“Hey, man! Is that Freedom Rock?”
“Well, turn it up, man!”
In the 1980s, the lure of cheap commercial time led to many legendary mail order offers. There was the Ginsu knife, the Sports Illustrated football phone, and a laundry list of compilation records that assembled hit songs without the pain of B-side clunkers.
And then there was Freedom Rock.
Less a commercial and more a piece of performance art, the two-minute spot aired circa 1987 and depicted two burnouts grooving to hits from Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, and Jefferson Airplane. Idling near a van, the two reminisce about the good old day (“war protests, jail”) and extol the virtues of 1960s rock on “four records, three cassettes, or two CDs.”
Freedom Rock was the brainchild of Razor + Tie, an independent record label that farmed out production for a TV spot. The two actors, Michael Beard (who does most of the talking) and Red Perry were local to the Colorado Springs area, where the footage was filmed. Beard was a theater regular, while Perry worked as a DJ for local station KILO.
Tracked down after making a comment on the video’s YouTube page in 2013, Beard told Retroist.com he was paid about $700 for the spot and found inspiration by acting "nervous and stoned.” His “Hippie #1” character, who appears irresistibly upbeat even while suffering what looks to be a mild case of the tremors, was the primary factor in the ad’s notoriety. According to its unofficial Facebook fan page, viewers recall seeing T-shirts with Beard on the back flashing a peace sign.
A second commercial featuring Perry in his usual role of DJ was also filmed, but doesn’t appear to be nearly as fondly-remembered. In 1988, he made news by announcing to his listeners at KILO that Pink Floyd was going to play on the station’s rooftop. More than 4000 people showed, apparently forgetting it was April 1.
Perry died of cancer in 1995. Beard is in Japan and performing with cover band Flashback and has seen more than one Hippie #1 costume while overseas. In 2013, New Hampshire band Rippin’ E Brakes asked Beard to reprise the role to help promote a Kickstarter campaign for their debut album. Turn it on, man.