Music to Watch Commercials By

Yesterday The Mrs. and I had the radio on in the car when Carly Simon’s “Anticipation” came on. “There’s a lot of people who only know that as a ketchup commercial,” she said. Simon sold “Anticipation” to Heinz shortly after her daughter was born in 1974, thinking it would provide a source of income in case she never worked again. It wasn’t the first example of a pop hit being turned into a commercial jingle, nor was it the last. Sometimes it works the other way, when songs first heard in commercials become pop hits. Today, bands often aspire to that, hoping it will create career-boosting buzz. Back in the day, it often happened by accident. For example, the Carpenters’ 1970 hit “We’ve Only Just Begun,” written by Paul Williams for a California bank commercial, became a wedding-day standard only after Richard Carpenter heard it on TV and decided to record it.

Other examples are buried deeper in our collective memory.

At the end of 1965, the tune used in an Alka-Seltzer commercial became an enormous hit for an anonymous group of players under the name of the T-Bones. It reached Number 3 nationally, but was number one in San Diego and here in Madison. The group’s label rushed out an album featuring several covers of songs popular at the moment, plus a version of the old Chiquita Banana song and commercial-ready titles “Moment of Softness” and “My Headache’s Gone.” No further hits followed, but the players didn’t remain anonymous forever: Dan Hamilton, Joe Frank Carollo, and Tommy Reynolds would team up for several hits in the early 1970s.

The T-Bones’ album included a cover version of the Four Seasons’ “Let’s Hang On,” which had been co-written by the Seasons’ longtime collaborator Bob Crewe. In 1966, Crewe, who had formed his own record label, heard a demo of a jingle being considered for use in a campaign for Diet Pepsi and decided to record a version of it. He released it on his own label, and it rode the charts while the commercial was playing all over radio and TV. A vocal version by Andy Williams followed Crewe’s version onto the charts a couple of months later.

At about the same time Crewe heard the Diet Pepsi jingle, Benson and Hedges, a cigarette brand, hit upon a campaign that would, instead of making their product look good, show the problems that could result when people smoked their extra-long cigarettes. The spot was set to a playful mid-tempo stroll by an instrumental group called the Brass Ring, Dunhill Records’ entry in the brief “Now Sound” flare-up of the late 60s. (The Now Sound was derived from Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, but was supposed to have a more rhythmic feel borrowed from such diverse influences as instrumental rock and Motown. ) The Brass Ring was led by Phil Bodner, a reed player who led various studio groups from the 1950s to the 1970s, especially on RCA’s Living Jazz series of instrumental albums.

The goal of an advertising jingle is to get people to remember the product, especially when it’s time to buy. I don’t know how much product any of these songs actually moved in the 1960s, but in terms of being memorable, they’ve all succeeded wildly. How many of the spots can you still remember, even though they haven’t been on the air for 40 years?

“No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In)”/T-Bones (buy it here; Liberty 55836; chart peak #3, February 5, 1966)
“Music to Watch Girls By”/Bob Crewe Generation (buy it here; Dynovoice 229, chart peak #15, February 11, 1967)
“The Dis-Advantages of You”/Brass Ring (buy it here; Dunhill 4065, chart peak #36, March 11, 1967)

10 thoughts on “Music to Watch Commercials By

  1. Dave P

    Steve Winwood’s “Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do” was originally written for a beer commercial (Michelob, I believe).

  2. What a series of time trips, especially the Brass Ring! I found the entire LP online a little while ago, and it’s quite the deal. On the topic of others, was Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock” a commercial or a record first? Anyone know?

  3. “Like A Rock” was a song first, then a commercial. The guitar track was overdubbed by Rick Vito, formerly of Fleetwood Mac, and used by Chevy to sell its trucks for over 10 years.

  4. In the category of songs-in-commercials-which-later-became-radio-hits (a la “We’ve Only Just Begun”), there’s also “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.”

    And, has John Mellencamp’s “This Is Our Country” appeared on an actual album?

  5. Barry Manilow wrote a lot of jingles that never really turned into songs, but are instantly recognizable: Band-Aids (“I am stuck on Band-Aid, and Band-Aids’ stuck on me”), State Farm (“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”), and McDonald’s (“You deserve a break today”).

  6. Miles

    Maybe some of you remember the Hewlitt-Packard commercials of a couple years back that used some great graphics to the tune of “Out of the Picture”, by the Robins, from the 50’s.

  7. I remember that Manilow medley on one of his live albums… it included jingles he had sung but did not write as well as those he wrote. Also, didn’t Sonny and Cher do a version of the Budweiser theme song? And Santana’s “Evil Ways” either preceded or followed a commercial with that music. And of course “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing…”

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