I think it was in 1987, when I was watching the TV special “Rolling Stone Magazine’s Twenty Years of Rock N Roll,” that I realized how thoroughly TV had co-opted popular music.
Sure, shows like “American Bandstand” and “Soul Train” had been presenting pop music on TV for years, and “The Midnight Special” and “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” had brought pop and rock stage performances to late-night TV.
Of course, “Miami Vice,” with its “MTV cops” vibe, had been around for three years.
Using popular music to sell products kind of sneaked up on us, though.
When I was watching that Rolling Stone special, hosted by Dennis Hopper, I realized how many of the great songs we had known since the 1960s – especially Motown music – had been turned into commercial jingles. “Can’t Help Myself.” “Heard it Through the Grapevine.” So many more.
There’s an element of familiarity that such songs bring, and that helps sell products. But can you ever hear “Heard it Through the Grapevine” again without thinking about the California Raisins?
Today there’s a strong relationship between music and TV, particularly TV commercials. That catchy pop song you just heard on the radio? It’s probably already been a commercial. “We Are Young” is a good example.
James Hughes has done a nice article for Slate about advertising jingles and the way they become earworms, getting into our heads. It looks at Timothy Taylor’s book, “The Sounds of Capitalism,” and told me a few things I didn’t know about jingles. Did you know, for example, that the older guy who was the voice of the Empire Today TV ads (“588-2300. Empire!”) was an ad executive who created the spot in the 1970s? He was Elmer Lynn Hauldren and he died in 2011.
My family and I always remember a 1994 episode of “The Simpsons,” “Lady Bouvier’s Lover,” in which Grandpa Simpson and Marge’s mother are dating. At some point, the characters begin singing the commercial jingles that substitute for music in their little yellow craniums. Everybody sings and dances to “I Feel Like Chicken Tonight.”
For every Simpson besides Lisa, it was a triumphant moment.
For those of us watching at home, it produced some knowing headshakes.