To say that the ’70s were a strange time to experience childhood is a bit of an understatement. In the ’50s and ’60s, kids were treated like tiny, little morons. Their entertainment needn’t be clever or innovative; it simply had to be inoffensive and distracting. By the time the ’80s and ’90s came around, programs for preteens had evolved into long-form toy commercials brushed with a light patina of social commentary. Smooshed in between those two periods was a time when kid-content creators were being influenced by filmmakers who were themselves being influenced by avant-garde European cinema. Shows like Sesame Street and The Electric Company were filled with psychedelic vignettes and absurdist humor.
Into this media world came one of the oddest kid-centric pieces of entertainment ever conceived. Branded with the voice and image of the then-most-celebrated athlete in the world, Muhammad Ali, The Adventures Of Ali And His Gang Vs. Mr. Tooth Decay is a musical narrative album for kids with the ostensible purpose of reinforcing the importance of dental hygiene. And as Jason Heller explains in Rolling Stone, it’s just as bizarre as one would suspect:
The title pretty much sums it up: In a storyline combining music, narration and PSA preachiness—and that takes place, according to Cosell, “On a warm, sunny day in a neighborhood a lot like yours …”—Ali and his gang of kiddie friends team up to clobber tooth decay right in the kisser. Literally. Mr. Tooth Decay is the villain of this epic melodrama, an anthropomorphized force of dental destruction who lures children into his web of rottenness by plastering posters of cake, ice cream and candy all over town. In fact, that’s pretty much the extent of his nefarious activities, making Mr. Tooth Decay no more evil than, say, your average grocer.
It probably goes without saying that Frank Sinatra makes a cameo as Ol’ Blue Eyes, the ice-cream-pushing neighborhood grocer, because that would hit the proper timbre of discordance. Ossie Davis also makes an appearance as Brother St. John, a former dentist turned organic farmer. Why not? You can listen to the whole thing in all its brilliant oddballness here: