I don’t go in to record shows looking for ironic and dubious purchases. But last weekend I did find the album Fonzie Favorites. It’s dated 1976. The more my love and I looked at it the more I knew I had to have the album even though that would make me feel kind of bad. But everything about the product just keeps giving.
For example, how to explain the weird perforation in the cover? This is because that was the back cover. The perforation was so that you could fold out a cardboard leg. It’s like those desktop picture frames that fall over backwards. Then you could be forever stared at by the smiling face of Henry Winkler. He’s dressed in a leather jacket with a superimposed “SIT ON IT” button. I admit having few clear memories of 1976, but I believe this to be representative of the era.
The back cover promises “NO!!! The Fonz has not taken to singing on this album.” This makes sense because who would buy a Fonzie album to listen to Fonzie singing? It’s not like he’s Kojak or something. What they have is “BETTER!!! He has chosen favorite 50’s records to share with you.” It appears the Fonz is careless about the difference between a record and a song from a record. I bet he throws the word “album” around with reckless abandon. But these thoughts didn’t preoccupy me at the record show. I was busy looking at the graffiti wall and the big lips. They’re identified as “Wiscosin Cheese”. The graffiti artist spelled “Wisconsin” with nearly 89 percent accuracy. I guess that’s from the actual TV show set, but I never noticed before. A dollar is a fair price for that sort of revelation.
The grey ellipsoid on the back cover promises, “The last selection on this album is an `impressionist track’ containing the expressions Aaaaay, Cool, Nerd, Sit on It! Listen & learn to use Fonzie’s favorite phrases perfectly!” I know what you’re all thinking: how can this be the “last selection” on the album if it comes at the end of Side One? I like to think that the publisher, the Ahed Music corporation of Cheektowaga, New York, would answer by pointing behind you and noting, “SPIDER!”, then running away. Or, “SPIDER!!!”, based on their cover copy.
The “Impressionist Track” is much of the theme from Happy Days. At random intervals someone impersonating Fonzie says “Aaaaay” or “Sit on it” or “Cool”. This Dadaist performance of theme-song tune and mistimed bursts of Fonzie Words is shorter than I would have imagined, yet somehow not also a show on Adult Swim. You might wonder why anyone might need a record to figure out what it sounds like to say “Nerd”. But remember, the album is from 1976. Back then the only way to record stuff off TV was to take a Polaroid picture of the screen, and that’s useless for voice acting. You could buy a Photonovel. But that would just be cartoon word balloons plastered over stills from the most boring episode the TV show ever made. This is almost useless in working out the right inflections for saying “Cool”.
And yet the album keeps giving. “The Fonzarelli Slide” is the Happy Days/Welcome Back, Kotter crossover you’d never admit to writing, since you couldn’t work out a sensible way for Fonzie to have any meaningful interaction with the Sweathogs. He’d be like thirty years older than them. Yes, yes, Mork from Ork might travel back from his own show to Happy Days again. And he might decide to bring the Fonz forward in time. And even bring along Laverne and Shirley for some reason. But then why wouldn’t Horshack wonder about the Orkian? Why bother questioning whether the Fonz might be making a power play for leadership of the Sweathogs? Alternatively, should we take the Happy Days time-travel-based cartoon to be a canonical part of the Garry-Marshall-verse now? I’m sorry, but you did read this paragraph. You have some responsibility for it being in your head.
Put aside the practicalities of a Happy Days/Welcome Back, Kotter crossover if you dare. Because not a word on the cover suggests any Welcome Back, Kotter connection. This implies at some point in 1976 at the Ahed Music corporation of Cheektowaga, New York was a conversation like this:
“How’s that Happy Days record thing going?”
“Great! Tom had a killer idea, and we’re doing a track with the Welcome Back, Kotter characters too!”
“Oh, great idea. The girls love their John Travolta impersonators. Are we gonna put a sticker about ‘Special bonus Welcome Back Kotter appearance’ on it?”
“No, I figure we just let it surprise people.”
“That’s perfect, considering it’s 1976! Hey, want to check out the Herschell Carousel Factory over in North Tonawanda?”
“Oh, no, we’re at least a decade too soon to appreciate the art and craftsmanship of American carousel-makers. But let’s do that in 1988 sometime!
The back cover says the album was “TV & Radio Advertised”. This implies they worried someone would look it over but ponder. “It’s 1976, and I want to buy a Fonz-selected set of 50’s records or albums or songs or something! This record looks promising — but what if it wasn’t advertised on TV or radio?”. And they made sure this, at least, wouldn’t make consumers walk away.
Putting aside the ironic appeal. Somehow. It’s a good set of Favorite 50s Songs and I clung to that to justify buying this. The Coasters’ “Charlie Brown”, Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash”, The Five Satins’ “In The Still Of The Night”, these are all songs you can listen to with a clear conscience. Well, not these specific songs, because the record is kind of warped and only the innermost, most ironic, tracks will play. But if we gently crushed this record flat it would be worth the dollar, even if we never heard Happy Days music interspersed with “Sit on it!” again.