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The California Raisins Merchandise
By: Hoju Koolander
Antique stores are my happy place. I imagine you have a lot of fun digging through old junk too, since you're reading this. I personally stop into these retro treasure palaces every chance I get and there is one iconic 80's phenomenon I have not been able to escape in all my travels, The California Raisins.
If you're too young to remember them, The California Raisins were a group of anthropomorphic raisins brought to life through stop motion animation techniques that sang Motown hits in 30 second commercial spots. Their signature song was, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" and they inspired a lot of merchandise from 1986-1994. Here are a few of the items I have come across in my travels over the last few years.
In the 80's, the first order of business when a character became iconic was to create a bendy figurine. Think back, how many did you own over the years? So it was just expected that we could pick up some California Raisin toys at the local pharmacy or stationary store. This cool guy is named Ben Indasun, but maybe be should have been called Ben Outtashape as his right arm is hanging on by a stem (Ha, I kill me!).
Stage Playset by Applause
The California Raisins were nothing if not professional, so of course they would have a stage playset for sale so that you create your own concert scenes using the Smurfs like rubber figurines from Applause. But why is the stage area so small and the orchestra pit so massive? Unless the pit was supposed to be filled with actual raisins in a sick and twisted scenario where the raisins were forced to give a 5 star performance or be cast into to the "Snack Pile". I'll admit, that's dark...but also delicious!
Tape Player and Cassette
Now this thing is way cooler than the brown and tan Fisher-Price tape player so many of us used for listening to our book and tape sets back in the day. That purple, yellow and teal color scheme is amazing and you gotta love the graphic of The California Raisins dancing on what looks to be one of the rings of Saturn. The fact that an audio cassette was included is a major bonus. It's sweet that the seller really was attached to it and an eBay search still doesn't turn one up, so this is indeed a rare item.
Hey look gang, Ben is back! Now that I think about it, he is definitely the Ray Charles of the group, right? The glasses, the attitude. Anyway, this card game has a simple package design, but really hits the spot. I like that it's not playing cards, but an original game inspired by the Raisins. I wonder what the rules would be?
Hey, who's that good looking guy? Whoever it is, he's obviously excited about the "Cool Hip Fun!" promised within. I feel like the bonus of owning this game is that even if you lost all the pieces over time, you could always frame that awesome box art and impress at least 25 percent of your friends. That image is the essence of what the California Raisins were all about, right there.
I love commemorative glasses. If I someday come to own one of those fancy glass curio cabinets, I will definitely be filling it with promotional mugs and cups. I love that we have 2 different styles on display here. The white plastic bears the official seal of The California Raisins brand in the bottom right corner, so you know it's legit and the painted images on the glass are just classy. But it makes me wonder, where would you buy either one of these back in the day? JC Penney? Pick 'N Save?
Raisin People Key Chain Promotion
No pop culture icon can escape the eventual wave of bootleg merchandise that is bound to hit swap meets in the wake of their fame, but The Raisin People presents a very puzzling situation. According to the label, this molded plastic coin bank was part of a Key Chain mail away promotion tied to The Raisin People brand of cereal. Never heard of it? Me neither, but the copyright date is 1983, which means that The Raisin People pre-date The California Raisins by 3 years! WHAAA?
I can't find any evidence of The Raisin People cereal online. One Etsy listing for the sealed bank says it was connected to Raisin Bran cereal, yet Kellogg's isn't listed anywhere on the yellow label. Meanwhile another Etsy is offering a Post Raisin Bran promo t-shirt from 1988. The plot thickens. Are The California Raisins the Milli Vanilli of the singing dried fruit world? Can we ever look at them the same way again? Only time will tell how well their legacy endures now that this revelation is out there.
I hope you enjoyed this look back a small selection of The California Raisins merchandise, though I am now stunned and confused as to my feelings over this 80's sensation. How is your fandom holding up?
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