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UCLA

I'd Like To Teach the World to Sell

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By Jack Feuer

Published Jul 1, 2012 8:00 PM


New book is the first to tell the story of music in commercials.

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Johnny Cash did it. So did Run-DMC, Gwen Stefani, Sting and Aretha. Michael Jackson did it more than once. Barry Manilow did it so much it became part of his act. When the Beatles did it, it made headlines around the world.

All of these artists wrote and/or performed in commercials. Sometimes they licensed their music. Sometimes they wrote and performed jingles. Or performed someone else's music.

From the early days of radio through today, music and advertising have been a duet. Now UCLA Professor of Ethnomusicology and Musicology Timothy D. Taylor has written the first book to truly tell the history of music in U.S. advertising, The Sounds of Capitalism, from the University of Chicago Press.

"My first book was about world music," Taylor recalls. "Not long after, I started noticing that there was a lot of fake world music on TV commercials ... often with people singing in a non-recognizable or even fake language. I was intrigued by this and interviewed some people in the advertising music-production business. Nobody from academia had ever talked to them before or taken them seriously."

For almost a century, songs originally written for commercials have become popular songs and songs written for a popular audience have become associated with specific brands and products. Anybody who hears Canadian singer-songwriter Feist's "1,2,3,4" today, for example, almost automatically also thinks of the Apple iPod Nano spot in which the tune was featured.

Remember That Tune?



Barry Manilow is the voice behind many popular commercial jingles.

Taylor's book takes readers on a delightful, toe-tapping journey that hits all the high notes in this catchy story, from Pepsi-Cola's 1939 "hits the spot" jingle through the legendary Chiquita banana song in 1944 and, of course, the memorable 1971 commercial "Hilltop" in which Coca-Cola taught the world to sing, and on into the present day, where "the lag time between popular culture and advertising is now infinitesimal."

While the heyday of the jingle has come and gone (because when Baby Boomers got into power in the music industry in the '80s, jingles "started to be seen as uncool and their parents' music"), advertising music is now pop music, with no line between them. "The ubiquity of digital technology to make music has created a level playing field," says Taylor. "A musician [no longer makes] a distinction between ‘the sound I use for my advertising music and the sound my band uses.' They're being drawn even closer together, if that's possible."

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