The concept was originally created for a 1986 commercial on behalf of the California Raisin Advisory Board when one of the writers, Seth Werner (at the time with the advertising firm Foote, Cone & Belding SF, and now with big) came up with an idea for the new raisin commercial, saying, "We have tried everything but dancing raisins singing 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine'" (the 1968 song popularized by Marvin Gaye). To their surprise, the commercial became wildly popular, paving the way for several future commercials–one of which featured Ray Charles and another with a raisinized incarnation of Michael Jackson–and opportunities through other media. The commercials were produced by Vinton Studios using their claymation technique, with character designs by Michael Brunsfeld. The following year, the Raisins appeared in the Emmy Award-winning A Claymation Christmas Celebration, singing the Christmas carol, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
The California Raisins thoroughly explored a musical avenue under Priority Records. Four studio albums were released through 1987 to 1988, and their signature song, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," landed on the Billboard Hot 100. However, the Raisins would continue to make their strongest impression through animated endeavors.
On November 4, 1988, CBS aired a primetime special entitled Meet the Raisins!. The musical mockumentary was again created by Vinton Studios and was nominated for aPrimetime Emmy Award. It also provided the band members more personality and individual names: A.C., Beebop (drums), Stretch (bass), and Red (guitar/piano). A Saturday morning cartoon series, The California Raisin Show, debuted the following year but lasted merely 13 episodes. While cel animated by Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, it maintained Will Vinton's creative direction. A sequel to the original CBS special aired in 1990 under the title Raisins: Sold Out!: The California Raisins II. This special saw the Raisins hiring a new manager with the goal of making a comeback.