Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Not 12 Empty Ounces

People love happy little songs, even (perhaps especially) when they’re solely designed to sell a product.

When did the first commercial jingle appear? About all anyone knows for sure is it was during the days of radio. But it’s a safe bet the first jingle “hit” was one heard by millions of people, long after it stopped being used as advertising. It starts:

“Pepsi-Cola hits the spot...”

It was penned by a couple of guys who, according to the October 7, 1940 edition of Life Magazine, were responsible for 90% of all musical one-minute ads on the air the previous year. It was around that time they came up with the Pepsi jingle that people still love today.

PM profiled them in its edition of July 5, 1940.

Nickel, Nickel Do-Dee-Da-Da-Da
Pepsi-Cola Hits the Air Spots With a Socko Sales Version of John Peel

Austen Herbert Croom Croom-Johnson is a lean, ginger-haired 31-year-old Englishman who prepped for a radio and song-writing career at at BBC. About nine years ago, John Royal, NBC vice-president, was so impressed, he fetched Croom-Johnson to the United States. Now Croom-Johnson is a Force in American radio. He is the man behind the Pepsi-Cola jingles.
During the past six months, the 15 second Pepsi-Cola ditty has been broadcast about 18,000 times on 200 radio stations. The stations average about 10 Pepsi-Cola broadcasts a week. Johnson and his collaborator, Alan Bradley Kent, have sold jingles to other advertisers: Esso, Flit and NBC (National Biscuit Co.) but the wide spread Pepsi Cola campaign has made them the top team in their league.
Between them, Kent and Croom Croom Johnson, called "Ginger"' to save time, have fewer inhibitions than a fan dancer. Their working hours are joyously spent in unbridled abuse, enthusing over swing records and concocting childish advertising ditties. It was during such a shop-talk three years back that the whole thing started. Kent says all he did was to comment, "Ginger, spot announcements stink." Ginger not only agreed but supported the idea of doing something about it all. The Pepsi-Cola campaign is that "something."
Sing Something Simple
The basic Pepsi Cola song is classicly simple. It is just a swing-out on the old hunting song, John Peel, It opens with a rhythmic “nickel, nickel, nickel” vamp to a four-four count. Then comes the refrain, which, in case you can't read the Tune-Twisters' script above, goes:
Pepsi-Cola hits the spot.
Twelve full ounces, that's a lot,
Twice as much for a nickel, too,
Pepsi Cola is the drink for you.

After several months the jingle was well ground into listeners' ears, so Pepsi-Cola ordered variations on the theme. Some were scored for swing, boogie-woogie and baby-talk. Later the first two lines were rewritten. The last two, which carry the sacred sales message, are never jived up. When still more variations were called for, Kent and Johnson came up with one in the deep-sea basso of Popeye. It shatters a cherished dietary theory:
Pepsi Cola hits the spot
Nuts to spinach, look what I’ve got. . .

Another national hero pressed into the Pepsi-Cola sales army was the Lone Ranger (incognito of course), whose Pepsi-Cola hi-yo goes:
As I ride the range, I sing this song,
When I like my drinks, I like 'em long . . .

In addition to the authorized verses there are any number of unofficial switches. The neatest of these comes from a Brooklyn station, where an announcer sings the jingle in Yiddish-American, like Lou Holst [sic].
Pepsi-Cola's chansonettes were originally sung by "Whispering" Jack Smith. For about five months, now, they've been chanted by the Tune-Twisters trio, who not only sing but make noises like musical instruments. In the picture above. Andrew Jackson Love (left) is emitting the Pepsi-Cola "Pah!" When Love isn't pah-ing or singing, he oomphs like a bull-fiddle. The other contributing "Twisters" are Robert Wacker (center) and the guitar twanger, Gene Lapham.
Kent, Johnson and the Twisters are now at work on a jingle for Wrigley's gum. The theme of that one: "Chew, chew, chew." Meanwhile they want to do one more Pepsi Cola opus, this time in double talk, but Pepsi-Cola has held out firmly against it. Just in case you want to try it on your piano, it goes like this:
Pepsi-Cola minils the spot
Twelve strof brannis, that’s a lot
Twice as gemmer for moolee woo
Pepsi-Cola is the slerm for you.

Jingles were sung live on the networks (until 1946 when ABC snagged Bing Crosby with the promise he could record his show) but transcribed copies were sent to radio stations across North America to be played whenever the sponsor bought time. So it was that if you tuned in to Matinee With Bob and Ray airing locally on WHBH in the late ‘40s, you’d hear the show interrupted with recordings of Arthur Godfrey warbling about Chesterfields or a quartet crooning about Mission Bell Wine (another Johnson-Kent ditty, written in 1946). Of course, in Bob and Ray’s case, the jingles became part of the show. Bob Elliott would follow Godfrey with a devastating parody of Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, or Ray Goulding would take it upon himself to spout non-sequiturs during the announcer portion of the Mission Hill doughnut (that’s when there’s singing at the beginning and end with an instrumental portion in the middle for the announcer to talk over). Occasionally, Bob and Ray would sing and butcher both jingles themselves to a jaunty organ and piano accompaniment.

(Pepsi, by the way, later sponsored Bob and Ray’s CBS show in the late ‘50s with a different jingle sung by someone who was identified only as Kay. It beats me who she was or if that was her actual name.)

The “Nickle” jingle kind of took on a life of its own. It was parodied and joked about on radio shows. Henry Morgan’s orchestra leader Bernie Green put together a wonderful symphonic version; the straighter it was played, the funnier it got. Dave Barry’s title character in the Columbia cartoon “Topsy Turkey” gives it a whirl with revamped lyrics (standing in front of a radio microphone for added effectiveness). It was retired as network radio died in the ‘50s.

Incidentally, Pepsi had an earlier song. “We Must Have Our Pepsi Cola” was a march/fox trot written by Irving Pletrack in 1939. Morris Perlman penned the melody for “Your Pepsi-Cola and Mine” in 1940. Pepsi held a copyright on a 1941 tune called “Get Hep” by Bissell Palmer and Helmy Kresa. They didn’t have the staying power of commercial songs that went “I’m Chiquita Banana” or “Mm-Mm Good” or “See the USA in Your Chevrolet.” Or a song that rhymed “trickle” and “nickel.”


  1. Famous Studios would also get a little Avery-esque gags out of the Pepsi jingle, when the bears break from menacing Olive to sing their variation in "Klondike Casanova" (I remember seeing the gag well before I finally discovered it's source, when I played one of my uncle's albums of old-time radio shows). I suppose if Pepsi was using Popeye in their jingle, Famous figured it was OK to use the jingle in a Popeye cartoon.

  2. The first two lines of my dad's version (I'm not posting the whole thing, to be polite):

    "Pepsi Cola hits the spot
    Ten minutes later, you're on the pot"

  3. As a matter of record, the first singing commercial aired over WCCO, "The Gold Medal Station" of Washburn, Crosby & Co. (now General Mills) from the Twin Cities in 1925. Sung to "She's The Girl," a popular hit of the time:

    Have you tried Wheaties?
    They're whole wheat with all the bran!
    Won't you try Wheaties,
    For wheat is the best food of man!

    (Such would later be incorporated into the theme music of the legendary children's adventure radio series Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy, as aired on the NBC Blue Network, now ABC, 1933-1951 from Chicago. Tommy Bartlett, later of Wisconsin Dells waterski show fame, was an announcer on the series.)

  4. The jingle that more or less replaced it was the lame "Be Sociable" ("stay young and fair and debonair...")