Boy, we’d buy anything in the ’70s, wouldn’t we? Laverne & Shirley, the most successful spin-off from Happy Days, was riding high in 1976, overtaking its parent show to capture the number-one slot in the Nielsen ratings. It was time to cash in.
Lunch boxes, Mego “action figures” (don’t call them “dolls”!), Colorforms sets — you name it, the L&S logo was slapped on it. Then someone had a bright idea: since Laverne and Shirley were often shoehorned into painful musical numbers (remember the annual Shotz Brewery Talent Shows?), why not release an album of Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall singing their favorite ’50s and ’60s hits?
Because they can’t sing, that’s why not!
Logic has rarely stopped anyone from making a cash grab, so 1976 saw the release of Laverne & Shirley Sing, a charitable title at best. While Cindy Williams has a, um, passable singing voice, I think we all know how Penny Marshall handles a tune. Thankfully, her nasally whine was kept to a bare minimum on the album’s single, a remake of the Connie Stevens hit “Sixteen Reasons,” (download) where “Laverne” simply keeps a number count.
What’s amazing is the number of professional musicians who lent their expertise to the project. Melissa Manchester is credited with backing vocals, Kenny Loggins plays some percussion, and Elvis Presley arranger Jimmie Haskill did, well, the arrangements. In fact, Haskill gets name-checked along with Michael “Lenny” McKean in the one nonmusical skit on the album, “More From Our Yearbook,” (download) where the girls recite what fellow students wrote in their high school yearbooks.
Sadly, Laverne & Shirley Sing wasn’t nearly as funny as the first few years of their sitcom. It’s an artifact of a simpler time in the record industry, when novelty records were both a traffic driver and a gateway drug for young consumers into the world of music buying. Strangely enough, Collector’s Choice brought the album to CD for the first time in 2003, and more amazingly, it’s still in print (and on iTunes!).
As far as the show goes, my absolute favorite Laverne & Shirley moment came in a fifth-season episode called “The Diner (original air date: May 6, 1980), when the girls decide to run a greasy spoon Lenny has inherited from his dead uncle. Christening the diner Dead Lazlo’s Place, the girls are immediately in over their heads, so of course Lucy-and-Ethel-like zaniness ensues. The best is Laverne’s insistence on calling Shirley “Betty” over the diner’s PA, because it “sounds much more diner-y.” To this day, every time I’m near a microphone I have to say, “BETTY, PLEASE PICK UP.”
Also, Shirley screaming “Where are those hash browns???” in a panic never fails to crack me up. What’s your favorite Laverne & Shirley moment? Remember, the California episodes (seasons six through eight) don’t count, cuz they suck!
“Sixteen Reasons” peaked at #65 on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart in 1976.
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