Songs to Sell By


The other day, Beth was listening to the Lovin’ Spoonful, and I made a reference to how “Do You Believe in Magic?” used to be in McDonald’s commercials, which bothered her. Then I asked why it doesn’t when I bring up Duncan Hines in relation to the Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself,” and she said it was because she didn’t like that song.

I suppose that’s fair. She also mentioned that “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” was in a Denny’s commercial, although there they didn’t change the lyrics.

There is a somewhat different vibe between just playing a song and rewriting it to be about a product or service. I suppose instrumentals fit into the former category, but I have trouble not thinking of Aaron Copland’s “Hoe-Down” as “the beef song.”

Robert Mitchum was the announcer. It’s interesting how this advertising campaign was just for beef. Not any particular brand or product, just dead bovine in general. There were also interminable milk commercials sponsored by America’s Dairy Farmers, and pork being branded as “the other white meat.” The McDonald’s ads were from the mid-nineties, and the parody lyrics are mostly about the character of Ronald McDonald, and only a little about McDonald’s food. Sometimes a mascot can get so recognizable that he doesn’t even need to tell you what he’s selling anymore.

But it shows how much influence advertising, even for products I’d never consider buying, affects people. And since a lot of the ads are geared toward kids, it’s often how they’re introduced to songs. I’m not sure, but I think I might have first heard the Turtles’ “So Happy Together” from Golden Grahams commercials.

“Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” being about Sugar Crisp survived from my parents’ generation into mine, even if the name of the cereal didn’t (it’s now Golden Crisp, at least in the States). I’m not going to list every example I can remember, but I think it’s worth mentioning that Snake Light and Doodle Bear commercials both had takes on “The Wanderer” at around the same time.


I only learned recently that, before Honeycomb cereal had the jingle about how it was big (yeah yeah yeah), they used the Jimmie Rodgers song of the same name.

Also before my time, but the Rice Krispies ad using music from Pagliacci still tends to get referenced pretty often.
I believe there were a few song parodies in commercials for the original Dr. Mario; this one played on Dave Seville’s “Witch Doctor.”

Even at the time, I thought the guy with the shrunken head looked more like he had a normal-sized head and giant body. I guess they didn’t have a high effects budget. Speaking of Mario-related ones, here’s one that I don’t recall seeing when it was new (and I do remember some commercials from when I was around five), but that gets talked about a fair amount, for Mario Bros. for the Atari.

The song is a play on the theme from Car 54, Where Are You?, but it’s also noteworthy in that it’s quite likely the first time Luigi was portrayed as the more cowardly of the brothers. They hadn’t yet settled on his color scheme, though.

This entry was posted in Advertising, Cartoons, Food, Mario, Music, Television, Toys, Video, Video Games and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Songs to Sell By

  1. The one I constantly get in my head still after decades is the Waterpets toy commercial to “Lollipop.” Why? I don’t know!

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