The 9 Coolest Sci-Fi Read-Along Records from the 70s and 80s
Much like the title suggests, the read-along records are albums that came with books, comic or otherwise, to be read along with the record. They tended to be aimed towards younger people, and for those of us born in the Nixon Administration or earlier, they were frequently the closest we could get to re-living our favorite movies and shows with pictures and sounds — or even having a soundtrack to comics, which was pretty great, too. And if you enjoy making custom ringtones or otherwise remixing found sounds, these offer plenty of tasty samples.
Sometimes they were original stories, and others were adaptations of the movies or television shows, necessarily whittling the story down to the marrow; they were frequently released as seven-inch singles, meaning they didn’t even have the relative luxury of 40-ish minutes like an LP.
Read-along records are not entirely archaic. Disney launched a DVD read-along series under the Walt Disney Records aegis in 2002, though they still do book-and-audio versions, as recently as this past summer’s Monsters University.
In addition to YouTube, a lot of these can be found on the great Read-Along Adventures site, as well as MouseVinyl, which has a lot of non-Disney material that was released on the Disney label.
Though these are not in chronological order, we’ll begin with a historical document.
0. Bozo at the Circus, 1948 (Capitol Records, DBX-114)
Bear with me here, because while its not sci-fi or nerdtastical at all, this one is significant: According to Jack Mirtle’s The Capitol Records Childrens’ Series: 1944 to 1956, The Complete Discography — or, at least, according to the review of said book in the ARSC Journal — this was the very first-read-along record. And it was 78 RPM! Aimed as it is toward very small children, this one is extremely basic, with only one image per page, no text at all, and a thoroughly gratuitous American Indian stereotype appearing the parade between the trapeze artist and the clowns. But it was 1948, and we mustn’t judge, especially not so soon after Johnny Depp’s Tonto.
Your New Ringtone: 1:15: Bozo’s terrifying laugh. Guaranteed to clear out a room.
1. Planet of the Apes, 1974 (Power Records, PR-18)
For the record (no pun intended), the clip of Charlton Heston that open and close this YouTube version are not actually included on the record. But this is a classic 1970s read-along record, an adaptation of a popular movie which contains very little of what makes the film a classic now. Unsurprisingly, the voice actor sounds nothing like ol’ Chuck, though his surfer hair is keen, and the famous “damn dirty ape” line heard at the beginning of the video is not to be found on the record, probably both because it wasn’t in the shooting script Power Records had access to, and it’s not the kind of thing you could say on a kids’ record. Ditto “god damn you all to hell” at the end, and the story is also spelled out for the kids who might not have understood it. What really makes this version toothless is the fact that Heston’s character’s utter misanthropy is gone, and with it most of the social commentary. But hey, it has the talking apes, and that’s all you can really ask for.
Your New Ringtone: 9:08, “No more gobblededook talk!” Or gobbledygook, for that matter.
2. Beneath the Planet of the Apes, 1974 (Power Records, PS-21)
More exposition and messaging at the beginning, and especially at the end. I do have to admire them for not wimping out on the climax, though – not nearly enough read-along records ended with the Earth exploding.
Your New Ringtone: 3:06, “You don’t smash up a space ship and step up to meet a beautiful ragamuffin out for a morning canter!” Right?
3. Battle for the Planet of the Apes, 1974 (Power Records, PS-21)
Power Records didn’t do Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (which last year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes most closely resembles), and their adaptation of Escape from the Planet of the Apes isn’t on the tubes, so that leaves this one, by far the weakest of the series.
Your New Ringtone: 3:17: “Look at those guns! They make my mouth water!”
4. Star Wars, 1979 (Buena Vista Records, 450)
At certain point in the late 70s, comic read-alongs gave way to ones which simply used stills from the movie. Is this yet another way that Star Wars messed everything up? Oh, probably. This one is unusual in that it actually uses sound effects from the movie, though I think this may be one of the few ancillary products for which Anthony Daniels didn’t do the voice of C-3PO.
Your New Ringtone: 1:13: “This is madness. We’re doomed.” I just love how meh he sounds about it.
5. The Black Hole, 1979 (Disneyland Records, DSP-381)
A film I have a deep affection for, even though I didn’t see it until a few years ago. (But I got to see it in the Castro Theater in San Francisco, in a double feature with Moonraker. Not too shabby.) Like Planet of the Apes, they had to strip this one down to its component parts. All of the weird religious stuff at the end is gone, we never find out happens to Reinhardt or Maximillian, and worst of all, Anthony Perkins and Ernest Borgnine are ignored entirely. At least we still get Slim Pickens, or a damn good Pickens impersonator, as Old Bob.
Your New Ringtone: 8:52: “This probe is programmed to go through the Black Hole!”
6. Space: 1999, “Breakaway,” 1975 (Power Records, 8162)
A very British-sounding adaptation of the plot-heavy pilot of the little-loved Space: 1999. This was one of the records mentioned in the consumer warning back in Starlog #001.
Your New Ringtone: Part 2, 2:54: “With quantities like that, there could be a chain reaction!”
7. Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 1982 (Buena Vista Records, 461)
Unfortunately, the book itself is not available on YouTube, but it’s browsable at MouseVinyl. Among the things that fascinates me about this movie is how the people doing the merchandising and other ancillary products had very little to work with, as the movie was being rewritten and rejiggered and generally worked on until the day of its premiere. As a result, to represent V’Ger’s attack on the Enterprise, the people at Buena Vista Records used what I’m pretty sure is the mold that grows on fermenting sauerkraut.
It includes the Memory Wall sequence, which also survived through the Marvel comic adaptation as well. Also, Sonak is introduced but the transporter accident is removed, so he just kinda disappears from the story. (Not that anyone has ever cared what happened to Sonak.) The actor Shatner nails his part, but I’m pretty sure the Nimoy surrogate isn’t even trying.
Your New Ringtone: 9:57: “V’Ger, we are the creator!”
8. Tron, 1982 (Disneyland Records, DSP-384)
Another case where the story is largely rewritten, but that’s fair considering how muddled the plot was to begin with. For the record, I have great fondness for this movie — I’ve seen it a couple times in 70mm at the Castro, mostly to make up for not having gotten to see it in a theater as a kid – -but I’m also the first to admit that the script is troubled at best. In any event, the story is considerably streamlined, with Tron being established as a direct threat to the MCP very early on, and less of an attempt to shoehorn in computer-y dialogue. On the other hand, Lora is described as Alan’s girlfriend first and foremost, and it’s established that she’s pretty, young, and a scientist in that order, when really the fact that she’s a scientist should have been the most important point. Enh. Moving on.
Your New Ringtone: 10:22: “Sark went down in a shower of sparks!” Try saying that one five times fast.
9. Star Trek, “The Crier in Emptiness,” 1975 (Power Records, PR-26)
Considering that this came out at the height of the show’s popularity in syndication, there’s a lot wrong with the characterizations: the Russian crewman is named Connors, Uhura is Caucasian, and Sulu is African-American. Voice-wise, the guy doing Spock is once again not even trying, though the McCoy actor isn’t half bad.
All that aside, this is easily my favorite, because it’s just a good, self-contained original story by Alan Dean Foster, one which could have fit comfortably into the animated series. It’s kind of surprising that this notion of communicating with aliens through music was never done on Trek, and this was two years before Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out. I also really like the alien’s mid-70s synth noodling, especially the “wheee-WHUMMMM!” at 3:30. The easy-listening music produced by the musical instrument that Connors hauls at the end doesn’t really live up to the promise of its appearance, especially with that M?bius strip and all, but that doesn’t make the overall story any less enjoyable.
Your New Ringtone: 4:44: “Pure sound…pure hogwash!”
Next time, we’ll look at superhero read-alongs.
Previously by Sherilyn Connelly:
15 Awesomely Nerdy Behind-the-Scenes Documentaries You Can Watch for Free Right Now
The Eight Funniest Recurring Themes in the Original Star Wars Trading Cards
The Six Coolest Things In Starlog #001: The Voyage in Retro-Nerdery Begins