Tech #16: Telephone Talk

Growing up, we had two telephones: one Harvest Yellow, the other Olive Green. They were rotary and you were tied to a short cord. No call waiting, no caller ID, no cordless, no free long distance,… nada.

I say all this not to inspire pity, but to put things in perspective compared to today. Now we are intimately linked to our phones…. er, excuse me – mobile devices. These things have become a necessity for most jobs, and most people wouldn’t dream of even a trip to the grocery store without one. Whether we have become shackled to them or that our lives are enhanced by them is up for debate. I would wager that most adults would say we are shackled.

Anyway, no matter how jaded you are towards “smart phones” (hate that term for some reason), you have to admit the cell phone has brought a lot of positive changes…

No more pay phones

Not only were things never around when you needed one, but you also had to have change in your pockets. Remember having to make collect calls? I haven’t made or received a collect call in over ten years. Add to that frustration, the annoyance of having to wait in line.

And all pay phone calls were hurried and rushed. When your quarter ran out, you were done mid-syllable.


Most of you probably cannot remember what it’s like to be tethered to a small cord on a very private conversation. I understand a lot of office phones are still not cordless, but try talking to your boyfriend or girlfriend standing in the kitchen surrounded by your parents and siblings. It can get ugly.

But freedom of movement (mobility) may be a high price to pay for being at the beck and call of others day and night.

Another downside is the expense. It’s amazing how much Americans are nickel and dimed to death – not just in cell phones, but a whole world of expenses your parents and grandparents never had to deal with. Cable bills, internet bills, cell phone bills, and often credit card bills… not to mention higher medical costs, higher insurance costs, higher grocery prices, etc. The list goes on. The cell phone bill gets lost amid the cacophony of charges – sandwiched between your Netflix bill and gym membership fees.

Some would argue that the reverse is true – it actually can save you money. Perhaps you can now disconnect your land line forever. Ever tried to carry on a lengthy conversation using a hotel phone? You have to take out a second mortgage to pay the bill!

My own opinion? I look on cell phones as the ring in The Lord of the Rings. Just like the ring which could turn the wearer invisible, the cell phone can do amazing things. However, it doesn't take long before you are beholden to it. The phone is the master and you are the servant. Smeagol loves his new iPhone. It’s his precious.

I know I sound like a Luddite. Sadly, I have to admit that I have two cell phones – one for work and one for personal use. I love being able to check in on this blog's comments while twiddling my fingers at the airport. I love listening to podcasts and lurking around reddit. But I also recognize that it can turn me into Gollum if I don’t remember that it has an off switch.

Note: Text at bottom left is original.  What song are they referring to specifically? Perhaps the Stones song?

The telephone (not cell phone) has been a part of some great pop culture moments. In terms of songs, I consider “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” by England Dan and John Ford Coley the pinnacle:
The song is in the cadence of someone talking on the telephone; the listener only hearing one side of the conversation. It’s just done beautifully…. “Hello…. it’s been a while... not much, how’ bout you?...”

I’m not sure what “Red Telephone” by Love is about; however, I’m pretty confident it’s the best song with “telephone” specifically in the title.

Lest you forgot, I've got a whole mix tape of telephone songs all wrapped up and ready for you to download.

Most critics would point to Pillow Talk or Dial M for Murder as the ultimate teIephone scenes in movies. But I can’t help it - my favorite telephone scene is when Freddy Kruger’s tongue extends out of the receiver in Nightmare on Elm Street Part II. Although, the iconic scene in When a Stranger Calls is pretty damn impressive – as are the sinister rings in The Ring.

Inarguably, its greatest use in comedy was by Bob Newhart. His phone shtick is so iconic and well loved, it is easily up there with “Who’s on First”. The phone intro to The Bob Newhart Show was a nice touch.

I suppose I could ramble on forever.  So, I'll end it here.  Put your favorite phone song or movie scene in a comment.  And, as always, feel free to wax nostalgic and spread the retro love. 

By the way, I thought I'd include a heapin’ helpin’ of foxy ladies and their telephones . Any discussion is improved by images of vintage babes and, to be perfectly honest, I know that many of you are here only for the pictures. You couldn’t give a flying fart about a single word I’m saying, and that’s okay. Just as long as you’re here, I’m happy.

Image #11-12 (click all images to enlarge)




















  1. AnonymousJuly 27, 2012

    Pay phones were usually filthy and I don't miss them a bit! If I was driving around town and needed to use a phone, I would try to find a nice hotel. They always had clean pay phones where you didn't have to worry about getting held up (as happened to a friend using a gas station phone).

    As for cell phones, I remain amazed how many people let their phone call the shots. Even in land line days, I unplugged my phone if I didn't want to be disturbed, or I turned it off once I was able to purchase a phone with an off switch.

    I do the same now with my smart phone. I refuse to be at the beck and call of every telemarketer and every fool who can mis-dial a number. A phone should be a tool, not a tether.

  2. Brings back memories of our house phone located on our kitchen wall, right next to our bathroom. I had to stretch the cord to it's limits when walking into the bathroom for private conversations. All was well, until the dreaded knock on the door, from someone wanting to use our only bathroom in the house. As far as phone booths were concerned, I used to love sitting in them and shutting the wooden and glass accordian doors. Those on the other side waiting, were at your mercy! :) This was especially amusing as a child...to have the "one up" on adults.

  3. It's Miniskirt Friday! Kind Of! If future generations see movies and TV of yesteryear,they'll marvel at the plot points that depended on a character trying to get to a phone. One good thing about corded phones was that people didn't spend all their time yakking on them. Contrary to today.

  4. Songs include "Memphis" by Chuck Berry and later Johnny Rivers, and "Operator" by Jim Croce. And of course Telephone Man by Mari Wilson. Amy song by Love is the best song on whatever subject it's about. Country Western music has some great phone songs, "Hello Darlin'" by Conway Twitty, Jim Reeves "He'll have to go" "Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
    Let's pretend that we're together all alone
    I'll tell the man to turn the juke box way down low
    And you can tell your friend there with you he'll have to go"

    A friend of mine was just here visiting and was telling about how his little brother always checked the return slots of pop machines and pay phones and how the lucky punk ALWAYS found some change. My kids were a bit confused about what a pay phone was. Very eye opening for a not-so-old guy like me.

    What in the world is going on in #33? She took off the bra but started to pull up the slip? I'm confused.

    That's a cool looking table and does the phone have jewels around it in #28, which is probably my favorite.

  5. AnonymousJuly 27, 2012

    Never mind the phones. This post turned out to be a pancake orgy!

  6. The "Off The Hook" photo actually has something else that jarred me. On the woman's back there's a large piece of flesh poking out between her bra and lingerie. You'd never see that in today's photos. It would be shopped out. Or she'd be fired for "being too fat" and replaced with a living twig.

    A few months ago I found myself showing a teenage boy how to dial a rotary phone. He hadn't even seen one before. I informed him if he really wants to be an actor he has to learn about older things because he will find himself in movies and tv shows set in other eras where technology isn't as advanced.

    I have a cheap cell phone. I rarely use it. I freaking hate telephones. If they weren't so handy for calling 911 I wouldn't own one at all.

  7. Not missing pay phones at all! Most of the time they smelled like pee and many were usually damaged so that they were unusable! I also don't miss being tethered to the phone either! Land lines never afforded a teenage girl any privacy whatsoever! My little brother used to listen in on my phone conversations and report to my mom the things I discussed with my boyfriend...little bastard! Certainly don't miss those days!

  8. Is that a late 60's Joan Collins in her all-together in pic #28?

  9. Most people know that the first message ever transmitted by telephone was "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you."

    What many people don't know is that the second message transmitted by telephone was "Your call is important to us. Please remain on the line and it will be answered in the order received."

    1. Magic KennyJuly 30, 2012

      I swear to God, as I read this particular post I was on hold with the water company trying to cancel service. Literally, as I read this the pre-recorded ice queen said "Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line and it will be answered shortly." Art imitates life once again.

  10. My favorite movie phone scene has to be with Peter Sellers as the President in "Dr. Strangelove" talking with the Russian premier - I'd almost swear they'd got Bob Newhart in to write that scene.

  11. "The Red Telephone" one of those great classic rock songs that has a title that is not part of the lyrics. The words 'red' and 'telephone' are not in the song. What people remember about the song is the end where Arthur Lee keeps repeating the lines, "There locking them up today, they're throwing away the key. I wonder who it will be tomorrow, you or me."

  12. AnonymousJuly 27, 2012

    Watson invented the phone booth. Seems his landlady was fed up with him yelling into the new-fangled invention at all hours. So he rolled up some blankets into a tunnel and viola! Source: http://thephonebooth.com/phoneadverts/telephonebooths/first-booth.html

  13. AnonymousJuly 27, 2012

    Oh yeah, pancakes indeed for some of the pic's.

  14. AnonymousJuly 28, 2012

    - Landline phones generally had better reception than cordless or cell. Also better for old people with arthritic hands, like my parents.
    - Who remembers playing songs on the phone? Mary Had A Little Lamb: 3 2 1 2 3 3 3 etc Happy Birthday To You: 1 1 2 1 6 3 etc Remember to do this only WHILE on a call.
    - Yes most pay phones were a germaphobe's nightmare. Even worse: open up the headset itself sometime. YEECCCCHHHH
    - "The 'Off The Hook' photo ... On the woman's back there's a large piece of flesh poking out between her bra and lingerie." No biggie. That dude needs to hang up now!
    - #11 Nice gams. #37 Nice posture. Who remembers lying/sitting in all kids of weird positions while "tied up" on the phone?
    - #28 hubba hubba reminds me why picture-phones never became popular. Maybe we'd like to see the other person, but most of us don't want the other person to see US. I remember the first time I heard someone on a cell phone in the men's room. Ick.

    1. It's not that it was a big deal, it was just shocking after years of being condictioned to see women without extra flesh to pinch in ads. It was like "Oh wow! She's REAL and not some Stepford Model!"

  15. AnonymousJuly 28, 2012

    I like how you used the term "positive changes" and not "progress" in regards to mobile devices. Technological shifts do not always equal something advanced or better, but they do have change our lives both positively and negatively. Positive changes regarding mobile devices: GPS capability for easier travel, efficient communication especially in emergencies, better access to information. Negative changes regarding mobile devices: disconnect from the world around you, too reliant on technology (what happens when the grid goes down?), a much more disposable culture (phones used to last 10 years or more).

  16. I used to know how to make pay phones ring because a friend of mine saw one of their technicians dial the number to check if it was working and told me how to do it. Worked for several years until they changed the system.

  17. AnonymousJuly 28, 2012

    The first 4 photo's need some butter and syrup......

  18. AnonymousJuly 29, 2012

    This post is a delightful combination of mini-skirt Monday, vintage technology, when work was groovy, found photos and oh yeah soft- porn.

  19. Other comics were known for their phone routines...Shelley Berman, and old-time radio performer Arlene Harris (she can be heard and seen on an episode of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW).

    Paul Duca

  20. my teenage daughter recently saw one of these type phones and found it hysterically funny

    one of the additional features of these phones is that they could double for a convenient weapon - whomp somebody upside the head with one of these and you're going to do wome serious damage

    i can't get over the feeling with the new phones that i'm talking into a cracker

  21. AnonymousJuly 29, 2012

    Dont forget "Don't call us, we'll call you" by Sugarloaf from 1975:


  22. It's mentioned that the old land line phones had you "tethered" to them by their cord. Well, at least you could walk away from them and be free, something that you cannot do with a cell phone which is a chain around one's neck.
    I've hated cell phones since they came out and nothing has changed my opinion. Do I have one? Yes, but only because it's a professional necessity. I used to lie at work and say I didn't have a cell phone but one day it rang right in front of my boss and I was busted. He promptly asked me for my cell phone number. My days of freedom were over.

  23. I hadn't used a pay phone since 1998...but then I did in January.

    I was moving back to the USA after living in Spain for 7 months for work. My blackberry died while in the EU, and fed-ex screwed up getting my replacement to me very badly. For the last few weeks I was in Spain, all I had was a $20 pay-as-you-go throwaway GSM phone...which by the way, did NOT work in the USA.

    January 6th...my connecting flight from JFK to final destination was delayed. Finally land in my final destination at 1:30AM with no way to call my ride. I managed to find THE ONLY working payphone in the terminal...the corner it was in had a bare spot where there used to be ANOTHER pay phone!

    FFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUCCCCC......I realized I had nothing but european change. Everything was closed. I managed to find some US change in a massage chair in the terminal. Phoned my ride.

    ...got home...

    ...thought long and hard about how mobile devices fit into my life...

  24. "Telephone Line" by ELO

  25. Ah, those were the grand days of vintage telephones and phone booths before smartphones existed. Thank you so much for your brilliant post. The pictures can surely take readers back down memory lane.