Friday, May 24, 2024

Insidious 1960s doings by the coffee industry

Although the final decade of Guaraldi’s composing career was dominated by the many original themes and cues he wrote for the first 15 Peanuts TV specials and 1969’s big-screen A Boy Named Charlie Brown, his live performances during this period — of necessity — were much more varied.

Guaraldi’s early albums also reflected this diversity. Like most jazz performers, he delivered his own arrangements of Great American Standards by — among numerous others — the Gershwins (“Fascinatin’ Rhythm”), Cole Porter (“It’s De-Lovely”), Ann Ronell (“Willow Weep for Me”) and Buddy Johnson (“Since I Fell for You”). Over time, Guaraldi expanded his repertoire to include tunes by Henry Mancini (“Moon River,” “The Days of Wine and Roses” and “Mr. Lucky”), Antonio Carlos Jobim (“The Girl from Ipanema”), Bobby Scott & Ric Marlow (“A Taste of Honey”) and many more.

 

As the 1960s wore on, acknowledging the explosion of pop and rock hits, Guaraldi’s albums and club gigs added songs by — to name just a few —The Beatles, Burt Bacharach, Donovan, Bob Dylan and Sonny Bono.

 

Point being, if you listen to Guaraldi’s albums, focusing on the songs he didn’t compose, you’re bound to recognize just about everything: the titles, the melodies, or both.

 

Except, perhaps, for a track on the sole album that he released on his own D&D label: 1967’s Vince Guaraldi with the San Francisco Boys Chorus.

 

Where the heck, most of today’s listeners must wonder, did “Think Drink” come from?

 

Therein lies quite a tale.

 

As recounted in John Kelly’s fascinating October 2022 Washington Post article, in 1966 the London-based International Coffee Organization (ICO) decided to go after the American youth market: specifically, 17-to-20-year-olds. At that point in time, coffee was viewed as an adult beverage; teens and early twentysomethings were an almost wholly untapped audience. 

 

“We feel that the younger people are not drinking all the coffee they should,” intoned the executive secretary of the World Coffee Promotion Committee, in a New York Times interview that year. (One must chuckle at his pomposity.)

The ICO hired the American ad agency McCann-Erickson to mount a campaign that was quickly highlighted by newspaper ads and a 60-second TV commercial aimed at young adults. The message: that whenever they pondered a difficult decision, or had to study for a test, coffee would activate the brain cells and keep them focused.

 

The TV commercials — one of which can be viewed here — were backed by a catchy instrumental melody written by Richard S. Boyell, called “Music to Think By” — aka “Think Drink” — and performed by (I’m not making this up) “Mr. T and the Coffeehouse 5.” It was released as the 45 single shown above.

 

What’s fascinating, by today’s standards, is that the commercials don’t plug any particular brand of coffee ... just coffee itself!

 

McCann-Erickson also commissioned a 27-minute documentary film, Coffee House Rendezvous, which features groups of teenagers in Pennsylvania, California, Massachusetts and Wisconsin banding together to create coffeehouses in churches, unused downtown offices and even family basements. Viewed today, this film is wincingly corny, with an emphasis on squeaky-clean teens: almost all white, of course, although I did spot fleeting glimpses of a Black young woman and, toward the end, a Black folk singer. During tight close-ups, many of these kids parrot their insistence that these spaces are great for hanging out and having fun. 

 

Or, more precisely — in parallel commentary supplied by numerous parents — “somewhere to stay out of trouble.”

 

“A coffeehouse is a great idea for kids,” chirps one earnest girl. “You know, a place of our own, without a lot of parents staring down our back.”

 

“Kids come in here and meet new friends, talk to old friends, and play cards,” another girl chimes in, “or just sit around and talk, or just do absolutely nothing. It’s good for studying, if you have something to read, and wanna be a little bit alone.”

 

This laughable relic had its own lively title theme, written by Ted Steeg and Jordan Ramin, and performed by The Nitelighters ... and I suspect the average 1966 teen would have preferred root canal surgery, to being forced to watch the silly thing.

 

McCann-Erickson even commissioned the creation of a signature “Think Drink” coffee mug, shown at left, which one could obtain via mail order for the modest cost of 75 cents. 

The campaign clearly was successful, and it’s probably no coincidence that the first Starbucks opened in Seattle just a few years later, on March 30, 1971. (Indeed, folks at the ICO and McCann-Erickson, back in the day, likely would be astonished by how successful they eventually were!)

 

Boyell’s tune was so popular that it was covered by numerous other performers, including The Harvey Averne DozenMariano Moreno, 2+2, Morty Craft and His Orchestra, The Mighty Flea (aka Gene Conners), The New Swing SextetThe Howard Roberts QuartetDick Boyell and His Orchestra, Benny Golson, Don Patterson (a marvelously funky version) and even Doc Severinsen.  Not to be outdone, The American Breed did a vocal version!

 

You must remember that this was an era when instrumental TV commercial jingles could become pop hits, whether as original compositions — such as “Think Drink” and Grandville A. Burland’s “No Matter What Shape You’re Stomach’s In” (for Alka-Seltzer) — or when borrowed from other sources: most notably Elmer Bernstein’s title theme for The Magnificent Seven (Marlboro cigarettes) and Sid Ramen’s “Music to Watch Girls By” (Diet Pepsi).

 

It's therefore no surprise that Guaraldi, recording an album in 1967, would have included his own take on “Think Drink.”


And now you know why.

 

6 comments:

Trott said...

"Willow Weep For Me" was written by Ann Ronell, not Tommy Flanagan. Flanagan was an excellent pianist and recorded it in the 1950s, but it was already a well-known song that had been around and popular for over 20 years by that point.

Incidentally, I just checked Wikipedia, and if it's current content is correct, the first recording of it (in 1932) featured Vince's uncle Muzzy Marcellino on it!

Trott said...

My nit-picking about "Willow Weep For Me" aside, this is amazing stuff! Thank you for sharing all these images and information!

I went looking for "Think Drink" in the UCSF's Industry Documents Archive and found this amusing (to me, at least) tidbit on page 8 of https://industrydocuments.ucsf.edu/tobacco/docs/#id=tqxv0019:

"However, the trend has not been totally halted
and the industry does not feel that coffee can ever again be as
successful among the young as in the past, except possibly with a
decaffeinated brand."



Derrick Bang said...

Whoops! Good save. Correction noted (and apologies to Ann Ronell!).

Trott said...

It might be worth noting that the Dick Boyell and His Orchestra version that you link to is by the songwriter, Richard Boyell.

Trott said...

Thanks to this post, I've been putting on "Think Drink" every time I make a cup of coffee. And that has caused it to be lodged in my brain, resulting in me posting a quickie version on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l29mOYRgB4w.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE???!!!!

Derrick Bang said...

It's nice to be a force for good in my own lifetime...