You Deserve a Jingle Today! – Part 1: The Commercials

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Commercials seem like they’re everywhere, right?

I feel like I could take a time machine back to 10,000 BC and I would end up seeing hieroglyphics on the local cave wall that translate to “Eat at Joe’s”.

Joe had a good run, but became tired of the daily grind.
He sold out to big hamburger, and retired to Thebes.

Now, I don’t have to convince anyone around here of the power of music. So when did some enterprising so-and-so first realize that combining catchy music with an advertisement would magnify its power?

Probably longer ago than we think! 

I found references that claim that some musicians in the 19th century (or earlier) would boost their income by including songs in their repertoire that advertised local businesses. (Two eternal truths: You will always have to tolerate ads, and musicians don’t get paid enough.)

Before broadcast media, some companies would include sheet music with their products. The radio era began in 1920, but it took until the mid 1920s before the value of the jingle was recognized. It may or may not have been the first actual product jingle on radio, but it’s generally recognized that the first successful jingle was for “Wheaties” in 1926.

Sales of the cereal, which had been floundering, took a noticeable leap in Minneapolis where the “Wheaties” jingle was featured.

The WCCO Radio “Wheaties Quartette”, 1926

A lot of commercials were performed/sung live through the mid-20th century, but this particular Wheaties jingle was pre-recorded. 

Soon enough, jingles were THE way to sell products on radio and later on television.

Some jingles were wordy and elaborate, with in depth information about a product. Other jingles didn’t even have lyrics…they were simply musical cues or signatures that became associated with a company, like the NBC chimes: 

(There is a fascinating Wikipedia page on the NBC chimes. )

If you can think of a company that existed in the mid-20th century, it surely had a jingle at one point or another.

Some companies would introduce new jingles regularly, while others persisted with the same ones for decades. Jingles would occasionally take on a life of their own and be fleshed out into full songs that were released as singles.

One that comes to mind is a 1965 Alka-Seltzer commercial that was re-recorded by The Wrecking Crew. It was released as an instrumental with the title No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In) under the pseudonym The T-Bones and went to #3 in 1966.

Another example of the same phenomenon came from Coca-Cola’s 1971 “hilltop” advertisement. It was modified from a British ad, and first aired on American radio stations. Once the TV ad aired in the summer of 1971, two different artists, The New Seekers and The Hillside Singers both charted at #7 and #13 respectively on Billboard’s Hot 100. 

As a musician, there’s a fine line between selling-out and agreeing to work with a company to  get exposure (and a paycheck) by singing jingles. So they were sometimes performed by famous musicians.

I have an album with 60 different versions of Coca-Cola radio commercials from their mid-60s “Things Go Better with Coke” ad campaign. It features artists such as the Everly Brothers, Leslie Gore, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrill, Roy Orbison, Tom Jones, and Neil Diamond. Those are some heavy hitters!

One of the best known jingle-writers was Barry Manilow.

He wrote classics such as Band-Aid’s “I am stuck on Band-Aid, ‘cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me”, State Farm Insurance’s “Like a good neighbor…”,

And, the hugely popular (at the time) jingle for McDonalds in 1971, “You Deserve A Break Today”. 

So where are jingles now? They’re not nearly as prevalent as they used to be. Especially on television. There’s been a trend over the last 30 years or so away from self-promoting jingles towards simply using popular songs in advertisements. An excellent 2016 article in The Atlantic on the jingles stated:

“[Jingles] sounded old-fashioned to a younger audience, and the young audience is what the advertisers want. 

A jingle wasn’t subtle. It tried too hard—the opposite of cool.

It became a lot cooler to commission promotional music that sounded like a pop hit.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/08/what-killed-the-jingle/497291/

The article goes on to cite examples like Michael Jackson and his brothers’ famous ad campaign with Pepsi in the mid-1980s: 

Eventually, rather than writing their own jingles that sounded like pop music, companies just started using actual pop music.

Nowadays, a corporation isn’t going to hire a musician to compose and perform a song that sounds like Billie Eilish.

They’ll just pay Billie Eilish to use her song, even though its lyrics have nothing to do with perfume or software or beer or new cars. 

There are still exceptions. Consider McDonald’s “Ba-da-ba-ba-baaa, I’m lovin’ it!” It’s still healthy. It was produced by the Neptunes, co-written by Pharrell Williams. Here are a few other contemporary examples that you may recognize (if you’re in the US):

“Limu Emu! (and Doug)”

“Liberty, Liberty, Li-berty, Li-berty”

“Safe Auto!”

“Nationwide Is On Your Side”

“Safelite Repair, Safelite Replace”

Is it weird that all of those are automobile related? Those are ones that came to mind.

Notice that all of them (including the McDonalds jingle) are less than 5 seconds long. In the internet age, we have a shorter attention span. We aren’t going to listen to a 30 or 60 second song.

But the jingle lives, even if it’s barely a shadow of how powerful it used to be.

Case in point: our home was robbed back in 2010. Our family decided to get a home security service. I didn’t even have to look up a company, because I had (unintentionally) memorized a phone number from one particular company’s radio ad.

Maybe music doesn’t have to be used to help us remember the details of a company, because the internet makes that easy enough, now. We just have to associate a company with a cool song. 

Here are a handful of famous commercial jingles from the last 70 years or so. 

See the USA in your Chevrolet – early 1950s with Dinah Shore singing

Winston Cigarettes – 1954

Rice Krispies – late 1950s? I don’t remember this entire song, but I remember the “Snap! Crackle! Pop! Rice Krispies” part at the end. 

SLINKY – 1962

Oscar Meyer – mid 1960s

Meow Mix – mid 1970s

Oscar Meyer – 1976

Peter Paul Candy Bars (sometimes you feel like a nut) – 1977

Kit Kat – 1988

I tried to find a version of the Chili’s restaurant “I Want My Baby Back Ribs” commercial, because that song was so good, but I couldn’t find a good video.

Now, allow me to indulge myself by sharing a few of my favorites, which may not have been the most famous, but I love them:

Lowenbrau – 1977   I always loved this song, even though you can hardly hear it over the dialogue. 

Chevrolet – Heartbeat of America – late 1980s. I loved this song, especially that little guitar riff at the very end. 

Dr. Pepper – late 70s featuring David Naughton singing. 

What are some of your favorite jingles (radio or TV) from days gone by?

There are probably more jingles out there today than I can think of. They are just usually very short sound bites, compared to the songs of older times. 

Stay tuned next time for a second article where I discuss radio station jingles…

…a kind of music that I think I like way more than the average person. 


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Phylum of Alexandria
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October 27, 2022 6:33 am

Jingles were going strong in the late 80s and early 90s. I’m someone who has grown to hate having to sit through commercial ads, but I still sing those old jingles from my childhood.

You already listed the “Gimme a break” song for Kit-Kats. Another big one was this song for Mentos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nk9CO0ELdDc

This one for the My Buddy or Kid Sister dolls:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmwF-zy2Ypo

And one of my personal favorites, for the board game Crossfire:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCwn1NTK-50

Another type of music that’s somewhat related to the commercial jingle was the music made for older video games. Nowadays most games have pop songs or proper soundtracked scores, but the early music consisted of short, catchy little compositions that were played continuously on a loop for each level. All the better to bore into your brain!

As an example, my brothers and I rented the Batman game for NES back in early 1990. We only rented it once and played it for the weekend. But the tracks of the first few levels stuck with me for years. It was only until Youtube emerged that I could actually listen again and confirm that I had remembered it correctly–and I did. Those composers sure did their job!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvzsFS4Plmw

Last edited 3 months ago by Phylum of Alexandria
LinkCrawford
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October 27, 2022 7:35 am

That IS a great separate genre of music…video game music. My son has downloaded several video game soundtracks.

Related, but also separate from old video game music…DVD walkthrough music…the tune that would play while your DVD was on the menu screen. Since kids would forget and leave the menu screen on for a looooong time, you would hear that song play over and over and over.

Phylum of Alexandria
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October 27, 2022 7:41 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

On Chris O’Leary’s Bowie blog Pushing Against the Dame, I dropped some shade on the 1999 song Brilliant Adventure, in haiku form:

I wake to a sound.
Menu screen with looped music.
An old DVD.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B89mTWH7WPo

But you’re right; it takes skill to make those alluring yet unobtrusive sound bites.

LinkCrawford
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October 27, 2022 7:29 am

Darn, the link for Peter Paul accidentally had the Kit Kat ad. Here’s the “Sometimes you feel like a nut” jingle that I had wanted. (My mistake, not mt58’s)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmrkyVG4wbE

mt58
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October 27, 2022 8:58 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

No worries; fixed. We strive for accuracy.

LinkCrawford
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October 27, 2022 8:00 am

Also, that is NOT a good price on Crawford Cola.

mt58
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October 27, 2022 8:16 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

I thought the same. It seems far too low. CC, after all, is considered a premium brand.

Aaron3000
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October 27, 2022 9:14 pm
Reply to  mt58

Apologies to Link, but there’s only one Crawford Cola for me:

https://youtu.be/YtK-yq-BQDU

Mr. Plow
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October 27, 2022 9:42 am

Gotta go with two from Heinz Ketchup.

First is the first commercial I remember that uses a recognizable hit:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IobpIKshr8

The second features a pre-Friends Joey and a great song from Jon Astley

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_vssdys8lk

Aaron3000
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October 27, 2022 9:16 pm
Reply to  Mr. Plow

Is that Corey Feldman in the “Anticipation” ad? (And Casey Kasem with the tag!)

Last edited 3 months ago by Aaron3000
Virgindog
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October 27, 2022 10:29 am

I’m at work so I can’t look up the video but if you’re old enough you’ll remember it from just this: “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is.”

mt58
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October 27, 2022 10:38 am
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mt58
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October 27, 2022 10:31 am

Three stars in one commercial:

  • Jingle written by Barry Manilow…
  • Featuring John Travolta…
  • And also another familiar face… do you recognize?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25k9JjjjJDg

mt58
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October 27, 2022 4:51 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

You are correct.

Give that man a Crawford Cola.

Dance Fever
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October 27, 2022 10:34 am

One of the greatest of all time was the “Hey kid, catch” from the “Have a Coke and a smile” campaign of the late ’70’s and early ’80’s.
Featuring Hall of Famer Mean Joe Greene of the Pittsburgh Steelers and young Tommy Kono. It captured the Clio for best commercial of 1979.
My computer won’t let me post the video, so if our tech savvy host could provide a look at it, greatly appreciated.

mt58
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October 27, 2022 10:37 am
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cappiethedog
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October 27, 2022 8:43 pm
Reply to  DanceFever

“Mr. Polamalu? Mr. Polamalu?”

JJ Live At Leeds
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October 27, 2022 11:37 am

Now that you mention it, jingles do seem to be more a thing of the past. Don’t know if the likes of the Intel and Netflix opening
tones count as jingles as they wordlessly signify the brand.

Back in the 80s one of the joys of local radio was the amateurish sounding adverts with a do it yourself ethos whereas now things are a lot more homogenised and professional.

mt58
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October 27, 2022 11:40 am

> Don’t know if the likes of the Intel and Netflix opening
tones count as jingles as they wordlessly signify the brand.

Good observation. I’d agree that these “instrumental memes” are jingles.

reggie
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October 27, 2022 11:53 am

I always liked the Dr. Pepper jingle. Barry Manilow may have written that one as well.

Dance Fever
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October 27, 2022 4:26 pm
Reply to  reggie

Barry performed the song, it was written by Randy Newman.
Barry also wrote the Band-Aid jingle mentioned on this site.

Lee Bowman
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October 27, 2022 3:13 pm

When I was in graduate school near Chicago, I learned the Empire Carpet phone number:” 588-two three-hundred, Empiiiire.” before they went toll free. That one along with a few others that may no longer be in business, so wouldn’t want to post a number. Many jingles that you included, I remember well, and many others in addition! Email me and I’ll share some more.

cstolliver
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October 27, 2022 4:47 pm
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Aaron3000
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October 27, 2022 8:58 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

Lol, first thing that popped into my head while reading the article was “Empire”. Here’s 4 minutes of just the jingle as it evolved through the years:

https://youtu.be/s73v79TyASI

Last edited 3 months ago by Aaron3000
cappiethedog
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October 28, 2022 1:28 am
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This could be a Negativland track.

mt58
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October 27, 2022 8:13 pm
Reply to  Lee Bowman

Hello, Lee,

Good welcome to you! Thanks for visiting the site!

cstolliver
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October 27, 2022 4:45 pm

Jingoistic? Maybe. Catchy as heck. Yes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNui40gTsq4

Last edited 3 months ago by Chuck Small
cstolliver
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October 27, 2022 4:50 pm

There’s this one, which later became a minor hit for Sonny and Cher:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OSJleIRvuo

cstolliver
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October 27, 2022 4:54 pm

And I didn’t know Neil Sedaka’s original ’60s stuff as much as I knew his ’70s comeback, or else maybe I would’ve recognized this commercial…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2B_b_Gu_PA

cstolliver
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October 27, 2022 4:55 pm

So, Link, I loved this column. Well done. And I think I have one of your radio jingles figured out, so I won’t spoil it now. I can be patient…

cappiethedog
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October 27, 2022 8:56 pm

The director of the Lowenbrau commercial saw Mean Streets. That’s a great commercial, and the jingle is a good match.

Aaron3000
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October 27, 2022 9:05 pm

I’m not sure why this jingle pops into my head so frequently, probably because that rapid fire “tacotacotacobell” is so damn catchy.

https://youtu.be/YR5YJ3qzIx4

DDuqueete
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October 28, 2022 7:32 pm

Love the article Link. So very cool to walk down memory lane. The one TV jingle I’ll never forget was from when I lived in California. You knew someone was in the LA viewing area if they heard the advertisement for Cal Worthington and his dog spot. Check it out, you will love it!

mt58
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October 28, 2022 8:22 pm
Reply to  DDuqueete

Hello, DDuqueete, and good welcome to you!

R.S.Wonham
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October 29, 2022 11:08 pm

Partner and I were in Vegas last weekend and saw Barry Manilow in concert, along with 100’s of women of a certain age, dressed to the nines to see their beloved, Barry (never seen anything like this at a concert). Anyway, Barry performed a concert of back-to-back hits, including the Band-Aid and State Farm Commercial jingles. He also commented on the longevity of the latter, which has to have kept many Manilow beagles in luxurious quarters.

dutchg8r
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November 8, 2022 5:18 pm

I’m so far behind, I know….

Back in the 70s, a grocery store chain in the Mid-Atlantic, Shop Rite, hit upon a genius schtick and would promote their canned goods sales with animated soup cans dancing to the can-can. Or animated dancers dancing on cans.

“Nows the time to, shop at Shop-Rite’s can can time” or something like that.

Of course, if someone starts up a can can dance anywhere on TV or movie, whatever, boom – immediate transport back in time to those dancing soup cans. As I understand it, that is still being used to this day for Shop Rite.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4XP0OhyCNBI

Last edited 2 months ago by dutchg8r
cstolliver
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November 19, 2022 9:52 am

I forgot to mention the AT40 1982 ad (included on the AT40 masters) for Zena jeans. Talk about an earworm! (The instrumentation in the background reminds me of Christopher Cross’ “Never Be the Same.”) I actually kept it along with some of the hits I taped off the radio from AT40.

Here’s a link, Link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mSH0JM-LCJI

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