Even the Beatles cashed in on Happy Days, much to the chagrin of John and Ringo
'Rock 'n' Roll Music' was released at the height of Fonzie mania.
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Image: Capitol Records
In 1976, Happy Days become the number-one show on television. As it wrapped up its third season — the first to film with a traditional sitcom setup — the series was peaking. Arnold (Pat Morita) married his pen pal from Japan in the season finale, with Fonzie as his best man.
Thanks in no small part to Garry Marshall's retro sitcom, the Fifties were back in a big way. Bill Haley & His Comets saw their rock 'n' roll classic "Rock Around the Clock" return to the pop charts, as it was used as the theme to both Happy Days and American Grafitti — which, of course, starred Richie Cunningham himself, Ron Howard.
The nostalgic greaser act Sha Na Na had hits like "(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet" on the charts — which lead to the group getting its own variety show in 1977.
John Lennon was feeling the Fifties nostalgia, too. A fan of Sha Na Na, the former Beatle invited the group to open for him and Yoko Ono at a tribute concert in Madison Square Garden in 1972. A few years later, Lennon covered songs from the late '50s and early '60s on his album, Rock 'n' Roll. The cover art depicted a vintage photograph of Lennon in all his youth and leather, standing in a Hamburg doorway. He looked a lot like Fonzie.
No wonder, then, that Capitol Records decided to ride the wave of classic rock 'n' roll revivalism in 1976. The label gathered 28 Beatles tracks for the double-LP compilation Rock 'n' Roll Music. Though the hits collection spanned the Fab Four's entire career, the emphasis was largely on the classic rock sound. They eschewed the psychedelic era for the harder, faster stuff.
And then came the album art.
The record sleeve sported a pop-art painting by Ignacio Gomez. John, Paul, George and Ringo all sported suits like they had in 1963. They stood holding their instruments under the band name and album title. The text was written in pink and blue neon script — strikingly similar to the Happy Days logo glowing above the jukebox in the sitcom's opening credits.
The similarities did not end there. Inside the gatefold sleeve, a hamburger, jukebox, '57 Chevy, and cold glass of Coca-Cola popped off the cardboard along with a picture of Marilyn Monroe. That's a lot of Fifties iconography.
Of course, one thing jumps immediately to mind — the Beatles were a phenomenon of the 1960s. This was not lost on the band members themselves.
"All that Coca-Cola and cars with big fins was the Fifties!" Ringo Starr complained in a Rolling Stone interview. "It made us look cheap and we never were cheap."
Lennon, who was most inclined to dig the direction, considering his own Rock 'n' Roll album featured pink-and-blue neon lettering, carped to the label. He angrily wrote to the record company that the compilation looked "like a Monkees reject." He suggested using photos of the band from their Hamburg days — and even offered to design the artwork himself. Capitol denied his requests.
Nevertheless, the Beatles' repacked Rock 'n' Roll Music rocketed to No. 2 on the Billboard album charts. The only thing that beat it? Paul McCartney's Wings at the Speed of Sound.