Like the network they’re promoting, these discs contain overly familiar material repackaged so cleverly and stylishly as to make them seem, if not new, then somehow fresh again. The Donna Reed Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show ran from 1958-’66 (Donna starting in ’58; Dick joining in ’61). Whether these programs’ visions of family values ever existed is beside the point. In this ever-fractious land, those well-lit black-and-white pictures seem to offer more than just nostalgic appeal. It was the last time that it was possible to experience unironic fun. The definitive make-out song was Johnny Mathis’ chaste “Chances Are.” Contemporary ears may not be able to listen to “Blue Velvet” and not think David Lynch, but it, like the tepid “Theme From A Summer Place,” was once the height of romantic background sounds. The Donna Reed collection nicely captures the echoing vocals and acoustic bass-and-brushes rhythms of a not fully electrified musical world. After the program’s title tune, the “soft and soothing” theme is firmly established with Doris Day’s ode to feminine capitulation, “Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).” The collection’s treasure is ’60s afternoon talk-show host Mike Douglas’ strictly square paean to fatherhood, “The Men in My Little Girl’s Life”: “There’s a boy outside, his name is Lee/He wants to carry my books for me.” (In classic pomo custom, the late Michael O’Donoghue termed Douglas “the nicest guy in show business”—before pantomiming taking long needles “with real sharp points” and plunging them into Douglas’ eyes.) The show made teen idols of co-stars Shelley Fabares and Paul Peterson. Both of their hits relied heavily on double-tracking to beef up tentative vocals. Peterson’s spurious “My Dad” only begs the question, Why isn’t anyone singing about poor old Mom? Fabares’ dreamy “Johnny Angel,” however, retains its pop legitimacy, in a Frankie Avalon sense. Choir-boy crooner Andy Williams appears twice, with his uncharacteristically “young” “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” (sounding much like the English Beat’s version), and his delicious rendition of “Moon River,” the perfect dessert song (chocolate cake recipe included).
While Donna’s disc is, conceptually, properly neat and tidy, Dick Van Dyke’s Dance Party platter gives the Petrie household a bit more credit than is probably due. Which means that it’s a fairly with-it rock-out. While one can envision Laura vacuuming-a-go-go in those tight capris to the “Peppermint Twist,” “Monkey Time,” or “Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko-Bop,” the rest of that close-cropped crowd was more liable to finger-pop to sounds like the show’s opening theme (also included): brassy jazz that’s not quite bop, not quite swing (Les Elgart’s “Bandstand Boogie,” for instance). This disc offers a swell shindig, as long as you don’t invite the regulars. While Jerry and Millie would be attempting the “Loco-Motion,” you’d be stuck in the corner listening to Mel complain about “the kids.” And lives of the party Buddy and Sally would certainly embarrass everyone by “wigging out” to “Tequila” or “Cool Jerk.” Sure, Mongo Santamaria’s “Watermelon Man” is a sultry, summerific slow cooker, but Alan Brady wouldn’t have understood. There is a major conceptual flaw in the Van Dyke platter: the absence of Chad and Jeremy, who, in a sop to Beatlemania, appeared on the show as “the Redcoats.” Of course, none of the polite duo’s charted songs had much of a beat. So send them over to Donna’s sit-down affair, put on Little Stevie’s “Fingertips, Part II,” and trip over that ottoman one more time.