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With the arrival of the Super Bowl, attention turns to that art form known as the advertisement, expensive new examples of which punctuate the contest and often end up generating almost as much comment as the game itself.
Spectators feeling the need for inoculation against the power of these or any other ads should avail themselves of The Jingle Workshop: Midcentury Musical Miniatures 1951-1965 (Modern Harmonic), a two-disc compilation of musical TV and radio commercials (and demos, outtakes, alternate versions, “instrumental beds,” and guide tracks) composed and overseen by the late electronic-music pioneer Raymond Scott.
Over the course of the collection’s 81 minutes, 82 jingles flit past like a golden-age-of-Broadway musical for the short of attention, evoking memories of the cars (Fords, Plymouths, Mercurys, Chryslers), the fun food (Russell’s ice cream, 5th Avenue candy bars, My-T-Fine pudding, Krystal burgers), the status symbols (the Bulova Accutron, RCA Victor televisions and hi-fis), and the vices (Tareyton and Lucky Strike cigarettes; Schlitz, Duquesne, and Hamm’s beer) of yore.
And, whether sung by the already extremely popular Mel Tormé (four tracks) or by Scott’s then-wife, the ebullient Dorothy Collins (19), the through line couldn’t be clearer: Money can too buy happiness.
The problem with such a philosophy is that commodified happiness has a way of becoming addicting. And what starts out as a relatively innocent exercise in simply keeping the wolf as far away from one’s door as possible gradually turns into a kind of wolf itself, and a hungry one at that.
On The Jingle Workshop, this transformation is most apparent in the ads for instant Fels-Naptha laundry detergent (“Do the products you use / leave residues / of hangover dirt?”) and Listerine (“more active ingredients to stop bad breath instantly”), ads that created then preyed upon an unhealthy self-consciousness, making it increasingly difficult for the materialistically inclined to feel at home in their own skin or clothes, and which made the elimination of dirt and germs a worthier use of one’s time than the cultivation of virtue.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that The Jingle Workshop’s 28-second teaser for Look magazine concludes by alerting listeners to the publication’s “report on the rising tide of nudity in today’s movies.” (Whether the report concludes with a cheer or a jeer the ad doesn’t say.)
What gives The Jingle Workshop its inoculating power is the age of its contents. Like Gulliver looking down at the Lilliputians and finding it impossible to take their vanity seriously, any 21st-century observer wading through these vintage sales pitches will find most of them silly.
And just as Gulliver’s adventures in remote lands opened his eyes to the foolishness of his own society, a few rounds with The Jingle Workshop will be all that most people need to realize that, 60 years from now, the foolishness of today’s commercial propaganda will be every bit as obvious.￼
Not all middlebrow Baby Boomer pop suffers from planned obsolescence. A case in point: all but one of the 20 tracks comprising the Sony Masterworks soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. (Robbie Robertson’s title theme hails from 2019.)
Heard apart from the film, wherein their radiant innocence provides ironic contrast to the underworld’s seething shadows, vocal showcases such as the Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Night” and Jerry Vale’s “A Di La” and instrumentals such as Percy Faith’s “Delicado” and Jackie Gleason’s “Melancholy Serenade” intermingle to create a many-splendored tapestry of which nostalgia is merely one thread.