The Attack of the Killer Earworm, Part 3: Commercial Jingles That Became Top 40 Hits: The ’60s and ’70s

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Last time we talked about and played examples of commercial jingles that were so good that they outlasted the campaigns they were associated with and became cultural touchstones. Occasionally, jingles were so well crafted that they enjoyed a second life as bonafide pop singles. The glory days for this kind of transformation occurred in the 1960s, but it has resurfaced recently with similarly lucrative results.

Hit songs and successful jingles have one thing in common that helps not only to make them popular, but memorable: something known in the industry as a “hook.” A hook can be anything from a slogan to a catchy melody, but in some cases, the hook was visual tie-in between the music and the images on the screen. One of the most famous examples was this 1965 commercial for Alka-Seltzer, which featured a series of images of people with different sized stomachs.

The commercial was so successful that music producer Joe Saraceno (The Ventures) assigned a full-length recording of the song to a group of Los Angeles session musicians who had been recording for Liberty Records under the name the T-Bones. The song was given a title based on the visual hook of the commercial, “No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In),” and became a top 10 hit in 1966, the only one the group ever had.

Three members of the band, guitarist Danny Hamilton, bassist Joe Frank Carollo, and keyboard/percussionist Tommy Reynolds later had a series of charting singles in the 1970s under the name Hamilton, Joe Frank, & Reynolds.

A year later, producer Bob Crewe, known for masterminding a barrelful of hits for acts like the Four Seasons, Lesley Gore, and Freddy Cannon, took note of the success of the T-Bones’ song and decided to the same with a melody he heard being slated for use in a Diet Pepsi commercial. The melody imitated the ersatz mariachi sound of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, the top selling instrumental act of the 1960s.

Crewe’s version of the song, titled “Music to Watch Girls By,” also became a hit, rising to No. 2 on the Easy Listening charts.

Back when commercials for cigarettes were still permitted on television and radio, another catchy instrumental became fodder for a pop hit after the airing of this humorous commercial for the extra-long (100 mm) Benson & Hedges brand of cigarettes.

Once again, the song was assigned to a studio group, the Brass Ring, which was also modeled after Alpert’s TJB. Led by saxophonist/arranger Phil Bodner, the Ring’s song, now titled “The Dis-Advantages of You,” broke the top 40 in late 1967.

Probably the most famous example of a commercial jingle becoming a pop hit was this famous commercial for Coca Cola, titled “Hilltop,” which became a sensation in 1970. The new melody was paired with the soft drink’s current melody and slogan, “It’s the real thing.”

This time, however, it wasn’t necessary to find a group to record the commercial version of the song. Ad agency McCann Erickson had formed a folk group specifically for the purpose of recording the commercial, and after it became a hit, the group, now known as the Hillside Singers, cut a commercial version of the song. Originally titled “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,” the song was retitled “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” (without the references to Coke), which was also recorded by the New Seekers.

Next time, we’ll look at more contemporary examples of commercial jingles that were transformed into pop hits!

The latest “Songstuff” by Cary Ginell

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