The California Raisins

Sing the Hit Songs

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They just don't make senses of humor like they used to. After working closely with musical legend Jimi Hendrix and singing duet on both a studio and live album with Carlos Santana, Buddy Miles settled into his most famous role yet -- the lead singer of the fictional California Raisins. From Emmy-award winner Will Vinton, whose studio has created some of the most impressive clay animation (claymation) to date, the California Raisins sprung to life in the mid-1980s. The plump, wrinkled, Converse-sporting singers were originally intended as a marketing strategy for Sun Maid raisins. Almost instantly, they took on a life of their own, appearing as collectible figures, on television specials, on shirts, and on several recording projects. Their first album, The California Raisins Sing the Hit Songs, was heavily promoted in children sections of music shops and in grocery stores, where the cassette played repeatedly from in-store displays. The first album features "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," which became as synonymous with the Raisins as it had been for Marvin Gaye in the '60s. With most other cartoon singers, an album full of Motown classics would have had altered lyrics; something to humor adults and spark childrens' interest in old-school music. The California Raisins play it completely straight, hollering "Mony Mony" as if it really were their song. They keep every Spanish word from Richie Valen's "La Bamba" intact and give justice to "When a Man Loves a Woman," "Heartbreak Hotel," and others. Rarely do cheap marketing ploys take such grand efforts at quality. In one respect, the songs are so meticulously imitated that it would be sensible to buy a Motown greatest hits album of the originals. The album's primary target is children, however, and this is a great way to give definition to an era of music they might otherwise miss. Old Buddy Miles, you can just picture him chuckling in glee between laying down tracks, but, during the singing, he didn't miss a beat.

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