Robert Emil Swanson revolutionized American Advertising, writing over 5000 customized jingles from 1952 – 1978. He was not only a composer; he also played numerous instruments from guitar, keyboards, trombone, trumpet and sax with his main “ax”, bass fiddle. He sang on his own jingles: “Schaefer Is the One Beer to Have When Your Having More Than One”, a Swanson original later sung by Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong and used by the late Mike Nichols in his 2008 Broadway production of “The Country Girl” by Clifford Odets – a commercial emblematic of the 1950’s and 60s.
During that period commercial advertisements were as much a part of the American culture as social media is today, as illustrated by the hit TV series “Mad Men” or Andy Warhol’s’ classic “Campbell’s’ Soup Can”.
Advertising was the “technology” informing buyers in the 50’s and 60’s. Inducing the citizenry to hum an original “jingle” was a trick of advertising, employed much like a tweet. Today, most musical commercials are derivative of old hit tunes using John Denver or Frank Sinatra library music in place of original ”jingles”, immediately supplanting the memory of the old well-worn song with the object product.
Mr. Swanson wrote all original music like; “Um Um Good, UM Um Good, That’s’ What Campell Soups Are Um Um Good”, “Winston Tastes Good Like A… Cigarette Should”, “Pall Malls’ Natural Flavor/ Is So Good to Your Taste”, “What’s’ In the Kitchen That Smells So Good/Must Be Something From Swanson” “Don’t Wait to Be Told/You Need Palmolove Gold”, jingles archived and referred to as “iconic” or “classic”, original tunes that could at times haunt the inner being of the consumer with singular specificity.
For 20 years, Robert Swanson Productions on 1 East 54th Street was known as a compact jingle house of innovation that, along with Les Paul, was one of the first to use the “8 Track Ampex 350 Recorder”. Mr. Swanson augmented his moniker as “Jingle King” by using sounds from outside the world of musical instruments. On Northwest Orient Airlines he called Trader Vic’s world famous Tiki Bar on 5th Avenue, downstairs from his studio and rented the giant gold bong, stationed at the entrance of restaurant. The bong was carried up to the studio and the “spot” won a Cleo Award for “North West Orient (BONG…) Airlines”. “
Robert Swanson Productions employed a tightly woven group of ensemble musicians who played, sang and sometimes socialized together, pumping out daily classics such as “Things Go Better With Coke”, March of Dimes, Alcoa Aluminum or “Use Ajax the foaming cleanser, floats the dirt right down the drain”. Sometimes, writing jingles on napkins, on planes or in moving cars, “Bob”, as he was known, was considered a “Mad Man Genius” using toys, cloths hangers, hair dryers and household objects for varying sounds that identified the brand. He once dropped thousand dollars of coins in a barrel, take after take, until satisfied that cascading coins would trigger the sound of “money saved”. The world seemed to be at his disposal for specifically revealing the Ad Agencies need to link that product to an original tune.
Born in Queens New York on December 1st, 1920, to immigrant parents, (a Swedish father and a Sicilian mother), he taught himself to play the violin at the age of five. He was skipped several grades in grammar school and to protect him against the older students his uncle taught him to box as a boy. An exceptional athlete, he went on to break swimming records as Captain of NYU Swimming Team, while life -guarding at Jones Beach, a short distance from his hometown of Island Park, Long Island, New York.
His father, Jon Emil Swanson was a well – known NYC clothier, designer and personal tailor for such icon’s as General Dwight D. Eisenhower (he designed the Eisenhower Jacket), Clark Gable and other luminaries. Jon Swanson recognized his son’s gifts early on and sent him to study with the world famous musical theorists and coach, Joseph Schillinger.
A Veteran of WW ll, he was a High Speed Radio Operator in The Army Signal Corps, decorated with a “Purple Heart” and a survivor of The Battle Of The Bulge. As the Captain of his Regiment Boxing Team he was undefeated and “rarely hit”. After returning from the war, he sang and arranged vocals with The Tex Beneke Band around the country and later in order to raise his family he played bass on “gigs” around the New York City area.
Among his many talents, he was a prolific artist, chef, model boat builder, ship captain repairing his own diesel engines aboard his 58 foot Huckins, “The Good Hope”. He wrote hundreds of original melodies and songs, among them the one song whose lyrics summed up his life – “Live Every Minute Every Day/Don’t Let A Minute Slip Away”.
He died peacefully, July 17th, 2016 at his home in Phoenix AZ with his family by his side. His loving wife, Connie Jo, survives him along with children, Gary Swanson, Jon Swanson, Kathryn Barnes and Karl Picking. Dr. Robert Jon Swanson, his oldest son, preceded him in death. Robert Swanson will be honored with a military burial in Veteran’s National Memorial Cemetery in Phoenix, AZ.
One Reply to “Robert Swanson, “King of the Jingles” Dies at 95”
As a neighbor of Connie Swanson; I was privileged to be able to purchase some of Bob’s instruments and recording equipment from her and daughter Kat. Wonderful people and they are well aware that their Husband and Father was a “legend in his own time!”
I am honored to call them my Friends.