Wasn’t it William Shakespeare who said, “If music be the food of newspaper columns, write on”?
No, it was Answer Man, just now.
Last week in this space, we explored the music that was played for years in the television ads of D.C.’s venerable Riggs Bank. The catchy synthesizer melody became an instant classic after its debut in the 1980s. That song — Carlos Chafin’s “Washington Celebration” — had no lyrics. It was not a jingle.
But the Washington airwaves were once awash in jingles, a collection of ear worms that even today echo in our brains. For example, there’s the Jhoon Rhee ad: “If you take Jhoon Rhee self defense, then you too can say: Nobody bothers me, nobody bothers me . . .”
That ditty has the distinction of being written by Montgomery County native Nils Lofgren .
Jerry’s Ford put other car dealers on notice with its repetitive and single-minded ad: “Let the competition beware, let the competition be-waaare. Jerry’s Ford makes it clear: Let the competition beware.” (Answer Man’s friend Dave Nuttycombe, a local writer, played drums on that classic track.)
Then there was — and still is — Belmont TV. Its ads promised: “Whatever you want, think Belmont.” Presumably, the want had to be restricted to consumer-grade audiovisual equipment and not, say, jeroboams of champagne and Farrah Fawcett on a bearskin rug.
But the king of all the D.C. jingles must surely be the one that concludes with “Have a good night’s sleep on us . . . Mattress Discounters!” It’s the verse leading up to that hook — spelling out many of the things one can do on a mattress — that is so catchy: “Lay on it, play on it, save on it, pray on it . . . ”
David Carlin King said he had been pestering the Mattress Discounters’s ad agency for two years to let him write jingles. When he finally got the call in 1983, he was in the middle of a project for Federal Express, one of many corporate clients that kept him busy writing music for presentations.
“I’m the kind of person who can write on command,” the Alexandria native told Answer Man. He created the mattress jingle quickly, with an ascending melody that aped a vocal warm-up exercise. “It was a little thing that was stupid to me that I did in a hurry, but it just sounded cute,” David said.
David booked time at Track Recorders, a studio in Silver Spring that was used by many of the area’s jingle writers. To sing it, he conscripted his brother, George, with whom he had performed in a Christian band called George King and the Fellowship. The band used to end gigs by telling the audience, “Have a good night on the Fellowship.”
“My brother owed me some money,” David said. “He was working it off in the studio. I said, ‘I need you to sing it for me.’ In about 20 minutes, he sang the whole thing.” (Soon after, George moved to Nashville, where he had a respected career producing Christian music. He died of esophageal cancer in 2013.)
The ad was put in heavy rotation in the Washington area. (It was later re-recorded using a singer from Baltimore named Aleta Greene.)
David knows that some people find the song more insidious than endearing. “You can’t get it out of your head,” he admitted. “When you hit drive time, and you’re stuck on the 14th Street Bridge, and you hear it four times, it can drive you nuts.”
David lives on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and runs a business called the Carlin Company, which scripts and produces events for corporate, nonprofit and government clients.
“The whole jingle music thing was very good, but Sly Stone, he sold ‘Everyday People’ to Toyota,” David said. “He needed the money. When he sold that old hit, he single-handedly stabbed the worldwide jingle market.”
Now ad agencies prefer to license a song people already know than pay a jingle writer to compose a new piece of music.
Three years ago, David and his partner got into a taxicab in San Francisco. David thought he heard the driver singing a familiar tune.
“I opened the little sliding window,” David remembered. “Honest to God, he was singing Mattress Discounters. I almost fell over laughing. I said, ‘You like that song?’
“He said, ‘Lay on it, play on it. It’s the bed song!’
“I thought, Well, that ain’t bad, after all this time to hear a Pakistani cabdriver singing your song in broken English.”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.