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Blog, Communications, Culture, History, Media

The Fast-Talking Year of 1989


Speed was “in” in 1989.

In that last year of the penultimate decade of the 20th century, fast talking and singing gripped the nation. Or, at least gripped an 11-year-old boy.

I remember riding the school bus and trying to memorize the words to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Someone at my bus stop wrote out the lyrics — yes, these were the days before you could Google this — and passed out sheets of loose leaf paper. Up until this point, we’d come across a string of lyrics that we didn’t know about — Panmunjom? Children of thalidomide? — and we’d just mumble our way through. But with the lyrics in front of us (our transcriber, it turned out, had the help of her mom) we could not only now sing the song, but learn about significant moments of the last 40 years. Or, at the very least, ask our parents about them.

One of the more catchier commercials that year was McDonalds’ “Menu Song.” As part of the campaign, Mickey D’s released 80 million records (via newspapers) of a remake to Reunion’s “Life is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me) using all the items on the fast-food chain’s menu. The twist: on 79,999,999 records, the singers could not sing through the menu. They’d screw up and the record would stop. On one, however, they sang it perfectly. If you got that record, you won a cool million bucks. Charlene Price, of Galax, Virginia, found the golden ticket, er record. She used the cash to buy the convenience store she worked at.

This was another fast-singing song we kids tried to figure out. I was less successful at memorizing this. I could only remember the opening line: “Big Mac, McDLT, a Quarter-Pounder with some cheese, Filet-O-Fish, a hamburger, a cheeseburger, a Happy Meal.”

The other commercial from that fast-talking year that had seeped into my personal cultural consciousness was of a little car company: Micro Machines. These were, as the name implies, tiny toy cars. While toys like Hot Wheels and Matchbox existed, Micro Machines were even smaller. There was a whole universe of Micro Machines that included factories and playsets. I had my fair share of Micro Machines. It allowed my imagination to run wild; I felt like Gulliver visiting the Lilliputians. But what was also fun were the commercials.

Using John Moschitta, Jr. as the pitchman, Micro Machines separated itself from competitors. Moschitta’s nickname was “Motor mouth” because he, well, talked fast. Really fast. In that magical year of 1989, Moschitta, Jr. was the world’s fastest speaker, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. He clocked in at 586 words per minute. In these 15- and 30-second spots for Micro Machines (of which he did about 100), he filled a lot of words, always ending with “Remember, if it doesn’t say Micro Machines, it’s not the real thing.”

Here’s a Micro Machines commercial from ’89:

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.

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