Revisionist Pop Culture History

They say that history is written by the victors. I say it’s written by who’s around. A slight difference perhaps but here’s how I got there.

Our pop culture “history” is being skewed by those who currently create content in our media. Do you like to watch those ‘nostalgia’ shows on VH-1 about the 70s? The ones that focus almost entirely on the disco years, bad sitcoms and a few crappy Hanna-Barbera cartoon shows? Those of us who lived through the period know that there was, in fact, a lot of great music as well as some decent programming then. But then VH-1 is largely populated by 20-somethings, who only know what they can find on reruns or a quick Google search of the Billboard charts. They don’t have the boxes full of 12″ vinyl albums collected over years of diverse listening. They didn’t actually watch TV then because they hadn’t been born. So historical retrospective is shaped from a skewed viewpoint.

Allan Melvin died recently. If you read his obituary in most newspapers , chances are you learned he was “Sam the Butcher” on The Brady Bunch and, oh by the way, he did some other stuff too, but it was in Black and White so who cares. So, this talented actor who, amongst a lifetime of excellent character work, was a key player in Phil Silvers’ Sgt. Bilko series, which had more laughs in one episode than The Brady Bunch had in its entire run, is remembered only for a few appearances in a mediocre Sherwood Schwartz pablum-fest. Because the dweeb whose job it was to crank out the obit for the wire service probably never even heard of Allan Melvin before he died, except when one of his or her peers pointed out that he was “Alice’s boyfriend on the Brady Bunch”.

And while I’m on the subject, let’s talk briefly about Sherwood Schwartz. All of his shows sucked. Without exception. You probably have heard of Gilligan’s Island, his other “hit”. But he was also responsible for the mid-60s bomb, “It’s About Time” which, despite the presence of early TV legends Joe E. Ross and Imogene Coca, was horrible. I will say this about Schwartz though: his theme songs were GREAT. In fact, the theme songs were the only redeeming qualities of the three shows I’ve cited. I bet you can sing the themes to both Gilligan’s Island  and The Brady Bunch and, if you’re old enough, can remember at least part of “It’s About Time”.

Which got me to thinking about the power of a good theme song. Or jingle.

About a year ago, I was reading an article in an advertising trade publication where the 30-something pontificating creative being interviewed said that the advertising jingle was long dead. Replaced by licensed usage of pop and rock music. Jingles were history, like three networks and a captive audience.

I’m not sure of the connection between them but I do remember disagreeing when I read it. True, hardly anyone’s using jingles any more.  And yet, most of us remember the good advertising jingles we’ve heard through our entire lives. I can start them here and even without the benefit of singing them you could finish most of them (I threw in one which is local to the Boston area):

  • You, you’re the one…. you are the only reason…
  • Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce….
  • You’ll wonder where the yellow went….
  • Who do you call when your windshield’s busted?
  • Oh, I wish I were an …
  • Double your pleasure …

and so on. My point, of course, is that these jingles give instant and lasting product recall and, usually, brand preference as well. While most of our cherished rock music memories have been sold out to product placements, do they elicit the same strong product recall? Maybe the ubiquitous use of Bob Seger’s Like a Rock comes to mind, but how many millions or perhaps even billions of dollars did that take? And does it make you want to buy a pickup truck? Or does it make you want to put away your Seger LPs or CDs because you’ve heard it a million times now for a truck commercial?


One response to “Revisionist Pop Culture History

  1. to be fair to the 20 something crowd, they do just as bad a job with the 90’s and 00’s. i’d argue that it wasn’t really an age related issue, as much as…that vh-1 is crap.

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