Commercial Jingles – Music History

In the 1960’s, when I was about seven years old, my brother, Steve and I would spend our television hours together playing “the commercial game”. In this game the challenge was to name the product first. Clearly we watched too much TV, devoid of any educational purpose. Nevertheless, it was a fun game. In the 1960’s it was a pretty easy game because many commercials had “jingles” that clearly stated the product name numerous times: “It’s Slinky, it’s Slinky. For fun it’s the best of the toys.” The music was catchy/annoying, and got the message across in a 30 – 60 second clip.

For many, music embeds a message in the brain. No surprise that jingles actually started on the radio. Their purpose was for station identification. All those radio call numbers were a blur when spoken, but if you put them to music, they became memorable: “Dou-ble-You-A-Bee-Cee.” At the time the National Broadcasting Company banned direct advertising. The first singing commercial that advertised a product aired on Christmas Eve in 1926. “Have You Tried Wheaties” was sung by a male quartet. This jingle got around the ban by just asking if you had tried Wheaties, letting you know the ingredients and suggesting it would please your taste buds.

This week the students have heard the Wheaties jingle and have also seen 12 additional  memorable TV commercials. They are easily discovered on YouTube. If you want to watch some, just search “1950 commercial jingles” and you will be very entertained. Some of the ones we watched were: Oscar Meyer Weiner, Slinky, Kool Aid, Chiquita Banana, Fritos, Rice Krispies, Alka Seltzer, and Trix. In all cases, I tried to find the oldest versions.

As we proceed along the year, we will move through the decades of music in commercials. There has been a historical progression. Jingles were the start. Later pop music became the background for commercials. Sometimes the singer made the product successful, but in other cases the product made the singer successful. And then there are those beautiful musical themes that have morphed into commercial brand recognition. What percentage of the population hears Gershwin’s brilliant “Rhapsody in Blue” and says, “That’s the United Airlines song!” I am not judging here. I am always happy to hear this piece. I just want my students to be aware of the music that is around them. The ability to be a great listener will stay with them. It is one of the reasons that I continue to say, “Music Lasts a Lifetime.”

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