Created by the California Raisin Advisory Board, The California Raisins began as a marketing plan to sell raisins. They came up with the idea of the anthropomorphic singing and dancing raisins which would attract the attention of kids. What started as an idea to get people to eat raisins grew into a whole brand of its own complete with a myriad of merchandising opportunities. The California Raisins had their own television specials, albums, t-shirts, posters, pillows, and lunch boxes. You name it, they slapped The California Raisin brand name on it, and it sold.
As a Raisins fan, I owned the California Raisins Sing the Hit Songs on cassette tape. I listened to this tape all the time, and it was my first introduction to some of the classic Motown and Rock & Roll classics like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Lean On Me,” “La Bamba,” and “When A Man Love a Woman.”
As a Raisins fan, my favorite piece of collectible merchandise were the small non pose-able figures. These were available in gift shops, drugs stores, as cereal prizes, and Hardees restaurant offered them as part of a promotion.
Each measure in at about two and a half inches tall, but despite their size, they all pack a decent amount of detail for tiny plastic figures.
Although they have no articulation, they were always fun to play with. I’d set up the “band” in different configurations, and having multiples of some allowed for different combinations. With nearly sixty raisins in all from different sets and promotions, each one has its own unique sculpt and paint application. One might not think that it would be that hard to make raisins, but if you make them too prune-ish, they just look wrinkly and old–but if you make them too smooth one might confuse them for grapes! Giving fruit and vegetables personality is not easily done. Being a big Mr. Potato Head fan, I know no matter how many parts & pieces there are, it’s virtually impossible to convey emotion; however, each of these little singing and dancing dried up grapes has their own personality and attitude.
Quality wise, they’re pretty good. Comparing them to some of Hasbro’s recent adorable, little-kid-friendly characters from Transformers (Robot Heroes), Indiana Jones (Adventure Heroes), and Toy Story (Toy Chest Heroes), the Raisins seem to be made out of a heavier, better quality plastic. Will my collection of Robot Heroes still be around in 22 years? I’m not sure, but its a safe bet that the California Raisins will! Mine have lasted over twenty years and most are still in decent condition. The paint apps are a little sloppy here and there, but overall the detail on the faces, clothes, and instruments isn’t too shabby.
As I mentioned earlier, all together there were about sixty different California raisins. Some the same character posed differently, others brand new characters or gimmicks. They even introduced a few fruit & vegetable “friends” such as a banana, broccoli, and rutabaga. I only got about a dozen, with a few duplicates of the same ones.
I hadn’t really given the Raisins much thought since my childhood, until about five or six years ago when I was over at a friend’s house and his father, a drummer, had “Joe” the Drummer out on the liquor shelf. It made me want to dig mine out, which I did, as well as the rest of the band. Since then they’ve been on display in my kitchen on a spice rack!
Meet the California Raisins
Tiny Goodbite, the lead singer of the California Raisins was a favorite of mine. Posed with his eyes and gist tightly clenched shut, as if belting out some powerful notes, he’s one of the more iconic Raisins dressed in his tuxedo complete with a bow tie and spats on his shoes.
Ben Indasun, perhaps one of the most recognizable California Raisins, with his orange sunglasses and sneakers and posed with one hand up and one down he’s obviously grooving to some tune. His partner, Justin X. Grape the blue-eyed, blue sneakered pal is another iconic Raisin. Although they’re not really playing any instruments or appear to be singing, they’re getting their groove on all the way downtown.
The Hip Guitarist bears a striking similarity to Jimi Hendrix in that he’s playing his guitar lefty, and has a tied on headband around his head. He’s the smallest out of all of the raisins I own. Originally paired with a male & female singer as well as a saxophonist wearing a black beanie.
The Bass Player, with his combed curls, looks like he’s hitting the strings for some soulful grooves. You really can’t appreciate someone playing an upright bass until you’ve seen it up close. Paired with the Bass Player were Yellow Shoes Female and Pink Shoes Female. They really got creative with these names, didn’t they? I’ve got to admit, I always had a thing for the one wearing pink, but they both look great. They could have easily been the same sculpt, but they managed to give them a personality of their own even with little details like their hair style.
The Drummer–I’ll call him Joe–was always cool. He’s one of the biggest and heaviest raisins being that he comes complete with his own drum kit. With his porkpie hat with yellow feather, he’s posed with his drumsticks raised ready to hit some skins.
The Saxophone Player, even with his eyes closed, leaning back belting out some blues or jazz notes has an interesting look. I love how they over exaggerated his cheeks.
Perhaps one of my fondest memories of the California Raisins was when I sang “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” in an elementary school talent show dressed as a California Raisin in a costume my mother had lovingly sewn for me. “A Night With the Stars” was like any other talent show, there was the requisite singing, dancing, and gymnastics routines. Sure there were a handful of kids with talent, but most of us were up there not having a clue as to what we were doing. Was I the best act? I doubt it, but that wasn’t the point, it got me up on stage and in front of people, and to this day from these “talent” shows I’ve never had a fear of public speaking or performing in front of large crowds. The results are chill inducing, however I look back now and can have a good laugh at it. Thank goodness for the ’80’s and 9 million parents with video cameras.
In the end, the California Raisins ended up as a pop-culture footnote, a fad that came and went, but something that those of us who were alive in the ’80’s can look back upon with some warm nostalgia.