A few bars of a golden oldie are all I need to be totally transported to a previous time in my life. The mere musical suggestion of the Righteous Brothers or the Beach Boys sends me directly back to the record hops in the GHS gym following every home football game, when groups of girls danced all the fast songs until the guys came off the bleachers to slow dance with their honeys. Even today – decades after my college graduation – when I hear Paul, John, George, and Ringo sing “Yesterday,” my mind lands right there on Otterbein’s campus, where my new classmates and I heard the Fab Four’s top hit at every mixer during freshman orientation. And play a little disco or a lot of Motown: I am instantly somewhere else!
Then there is my penchant for having the TV on most of the day. I watch very little, instead mostly listening to the relatively few entertaining programs available on hundreds of channels broadcasting the drivel that passes for modern television programming. I spend my time sewing or catnapping, looking up at the screen only when I hear something interesting or strange – or familiar.
Lately, my two tendencies have intersected often enough for me to notice several old musical standards being used in television commercials. Most frequently – in fact, again about twenty minutes ago – the lyrics of “Hey Good Lookin’” deliver me to the country western Saturday nights of my childhood. We watched Midwestern Hayride with Sally Flowers and Billy Scott and listened to the singing of Bonnie Lou and Kenny Price, the Round Mound of Sound. By the way, Hank Williams’ good-lookin’ classic is currently being used to sell chicken.
Using well-known songs for commercial purposes is certainly not a particularly modern custom. I vaguely remember a yogurt commercial from several years back in which “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” – the popular novelty song from the early ’60s – accompanied a girl in the aforementioned swim apparel as she hesitantly approached the beach. And I still admire that Kodak ad campaign using Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” to highlight photographs of cute little kids playing sports.
Some commercials were too obvious to be clever: the Beatles tune, “All You Need Is Love” was used to peddle Luvs, the disposable diapers, along with “I Can See Clearly Now” in window cleaner ads. But a favorite commercial from a couple of years ago was the Hyundai ad, in which a guy in heavy commuter traffic got all caught up in singing “Sweet Caroline.” Not only was I transported to a summer in the ’60s with Neil Diamond, but I loved the depiction of how so many of us sing in the car – when we assume no one is watching!
So I am not really surprised to have experienced in recent weeks the timeless Willie Nelson hit “On the Road Again” in a hotel commercial or a national restaurant chain celebrating their reopening after the pandemic shutdown with the Welcome Back, Kotter theme – from the ’70s when John Travolta was Vinnie Barbarino and Horshack was, well, Horshack. The recent Kroger ad is pretty odd with the animated figure working out to the tune of “I’m Too Sexy for My Shirt,” a song I recall as momentarily popular with my students in the ’90s. The best of the current crop, however, is the Turtles hit “So Happy Together”: I not only relive my adolescence when I hear the music, but also the French fries and ketchup being advertised!
I cannot, however, write about musically-related commercials without mentioning three classics of the genre – my transportation to an earlier timeline notwithstanding. In the ’80s we all enjoyed the California Raisins, claymation figures performing Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” The original ad, commissioned by the California Raisin Advisory Board, took on a life of its own. The singing fruit group became action figures of a sort, appeared in several more commercials, were featured in a mockumentary, and won an Emmy!
Then there was “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” that began as a Coca-Cola commercial. It became so popular that the soft drink lyrics were dropped, and the resulting timeless version inspired many around the world. I cannot be the only Boomer who fondly remembers that group of kids from across the globe standing on a hillside, candles in hand, singing in and about “perfect harmony.” We sure could use some of that idealism right about now.
I will close with a classic among classics. This commercial reminds me of the thirty holiday seasons it has appeared on my TV screen. The ad is simple but forthright: ten Hershey Kisses, wrapped in red and green foil and directed by one clad in silver, form a handbell choir that performs “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” a classic in its own right. It lasts all of 16 seconds, and I stop to watch every time it appears. Whew, what a commercial!
Who knows what will be the next pairing of song and product? I can only hope to be transported completely away from 2020 during the upcoming campaign season. Any commercial with any song would be preferable to the ugly, mudslinging political ads that will bombard us. In fact, I am voting for three or four months of nonstop “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing in Perfect Harmony”!
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.