Nine Pop Singles That Were Originally Commercial Jingles

I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing

In granddad's (read: my) day, radio and TV commercials relied on catchy jingles to sell product. Yet despite its success, this trend started becoming passé in the 1980s, as ad agencies and their clients went from commissioning original compositions to licensing existing music. Somewhere in the middle, however, there's an odd little collection of pop hits that first saw life as commercial jingles.

  1. "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)", The Hillside Singers. Everyone knows this was written for a 1971 Coca-Cola commercial, not by Don Draper but by real-life McCann Erickson adman Bill Backer. Jingle maestros Roger Cook, Billy Davis, and Roger Greenaway shared songwriting credit. The ad proved so popular that "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" was released, sans Coke references, as a single. The McCann-assembled Hillside Singers recorded both versions; actors lip-synced on screen. The British folk band the New Seekers, who had turned down the commercial due to other commitments, later covered the song. Their version became an even bigger hit.
  2. "We've Only Just Begun", Carpenters. This dorky but poignant 1970 smash, along with "Close to You", made superstars out of brother-sister duo Richard and Karen Carpenter. But it was written by composer Roger Nichols and ubiquitous '70s lyricist/celebrity Paul Williams ("Evergreen"; "Rainbow Connection"; the Love Boat theme) as a jingle for California's now-defunct Crocker Bank.
  3. "When You Say Love", Sonny & Cher. Steve Karmen wrote several jingles for Budweiser Beer, peaking with 1971's "Here Comes the King". The commercial, with Karmen's oompah rhythm and a team of Clydesdale horses clomping through the snow, became a '70s TV staple. Years later, Karmen's four-note "When you say Bud" melody was reworked by another composer as "This Bud's for you". (Karmen sued Anheuser-Busch over this, but lost.) In 1972, songwriters Bill Rice and Jerry Foster also copped Karmen's melody for "When You Say Love", a modest success for country singer Bob Luman, then the final Top 40 entry for Sonny & Cher.
  4. "Forever", Chris Brown. Brown and his cowriters were tapped to write a jingle for Wrigley's Doublemint Gum in 2007. "Forever", with a chorus that included the lyrics "double your pleasure, double your fun", was the result. Brown expanded the track, added it to his album Exclusive, and released it as a single – all on Wrigley's dime. "Forever" reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2008.
  5. "Jeans On", David Dundas. This was a one-hit wonder for Dundas – officially, Lord David Dundas. It was composed by Dundas and Roger Greenaway (of the aforementioned Coke jingle) for Brutus Jeans, a UK clothing company. "I put my Brutus Jeans on" was changed to "I put my old blue jeans on" for Dundas's 1976 single. Not many remember Dundas's song today, but Keith Urban famously covered it, and the keyboard riff was sampled by Fatboy Slim for "Sho Nuff".
  6. "Let's Get It Started", The Black Eyed Peas. This song originated as "Let's Get Retarded" on BEP's 2003 breakthrough album Elephunk. It was not released as a single, perhaps due to its politically incorrect title and lyrics. In 2004, the song, now bowdlerized as "Let's Get It Started", was used to promote the 2004 NBA Playoffs on ABC. How this came about is still vague: either the band was asked and/or paid by the NBA to write and record this new sanitized version, or the band did so even before the NBA came calling, in order to make the song more licensable. Either way, it was a shrewd decision.
  7. "Let's Go", Calvin Harris. I'm an old square, so I never heard this 2012 track before today. (Never heard the Chris Brown song either.) But it was a Top 20 hit in the US, and debuted at #2 in the UK, where Scottish DJ Harris is better known. Anyway, "Let's Go" was first written for a European Pepsi commercial featuring soccer stars; the soft drink company even let fans remix the track for a contest.
  8. "Music to Watch Girls By", The Bob Crewe Generation. One of the swingingest, most Austin Powers-ish instrumentals you'll ever hear, "Music to Watch Girls By" climbed its way to #15 on the pop chart (and #2 on the easy listening chart) in 1966. Everyone from Andy Williams to Chet Atkins to Leonard Nimoy(!) covered it. But Sid Ramin originally wrote it to sell Diet Pepsi.
  9. "Times of Your Life", Paul Anka. Roger "We've Only Just Begun" Nichols and Bill Lane wrote this for a 1975 Kodak ad campaign. Anka's single version lingered in the Top 40 for twelve weeks, peaking at #7. If youngsters know the song at all today, it's from promotions for the series finale of Mad Men – an episode which concluded with a certain 1971 Coke commercial.