The Bumpers (aka The Combinations)
The Official Bump Ball© Record
Pickwick/Milton Bradley, 1968
From my Houston Press blog, 3/2009:
Does it have rules?
What makes you think it’s a game?
Is it a game?
Will it break?
It better break eventually!
Is there an object?
What if you tire before it’s done?
Does it come with batteries?
We could charge extra for them.
Is it safe for toddlers?
How can you tell when you’re finished?
How do you make it stop?
Is that a boy’s model?
Is there a larger model for the obese?
What if you tire before it’s done?
What the hell is it?
One imagines this kind of Hudsucker Proxy conversation going on in the Milton Bradley boardroom when the idea for the Bump Ball© was being tossed around. Always on the lookout for the next Hula Hoop, an extruded plastic dingus which sold 100 million units in four months in 1958, Milton Bradley seemed to think they found it in the Bump Ball©.
In 1967, the game company approached the Combinations, a garage band from Easton, Pennsylvania, and asked them to be the sound for what they hoped would be the next new dance and game craze. Dance Instructor to the Stars “Killer Joe” Piro was recruited to write and perform the dance (he’s the guy on the cover).
Listen to “Bump Ball”:
The band was put up in a New York studio with Julie Andrews’ producer and James Brown’s horn section and emerged with one song… the steaming pile of crap that serves as the title track to this record. The song is an awkward mish-mash that sounds like it was recorded by three different bands who couldn’t hear one another. But that didn’t stop Milton Bradley from thinking they had the Next Big Thing on their hands.
“Once upon a time in the way out kingdom of contemporary America,” the back cover eyerollingly states, “a ball was invented. No ordinary ball this one. A big, soft, spongy ball with crazy bumps all over it. The cats at Milton Bradley threw the Bump Ball © into the teen scene – and a whole new bag was born.”
Hopefully a trash bag, if MB manufactured anything close to the number of Bump Ball©s they thought they were going to sell. “A whole new breed of kids latched onto this crazy new dance fad, creating a twisting, laughing, falling group that quickly became the ‘BUMP BALL BOPPERS’ as the mass media dubbed them. They deserted in droves from the flower children to join this new transcendental experience. It was the answer to America’s searching youth. It was Anti-Establishment – and a gas at the same time.”
Uh huh. So what was one supposed to do with the Bump Ball©? Apparently, the idea was to toss the ball in the air and keep it from hitting the ground by pressing it between you and the nearest hot chick while gyrating to the Bump Ball© theme song. A 45 of the song was included with every ball. “It’s time the boys got closer to the girls,” the album cover continues. The concept had everything. Dancing. Sex. Balls. Rock n’ roll. How could the Bump Ball© fail?
It did. Now, I can’t say just how well the Bump Ball© sold. All I can say is, just about the only references to it on the Internets are to this record. Apparently the “mass media,” apart from an appearance on The Mike Douglas Show, never even noticed. I did manage to find one authentic Bump Ball© on eBay; a bit tatty but with original box and instruction manual, a steal at $9.99. One. So I’m guessing they didn’t sell 100 million.
One last footnote to the story of the Bump Ball© record. The Combinations, although credited on the 45 single that came with the ball, are not even mentioned on this LP. Instead, the named artist is a nonexistent band called The Bumpers. What’s ultimately ironic is that the rest of this LP, apart from the dismal title track, is actually pretty decent, Beatles-esque ’60s garage pop, the kind record-collector geeks go crazy for.
What must it be like to have your band’s big debut album be packaged as a gimmicky toy promotion, then have your name removed from it altogether? I hope the Combinations at least got some free Bump Ball©s out of the deal.