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Jingles and Ditties

Last month my six year old niece turned to me, out of the blue, smiled and said,

“Na-tion-wide is on your side!”

She sang it, actually, with the perfect little melody that they use in the commercial.  Since then (actually since I was about 10 years old), I’ve had commercial jingles and TV show theme songs running through my head.  Some things I remember perfectly, in totality; some things are only snippets, half remembered like in a dream.

Like my niece, Grace, I was once very young and could play back ad jingles, but also like her, I exhibited no desire to buy insurance, or a used car, or bottled water.

 

Jingle sentience began with me in the late 70’s with little bits and pieces from TV broadcasts in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“Classic House!”

“You’ll love it at Levitt!”

“(Lee?), it’s a Levolor!”

“This is Channel 8 News!”

 

I still don’t know what some of these things mean.  But I quickly learned TV Show themes, though in the interest of preserving the all-important melody I would muck up and stumble over misunderstood lyrics, like the theme of “Happy Days.”

“Goodbye sunshine, hello blue

Nothin’ can hold me while I hold you

Can’t be right- can’t be wrong

Rockin’ and rollin’ all week long!”

 

I don’t think that’s the lyrics but it’s still how I remember it.  Here’s one from “Hee Haw” that I remember perfectly.

“Where o’ where are you tonight?

Why did you leave me here all alone?

I searched the world over, though I’d found true love,

You met another, and PTHPTHPTH you were gone!”

 

In Tulsa this was our “Masterpiece Theatre.”  I watched “Hee Haw” every weekend, never missed it.

When I was 12 and moved to Los Angeles, a whole new world of advertising and TV shows opened up for me.  Why?  Because I got to watch about 4 hours every single day, if it was football Sunday we could be talking 11 hours total, including evening programming.  I quickly learned about all the actors and found out something really cool, famous actors did local TV spots in LA.  For instance, the years I was there, George Burns shilled for Brentwood Savings, “a great place to visit your money.”

“Branches in West Covina?  We’ve even got ‘em in East Covina!”

Not really a jingle, but I always remembered that line, and George’s wry delivery.

By the ages of 12 to 15 in LA, I knew on some level that theme song snippets had a mollifying effect on me.  Repetition took me to a familiar place.  I’d think about them in school and repeat them at odd (what everyone now calls random) times, like my niece did to me in my sister’s house in Florida last month.  Sometimes if I was stressed at school the theme from Season One of “Magnum PI” (my favorite show) would play in my head, and though the music was kind of a downer (it’s not the Post-Carpenter theme) I’d be a little comforted from it, especially if was Thursday (when it aired).

If I wanted to annoy my sister I’d try to “la-da-da-da” the closing piano music from “The Incredible Hulk” – because when the credits were rolling and David Banner was walking away it always made her cry.

The granddaddy of local advertising in the Southland was Cal Worthington, of the ad nauseum ads for Worthington Ford.  Cal’s shtick was to present himself with some weird animal he called his “dog Spot.”  An alligator, “This is Cal Worthington and his dog Spot.”

“If you’re lookin’ for a better set of wheels,

I will stand upon my head to beat all deals!

I will stand upon my head

Til my ears are turning red!

Go see Cal!  Go see Cal!  Go see Cal!”

 

We never had the money to go see Cal out there in Long Beach (we were stuck with our ’79 Dodge Omni), but the sheer saturation of his advertising insured that I would never forget him, irritatingly at the time, but now very fondly.

The musical “Camelot” had a long run at the Pantages Theater in those days.  They played the commercial for it so many times that for years, all the way until now, in fact, the beginning of the commercial would pop into my head at times:

“Cam-e-LOT! Cam-e-Lot!”

  Long past the time when I’d forgotten its provenance, I’d substitute:

“Camel SNOT! Camel SNOT!”

  The memory, though still there, had mutated beyond any meaning.  I couldn’t recall where I’d picked it up. Then recently, some guy on YouTube put on a block of advertising from 1981, channel 5, KTLA.  I guess he’d Betamaxed that whole night of programming.  Anyway, I saw the commercial again.  “Aha!  That’s where that’s from!!”   But why has it been in my memory all this time?  Maybe it was simply drilled in from repetition.  Maybe I remember it as being from a more care free time when I was kid.  Maybe it still plays when I need a little “pacifier,” remembering if not the content then always the feeling it gave me.

“In-N-Out!  In-N-Out!

That’s what a hamburger’s all about!”

“The Price Is Right” was a show full of memorable jingles, from the perky and full of hope theme song to the little bit that played when somebody lost a game, sounded like a long note on a trombone or something, muffled and designed to show the haplessness of the contestant.  I’d hum it at school whenever someone said something that kind of fell flat.  Cognizant of the probability that nobody would get it now, it still runs, but silently, a fragment rerun.

When I appeared in the deep background of a Pepsi commercial in 1982, I had the chance to be a part of jingle history.  The name of the commercial is “First Love” and it had a little song designed to root itself in our collective memories…. And maybe finally get Pepsi over the “Coca-Cola hump” (it never happened). Here’s the YouTube link to the ad:

  Pepsi “First Love” 1982

  I’ve looked at the commercial and for the life of me can’t find me in the background at the beginning.  I may have to erase a credit from my already paltry Hollywood resume.  I can’t believe I might have just been edited out!  Well, I guess I was tall for my age.  The song never did stick in my memory but maybe it did in yours.  Maybe this commercial is like my “Aha Camelot!” moment for someone else out there.

Ok, wait, I might be the guy trying to square dance in the back right corner, it was the only dance I knew in those days.  It’s blurry enough, I’ll claim it to pad my resume.

My friend David in Seattle has a wonderful retention for these themes and songs, but he takes it a step further.  He remembers not only the theme from “Happy Days” (and all the right lyrics); he also knows all the little bits, what he calls the ‘scene changing music.’  Like when the commercial is over and they show the Arnold’s Restaurant exterior stock shot for a second or two before the scene begins.  Yeah, that music!  He knows it for so many shows it’s “Rain Man”- ish.  And I know it’s right because I burst into that laugh of recognition when he does it.  But those musical phrases, those “establishing shot ditties” are always right below my own memory, which is why I find it so impressive.

He must have also spent a lot of time at home as a kid watching TV.

TV was like a third parent (or in many cases, like mine, a second parent) to a lonely kid with nothing to do in the afternoon.  A kid whose parents had to work second jobs.  A kid that would popularly be referred to as “latch key.”

In a significant way, advertising failed utterly in its intended effect on me.  I didn’t want to buy a car from Cal or fling open the door and say:

“Hey Culligan Man!”

  I didn’t drink any more or less Pepsi than I ever did.  Commercials didn’t make me buy checkerboard shoes (though I kind of wanted some anyways):

“Man, I need Vans.  VANS!”

I was just comforted by the music, the tunes, the themes to the “A-Team” and “Greatest American Hero.”  Things like:

“Jordache has the fit that’s ri-ight!”

I’d sing along to it and smile.  I was, and still am, buying into the pabulum-y aspect of ad tunage.  It’s been kind of like “Sesame Street,” – Grad School version.  And I still occasionally add things to my repertoire of memory, where they jostle for space among all the old ones.  But I like to think I don’t need it as much now.  With that in mind, I’ll leave you with this sign off from “Hee Haw:”

“We loved the time we spent with you

To share a song and a laugh or two

May your pleasures be plenty

Your troubles be few….”

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