Pop Culture Preservation Society strikes a retro chord.
If you played with Fisher-Price toys, watched The Brady Bunch on Friday nights or almost took out yourself or a sibling with a set of groovy Clackers, you could qualify to be a member of the Pop Culture Preservation Society (PCPS), dedicated to honoring, relishing and downright diggin’ all things from the ’70s.
As the founding members recall, the group’s formation was less of an idea and more of a compulsion. Michelle Newman (Medina), Carolyn Cochrane (Edina) and Kristin Nilsen (Minneapolis) are the hearts and souls behind PCPS and its weekly podcast (their “precious baby”), which covers ’70s music, TV shows, movies, crushes, toys and even the Sears Wish Book. Nearly 6,000 followers hit the Instagram account, where discussions circulate around anything from favorite Yacht Rock songs to gym class horror stories.
Numbers of followers aside. Amount of listeners be darned. We all know success is measured by whether or not you’re selling “merch.” And they are. “We had no idea people were going to react likes this,” Newman says, while noting that people asked for the group to sell themed merchandise. Popularity has its perks, and in less than a year after launching the podcast in December 2020, the trio began offering a membership platform (via Patreon) with special benefits and access to events. “Our number one goal was to bring joy to people and share memories,” Newman says.
The women were all born in the ’60s, and certainly lived through the ’70s, but when did the devotion to the time period emerge? For Newman, it wasn’t until the last decade or so. “I think when we are in our young adulthoods and busy being new wives and moms, we don’t care to be nostalgic as much … But as we age, we find comfort and joy in the memories of our past in everything from the music we listened to, to the shows we watched, to the toys we played with,” she says.
“I’ve always been drawn to the bright colors and fashion of the ’70s. Give me a fun floral Lilly Pulitzer shift dress any day,” Cochrane says. “Like [Newman], my love of the ’70s really blossomed over the last few years as I discovered kindred spirits, who fondly recalled plot lines from The Waltons and characters from Judy Blume books. The joy of these shared nostalgic moments made me want to seek them out.”
“I’ve always had a strong ’70s vibe even though I wore a Mallory Keaton [Family Ties] costume for most of the ’80s,” Nilsen says. “I unleashed the vibe for the public when I found friends in college who knew all the words to Conjunction Junction, just like I did. And when Andy Gibb died, we all held on to each other and sort of claimed this mantle of ’70s Kids Unite! We used somebody’s mom’s credit card to order a set of ’70s soft rock cassette tapes off of a TV infomercial, and I never looked back”
There has to be more than nostalgia that pulls the women back into the days of banana seat bikes and the push-pull fashion struggle between mini and maxi skirts. Newman says, “The groovy clothes, the fun toys, the people we crushed on, the amazing music, the fabulous television, the inappropriate movies we watched—they all just bring back such feelings of joy. Even if we didn’t have totally stable childhoods, these artifacts, if you will, of this time in our lives were a constant and spark such fun and indelible memories.”
“The crush culture in our childhood was on fire—David Cassidy, The Monkees, Shaun Cassidy, Andy Gibb, Scott Baio, the Bee Gees, Leif Garrett. Remember the Shaun versus Leif debate of 1978?” Nilsen says. “I’m fascinated by our ability to feel real and true love at such a young age for people we had never even met, but that was how we learned about love, so those crushes, those magazines (Tiger Beat), those records, they all helped us grow up. And, yes, I totally dug the clothes. My husband once told me I looked like I was on my way to a Partridge Family concert; I said, ‘Thank you.’ He said, ‘It wasn’t a compliment.’”
Their interest in the era certainly mirrors their memories, but it also is a reflection of the times we live in—uncertain, tenuous and bit frightening at times. Nostalgia has long served as a comfort mechanism—a Linus blanket if you will. “We are seeing it everywhere—from the reboots of old TV shows to the retro toys and clothing on the shelves in Target,” Newman says. “People [don’t want] to go back in time per se. They are just finding such connection, fun and joy in the memories from their childhoods. It calls back a simpler, more innocent time, especially right now when not only are we in a very turbulent time, but when our generation is smack in the middle of caring for aging parents, and our own kids are moving out.”
“We had so little to worry about when we were kids. When we’re burdened and overstressed and everything feels so unpredictable, we just want to revisit that space, when the biggest thing we worried about was who shot J.R. [Ewing],” Nilsen says. “Studies actually show that a full 50 percent of the population admitted to binging content from their childhood during the pandemic. If we can connect with our childhood selves and let go of our adult worries for just 22 minutes, life gets a little more manageable.”
“We’ve seen it firsthand with the messages and comments we receive from listeners and followers—people sharing the joy we are bringing to them simply by rekindling long forgotten memories,” Cochran says. “Nostalgia really seems to be a balm for so many.”
Speaking of joy, the women aren’t opposed to out-of-state field trips. They’ve flown to Chicago for Shaun Cassidy’s concert, went to Palm Springs, Calif., to see Barry Manilow perform and hope to see a Donny Osmond show in Las Vegas sometime in 2022.
They can also be found in local vintage haunts. “I’ve been a record collector for a long time, and record stores are my primary place to connect to that very special time in my life,” Nilsen says. “I’ve replicated a good chunk of my childhood collection, but I also like to collect the records that dominated the shelves in the record department at Dayton’s—the ones I couldn’t buy but knew intimately because the album cover was everywhere, and the songs were transistor radio staples.” Cochrane dips into countless antique stores, looking for everything from K-Tel albums to ’70s Tiger Beat magazines to Holly Hobbie lunchboxes.
This illustrates that they not only have collective memories, the women also have collections! “I still have all of my Fisher-Price Play Family sets and my Weebles sets from my childhood,” Newman says. “I’m currently collecting vintage Fisher-Price from the ’60s and am always on the lookout for pieces … I recently got into collecting vintage vinyl and am searching for complete collections of The Carpenters and Barry Manilow.”
“I still have a lot of my albums and books,” Nilsen says. “I’m going to be buried with my copy of Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume. And I recently found my clock radio, the one that introduced me to Casey Kasem, on eBay. I had to have it. It sits on my nightstand now, just like it did in 1977.”
Cochrane is devoted to her collection of books from Parents Magazine Press. “These were the books I remember most from my childhood, and I want to have them all to share with my future grandchildren,” she says. That’s the thing about nostalgia—it never gets old.
Given a Choice
TV show: Happy Days and Little House on the Prairie
Singer/group: Donny and Marie
Dinner item: Salisbury steak TV dinner with the little brownie
Candy: Marathon Bar
Movie: Ice Castles
Clothing: Hang Ten satin jacket
Toy: Fisher-Price Play Family sets
TV show: Dance Fever
Singer/group: Andy Gibb, Bee Gees and Donna Summer
Dinner: Franco-American spaghetti and Steak-umm
Candy: Bottle Caps
Clothing: Ponchos and gauchos
Toy: Magic 8 Ball
TV show: Eight is Enough
Singer/group: Barry Manilow and Carpenters
Candy: Sugar Daddy
Movie: Star Wars
Clothing: Red half-zip ribbed turtleneck
Dinner for Six is Served
In another universe and given the opportunity, Cochrane, Newman and Nilsen host the dinner party of their pop culture dreams.
Theme: A singer/songwriter-themed dinner party, so they can sing around the piano.
Guests: Barry Manilow, Karen Carpenter and John Denver
Menu: A catered meal (They don’t cook.) of fondue and a buffet of TV dinner selections (Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, corn, fried chicken, cobbler, brownies, etc.) Everyone gets a TV tray.
Background Music: Chuck Mangione, Henry Mancini, Sérgio Mendes and Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass
Post Dinner Entertainment: Barry Manilow will lead the group to the piano, where all will gather—arm in arm—for a sing-along of Mandy, Rainy Days and Mondays and Country Roads. After snacking on Hostess treats, dancing will commence to the tunes of The Jackson 5, Bee Gees, Bay City Rollers and P-Funk.
Evening Closure: Karen Carpenter serenades them with Goodbye to Love, and everyone enjoys a final snifter of brandy.
This or That
The Pop Culture Preservation Society has some decisions to make.
Andy Gibb or Rex Smith
Shaun Cassidy or David Cassidy
Bobby Sherman or Davy Jones
The Jackson 5 or The Osmonds
Josie and the Pussycats or The Archies
Carol Brady or Shirley Partridge
Rhoda or Phyllis
(Apples and oranges! Cannot choose; they are too different!)
That Girl or Alice
Fisher-Price airport or Fisher-Price garage
Lip Smackers or Stick Pins
Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume
(Oh, come ON! Ramona or Margaret? Please don’t make us choose!)
Pop Culture Preservation Society
Podcast: Pop Culture Preservation Society