In 1971, the advertising agency McCann Erickson and its client Coca-Cola didn’t really want to build a home and furnish it with love. Neither were they interested in growing apple trees and honey bees and snow-white turtle doves. That being said, with the hilltop-sung commercial ditty I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony), the goal was indeed to have the world sing something that “echoes on and never goes away.”
If their drink was soft, the sell really wasn’t – Coke was the “real thing,” and the sweet fizz kept the world company. Audacious, really, for all its hippy-dippy whatnot.
Fast-forward to the 21st century, and commercial jingles have changed. In the sense that the product name is not used in the song, and that the songs were recorded and released previously and independent of product association, jingles are not pure jingles any more. But they are commercial – advertising themselves as much as the items featured in a marketing campaign.
John Southworth, a songwriter who splits his time between Montreal and Toronto, knows all this. His new album is Failed Jingles for Bank of America & Other U.S. Corporations, an anti-record of artful, elegant pop music (mostly written by Southworth) commissioned and subsequently rejected by major U.S. companies. The album arrived at my desk complete with a sharply worded press sheet about the blurring of lines between artist and product. “The two have become interchangeable,” it reads, “so much so that the pop sound and star of today [are] now integral to selling you your car, laundry, detergent, your fast food and your poisonous baby food.”
It’s true. When watching a television spot for MacBook Air, the viewer can’t help but hear accompanying music that is hip, bouncy, youthful and la-la-lolly. You haven’t a clue who sings it, which must mean you are not hip or bouncy or youthful or la-la-lolly. So you do the Google and find out that Yael Naïm is a Franco-Israeli singer. You download her New Soul to your iPod Nano – thanks, Feist! – and maybe you’ll buy the MacBook Air, but probably not.
Southworth’s album is a reaction to corporate song-manipulation, but if its inspiration is angry, the material is not.
Dosomethingmoldyis a simply strummed and airy acoustic number, with a Donovan-like mellow-yellowness. “Together we can move/the possibilities don’t stop/they just start with you.”
Chevy Runs Deep (Pontiac Cherokee Rebellion) has that breezy-piano jingleness down pat. Fats Domino, I think, has just sold me a sedan. Xanadux has a tension-building pattern in the way of Arcade Fire, though it is gentle and sung charmingly in falsetto.
Some of the tracks are just snippets, and many of them don’t seem complete. This is intentional; jingles don’t have middle eights. The lyrics are upbeat and affirming, even on the twinkling-toy music of Luvs Fecal Hallucinatory. “It’s been building so long inside of me now/now it’s starting to all come out of me.”
Get the poisonous baby food out of the system. No one is more content than a freshly diapered infant. That’s the real thing.
MORE NEW RELEASES
- Carry On
- Willy Mason
On his third album, the misty American singer-songwriter Willy Mason at times borrows reggae vibes, but he is no is interloper. Restless Fugitive, for example, trudges lightly and with warm tone – its stoned island rhythm soothes and washes rather than waving any Caribbean flags. “I wish that I could sing like the trickster in the breeze, that dances out the worry from your face,” Mason offers atop the finger-picking and programmed beats of Into Tomorrow, his style laidback like a sandier Eric Clapton, “But I can only give you back the things your give to me and put them in a song for your escape.” That sounds like an apology, but Mason has nothing to be regretful for – he is an ambient troubadour succeeding. Brad Wheeler
Willy Mason plays Montreal’s Divan Orange, Jan. 13; Toronto’s Rivoli, Jan. 15; Vancouver’s Media Club, Jan. 25.
- Finally Rich
- Chief Keef
- Glory Boys/Interscope
The most popular yet widely hated rappers in recent memory include Flo Rida, Soulja Boy and Waka Flocka Flame, and, judging by Chief Keef’s similar lack of lyrical sophistication, he might soon join them. Sure, the 17-year-old Chicagoan born Keith Cozart makes Lil Jon seem like Bob Dylan, but Keef’s breakthrough single, I Don’t Like, is a stick-and-move K.O., three minutes of feints and jabs rather than a continuous flow. On Love Sosa, he cops a sing-song rapping style that’s markedly different from I Don’t Like, while producer Young Chop drops beats so grandiose they could be video-game villains exploding. And yet, they don’t add up to an album – with all the filler here, absorbing more than three consecutive tracks could be hazardous to your mental health. Dave Morris