Forty Year Old “Mr. Potato Head” Song Takes on a New Meaning
The late singer/songwriter John Voci's wistful composition, "Mr. Potato Head," is proving more relevant than ever.
Los Angeles, CA (PRUnderground) March 15th, 2021
Mr. Potato Head has been an immensely popular child’s toy since his introduction in 1952. He was the first toy advertised on television, and his popularity quickly spawned a family, including Mrs. Potato Head. Appearing in numerous television shows and movies, the venerable vegetable has been in constant production for over sixty-eight years.
But the newest controversy—the “Mr.’ is being dropped from Potato Head’s name, thereby not imposing a fixed gender on said potato, allowing for same-sex and single parent families—is not his first.
When originally introduced Mr. Potato Head consisted of a variety of plastic parts—eyes, noses, mouths, shoes, and hats—which could be inserted into an actual potato. In 1964, government safety regulations forced a change in the size and sharpness of the pieces. With this in mind the manufacture introduced a plastic body in the shape of a potato, with holes for the various body parts.
There actually was a controversy, albeit a minor one, regarding the change. But one young man took the evolution from plant to plastic particularly hard.
The late John Voci was a singer-songwriter who protested the alteration. In his 1982 song “Mr. Potato Head,” Voci laments:
What have they done to you, Mr. Potato Head, you’re not your old self at all
Just a plastic pretender who vaguely resembles an old friend who I still recall
You used to be real, you had farm-fresh appeal, and your smile reeked of style and panche
You looked so debonair, like you just didn’t care, if you ended up fried, baked or mashed…
“It sounds like a joke, but John was really upset about that plastic body. He thought they took something pure and perfect from his childhood and changed it for commercial reasons” recalls filmmaker Brian Anthony, a close friend of the songwriter’s. “I tried to bring up the safety issue, but John wouldn’t consider it,” recalled Anthony. “He didn’t like plastic plants, either.”
John Voci, who died in 2012, left a large body of unpublished work. His song Victor’s Big Song was used in Anthony’s award-winning film Victor’s Big Score, performed by the legendary folk singer Dave Van Ronk.
In homage to the late singer, Anthony and co-author Bill Walker used Voci as a character in their novel Abe Lincoln on Acid, in which the re-incarnated President befriends a young songwriter—whose name happens to be John Voci.
John’s summation was nothing if not heartfelt:
What have they done to us, Mr. Potato Head, they can’t believe anymore
That some toys are destined to be more than something that you find on a shelf in a store
Now it’s just you and me and some good memories, when everything’s been done and said
You were more than a spud, you were my little bud, and I miss you Mr. Potato Head
I miss you, Mr. Potato Head…
You can hear John Voci’s music, including “Mr. Potato Head” here.
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