by Dylan Greenberg
I loved Barney And Friends as a kid. I had toys, tapes and even a Barney themed birthday party. As I approached tween-hood, I pretended to shun his teachings, but I still held a fondness for the kitsch creation and his crustaceous colleagues Baby Bop and BJ. To hate Barney was a blasphemy against my pop culture Jesus.
What I would soon discover was that Barney hate had been so deeply embedded into the cultural zeitgeist that in 1995, some unexpected names in the music industry created a musical roast of sorts for Sheryl Leache’s iconic creation. Unearthing this pop oddity set me on a new Barney journey, one that would lead directly to the players involved in this surreal undertaking.
First of all, what makes Barney so hateable? I asked Critical Inquiry editor W.J.T. Mitchell, a Gaylord Donnelly Distinguished Service Professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago.
“I think it had to do with not just Barney, but with the whole tendency in children’s television to eliminate any trace of conflict, any kind of picturesque or gritty material. Barney was completely sanitised.”
Mitchell goes on to describe his studies on how young children would react to images of various dinosaurs.
“[When] it came to Barney… it was really astonishing, they had all of these jump rope rhymes, jokes, my favorite being, ‘I love you, you love me, Barney gave me H.I.V.’”
So, I said, “Could you explain this to me?” These were first and second graders. Some of the kids said, “I still like Barney, what’s wrong with Barney?” Many of the others said, “Barney is for little kids. He’s for kids who can’t handle anything complicated or difficult.”
So, it was really about generational conflict between four, five and six year olds. By the time kids are six years old, they can’t bare Barney. If they have siblings, they say “that’s my little brother’s thing, and my little brother is stupid, he doesn’t know anything.”
Fifth Avenue Records and Tapes is where I discovered the genesis of this article. Some time last year, I was browsing the CDs, when behind some dusty glass casing, something caught my eye: “The Unauthorized I Hate Barney Songbook: A Parody”. I had to have it.
I initially assumed it was made by a few guys in their basement. The idea of an entire album dedicated to hating Barney seemed like something that wouldn’t have utilised any great talent. Then I looked on the back cover, and realized all the songs are sung by Freda Payne, who reached #3 on the Billboard charts with her hit “Band of Gold”, one of Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Prominently featured below was Tony Haynes, listed as primary songwriter. A quick search revealed Tony had written for such blockbuster acts as Earth, Wind and Fire, The Temptations, Robert Palmer, and the Pointer Sisters. This album didn’t just utilize talent, it was created by two music industry icons.
I knew I had to get to the bottom of this somehow, and I realized if I could get some of the people involved with this project to talk to me, I could create an oral history of the album. Over the next two weeks, I was able to interview three of the key figures involved in the album; Cindy Jo Hinkleman, the production coordinator, Tony Haynes, the primary songwriter, and none other than the legendary Freda Payne herself.
When I told Freda I wanted to interview her about this album, her initial response was one of bewilderment.
Freda: “Why are you interested in that?!”
Production coordinator Cindy Jo shed some light on the married couple that owned Dove Audio, the company responsible for the album:
“Michael Viner and Deborah Raffin… owned Dove Audio at the time. Michael was a very powerful man in Hollywood, Deborah was an actress. She was in Death Wish 3 with Charles Bronson. It was one of the very first companies that did audiobooks… I was production coordinator on all their titles. Their approach to [marketing] audiobooks at the time, and one of the reasons they got Freda, was that they wanted only big name celebrities to record them. Michael was written up as one of the top ten most feared men in Hollywood. You did not cross Michael. Him and I got along great, we were the best of friends… but you didn’t cross him. For one of the ten most feared men in Hollywood to release I Hate Barney… It was just kind of bizarre!”
Tony Haynes: Michael Viner and Deborah Raffin… I had a deal with them, a joint venture to do kid’s audio projects.
Tony had previously created “A Day in the Lives of Dina and Darren Dinosaur” and realized Michael Viner was not going to pay him any royalties.
“I’m doing all this work, and I’m not making any money from it. So I asked Michael to let me out of my contract. He says: “I’ll let you out of your contract, but you have to write an album of ‘I Hate Barney’ songs.” I say, “well, you know my oldest daughter is three, and she fucking loves Barney, and I watch Barney every day.” He says, “well, if you want to get out of your contract, do an I Hate Barney songbook.”
So I sat, and over a weekend, I wrote ten songs… I used the piano to write the lyrics. So, by Monday, the ten songs were written, which means they were sketched in a way that I wrote the lyrics, and I could sing them.
Tony worked with various producers, including Oji Pierce, who had produced “This is How We Do it”. Michael Viner ultimately made the decision to have the entire album sung by Freda Payne, who Tony had previously worked with on his “Dina and Darren” project.
Freda: I’d known Michael since I think about 1973, here in LA. It was before he’d established Dove Audio. He was always a fan-friend, more of a friend, I would say. He told me, “Freda, a lot of parents, you know that purple dinosaur on the TV for kids, it’s a dinosaur called Barney, kids are becoming obsessed with it, and a lot of parents are getting sick and tired of it.… we came up with an idea.”
Michael explained to Freda that Tony Haynes had written some parody songs skewering Barney and asked if she would like to sing on them. However, Freda had no personal animosity towards the dinosaur.
Freda: I could have cared less! I said, I have no animosity about Sesame Street, I have no animosity about the Electric Company. So, why should I have any animosity about Barney the dinosaur?
I had a son, but by that time, I think he was probably in his teens. Maybe if he had been younger than that, he may have been into [Barney]. I don’t even know if he was aware of it.
I was wondering why he wanted to do it in the first place. I said you want to do a whole album on this? I thought it was kind of way out. In a way, I felt that, if I agreed to do this, because I was getting paid to do it, I hope I don’t wind up regretting this. I hope it doesn’t come back to haunt me!
Cindy Jo: I remember that Michael said to me one day, “we’re doing an audio book,” even though it’s more of an album, “we’re doing… ‘I Hate Barney.’” I went, “excuse me? Why would you do that?” He was quirky and he loved things that were kind of controversial.
As they moved forward on the project, Michael excitedly told Cindy he had gotten Freda Payne to perform the songs and Tony Haynes to write them.
I thought, “you gotta be kidding me.” Freda Payne, you know, she tore it up, but I don’t know why she agreed to it. The music was fantastic, it’s too bad it wasn’t just some kind of album of great music, instead of I Hate Barney.
To Freda, it was just another project.
Freda Payne: When the record company says, “we think you should do some blues songs” or “we think you should do an album of all American songbook songs”, you know, you pick a theme. It was a deviation from the norm.
It was now up to these key figures at Dove Audio to deliver the songbook on time.
Cindy Jo: My role was… to make sure that all the steps in the process got done, that everything got recorded, that everything got mastered, that the artwork was done, and that it was delivered on time.
Tony Haynes: This project was very, “let’s just get it done”. The [songs] were all unique, written off the top of my head, from the beginning. Even though [Michael] got credit as producer, he didn’t produce the project. It was basically me.
Tony intended to create a narrative around the album, with some songs illustrating an inner conflict of a Barney hater.
Tony: Each song tells its own story – “I hate him, but maybe I hate him because I want to be him.” Most people don’t like things because they’re so simple… they want to make things complicated. They say “Barney’s not so complicated at all, but I hate him anyway.”
Tony may not have trusted Michael, but he still considered him a friend.
Tony: I really liked Michael a lot… He was ornery, he was mean, but you knew what you were getting. I loved his wife Deborah, gorgeous, great actress. You knew he was gonna fuck you, but at least you knew that he wasn’t going to do it behind your back, he’s just gonna do it.
Cindy Jo sheds some light on the power Michael held at the time. In 1995, during the height of the OJ Simpson trial, he became obsessed with capitalising off of it.
Cindy Jo: The next thing I know, he’s like “were gonna do a book.” I say “what?” He says, “Faye Resnick.” I say “who’s Faye Resnick?” He says “Faye was one of Nicole Brown Simpson’s best friends. We’re going to publish a book, it’s called ‘Nicole Brown Simpson, The Private Diaries of A Life Interrupted, by Faye Resnick”.
Reportedly, Michael had paid Faye Resnick enough to make a down payment on a nice house in LA in exchange for her information. When the book was released, Judge Ito summoned Michael personally to his chambers.
Cindy Jo: He said “Mr. Viner, you must cease and desist pushing this book” And Michael said “I won’t”. Michael proceeded with publishing his book, and Judge Ito called him in again. He said “you have to stop this.” And Michael said “I won’t”. And he didn’t… he got away with it. I remember, I walked into his office after the second meeting, and he told me about it, and I said “you are gonna get yourself thrown in jail!” But he didn’t. That’s an example of his power… It was wild.
Cindy recalls the first time she met Tony Haynes, during the Barney project.
Cindy Jo: He came by the office to pick me up and he pulled up in this older Rolls Royce… As we were driving I said “Tony! Your car is awesome!” he says “yeah, I bought it from Kenny Rodgers.”
Tony: Kenny Rodgers owned the Rolls Royce first, he drove it from Texas to California. He sold it to Lionel Ritchie, and Lionel sold it to somebody else, and that somebody else sold it to Gene Simmons. I met Gene Simmons, and I talked to him about the car over lunch. [Eventually] I bought it from a car lot in San Fernando valley. Tupac bought one because I had one, and he put the eyepatch on because I wear an eyepatch. A lot people liked the fact that a brother was running around in a Rolls Royce back in those times.
Once the book was released, the marketing for it was a bit unorthodox.
Cindy Jo: It was marketed as an audiobook, which was odd. I don’t think the target audience was children. The songs weren’t recorded as kid-sounding songs, they were more well produced, you know what I mean?
Tony Haynes: The target audience was parents who were sick of Barney and the kids who didn’t really like him. I wrote the songs to appeal to parents, but also appeal to youngsters who could dance to it. I didn’t make the quality as perfect as you’d want, so it would feel a little bootlegged, and feel a little like, “yeah, that’s how I feel, a little ornery.”
I asked WJT Mitchell to explain the psychology that would allow this album – or “audiobook” – to have had any sort of anticipated audience. What made Barney so unsavoury that the album could be placed into retail outlets all across America?
WJT Mitchell: If you wanted to go really deeply into it, there’s the whole theory of the transitional object. Donald Winnicott, the psychiatrist, studied things like security blankets, and he talked about the transitional object, the teddy bear is the classic, but kids adopt objects, security blankets, teddy bears, other stuff, toys. They get very attached. [An adult] can’t just grab the bear and do anything they want to it. It makes the kid very upset. On the other hand, they can do anything they want to it, and often they will be very violent with this thing they love. So, the transitional object is a very interesting object of both love and hate. That’s the more general phenomena, I think, that Barney was an attempt to market a transitional object that was pure goodness.
However, not everyone hated Barney. In fact, a lot of people were angry that Dove would release a work that mocked Barney, and let the company know.
Cindy Jo: There were reviews, and I remember the company got phone calls and letters, this was right before email. I think it was really because Barney was so beloved at the time, and the marketing for Barney was amazing at the time. Sesame Street got pushed aside, everything got pushed aside for Barney the purple dinosaur. Then this company comes out with this CD of “I Hate Barney”, and moms and dads from everywhere were just appalled.
Kaia PopTart is a 37-year-old artist who bought “The Unauthorized I Hate Barney Songbook” when she was 9 or 10.
Kaia: I picked it up at some bargain store when I was in elementary school. I got some rock music trading cards from the same store. That’s how I started getting into extreme music. I remember being very disappointed in it. I was under the impression that it would be a little more edgy, but it was just some lady singing parodies of Barney songs and not swearing at all… I probably only listened to it a couple times and went back to my Ren and Stimpy tape.
Tony Haynes: People hated it, because people love Barney so much, but Michael built his business [taking] popular culture and doing the opposite, nobody could do that better than him. I knew [this criticism] would come, so I also had songs on there that were complimentary to Barney, that give you a well rounded thing in between that. At the same time, a lot of people liked the fact because they didn’t like Barney. It was 50/50.
However, Freda says the public’s anger didn’t come near her.
Freda: You know, don’t harm the messenger. I mean, it wasn’t my idea, it was their idea.
An oft-repeated rhyme heard on many a playground and school bus is “I Hate You, You Hate Me. Let’s Get Together and Kill Barney.” Tony tells me wherever it came from, his album had nothing to do with that.
Tony: My lyrics are “I hate you, you hate me, we’re a wacko family, with a great big hug and a yuck from me and you, won’t you say you hate me too.” There’s no reference of killing Barney. We don’t hate him to that point. It’s all tongue in cheek, and not as mean as I could have gone. You don’t really want kids to be that mean, which is why we had the song “No and shut up”, and “Stupidee Dupidee Ideas”, and even with the Barney song, it’s irreverent to a point, but not to where Barney needs to go out and get security.
Soon after the album, many employees began leaving Dove Audio as it sunk into commercial decline.
Tony: Dove had its own problems with money, so they couldn’t market it the way they wanted, because people were suing them over other things, and the OJ book.
Cindy Jo: Michael started to publish more controversial things.. that was about the time I left. I got a call… [I was] asked “do you want a job doing all the artist interviews on American Top 40?” I said “Sorry Michael and Deborah, I have to go!” When I left they bought me an engraved Tiffany bracelet. I was so touched by that. This little CD you found has such stories!
Tony: This project helped me later, because I wrote for Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Barbie, Looney Tunes, and now I’m out creating television shows and novels, and I’m out pitching stuff. This project was actually the project that showed me, I can write musicals, novels, and all the things, ‘cause it was out of my initial comfort zone but became the benchmark for everything. I’ve written 34 children’s books. This was a monumental thing looking back.
It seemed like everyone involved with the album went on to do great things. I asked what they were up to these days.
Cindy Jo: I’m currently acting, developing a feature film and developing a YouTube show. I’m also still working in audiobooks, directing, editing and proofing.
Freda Payne: I have a new EP that’s out now, it was released a few months ago, it’s a jazz album, and it’s called Let There Be Love. I did a duet with Johnny Mathis, I did with Kenny Lattimore, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Kurt Elling.
Tony Haynes: To see what I’m working on now, you can go on iamtonyhaynes.com.… I’m pitching and meeting with people to put shows out. The goal is to build a multi-billion dollar business. It’s like if you were the same guy who created The Blacklist, Two and a Half Men, Modern Family, that’s what I’m doing. I’m going to give you an example of my gift, I’m going to give you a gift. All you have to do is write your name on the left side of a piece of paper downwards. I’m gonna create a poem that spells your name within one minute. Then, give it a title. Something about you, in your life.
I chose the title “Grateful”, as I was grateful Tony had taken the time to talk to me. Off the top of his head, Tony recited this poem to me:
Daily I am grateful
Looking at my future
And from that point of view
Nothing makes me more grateful
Gratitude is the key
Recalling things that were
Every day I am grateful for
Each new thing that occurs
Nothing compares to gratitude
Because it is the key
Everything about it
Grateful things in me
Tony had said it best; I was grateful for all the people involved who chose to speak with me, and for the fact that there was such an interesting story behind this seemingly simple concept. Most of all, however, I was grateful for Barney; for those who love him, and for those who hate him.