along with.
It was genius. It was exciting. It was amazing.
It was hands-off parenting at its best.
And it was the precursor to a lot of the self-minding tools we give kids these days, including the internet.
To celebrate all that innovation and goodness, here are just ten of the amazing read-along record books from the 1970s that might still teach you a thing or two.
Walt Disney’s Story of Pinocchio
Yep, this is the classic tale of an old woodcarver’s puppet who dreams about coming to life, and then does.
There is a chicken-and-egg problem here, of course, because how can a piece of wood dream before it becomes a real boy?
Who is John Galt?
Anyway, little P. does come to life, thus fulfilling his old, old parents’ longtime dream of having a boy of their own. And once wood becomes flesh, he sets about terrorizing the holy hell out of the countryside, what with his lying and bolted joints and excitable nose and all.
Probably makes old Geppetto wonder what he’s gotten himself into.
Of course, Disney softens their version considerably with the typical Disney rounding of hard edges through Disney-level illustrations.
Having Cliff Edwards on-board as narrator Jiminy Cricket helps a might, too.
Walt Disney’s Story of Bambi
These Disney read-alongs were big on teaching life lessons.
Pinocchio taught us not to lie, or you would have a face erection.
And Bambi taught us that your mother will get killed by a hunter and you can’t do a damn thing about it because you have four hooves and no thumbs, and your best friend is a rabbit.
Again, Disney softens the blow somewhat with gorgeous illustrations and narration by Ginny Tyler, a former Mouseketeer and designated “Disney Legend.”
And, in the end, Bambi gets the girl, knocks her up, and takes the forest throne from his dad.
So … all’s well that ends well?
Escape from the Planet of the Apes
These read-alongs can’t all be Disney horror shows wrapped in cuteness and life lessons, right?
Technically, yes, they could. That’s because Disney issued a ton of these things in the late 1960s and early 1970s, covering most of the stories we all know and, mostly, love.
But there were other players on the field, including Power Records and their “Power Collection.”
These were essentially comic books with a soundtrack, and they had entries across many genres, with sci-fi among those strongly represented. You could slot any number of stories here, but “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” is fitting since the film series was such a huge part of popular culture in the 1970s.
These tales are grittier on the surface than their Disney counterparts, as you might expect from comic books, and the books themselves were also rectangular rather than adopting Disney’s square aspect ratio.
One last difference — the records in the Power Collection were of the diminutive 45 RPM variety, rather than the large 33 1/3 RPM discs in the Disney camp.
For me, at least, this made them feel more like “mine” because I could play them on my little Scooby-Doo record player with the dancing figures of Scoob and his pals without having to ask my mom to fire up the “adult” turntable.
Little Golden Book and Record David and Goliath
Little Golden Books was arguably at the top of the food chain when it came to kids books — little kids books, anyway — in the 1970s.
Here you had a series of books that seemed to cover every story you’d ever even heard whispers about, and they did it in a consistent and affordable format.
And Little Golden Books were always available at a garage sale near you if you didn’t mind a bit of teething damage and maybe some pablum stain.
Bottom line — they were great.
Probably still are.
It was only, natural, then that Golden Press would get in on the read-along craze. Probably no surprise, either, that they partnered with the Disneyland label to get the audio married to the book(io).
Like Disney, and like the base versions of the their “Little” books, Golden covered a wide range of topics with their read-alongs. That even included the Bible, to some extent, with adventure stories like “David and Goliath” working especially well in the format.
He’s Your Dog Charlie Brown
Did you know there was such a thing as Charlie Brown Records?
Well, you do now.
And any time you have a chance to get a Peanuts anything, or to include a Peanuts anything on a list like this, you have to do it.
And if it has Snoopy and Charlie Brown together, especially mixed with some missing-your-dog sentamentality?
A Story Of Dracula, The Wolfman, & Frankenstein
Peter Pan was sort of the Little Golden Books of records, at least in my house. And that little smiling boy logo in one corner always gave me a thrill, because I knew hi-tech fun was in store … a record!
It was great, (dad-pun alert) revolutionary stuff in the 70s.
So when they brought out their series of “Book and Record” offerings in the middle of the decade or so, it was heaven.
And, thanks to my mom, I’ve always been a horror fan, even if vampires and the like did truly terrify me as a young child. Go figure.
But I wasn’t too scared to lust after the creepy, ghouly offerings in Peter Pan’s repertoire, like Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein.
Here, they’re all together and one fantastically frightening package of 1970s kid freakout. It’s splendid.
The Six Million Dollar Man
Of course, Peter Pan didn’t limit itself to horror, and neither did my tastes.
After all, I had to be able to converse about important cultural topics with my dad, too.
Enter “The Six Million Dollar Man” and all of his macho adventures, not to mention all of his space-age baubles that made for must-have toys. Genius marketing and development, right there.
Peter Pan was able to bite into that bionic sandwich, too, and if you loved Steve Austin and talking books, you had to have this one.
You probably still should make sure you have it … you know, just for good measure.
Bugs Bunny Funny Stories
If you’re Warner Brothers sitting there with a wealth of Looney Tunes material and the fans to back it up, what do you do when Disney and Snoopy and Planet of the Apes start approaching your audience outside the confines of Saturday morning TV or the funny papers?
You dust off your bunny tail, that’s what, and you beat a path down the read-along trail with the rest of them.
I’m not absolutely clear on who broke the seal on this whole idea first … who led, who followed.
But I do know that Bugs Bunny soon enough joined the Peter Pan corral and had us reading along through bright, irreverent comic strips.
G.I. Joe – The Secret Mission to Spy Island
The greatest American hero … Peter Pan!!
OK, maybe that’s not quite how that little ditty went, but like I said up there (^), Peter Pan was king of kids records for my crew, and they were expansive in their coverage of kids literature, too, once the read-along started rolling.
And, since every little boy loved G.I. Joe, or was at least supposed to, he showed up in the Peter Pan suite, too.
This particular entry has great comic art and an adventure-packed story line, so it’s worth the read and listen should you ever have that chance.
The Little Red Hen
So we’ll finish up where we started — with Disney and with a life lesson.
Only this one is a little less Disney-fied in its presentation, and the life lesson is maybe a bit more applicable (and classic), especially now that us kids from the 70s are in the workforce or dead or whatever.
Basically, the Little Red Hen comes up with an idea while pecking around the barnyard one day. All the other animals agree that it’s a great idea, and they support her moving forward with it … as long as someone else does the work.
Red could really use some help, but finding none, she does the work herself.
And then … well, let’s just say there is a psych! of 80s proportions waiting in these pages and grooves.