THE CRAZY RISE OF THE CALIFORNIA RAISINS

Many of us have fond memories of the cool California Raisins singing catchy tunes. What is lesser known is their incredible fame and future influence and impact they had on advertising. Continue on to find out which famous singers and musicians voiced the raisins and see some flashback videos of the California Raisins!

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The California Raisins were the brain child of imaginative advertising writer Seth Werner in 1986 for a Sun-Maid raisins commercial. The team he worked with were racking their brains for fresh ideas to pitch for the commercial when on a whim Werner exclaimed "We have tried everything but dancing raisins singing '“I heard it through the Grapevine".

 To their surprise, they landed their pitch granted them $7,500,000 dollars to bring the California Raisins to life. The California Raisin Advisory Board had noticed that products like beer and cigarette ads created emotional connections with the buyer and hoped the California Raisins to do the same.  Werner and his copywriting partner, Dexter Fedor, knew in order for the commercial to be a hit, the raisins needed personality. “We decided that we wanted the raisins to be cool and a bit intimidating," Werner said.

They focused on choosing the perfect lead singer for the part of the four piece California Raisins Band, enlisting the Buddy Miles, a Carlos Santana collaborator and drummer for Jimi Hendrix to record "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" They wisely hired Will Vinton, the Oscar-winning animator who would later trademark the term "Claymation," to help create their vision of dancing raisins.

The cool California Raisin’s were an instant hit with all ages, audiences loved Raisins’ authentic R&B sound and image and the claymation was a huge novelty for that time. Sales of raisins themselves increased 20 percent after the first commercial. The California Raisins’ rendition of "Grapevine" reached No. 84 on the Billboard Hot 100 paving the road for albums. Between 1987 - 1988, they released four albums, two of which impressively platinum. They sold more than 2 million albums featuring classic hits such as Raisins "Lean on Me" and "You Can’t Hurry Love."

The fun loving raisins even attracted mega musicians such as Ray Charles and Michael Jackson to singing their own versions of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" for later commercials. Jackson, who agreed to do his commercial for free (and on the condition that he only work with Vinton, who he knew from their Captain EO project with Disney), helped create his own Claymation raisin with his signature single white glove, fedora, and pelvic-thrusting dance moves.

The Raisins popularity continued to grow. In 1987, the talented claymation artist Will Vinton produced a "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in A Claymation Christmas Celebration which he would win an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program. The California Raisins band members now had well known names, A.C., Beebop, Stretch, and Red and in 1988 Vinton created a mockumentary-style TV special called “Meet The Raisins”. It gave the band a colorful backstory that included a rise to stardom and delved into the histories of each band member. Then in 1989, a 13-episode Saturday Morning Cartoon show called The California Raisin Show aired.

The fun loving Raisins’s influence were so successful in their time that during the peak of their popularity in the late '80s, the California Raisins they had a fan club, comic books merchandise including plush toys lunch boxes and even air fresheners. The healthy cereal Raisin Bran hired increasingly popular dried fruit and teamed up with the Raisins to help promote their boxed cereal. And to top it all off fast food chain Hardee’s bought a license to produce collectible Raisins figurines.

Like many good things, times changed and the end of the 80’s saw a dip in the love for the California Raisins. Vinton made one last Claymation TV movie about the Raisins in 1990 but with marketing costing to much the California Raisins went into retirement. Their songs, albums, and cartoons live on though and it is because of them that it is now commonplace to see ads that include anthropomorphized food or candy. "The Raisins opened up a floodgate … everything had to be personified," Vinton told Food & Wine Magazine.

SOURCES WIKIPEDIA, MENTAL FLOSS< FOOD & WINE MAGAZINE