The surprising story behind Laverne & Shirley's rock record
The focus setting on our pop culture nostalgia always seems to be set at 20 years back. Currently, the '90s are hot, in everything from summer concert tours to grunge clothing in retail shops. After the turn of the millennium, the '80s roared back in pop music and film reboots. The practice traces back to the mid-'70s, with the release of Happy Days, which rewound the clock two decades to 1955.
Happy Days. The title says it all. Letterman sweaters, cuffed jeans, Chuck Taylors, leather jackets and poodle skirts were again in fashion. The Ramones were singing about hamburgers and soda machines. (Naturally, in the mid-'90s, Weezer would make a classic music video that fondly looked backwards two decades to Happy Days fondly looking backward two decades.)
The smash success of Happy Days led to a quick spin-off, Laverne & Shirley, who got their own series in 1976, mere months after making their first appearance in season three. The lovable Milwaukee roommates immediately ranked number two in the ratings — just behind Happy Days. The Shotz Brewery bottle-cappers proved to be so popular, the cut an album of classic rock & roll later that year.
Laverne & Shirley Sing was the idea of Pete Bennett, a promotions man who got his start hyping British Invasion acts. He wrangled a team of Los Angeles studio aces to produce a dozen tracks of girl-group sing-alongs. Arranger Jimmie Haskell and violinist Sydney Sharp would oversee the recordings. Haskell had previously crafted albums of space-ace cocktail lounge music and contributed scores to everything from Ricky Nelson and Bewitched to Steely Dan. Sharp was a classically trained player who worked at the Hollywood Bowl and appeared on records by Neil Diamond and the Beach Boys. That might explain why the resulting Laverne & Shirley Sing is not exactly the most rocking rock & roll. It's a novelty album, but will bring a smile to the face of fans.
Still, the credits are littered with big names. Ace sessions players were involved, including drummer Hal Blaine and other members of the Wrecking Crew, who laid the backbeat on Phil Spector classics and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams sing in character as Laverne and Shirley, and they are backed by Melissa Manchester. Kenny Loggins plays percussion!
Another fascinating contribution came from Michael McKean, who played Lenny on the sitcom. McKean wrote one of two original numbers, "Oh Gee." The actor was no stranger to music, even long before becoming the lead singer of Spinal Tap. As a young man, he was involved a bit with the Left Banke. Three years later, his character would get a chance to cut a record with his cohort Squiggy, Lenny & Squiggy Present Lenny and the Squigtones. That album featured guitar playing by comedian Christopher Guest, a.k.a. Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap. That's a fascinating story in itself. For some other time.