(first posted 7/14/2017) In my mind, there seems to have always been a unique, tangible synergy between people’s love of music and of the automobile. I’m talking about even before an AM radio was common standard equipment on mainstream, American cars. All the way back in 1905, there was a popular song called “In My Merry Oldsmobile”, the most popular version of which was recorded by Bing Crosby in 1939.
Since the beginning of the Rock ‘N Roll Era, the start of which was roughly concurrent with the rise of common ownership and popularity of television sets, music has frequently been used to sell products, especially cars. In one of my previous posts from last month, there was discussion in the thread of comments of the timing of the recording and release of vocalist Al Martino’s version of the standard, “Volare”, relative to the introduction of that new-for-1976 Plymouth compact (and its Dodge Aspen twin) from Chrysler Corporation.
Many popular songs from the boom of the youth-oriented market of the 1960s made specific reference to car culture and the hot rides of the day. “Fun, Fun, Fun”, “409”, and “Little Deuce Coupe” by the Beach Boys, “No Particular Place To Go” from Chuck Berry, and Jan & Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve” are just a few such songs that come to mind. (The Beach Boys clearly seemed to have cornered the market on this trend.)
A few years back, I had purchased a DVD of vintage commercials, ranging from the 1950’s through the mid-70’s. One of my favorite spots from about halfway through the program featured an early-forty-something, post-“Brady Bunch” Florence Henderson selling a product called “Klean ‘N Shine”. About midway through the above, thirty-second spot from 1975, it shows her touting the effectiveness of its application to the vinyl roof and swiveling “Strato” bucket seats of a GM Colonnade coupe (which looks like a Chevy Malibu Classic, from the dashboard – though I’m not certain).
Shortly after that spot in the DVD’s sequence, there was this… an ad for a ’69 Chevy Impala hardtop coupe, featuring the sweet harmonies, sharp costumes and innocuous dance moves of the 5th Dimension, who were then at the height of their popularity. Nineteen Sixty-Nine was a very good year for the group, with them scoring two hits that year that topped both the Pop Chart and what was then known as the “Hot Soul Singles Chart” on Billboard Magazine: their medley titled “Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In” and also “Wedding Bell Blues”. This advertisement’s nighttime imagery, sense of motion, and flashes of light and chrome were enough to grab my attention within seconds. Combined with this band’s mini-performance of what I find to be a truly classic jingle, this spot is one of my favorite car commercials of all time.
When I spotted our featured car – a ’69 Chevy Caprice (admittedly, not an Impala, and in four-door hardtop form), the first words that popped, involuntarily, into my head were, “Move along… with Chevrolet!” (Do you like how the ladies, Florence LaRue and Marilyn McCoo, were given only four, spoken words to share in the entire spot, whereas the guys each got their own line to recite?) Our blue Caprice did, indeed, “move along” smartly within the traffic on Michigan Avenue, downtown near Millennium Park on a Saturday afternoon during the three-day, Labor Day holiday weekend, two weeks ago. It seemed particularly adroit in spite of its size, almost as if it was dancing for joy.
I couldn’t find a breakout of production numbers for this bodystyle, but total production for the ’69 Caprice (including the two-door hardtop and Kingswood Estate wagons) totaled roughly 166,900. This example might have been powered by a 235-hp (gross) 327 V8, teamed with a 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic transmission. The Caprice was the second-most popular full-size, Chevy B-Body that year, behind the Impala, but ahead of the Biscayne and Bel Air.
As for the commercial featuring the Fifth Dimension, I miss the days of seeing an exciting car ad on TV. When’s the last time you remember seeing a singing star or group appear so excited about any car, let alone a Chevrolet? Perhaps it has been a while since American consumers could relate to this level of enthusiasm about a mainstream car, but I would still love it if modern advertisers would do just a bit more with selling some extra automotive sizzle along with the steak. That might just make me do the “Toyota jump”.
Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, September 2, 2017.