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Remembering Robert Swanson, Advertising's 'King Of Jingles'


You don't hear the word jingle much in advertising anymore, but there was a time when the jingle was king. Once ad agencies came up with their concepts or slogans, they needed music to make their sell.


UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR #1: (Singing) Pall Mall's natural mildness is so good to your taste.


UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR #2: (Singing) What's in the kitchen? It smells so good - must be something from Swanson.


UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR #3: (Singing) Your cigarette's not tasting cool enough 'til you come up to Kools.

SIEGEL: For a generation, these tunes have become fused in the brain by constant repetition on the airwaves. The composer of those tunes was Robert Swanson, who died last week at the age of 95. And his son Gary Swanson joins us. And first, condolences on the loss of your father.

GARY SWANSON: Thank you.

SIEGEL: As a child, when you heard the jingles that your father worked on coming out of the radio, did you know that those were your father's work?

SWANSON: My father was - and anybody will tell you this. He just had no ego. He never talked about it, but everybody knew the jingles. You know, he was always producing, always at the piano. He also would write them anywhere.

Sometimes he'd be late for the train, and we'd be barreling along in an old Pontiac, passing people over the yellow line. And my father would have the sheet music on the metal dashboard back then with no seatbelts, doing 60 miles an hour. And he'd have a clavietta, which is like a harmonica, but it's a keyboard. And he would be writing the jingles in the car as my mother's, you know, doing her race car driving to get him to the train, you know? I mean, it was not unusual for him to get an idea and put it on a piece of paper at a dinner table.

SIEGEL: I want you to tell the story of how your father produced and I guess really how he orchestrated or thought to orchestrate a jingle for the airline that in those days was known as Northwest Orient.

SWANSON: One of the great memories of my entire very getting-old life, my - I was maybe 12 years old. And his main studio was 1 East 54th, which is also 689 Fifth Avenue. And I remember my father stopping and saying, you know, we have to get a signature here. We need something.

And he goes, give me the phone. He gets on the phone. He said, call Trader Vic's, which was I believe downstairs at that time. It was the very famous Tiki Bar. And 20 minutes later, two guys in a white suit with a giant gong come up into the studio.


UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR #4: (Singing) Northwest Orient...


UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR #4: (Singing) ...Airlines.

SIEGEL: One of the most famous jingles that I know of that's associated with your father also has - it has various names attached to it as authors. And this was the Schaefer beer...

SWANSON: Correct.

SIEGEL: ...Commercial, which was a - actually, when you think about it, it was a very strange campaign for a beer, (laughter) which is, Schaefer is the one beer to have when you're having more than one.

SWANSON: (Laughter).

SIEGEL: This is before - this was before people said drink responsibly in beer ads.



UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR #5: (Singing) Schaefer is the one beer to have when you're having more than one.

SIEGEL: There are all kinds of different names associated with this. Did your dad write it, produce it?

SWANSON: Yes, they give him ideas. And at that point, I believe "The Bridge On The River Kwai" was a big movie. They had the "Colonel Bogey March" which was, (imitating song). They said, we want a Colonel Bogey March. So (singing) Schaefer is the one beer to have when you're having more than one.

SIEGEL: Did he claim credit for the line that drove English teachers across America nuts - Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.

SWANSON: He didn't write the words, but he wrote the music.


UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR #6: (Singing) Winston tastes like a cigarette should.

SIEGEL: Gary, thanks for talking with us.

SWANSON: Great fun, thank you.

SIEGEL: Gary Swanson talking about his father, commercial jingle composer Bob Swanson, who died last week at age 95. He was buried yesterday in National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Phoenix.


ROBERT SWANSON: Hi. I'm Bob Swanson. You've probably heard many of my commercials over the years. Here are a few I'm sure you'll remember.

(Singing) Mmm good, mmm good - that's what Campbell's soups are - mmm good cause Winston tastes good like a cigarette should. Use Ajax the foaming cleanser - floats the dirt right down the drain. Don't wait to be told you need Palmolive Gold. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.