One bright morning way back in the day, the usual box of Kellogg’s Cornflakes on the breakfast table was replaced by a box of Wheaties. Mom said that the grocery store was out of Cornflakes so she grabbed the Wheaties instead. Now if that wasn’t enough to shake up my young ordered world, as I inspected the box closer, I saw a notice that there was a phonograph record on the back. That almost caused me to fall out of my chair spilling flakes and milk all over the kitchen. Yes, there is was, on the back of the box in all its radiant glory, a real record made of a thin plastic coating impressed on the cardboard! I was ready to run grab a pair of scissors and cut it out right then, but Mom would have none of it. “Not until we finish the cereal first”, she insisted. I asked for a second helping, but she just smiled as she put the box back into the cupboard.
It seemed like it took twice as long as normal to finish that box, but we were finally able to cut the record off the back of the box and try to play it on our phonograph. The results were, shall we say, less than spectacular. The cardboard back of the record allowed it to slip on the turntable unless we taped nickels to it to give it more weight and friction on the platter. Even then, the quality was not the same as vinyl records. The thin plastic covering soon wore away at the bottom of the grooves and soon we were digging up bits of the cardboard backing each time we played it. The life of the record was over after it was played only 20 or so times. Then it took on the shape of a taco shell.
I remember the song, to this day, or at least I thought I did; something about a blackbird walking to Missouri: turns out that it was a Robin, not a blackbird.
Poor little robin
Walkin', walkin', walkin' to Missouri
He can't afford to fly.
Got a penny for a Poor little robin
Walkin' walkin' walkin' to Missouri
Got a teardrop in his eye.
OK, so some of those old record lyrics that swirl around in my mind got crossed up over the years! I do remember that the song was about a country robin who got caught up in city ways, including a fickle bird of paradise that broke his heart.
The practice of putting “cardboard records” on cereal boxes lasted about 20 years from the 1950s through the 1970s. There have been some in more recent years but not as widespread as back in the day. The artists who recorded cardboard records changed over the years; Sammy Kaye, The Jackson 5, The Archies, Bobby Sherman, and the Monkees just to name a few. Many of the songs were children’s songs but you could also see songs that were on the top 40, although they appeared after their appearance on the top 40. Most of these latter songs were aimed at the younger audiences, a sub genre called “Bubble Gum Music”.
Eventually cardboard records gave way to vinyl records placed inside the cereal boxes and coupons that could be redeemed for real records, vinyl records sealed to the back of the boxes and eventually CDs put into plastic sleeves on the boxes. Cardboard records eventual faded into the mists of time and became part of the unique memories of the baby boomer generation. Breakfast with the entire family at the kitchen table as Dad headed out for work, the kids headed off for the bus stop and Mom gathered the clothes up for washing and drying on the clothes line. But that is another story, Oh MY!