Video: Songbook and Ads—BFFs

Update, Feb. 19: Winner and new champion: Royal Caribbean’s commercial featuring Hal Kemp’s “It’s Winter Again,” with vocals by Skinnay Ennis. See the commercial and hear the full original track (as posted on YouTube) at bottom of this post.

Even taking into account a wealth of recordings, DVDs, and concerts of music from the American songbook, these days people probably get their most frequent exposure to classic pop from commercials. Advertisers seem to recognize the power of the great pre-rock music, even if TV and radio programmers, aside from PBS and NPR, said goodbye years ago. Here are some notable ads that utilized and continue to spotlight the Songbook era.


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1. GE’s “Ecomagination” elephant commercials: One of the great big band themes of all time, Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing (with a Swing)” is currently featured in GE’s creative spots.

2. GE got the ball (and the company’s precocious pachyderm) rolling with their use of the Nacio Herb Brown/Arthur Freed gem “Singing in the Rain.”

3. Speaking of “Singing in the Rain,” Volkswagen didn’t want the music, but they did pluck the stars of the movie based on the song, Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, from a 1960’s TV special where they sang the original songs that accompanied their “chair dance.” See the VW commercial and the original sequence below.

4. If alternative arrangements are your thing, then you may have liked this catchy little take on Harold Arlen and E. Y. “Yip” Harburg’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” even if (or especially because) it involves mostly naked young people who might need body spray.

5. By contrast, here are two of the most stylish treatments of the “big five” composers’ work: One of United Airline’s evocative uses of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Michelob’s groundbreaking spot for Sinatra, singing Jerome Kern’s and Dorothy Fields’ “The Way You Look Tonight” – from the 80’s, complete with big shoulders, big hair, and enormous class. Sadly, the clip is bookended by shots of the twin towers.

6. Here’s what may be one of the funniest uses of Songbook music in advertising: a British commercial for the now defunct insurance company Allied Dunbar, fearturing Nat King Cole’s version of Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.”

7. Latest and greatest? Royal Caribbean, featuring Hal Kemp’s “It’s Winter Again”; vocal by Skinnay Ennis. Full version below.

Author: Rusty Cutchin

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