Monday, May 25, 2009

Denim's Unofficial Anthem

Which came first? The advertising jingle that became a hit single, or the hit single used as an advertising jingle? I’ll own up straight away and admit that I don’t have an definitive answer to that question, and quite frankly don’t have the will to research one, assuming that there is one. But by way of meandering extrapolation, the origins of the advertising jingle can be traced back to the 1920s, when commercial radio first started airing product commercials, featuring a catchy musical accompaniment, written and recorded specifically for the product. The very nature of advertising was, is, and will always be, to seep surreptitiously into the consumers conscious (or subconscious) thinking (in lay person terms - of which I am one). Don’t expect me to expand on that concept with any authority, as I am but one of those humble consumers whose cognitive autonomy lies at the mercy of the ruthless advertising industry, with all their callous trickery and deception. I’m guessing at some point, possibly by the water cooler at around 3.45pm on a Friday, some bright spark of an advertising executive connected the dots on the idea that popular music has a way of achieving the same effect as an advertising jingle, that is, seeping into a person’s conscious, or subconscious mind. So as a result, one day you find yourself humming a Beach Boys song without thinking about it, and the next you’re horrified when you pick yourself up humming a jingle for a Mars Bars (I’m thinking the old ‘A Mars a day, work, rest & play’ tune), or worse. I know I’m rambling here, but over a lifetime of exposure to puerile commercials, my mind has been scrambled to the point of incoherency (and do I have any recourse? Of course not!).

It seems plausible, if not indisputably factual, to pinpoint the peak of the advertising jingle’s prevalence to sometime during the 1950s or 1960s, when radio, television, and cinema audiences were bombarded by jingles pushing everything from candy bars, to alcoholic beverages, to electronic products, and everything in between. One thing advertising jingles share in common, to an almost universal degree, is the ability to irritate more than they entertain - that’s where they differ in nature to pop songs (well most pop songs anyway). But even if a jingle gets stuck in your brain to the point of driving you mad, it’s still done its job - that is, unless you take a vow not to purchase that particular product as a point of personal protest. Whilst advertising agencies used to employ armies of song writers in jingle sweat shops, all charged with the task of coming up with the next irritatingly infectious tune, over the last couple of decades (actually probably from the mid 70s on) the balance seems to have shifted toward the employment of pre-existing pop songs, or tunes, adapted (read mangled) to a certain product’s marketing requirements (anyone recall ABBA re-recording their song ‘Fernando’ to plug National brand televisions?). Target demographics, budget bottom lines, and all of that advertising claptrap, seemed to get factored into these crimes against popular music, where classic rock and pop songs were bastardised, sometimes to the brink of being beyond recognition, by culturally devoid advertising agencies, and their mindless, worker bee drones. By the way, if you’re reading this, and you work for an advertising agency, it’s nothing personal, but please, please, get out while you still have a soul! Some of the more tragic examples (and there are countless) of classic songs being hijacked by advertising are; the Romantics’ ‘What I Like About You’ (Holden Barina cars), The Swingers’ ‘Counting The Beat’ (K-Mart), The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ (Nissan), Beach Boys’ ‘Good Vibrations’ (Sunkist), E.L.O.’s ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ (Volkswagen), the Rolling Stones’ ‘Start Me Up’ (used by Microsoft to launch a new version of Windows), Katrina & The Waves’ ‘Walking On Sunshine’ (Fisher Price), and The Beatles ‘Revolution’ (used to sell Nike shoes) - and oh God I have to stop now! I’m not sure whether I feel a more intense sense of disgust, or anger, at having to recall those travesties. I suppose in some respects it can be a win-win for both advertiser and music artist - it’s free publicity on a massive scale, in addition to added song-writing and performance royalties for the artist - that is if it’s done in a legit fashion (cue the lawyers for copyright infringement action).

If you’re still reading this, and you’re thinking that it seems like I’m on a bit of a rant, then you’d be right. But please don’t be alarmed, I shan’t go on to make this blog a forum to vent my angst over issues (well rarely anyway), as I believe Retro Universe has been, and should remain, a sanctuary of nostalgic serenity. Though someone mentioned to me once that people do use blogs for that express purpose, that is to rant, and by way of chaotic introduction to today’s artist/song, I thought I’d give it a go. How did I do by the way? No, please don’t answer that. Oh, and as an afterthought to this tirade, could it be that custom made ring tones are the bastard offspring of the unholy union between advertising jingles and popular music? All of those out of work jingle writers had to go somewhere I suppose.

And now it’s back to your regularly scheduled program.

One of the rare examples of a popular advertising jingle being adapted into a hit pop song, came in 1976, with the worldwide hit single ‘Jeans On’ by David Dundas. Dundas - or to give him his full title with trimmings, Lord David Dundas, 3rd Marquess of Zetland - was born in Oxford, England in 1945. Dundas received all the associated privileges that come with being ‘connected’, and following his school days attending ‘Harrow’, went on to study at the Central School of Speech and Drama. In his 20s, Dundas had attempted to establish an acting career. He appeared alongside David Niven in the 1968 production ‘Prudence and the Pill’, as well as numerous television roles and stage productions. Dundas had also begun developing his craft as a singer/songwriter, and following an appearance in the war film ’Mosquito Squadron’, he worked with composer Michael Feast to score music for the film ‘Private Road’, a line of work he would return to much later. But by the mid 70s the newly married with child version of Dundas needed a steady income (something not always on offer for struggling actors), and so he took a job as a jingle writer for an advertising agency, presumably to pay the bills. Dundas worked further with Michael Feast during this period, and one the first of his jingles to hit the airwaves arrived in the form of a station promo for Capital Radio.

During 1975, Dundas had penned a short jingle to accompany a television advertising campaign for Brutus Jeans. The Freedman brothers had established the Brutus Jeans brand back in 1966, and the clothing company had become quite popular with many in the skinhead and football crowd fraternity, though I doubt that was their original intention. Actually, it stands to reason that a motivating factor behind the proposed ‘Jeans On’ advertising campaign, was to appeal to a wider market. When the ‘Jeans On’ television commercial spots first started airing, they caused quite a stir in Britain, due in no small part to the catchy little ditty Dundas had penned. The original jingle lyrics ran - “I pull my Brutus jeans on”, and before long the general public were not only buying Brutus Jeans in huge numbers, but the advertising campaign won a swag of awards to boot. With such an enthusiastic response, and a demand for the jingle to be made available as a record, Dundas’ next move was an obvious one.

He set to work expanding the thirty second jingle into a two and a half minute blues tinged pop song, and with the assistance of Roger Greenaway, did just that. The result was a slice of radio friendly 70s pop that was surely assured hit status. ‘Jeans On’ was released over the English summer of 1976, and debuted on the British charts during July. Dundas’ vocal style had more than a hint of Gilbert O’Sullivan (see future post) about it, the quirky ‘Ooh-Wakka-Doo Ooh Wakka-Day’ side of Gilbert O’Sullivan, that is. Produced at Air Records, and distributed via Chrysalis, ‘Jeans On’ slipped comfortably into the #3 position in Britain, a few weeks after its release, and Dundas found himself performing on Top Of The Pops. Reportedly, the single format of ‘Jeans On’ was originally only released in mono, with the stereo mix coming to light via later album compilations. Both Australia and the U.S. were soon eager to pull their own jeans on, and David Dundas’ former advertising ditty was soon sitting pretty at #17 in the U.S. and #3 in Australia. ‘Jeans On’ proved to be especially well wearing in Australia, where the track was worn for a mammoth 27 weeks on the charts, before Australia finally decided for a change of attire. It wasn’t the first (or last) time that the popular denim trouser apparel had cropped up in a hit song. Mark Wynter took his ‘Venus In Blue Jeans’ into the top five during 1962, and in subsequent years the likes of Neil Diamond’s ‘Forever In Blue Jeans’ (1979), and Dr. Hook’s ‘Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk’ (1982), provided further evidence as to the enduring place jeans have in popular culture. Most recently, the View wore the ‘Same Jeans’ all the way to #3 on the British charts (2007). I’ve always thought that the lyrics - “You and me, we’ll go motorbike riding in the sun, and the wind, and the rain. I’ve got money in my pocket, got a tiger in my tank, and I’m king of the road again” - would have lent themselves readily to a commercial for Yamaha or some other motorcycle manufacturer. In 2006 the car manufacturer Seat did in fact use Fatboy Slim’s track ‘Sho Nuff’ (which sampled ‘Jeans On’), in an advertising campaign for their new model Ibiza.

It was almost a year before Chrysalis issued an album in support of ‘Jeans On’, surprising really, given that both artist and label must have been confident they’d have a hit. Perhaps it took Dundas that long to pen enough full length songs to fill an album, because reportedly the album only took about six weeks to record. ‘David Dundas’, the album, was released in mid ‘77 (released as ‘Jeans On’ in Australia), but aside from a brief stint inside the Australian charts (#82), it didn’t do much business. A second single had preceded the album’s release, by about three months, and ‘Another Funny Honeymoon’ (UK#29/OZ#14) ensured that David Dundas would avoid the ‘one hit wonder’ tag in those countries at least. The follow up singles ‘Where Were You Today’ (which was used in a television commercial for C&A clothing stores), and ‘Fly Baby Fly’, didn’t fare so well. A second album, ‘Vertical Hold’, was released in 1978, but neither it, nor the singles ‘Guy The Gorilla’ or ‘When I Saw You Today’, took hold on the charts.

With his pop career seemingly ground to a halt, David Dundas initially returned fulltime to jingle writing, but by the early 80s had focussed his creative energies on composing for film and television. Over the ensuing twenty years, Dundas worked extensively with British television networks. In 1982, he composed the music for Channel 4’s ‘Fourscore’, for which he reportedly received £3.50 every time the music was broadcast over a ten year period. His music was also heard every morning on the 80s breakfast news program ‘Daybreak’, and the I.T.V. network frequently used Dundas’ work for station and program promos. By the late 80s, Dundas had turned his talents back toward film scoring, and in 1987 co-wrote (with Rick Wentworth) the score for the Bruce Robinson film ‘Withnail And I’. Robinson was so satisfied, that he invited Dundas to score his follow up, the quirky 1989 comedy ‘How To Get Ahead In Advertising’, once again starring Richard E. Grant. Dundas must have felt a keen sense of irony over his involvement with that project. Some sources cite Dundas as being involved in the scores for the films ‘Sometime Never’ and ‘Dark City’, though I’m not certain of his definite involvement with either. Apparently Dundas still turns his hand to penning the occasional advertising jingle, but information is scarce regards his Lordship’s activities in recent years. Perhaps he has retired to a comfortable country estate, pipe in hand, slippers on feet, and relaxing in a comfortable pair of jeans.

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