Welcome back, fellow time-travelers. This time we attack not a single year nor a single title, but an entire era. I speak of Power Records! The younger among you may not recall the days of the book-and-record (or even, perhaps, the book-and-tape), but those of you that hew closer to my age bracket (nearly 37. Sigh.) will no doubt recall that of which I speak. Rewind then, to . . .
The ‘70s!: Really now, how do you encapsulate an entire decade into a few sentences? Granted, Hollywood’s been doing it for years (witness “The Wedding Singer”, wherein the entire decade of the 1980s is taking place simultaneously in some Crisis-like breakdown of reality, allowing the ascent of The Smiths and The Cure to occur at the same cultural moments as Michael Jackson’s Thriller wardrobe, A Flock of Seagulls hair, Billy Idol, and Journey’s “Escape” album). You can retroactively define the decade with any number of cultural signifiers, including the birth of punk, disco, “Saturday Night Fever”, “Star Wars”, and more, but as with anything, it’s too complex a system to lock down that easily.
For the record (no pun intended), the biggest TV show had to be “All in the Family”. It was the number one show in the Nielsen’s for FIVE years and won three Emmys (in a row) for Outstanding Comedy Series. As for movies, any guesses in the audience as to what the biggest movie was at the box office? Considering that it logged a lot of time as the number one movie of all time (yeah, yeah, adjusted dollars, yadda yadda), it’s “Star Wars”. The number one song of the decade in terms of radio play turned out to be “Hotel California”.
The 70s and Super-Heroes: In other areas of culture, the ‘70s were actually a rather super-hero friendly decade. In fact, it wasn’t just super-heroes, but other genre material that thrived. Of course you had “Star Wars”, but also “Superman”. There was the ongoing success of “Star Trek” in syndication. “Batman” and “The Adventures of Superman” likewise thrived in the syndicated arena, and prime-time would feature “Wonder Woman”, “Spider-Man”, “The Incredible Hulk” and related fare like “The Man from Atlantis”. Saturday mornings were super-hero nirvana, with the “Super Friends” running most of the decade, accompanied at varying points by “Batman” (on CBS), “Spider-Man”, “The Fantastic Four” (with Herbie the robot!), “Spider-Woman” (sneaking in for 1979), “Dynomutt”, and “Fred and Barney Meet The Thing” among others. (What?! You don’t remember “Fred and Barney Meet The Thing”? We’ll save that for another day.)
Power Records: Another fact about the mid-to-late ‘70s was that the dominant music presentation medium was still vinyl. 8-tracks existed, sure, and cassettes were on their way in, but vinyl held fast. Children-targeted story albums were around in the ‘50s, but companies like Peter Pan Records expanded dramatically in the ‘70s. After some success with licensed product, Peter Pan constructed an off-shoot called Power Records. Under this label, books of about comic-size and companion records were sold that featured popular characters from both Marvel and DC; these stories were frequently adapted from regular issues.Among these were “Fantastic Four: The Way It Began”, “Dracula: Terror in the Snow” (with Frank Drake, later of Nightstalkers, appearing), “The Man-Thing: Night of the Laughing Dead”, “Superman: Alien Creatures”, “Captain America and the Falcon: …And A Phoenix Shall Rise”, “Batman: Stacked Cards”, “The Amazing Spider-Man: The Mark of the Man Wolf”, “Space 1999: Return to the Beginning”, “Star Trek: The Crier in the Emptiness”, “Star Trek: Passage to Moauv”, and these are just the ones that I have handy. Other installments featured adaptations of the first four “Planet of the Apes” films, Conan, and other sets featuring Batman and Spider-Man. There were even some oversized album-sized volumes, like one that featured Superman meeting “The Super-Cop from Kandor”.
The tagline was “The Action Comes Alive As You Read”, and it did. Stacked with solid voice actors and powered by the colorful art, the book-and-record experience was a unique one. Sure, there were combos for the Disney films (and later, Star Wars), but young comic fans found these to be quite the great experience. Doubly-fun was the fact that these were appearing alongside Mego’s lines of action figures that encompassed DC, Marvel and Star Trek characters. I’m sure that I’m not the only kid in America that acted out the stories as I listened (subbing in the Mego Wolfman for Man-Wolf, of course).
Peter Pan abandoned Power as a brand by the end of the decade, but still released some super-hero fare under the Peter Pan label (notably the legendarily odd “Holo-Man”). Most of the companies selling the products transitioned to cassette-and-record combos by the early ‘80s before they began to vanish completely. Certainly there are still CDs and other media included in storybooks, but this was a wholly unique thing at the time, coinciding with a decade that was ripe with genre awareness and many interesting cultural divergences.
How about you, readers? Do you recall the Power Records? What were your favorites? And you moms and dads, have you shared any with your kids? Either way, they were a classic, and they’re your Friday Flashback.